Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

June 10, 2006

There’s a very interesting post by Steven over at Deconsumption today, basically about a firm called Netvocates that pays people to post comments on certain types of blogs. Since Steven has discovered Netvocates checking out his blog you can probably imagine what sort of blogs they are ‘interested’ in. 

Steven also referenced this posting over at Cybersoc.com where Robin Hamman has does some good work finding out about Netvocates. I won’t go into too much detail here as both these bloggers have done excellent work backgrounding the issue (and I definitely recommend you go read both posts because the more we understand about insidious PR types like Netvocates the better). 

What I do want to discuss though is that I think Steven and Robin are being too kind to Nectorate. Robin writes (and note that Chip is the ‘person’ running Netvocates)

Chip has posted a bit of info on his blog in response to this and posts made by other bloggers. One paragraph of it, if true and I have no reason to doubt that it is, makes me feel quite a lot better about the idea of NetVocate asking people to post comments. Chip says: We have a few basic principles we ask all of our staff and the activists we work with to operate under. First, we ask our activists to only engage on issues they actually believe in. Second, we ask everyone not to lie about anything. Third, we ask our activists not to create multiple online personalities to engage in blogosphere conversations. 

This doesn’t make me feel a whole lot better, in fact it makes me feel a whole lot worse – Chip’s troops are going to be much more effective ‘activists’ because of these guidelines. 

The first thing we need to remember is that in our culture we have been raised to respond well to people who are polite. The fact that Chip instructs his foot soldiers to follow those three guidelines doesn’t mean he’s a nice guy or had good motives, it means he’s good at PR. We should also note that he actually could be lying when he wrote it and that in all likelihood not every ‘activist’ will stick to these guidelines, especially if they ‘believe’ in what they are doing. 

Those two points aside, PR people know (and this is something that genuine activists should always keep in mind) that if you aren’t polite in delivering your message the net result will be to undermine your own cause. 

There was a case a couple of years back where the biotech industry tried to destroy the reputation of a scientist called Ignacio Chapella who had discovered that GE corn was spreading rapidly through Mexico at a time when the industry was trying to assert that GE could be easily controlled. The PR company in question (The Bivings Group) posted multiple fake messages (under fake names) to a biotech message board besmirching the work of Ignacio Chapella.  

The PR firm was successful in that Nature magazine took the unprecendented step of withdrawing it’s support for the article after they had published it. 

My point here is not to toast the success of an aggressive PR campaign but to talk about what happened afterwards: Eventually someone decided to trace the fake emails and found that they had originated from the computers of people who work for a biotech industry PR company. Since then the GE Free movement has taught the PR world the meaning of backlash by mentioning this episode at every available opportunity. 

Even if he hasn’t heard this particular story our friend Chip at Netvocates has obviously learned the lesson. AND even if Chip just created these guidelines to maintain his own self-image of being a polite guy the fact remains that PR is currently the frontline of a war being waged on normal people by the elites of society. It doesn’t matter that the individual foot soldiers aren’t aware of the bigger, picture we’re still at a point now where the elites use their wealth to change what people think. 

What the PR industry knows and relies on us not understanding is that they are working at the emotional level. In a debate people do not operate purely on logic. If you were to read a blog posting that was followed by a critical comment, unless you make a conscious effort to analyse the two arguments AND follow all the references to their bitter end your view of the posting will be coloured a little. Some people are more easily persuaded this way than others but it is impossible to be completely affected by it if you are human. 

PR companies know that people don’t or can’t follow up the things that they say and that it is the fact of the rebuttal that counts. It gets worse though. With this understanding it is then safe to move on stating half truths and occasionally bald faced lies. It is a bit more difficult in the blogosphere however because people like Steven and Robin are so much better at cutting through the crap than your average journalist. All this means though is that the PR people have to develop a more sophisticated approach. Clearly they are in the process of doing this – as we all knew they would need to do as part of elite attempts to subvert the anarchic and democratic nature of the internet. 

If you’re still unsure of how effective this approach is remember that that scientific journal backed dowon on the GE corn paper because of the pressure they felt. They certainly weren’t persuaded by the facts in this instance and if a group of supposedly rational scientists can be persuaded in this manner you can bet the rest of us will be too. 

Remember too this is all being done in conjunction with the usual ongoing PR efforts including at last count 40% of mainstream news* originating from a PR office. I’m not going to use the phrase ‘mind control’ to describe all this because that would give the likes of Chip too much ammunition but at the same time I have difficulty finding another word to describe deliberate, large scale attempts to alter what people think. 

I may have already given them the ammunition to do so by mentioning it even in that way but how much you wanna bet they won’t be providing a link to go with the quote? 

For further info about the dirty world of PR I highly recommend the website PR Watch and also the book Secret’s and Lies by Nicky Hagar   – an expose about a dirty tricks campaign against anti-logging activists in New Zealand, even my cynical expectations were exceeded by the behaviour of the PR firm and it’s client revealed in this case. 

And lastly, I’m not going to even pretend to be even handed like the others have and give you a link to Chip’s blog. I refuse to buy into the need to appear to be even-handed especially when the blog in question is run buy a person who is an expert in disinformation and will be spinning who knows how many lies in a polite and convivial manner. 

*Sorry I can’t remember where I read this but I imagine the info is available at PR Watch.



  1. I agree with you. The various pr-firms are getting slicker, and better at advocating their masters’ «cause», and since that cause is to line their pockets and thereby keep destroying life on Earth, this is very bad indeed.

    Any scientist telling people how dangerous cell phones are, for instance, is viciously attacked by the industry and their stooges, and that’s just one example of MANY.

    Posted by: Amos Keppler | 06/26/2006

    Someone needs to make a website that will start keeping track of all these guys and thier polictical/corporate motives, etc. Hopefully, if the site is done well enough and becomes a popular clearinghouse for this, it’ll pop up on Google searches and more people can start to become aware of these scumbag activities online and align against them. They are the caustic, artificial sweetener of the blogoshere.


    Posted by: Cowicide | 09/26/2006

  2. […] A while back I wrote a post on a PR firm called Netvocates whose mission was to post fake messages on blogs and chat rooms […]

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