by John Hawkins | January 17, 2005 5:20 pm
I’m a big fan of Hugh Hewitt, but for the most part, I’m going to have to disagree with him on his latest column: Black Blog Ops: Blogs are popular and influential, but could they be used for political dirty tricks? Or worse?.
Here’s the money excerpt from the piece,
“Like a reverse Atlantis, a new archipelago of opinion and news providers has risen up from nowhere to drive stories and news cycles. So we should be asking about the potential for deception in the format. The web is widely used and relied upon. It would not be hard for intelligence services from around the world to build blogs with an intent to deceive or manipulate, putting out solid content to gain an initial audience before using it to disseminate disinformation intentionally.
Similarly, the inevitable backstab blog has to be on some political consultant’s mind. Get it started and growing as a pro candidate X blog. Build an audience via tried and true techniques –including the purchase of blog-ads– and then, late in a campaign, have the blog turn on candidate X. If any of the high profile lefties at work today–the Daily Kos or Atrios, for example–were to suddenly turn on Kerry, citing implausibility fatigue, for example–that would be news and a blow to Kerry. Could Kos really be working for Rove? The costs of starting a blog are so low that the mischief potential is quite high.
ALSO, a portion of the war on terror is being fought over the internet, with radical Islamist groups routinely employing websites to project their messages and their demands. How long before our intelligence services or those of our allies begin to turn that technology back upon the terrorists. Or might the People’s Republic of China–always in the vanguard of espionage–figure out that pro-PRC blogs might be a good thing to subsidize for the long haul, perhaps without owning up to the sponsorship?
In recent months, the Belmont Club has exploded onto the blogging scene, powered by impressive analysis of the war and its stakes. In less than six months, more than 1,100,000 visitors have stopped by to sample “Wretchard’s” writings. I have had an email exchange with Wretchard, and believe him to be what he says he is–just an amateur analyst making his views known. But his success got me to thinking about the potential for the use of blogs to shape opinions by dressing partisans up as new and anonymous sources. Which then got me to thinking about governments using the new medium to play public opinion. Which led to the idea of hostile movements doing the same.
Calling James Jesus Angleton. It is a brave new blogging world, and mischief beyond the easily spotted inanities of the MoveOn.org crowd will no doubt follow.”
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Much of what Hugh said would at first glance seem to be intuitive, but the devil is in the details.
For example, Hugh suggests that a blogger build up an audience through “tried and true techniques.” However, this makes something that is extraordinarily difficult for those of us without large radio audiences ;D sound quite easy to do. There are plenty of talented bloggers who’ve worked like dogs and relentlessly promoted their material and yet have never built up significant audiences.
Furthermore, Hugh speculates about what would happen if “the Daily Kos or Atrios, for example–were to suddenly turn on Kerry”. However, there’s no need for conjecture because we’ve already had a similar incident on the right.
Andrew Sullivan, one of the larger bloggers…well, I hesitate to say that he’s on the right…let’s just say a lot of Republicans have read him….turned on Bush, spent the entire year bashing him, and endorsed Kerry. The effect of that was negligible…to Bush anyway — Sullivan’s reputation on the right was permanently damaged.
That’s because only the real power players with big audiences, guys like Hewitt, Medved, Limbaugh, Liddy, & some of the bigger name columnists have the kind of sway needed to damage a candidate simply by opposing him.
Furthermore, you have to consider that the trust level for bloggers (for the entire media in fact) is low, there are an enormous number of information streams out there providing contrary info (are you going to listen to one blogger if 10 others you like say exactly the opposite) and the fact that the American public, particularly the politically savvy among us, have developed highly advanced BS detectors (If something seems fraudulent or odd about a particular author’s commentary, many people are likely to be suspicious and will take what they say with a grain of salt).
That’s not to say that individual bloggers can’t have a big impact, but the blogosphere is much more effective when it operates like a swarm, flooding the zone, coming at a story from all angles, than any single blogger can be trying to monopolize an issue. And moving the blogosphere in a single direction? It’s like herding cats. Maybe some of the alpha bloggers can get some portion of the herd going one way or other for a short while, but it’s seldom for long.
So any intentional, stealthy attempt to deceive people via the blogosphere is likely to be difficult to pull off & of minimum effect…
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