Rick Klau on Astroturfing

Rick deplores “astroturfing” — the political practice of seeding identical “letters to the editor” that purport to be original citizen comments, but are copied from message propoganda instead.
I don’t think the issue is simple. Being politically informed is good, but doing primary research and original analysis on every subject you care about isn’t humanly possible.
I appreciate groups that employ people to research subjects, stay on top of changing political activity, and provide the opportunity to act. Providing sample letters is a great head start. In areas where I do activism, we provide background information, action alerts, and sample letters. I think it’s good to lower the barrier to participation, so long as more people are doing some thinking.
And decentralized fast action isn’t necessarily a bad thing. When we were working on the SDMCA in Texas, a state senator’s staffer explained that industry lobbyists of course had more influence, because they were able to be at the capitol 24/7. It’s a good if someone who’s on location can tell others what’s going on, so people with day jobs can act almost as fast as the lobbyists on the floor.
On the other hand, twitch-response political action is disturbing. Some people fire off the latest missive without thinking, like a gamer shoots a monster on sight.
Verbatim-copies of letters to the editor, which one expects to be original, seem worse then letters and calls to a Congressperson using a standard template.
Perhaps the difference is that letters to the editor are expected to reflect deliberation, whereas a letter to a congressperson is often about action — encouraging a vote for an against a subject.
After all, our vote for a representative is a one-word response — yes or no. A citizen form letter on a specific issue is a more finely grained response than a blunt vote for a candidate.

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