11.23.07

Gemini version available ♊︎

Astroturfing Examples: Learning How Microsoft Tames the Internet

Posted in Bill Gates, Marketing, Microsoft, Windows at 4:14 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Due to recent (and suspicious) trolling activity I’ve promised to post some new examples of Microsoft astroturfing.

Let it be clear that the following are not speculations. Most of them are clear examples that are well recorded, confirmed, and they are also quite recent (there are far more known examples if one goes further into the past). The issue has become so serious that the EU has decided to crack down on fake blogger astroturfing.

But back to the web, and with sneaky marketing campaigns likely to be more effective than upfront marketing campaigns, what is stopping companies from simply risking it and continuing existing practices?

First, you are encouraged to have a look at this comprehensive ‘smoking gun’ court exhibit. Therein, Microsoft actually provides an admission that it intends to pay supposedly ‘independent’ professionals to praise Microsoft in public. But let’s consider some more recent evidence and examples, shall we?

Here is a case that got exposed a few months ago. Microsoft secretly paid influential bloggers to recite Microsoft slogans.

The stodgy old media industry has a rule that newspaper reporters, and TV news hosts, shouldn’t trade on their public trust to endorse products.

They got exposed and harshly criticised (only by a single site). Where was the press? No coverage of Microsoft astroturfing? Is the story not important enough? Were journalists scared of Microsoft's wrath? Regardless:

What would possess a collection of online publishers and venture capitalists to pimp a Microsoft advertising slogan?

Valleywag today reported about a site tied to a Microsoft ad campaign where the likes of Michael Arrington, Om Malik and others seemingly lend their support to the “people-ready” catchphrase.

I sent e-mails both to Arrington and Malik and–surprise, surprise–heard nothing back. (Obviously, they are not yet sufficiently “Coop-ready.”) Microsoft was still checking for me into whether money exchanged hands. But even if not a single shekel exchanged hands, I must wonder about the absence of common sense. Why would ostensibly independent voices come across as Microsoft shills? If they were hoping for a free dinner with Bill Gates, there are smarter ways to go about it.

Here’s more from the marketing person who is responsible for this scam.

“The main thing I’m pissed off about right now is that they pulled all the ads, which mean we’re taking a revenue hit. We’re running a business here, and have payroll to make. We run ads to make that payroll. Those ads have now been pulled.”

Microsoft once again corrupts confidence in the blogsphere. They turn ‘citizen journalists’ to marketing people in disguise.

Microsoft uses proxies to hire its shills, but you can always follow the money (if you try hard enough) and find Microsoft.

The sad fact is that Microsoft needn’t even hire many shills when it can keep its own employees very busy.

Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates emphasized the importance of blogging in a May 2004 speech during the company’s annual CEO summit. But Gates doesn’t blog; same for Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer.

[...]

Many Microsoft employees do blog, reportedly more than 4,000 of them. The number of employee bloggers was comparatively quite small, about 300, before the launch of Channel 9 and the success of Scoble’s blog.

Last year could be called year of the blog at Microsoft. Employee blogrolls swelled and Microsoft bloggers disseminated lots of vital information about the company. Increasingly, employee bloggers are becoming Microsoft’s primary evangelists. They are certainly a group over which the company can exact some control and which can spin information to Microsoft’s advantage.

I’ve personally seen cases where Microsoft employees in disguise attacked the authors of open source blogs. It was only IP address lookups that revealed this.

The following two reports lack confirmation, but they are noteworthy nonetheless.

1. Example from October 2007:

Unleash the Astro-Turfers!

Already on Apple oriented developer mailing lists one can see the astro-turfing has begun. A really amateurish attempt by ‘Mac Developer’ (no one uses a stupid handle like that) turned up today.

2. Just shortly beforehand:

It’s unfortunate that paid blogging is becoming all the more prevalent in communities like 1UP. And it’s not just the blogs or reviews, it’s also the message boards. Microsoft, for instance, also has a person (or people?) who is paid to post on some of the popular gaming boards (and no, Jeff Bell wasn’t part of that plan). But it’s not just Microsoft — I know of a few other game publishers who pay users to blog. They don’t necessarily require bloggers to say positive things about their products, but it’s certainly implied with the paychecks.

What bums me out about all this viral stuff is that, to some extent, you don’t know who to trust anymore. There was a time when, if you no longer believed in what the professional editors where saying, you could at least count on your fellow gamers for honest opinions. Not anymore. In a sense, perhaps that helps elevate the importance of the professional word once again, which I suppose is a good thing for us. But I’m still not happy about it.

