Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Giving ideas a fighting chance

George Monbiot reports on the lengths some people go to online to propagate their “ideas.”

For his film (Astro)Turf Wars, Taki Oldham secretly recorded a training session organised by a rightwing libertarian group called American Majority. The trainer, Austin James, was instructing Tea Party members on how to “manipulate the medium”. This is what he told them:

“Here’s what I do. I get on Amazon; I type in ‘Liberal Books’. I go through and I say ‘one star, one star, one star’. The flipside is you go to a conservative/ libertarian whatever, go to their products and give them five stars. … This is where your kids get information: Rotten Tomatoes, Flixster. These are places where you can rate movies. So when you type in ‘Movies on Healthcare’, I don’t want Michael Moore’s to come up, so I always give it bad ratings. I spend about 30 minutes a day, just click, click, click, click. ... If there’s a place to comment, a place to rate, a place to share information, you have to do it. That’s how you control the online dialogue and give our ideas a fighting chance.”

The following is how amazon.com stipulates what it expects from users of its online services:

Visitors may post reviews, comments, photos, and other content; send e-cards and other communications; and submit suggestions, ideas, comments, questions, or other information, so long as the content is not illegal, obscene, threatening, defamatory, invasive of privacy, infringing of intellectual property rights, or otherwise injurious to third parties or objectionable and does not consist of or contain software viruses, political campaigning, commercial solicitation, chain letters, mass mailings, or any form of “spam.” You may not use a false e-mail address, impersonate any person or entity, or otherwise mislead as to the origin of a card or other content.

(my emphasis: JAS)

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Blogger Caz said...

Despite a number of widely publicized instances, Amazon still does not require that ratings and reviews must be made in good faith, by an individual, not acting on behalf of or at the behest of a third party, whether an individual or a group deemed to be affiliated, formerly or informally, for the purpose of influencing perceptions of other customers ... positively or negatively, etc ... blah, blah.

Nadda. Nothing in there.

As for using a "false" email address ... FFS - any email address that works, is, ipso facto, not fake.

Therefore, any email account,in any name, is acceptable.

Don't see how the tea party or donald duck or anyone else would be breaking the rules. Nothing in the Amazon rules to discourage the practices being touted.

18/1/11 11:18 PM  
Blogger Caz said...

Or rather, flouting the "rules", as opposed to breaking them. Difficult to call them rules, since they're so wishy washy.

18/1/11 11:18 PM  
Anonymous Jacob said...

True enough, the problem for Amazon is how seriously anyone can take their users' ratings if this kind of thing is commonplace. It may not be a consideration for you or I, who rely on our own judgement and couldn't give a stuff for users' ratings, but I wonder how it might affect perceptions of their 'brand'. But true enough, probably nothing to see here folks.

18/1/11 11:49 PM  
Blogger Caz said...

I think it's pretty widespread, more so than Amazon would ever own up to, which does render the whole community spirit null and void.

And you're right, you and I would never rely on the community ratings, and goodness knows not the reader reviews, but yes, it must influence many people, and certainly the tea party and others obviously believe so, otherwise they wouldn't bother with their little schemes. Although it does seem to me like a long shot, a poor investment of time for influencing the public agenda.

19/1/11 12:47 PM  
Anonymous Jacob said...

Yes, it would strike me as a poor investment, which for me makes the very idea of those thought nannies furtively and indefatigably 'rating' products a real tickler.

I did a search on Amazon the other day for 'Movies on Healthcare', as the guy suggested. Michael Moore's 'Sicko' is listed at the bottom of the first page of 15 results, yet has a 4+ star rating.

I imagine the loons must be thinking their efforts are maybe working, they just need to keep down-rating it some more. And perhaps there are fans of Moore's doing the obverse so it becomes a comic war of mouse clicks, each imagining they can 'win' this.

One can but marvel at the thin line between ingenuity and madness.

19/1/11 9:21 PM  
Blogger Caz said...

Actually yes, it is funny. Now that I think of it, while occupied with trivial activities, the opportunity to do anything of substance is diminished, somewhat, which can only be a good thing. It also illustrates how limited are their aspirations: spoilers rather than builders.

Rendering the whole exercise (even if effective in it's trivial aims) more pointless is that few of us browse for books or films online the way one can and does in bricks and mortar.

Clicking the "people who bought this also bought these" options holds as much appeal as shoveling shit. In other words, most people, I believe, search a particular title or author; it's specific, not a browse. So as much as they can rank or rate, and bounce things to the bottom, or make snarky comments, people have already prepared their purchasing list beforehand ... they're not going to Amazon for a recommendation on what to buy next, the decision has already been made. Well, unless it's a self help book, and stuff to calm the jangled hearts of women who lurve too much ... in which case too many suggestions is never enough.

19/1/11 10:03 PM  

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