Grassroots or Astroturf?

How does one tell a grassroots organization from astroturf?

That was the issue of last presidential election. It was proven how widespread astroturf had become. It wasn’t only the Russians. In the presidential campaign before that, Hillary Clinton had planned to use paid trolls. And we already have seen investigative reporting on the networks of groups being funded by powerful interests. When dealing with an individual or group, how does any of us really know who we are dealing with?

During the Soviet era, something like one in three citizens were either working for or informing to the KGB. That is what politics feels like right now in the United States. Dark money is flowing in such immense amounts, from the likes of the Mercer family and Koch brothers. It’s largely untraceable.

“There has been some good investigative reporting on it, published in scholarly books and in the alternative media. Dark Money by Jane Mayer is one example. Another one is Buzzfeed’s in-depth report on how the Koch brothers and Mercer family funneled money to Steve Bannon, Breitbart News, Project Veritas, etc. Both of these probably only scratched the surface of what goes on behind the scenes, as they are just two examples among many” (Skepticism and Conspiracy).

Other more well known examples involve climate change denialism. It is endless. One could spend one’s life attempting to uncover the corruption that rules our society and still never discover a fraction of it.

To make matters worse, over the past half century, almost all media has become concentrated into transnational corporations that are directly tied to the two-party stranglehold of corporatocracy. The tech industry and social media, of course, are also entangled with this maze of big biz and in many cases with big gov (the entire tech industry was built on government defense funding and Jeff Bezos was essentially born into the military-industrial complex).

Meddling foreign governments are the least of our worries.

I was reminded of this with the campaign season heating up. I came across a Facebook group, Democracy Rising. The first group rule is: “Unite the Democratic Party.” But I noticed that any Democratic candidate that isn’t a Clinton DNC elite is attacked viciously, including by the woman running the group, Betty Plumley.

There was one particular post that demonstrated this. Plumley invited responses by saying, “Lets discuss the negatives and positives of Bernie Sanders.” It has so far received 171 responses. Almost all of them were harshly critical, including by Plumley, not uniting of the Democratic Party in the slightest, except for a few commenters who dared to speak out (one guy said his comment was deleted when he simply stated that Sanders is better than Trump; other people said their similar comments were removed).

The group’s real purpose, if we are to go by the posts, is to divide the Democratic Party and to attack the political left, to conflate Sanders and Trump with false equivalency and once again advocate lesser evilism, or maybe simply to muddy the water with bad feelings and conflict. Whatever is the intention, that is what such groups achieve. And one begins to suspect that this result might very well be what is expected, not merely an unforeseen and unfortunate side effect of those lacking social skills and political acumen in fighting authoritarianism.

What concerned me is, when I checked out the names of first dozen or so commenters, almost none of them had any friends listed: “No friends to show”. Who are these ‘people’ on Facebook apparently with no visibly indicated human connections? Their timelines are public, but no friends. Some didn’t even have much or anything on their timelines nor even photos. And others joined Facebook sometime this past year.

This might be a real group. And these might be real people. But how would I know? I’m not trying to be paranoid, although it’s hard not to be these days. These are honest questions. How does a citizenry remain informed when surrounded by disinformation campaigns that are secretly funded and operated? And how can a population under these conditions ever hope to be genuinely free?

Enlightenment values of democracy and liberty are no match for modern authoritarianism, of plutocracy and corporatism and inverted totalitarianism. Most Americans are simply clueless. How do we fight what we can’t see? And for those of us who realize how dangerous it’s become, how do we promote a sense of crisis and urgency for a public that has fallen into apathy and cynicism?