What do you think about this one?

Microsoft regularly flies customers and industry experts to its campus in Washington to listen to the feedback given by those people.The company invites dozens of key customers and partners to the event,where they spend brainstorming as a group.But as of late, Microsoft has changed it’s strategy and the company is making extensive use of blogs to get direct customer feedback.

Within a year,more than 1000 Microsoft employee blogs featured developers and product managers talking directly to customers every day, instead of once a year.Microsoft employees read dozens of blogs every day to see how customers react to Microsoft products and services. In fact,Microsoft employees have taken a bigger leap and even contribute to other’s blogs in the expanding space of Blogosphere.

How about this one?

Microsoft has announced the “Microsoft BlogStars” contest, to Hunts for Developer Bloggers in India. After feeling the power and increase of the Bloggers community in India, Microsoft tries to trap and hunt Bloggers in India to buildup the blogging community, for writing blog posts supporting towards Microsoft Technologies.

Remember the Ferrari laptops fiasco?

A former Microsoft manager said it was a case of bribing bloggers.

This is the most frustrating thing about the practice of giving bloggers free stuff: it pisses in the well, reducing the credibility of all blogs. I’m upset that people trust me less because of the behavior of other bloggers. Don’t even get me started about PayPerPost.

Another article: Microsoft’s Laptop Giveaway Becoming PR Disaster?

This thing is starting to feel like a PR disaster. Bloggers are starting to smell blood and this thing very well may begin to turn into yet another episode of bloggers gone wild.

And another one from eWeek: Bribing Bloggers

It’s a bribe. Period. You say nice things about us, you get nice things from us. Heck, just say neutral things about us-we’ll give you a killer new laptop and we know that you’ll be inclined to say better things about us.

You must have gotten the impression that Microsoft had learned its lesson and stopped that sort of laptop giveaway. But no! 4 months later I found evidence that Microsoft carried on with this malpractice.

Microsoft Belgium rang me yesterday (I don?t think they realised it was a public holiday here!).

[...]

The phone call yesterday was to confirm my address – the laptop (a Sony Vaio – dunno which model or spec yet) is en route with Vista Ultimate and Office Ultimate pre-installed.

Let’s not get started with the issue of brainwashing and pressuring journalists because that could make another very extensive post. To give just a couple of examples, consider these:

1. The Inquirer, renowned for its anti-Microsoft biases, got invited for some Microsoft ‘treatment’.

The Vole (Microsoft) supposedly invited The INQ over for tea because we are notorious “Microsoft doubters” – and we were accompanied by other supposed Vole doubters such as the folk from lifehacker and a very nice man from Slashdot, as well as some Microsoft MvPs.

As you can see, the Inquirer was not alone. There was a party, and there was plenty of Kool-Aid for everyone!

2. Linux.com (yes, a Linux site) is no exception.

I spent December seventh, eighth, and ninth in Seattle as Microsoft’s guest. Microsoft flew me there from Florida at its expense, put me up in a nice hotel, provided decent food, and comped me and four other invitees to this “special conference” with presentations about the marvels of Vista and other recent or upcoming Microsoft products. They didn’t quite play the old Beatles song “Love Me Do” in the background, but it was the event’s unstated theme.

What do you reckon? Would that journalist think twice about criticising Microsoft after a jolly good time and freebies from Microsoft?

Going further into the past, there are far more examples, but in order to keep the length of this post moderate, we’ll provide just two examples:

1. The Los Angeles Times ‘dared’ to expose the sort of manipulation we are still seeing today (even amidst the ISO/OOXML fiasco).

In 2001, the Los Angeles Times accused Microsoft of astroturfing when hundreds of similar letters were sent to newspapers voicing disagreement with the United States Department of Justice and its antitrust suit against Microsoft. The letters, prepared by Americans for Technology Leadership, had in some cases been mailed from deceased citizens or nonexistent addresses.

Notice the fact that once again, as usual, Microsoft uses one of its proxies to do the ‘dirty work’. One need only follow the money though.

2. Going further into the past, remember OS/2?

Some years back, Microsoft practiced a lot of dirty tricks using online mavens to go into forums and create Web sites extolling the virtues of Windows over OS/2. They were dubbed the Microsoft Munchkins, and it was obvious who they were and what they were up to. But their numbers and energy (and they way they joined forces with nonaligned dummies who liked to pile on) proved too much for IBM marketers, and Windows won the operating-system war through fifth-column tactics

Should honest guys finish last?

