George Monbiot has a great article this week citing DeSmog Blog, regarding the vexing issue of “trolls”. Not the kind that live under bridges, but those faceless cyberspace monikers that pop up frequently in comment sections of blogs likes this one, to repetitively froth away against climate science.
Are these real people? Or are they operatives in the employ of Big Oil? “Paul S”? “Phlogiston”? I’m talking to you.
It seems that Monbiot has same problem that we do. On the Guardian website, a small minority of anonymous “skeptics” often dominate the discussion by regurgitating talking points from well-known climate deniers. Sound familiar?
When Monbiot challenged his trolls to reveal their identity, or even confirm or deny whether they are posting from a PR office, he has never got a straight answer.
Monbiot also names DeSmogBlog as one of the sites leading the charge in unmasking those behind the Big Oil’s PR campaign. We have accumulated our own collection of trolls and they do seem to have a lot of time on their hands…
So why wouldn’t the oil or coal industry hire trolls to undermine our work, or Monbiot’s? Clearly, they are already investing heavily in cyberspace.
We have already reported how Big Coal is spending more than $20 million on their on-line efforts to convince the public that coal is “clean”.
They recently posted a job for a Vice President, Paid and Digital Media, whose success would be judged by “Effective expansion of the America’s Power campaign in digital media formats (including, but not limited to, on-line/display, social media, and other digital formats).”
Beyond the $20 million budget, this on-line spin-doctor also has access to:
- One (or more) national public relations/digital media PR firms
- One national traditional media placement PR firm
- One national digital media placement PR firm
This lucrative position seems dedicated to be to inserting the interests of the fossil fuel industry into the blogosphere.
And then there’s the oil industry. Professional bloggers in the employ of the Alberta government have directly responded to our posts, though they did have the courtesy to identify themselves.
Alberta is blowing $25 million on a “re-branding effort for the province to try to improve the province’s tarry public image. This also involves $500,000 for Washington-based lobbyists and of course, a team of professional bloggers.
Clearly social media matters a lot the fossil fuel lobby. They are willing to pay millions to massage their image using emerging technologies like blogs, Facebook and Twitter. Besides being disingenuous, this ploy also undermines what’s special about on-line communities - like an uninvited brush salesman making the rounds at your barbeque.
Comment sections on sites like this one are the vital feature of the blogosphere, allowing readers to honestly share their views, and challenge the writer or each other. That is, if they are real people instead of brush salesmen.
Over to you Paul S…