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Influencing public opinion through blogging

Tim Boucher is on to something. His dark vision is a bit conspiracy minded, but that's to be expected from a self-described "occult investigator."

He's imagining a nefarious conspiracy of evil PR people hiring fictional bloggers to promote an idea, a product, etc.

I can really imagine having a team of like 5 people working for a PR company who spend like 40+ hours a week writing blog posts. Perhaps each person would distribute their entries over like 10 different fictional blogger identities. They could write on things like news stories, political agendas, different products, all kinds of crap. Each of their fictional blogger identities could talk about roughly the same set of topics, but from a slightly different perspective - but each retaining whatever essential core elements they are trying to describe. I imagine it would bre pretty effective too, that 50 reasonably well-written and frequently-updated blogs would have a fairly wide audience and impact on an audience, which would expand outward in a ripple effect, especially if they were aggressively cross-commenting on real people's blogs as well.

Of course, that's pretty close (without the fake bloggers) to what happened in South Dakota in 2004. As Jan Frel points out over at the Personal Democracy Forum...

The blogging efforts on behalf of Thune's Senate campaign didn't cause greater civic participation or bring in piles of small donations. Instead nine bloggers -- two of whom were paid $35,000 by Thune's campaign -- formed an alliance that constantly attacked the election coverage of South Dakota's principal newspaper, the Sioux Falls Argus Leader. More specifically, their postings were not primarily aimed at dissuading the general public from trusting the Argus' coverage. Rather, the work of these bloggers was focused on getting into the heads of the three journalists at the Argus who were primarily responsible for covering the Daschle/Thune race: chief political reporter David Kranz, state editor Patrick Lalley, and executive editor Randell Beck.

Down in the comments, Tom Daschle's internet director issues a mea culpa - and explains why the external South Dakota blogosphere made all the difference. From Andy G:

We did have an "official" campaign blog called the Daschle Digest which had posts from field organizers, supporters, and even some of our own opp research in an attempt to counter some of what was being put out there. This lacked the "authentic" feel of the Dakota Alliance, and so people would dismiss it as simple campaign spin. The brillance of what the SD bloggers did was disguise campaign spin and opposition research as a grass-roots effort by citizen bloggers simply looking out for the truth.

It's time we progressives started paying attention to what's going on out there. We've all been patting ourselves on the back after the Dean campaign's online success - along with the heavy online fundraising by MoveOn and John Kerry.

After all, John Thune is spreading the gospel among his right-wing colleagues:

At the end of January, newly-elected South Dakota Senator John Thune briefed his colleagues at a closed-door GOP retreat in West Virginia about the importance of blogging in contemporary politics

What do we do?

We should use blogs aggressively in campaigns. We should nurture and welcome friendly blogs. I think it goes without saying that we shouldn't create fake people - and payments should be fully disclosed.

But, if you treat friendly blogs as allies in a campaign, you'll reap the rewards. They'll help develop the audience, bring bodies and dollars into the campaign, shape media coverage, and ultimately, help you win.

Posted on March 21, 2005 in