Share in other sites/networks: These icons link to social bookmarking sites where readers can share and discover new web pages.
  • Reddit
  • email

Decor ᶃ Gemini Space

Below is a Web proxy. We recommend getting a Gemini client/browser.

Black/white/grey bullet button This post is also available in Gemini over at this address (requires a Gemini client/browser to open).

Decor ✐ Cross-references

Black/white/grey bullet button Pages that cross-reference this one, if any exist, are listed below or will be listed below over time.

Decor ▢ Respond and Discuss

Black/white/grey bullet button If you liked this post, consider subscribing to the RSS feed or join us now at the IRC channels.

5 Comments

  1. John Vincent said,

    November 23, 2007 at 5:57 am

    Gravatar

    Hmm. Yes. ugly.

    At least the Mircosoft-doc doesn’t read too bad: “It is our blah that those choosing blah are presented with overwhelming evidence and reasoned argument in favor of our standards… We do this by understanding the barriers that might otherwise prevent the developer from adopting our standards and removing them.”

    It’s morally wrong to have fake blogs; promotion of products in newsgroups etc. but it is what every company does (including mine) these days. It’s unfortunate but if the competition plays on that field, you gotta play, too.

    In Linux also, we also have
    Evangelism

    ;-)

  2. Tercume said,

    November 23, 2007 at 6:29 am

    Gravatar

    Nice article!

  3. Jim Powers said,

    November 23, 2007 at 11:19 am

    Gravatar

    > In Linux also, we also have Evangelism

    Yes, no doubt. It may be possible that RedHat, Novell, etc. might be out there astroturfing (if this is what you are implying) as well, but somehow I don’t think that such a practice would go all that far. Everyone commits the “sin” of evangelizing “their side”, but Microsoft is (and has always been) engaging in activities far away from mere evangelism.

    Look, I use Linux at home exclusively, my whole family does, even the kids, I have been able to “make the case” for Linux at work and now we have begun the transition. This “argument” was won on technical merits: there is simply no compelling reason to stick with MS for web sites. Linux and the FLOSS community as well as access to the SOURCE code provides more benefits than the alternatives. My arguments have so far proven correct. The “argument” was won on technical merit. Generally speaking FLOSS wins easily when the technical arguments can be made. Does FLOSS have problems? Sure. The difference that that there are a million ways to address these problems. Some of the more popular solutions become common, but that does not mean that niche solutions cease to exist. For instance I use fluxbox on my desktop, but the rest of my family use Gnome (sorry Roy, perhaps KDE 4.0 will change that). Gnome and KDE get most of the lime-light, but there are still tools out there for serious quacks like myself. An interesting aspect about “evangelizing” in the FLOSS universe is this: a bumper-crop of choice: including going your own way. Because of this the technical merits of various and sundry approaches need to come to the forefront, not the relationship with some company in some part of the world.

    In short Linux (especially on the desktop) still has problems, but consider the fact that in Linux we have several competitive desktop environments DESPITE the fact the Microsoft has done everything in their power to have hardware vendors NOT help FLOSS development at every turn. Consider where we would be if such unethical/illegal practice was not in place: there simply would be no MS monopoly. We would all have numerous, interoperable solutions available from many vendors all in constant, productive development. Also, the barrier to entry for new competition would be very small, helping to maximize investment. Furthermore, there would be no true notion of obsolescence: organizations would be able to maintain systems indefinitely because there would always be someone available to pay to support an arbitrary hardware build-out.

    The world has so much to gain by the dismantlement of MS and the destructive legal, social, and economic “ecosystem” it has created. The collective benefit to society once talented individuals can be unshackled from the leg of the dinner table where today they are thrown scraps is astounding. The economic and creative upside is far greater than the stultifying vision offered by the likes of Microsoft and Apple.

  4. Penguin Pete said,

    August 2, 2008 at 11:31 pm

    Gravatar

    > “I’ve personally seen cases where Microsoft employees in disguise attacked the authors of open source blogs. It was only IP address lookups that revealed this.”

    Hey, can you share with us how to do this? What IP address range means “confirmed asstroturfer”? I’d love to catch one more often.

  5. Roy Schestowitz said,

    August 2, 2008 at 11:50 pm

    Gravatar

    Here is a very recent example. Watch the second reference to Open Sources.

DecorWhat Else is New


  1. Becoming Robust to Censorship is a Technical Challenge for Web Sites That Publish Suppressed Information and Supportive Material

    Being at the mercy of third parties indebted to corporate patrons (or banks), sometimes in "reputation" or "political correctness" or "safety" clothing, is a topological issue; we need to teach more people to self-host and exercise full control over speech and information (never let those with money and power decide who can speak and who cannot)



  2. Links 28/10/2021: Raspberry Pi Zero 2 W Released and Mesa 21.3 Reaches RC3

    Links for the day



  3. [Meme] The EPO's “New Normal”

    The rule of law is being thrown out the window/door, people send rude letters, and we’re meant to think that this is the “new normal” (laws and regulations ceasing to exist); brought by the same people who try to force-feed people all around Europe the unlawful UPC



  4. [ES] Spanish: Richard Stallman's Speech From This Past Saturday

    The new bits (in Spanish) start at 14m:42s from the start



  5. This New Edward Snowden Video is Relevant to Media Cover-up in Service of EPO Management

    We’re long mentioned the 'conspiracy of silence' regarding EPO corruption (bribes and threats from Benoît Battistelli and António Campinos contribute to this silence), so the above video, which is new, seems relevant to us



  6. EPO Home-Working (or 'Remote' Working or 'Teleworking') Isn't an Act of Generosity But of Exploitation

    Contrary to what staff may be led to believe, allowing folks to work from home is just a workaround (as the law forbids some human-to-human contact/interaction) and pretext for screwing the workers a little bit more while crushing basic rights, such as strike and protest abilities (exercising or expressing dissent)



  7. IRC Proceedings: Wednesday, October 27, 2021

    IRC logs for Wednesday, October 27, 2021



  8. [Meme] False Choices and False Dichotomy Designed for Self-Harm

    The self-serving EPO surveys, which Benoît Battistelli and António Campinos design to justify their own policies, have severe flaws in them



  9. Links 27/10/2021: XOrg Server 21.1 and Makulu Shift Ubuntu Variant Released

    Links for the day



  10. Links 27/10/2021: Murena for /e/ and Red Hat Condemned for Its Nationalism/Racism

    Links for the day



  11. [Meme] EPO Presidential Surveys

    The 'social democracy' of Benoît Battistelli and António Campinos as demonstrated by a controlled survey (controlled by the subject of the survey, EPO governance)



  12. 'Shaping the New Normal' Survey at the EPO Got 5,554 EPO Staff to Participate, But It Was Controlled by Liars With an Agenda

    Last year’s EPO ‘study’ (hogwash about “quality” and other unscientific junk) was likely biased by virtue of autocrats controlling it and exploiting it for nefarious agenda and brainwashing of national delegates. The Staff Union of the EPO (SUEPO) has a new survey in the making.



  13. Many of the National Delegations (or Delegates) in the EPO's Administrative Council Have No Understanding of What They Vote on

    One must consider the possibility that ignorance or gullibility (which lack of qualifications may entail) possibly became a contributing factor — malice and bribery aside — in systemic failure of the EPO’s governance



  14. The EPO’s Overseer/Overseen Collusion — Part XXV: The Balkan League - Fresh Blood or Same Old, Same Old?

    We take stock of "captured states" that voted in favour of unlawful "Strike Regulations"



  15. IRC Proceedings: Tuesday, October 26, 2021

    IRC logs for Tuesday, October 26, 2021



  16. Beatriz Busaniche Speaks Up in Defense of Richard Stallman

    Beatriz Busaniche sent us this comment in July 2021. She wrote it originally in Spanish. Here are both the original text and our translation to English.



  17. Links 26/10/2021: SUSE Linux Enterprise Micro 5.1 and Multi-Distro Benchmarks

    Links for the day



  18. Links 26/10/2021: Vulkan 1.1 Conformance for Raspberry Pi 4 and Tor Browser 10.5.10

    Links for the day



  19. [Meme] Sounds Legit

    When not cheating on the wife, the EPO‘s “doyen” cheats in the exams and makes it into the epi Council, in effect working “[t]owards a common understanding [sic] of quality” with “patent attorneys nominated as “assessors” by the EPO, epi and BusinessEurope” (notorious lobbyists for dictators, litigation, and monopolies, neither business nor science)



  20. [Meme] Mayoral Patent Office Chief

    As it turns out, political 'double-dipping' isn't just a thing in North Macedonia, Austria, and EPOnia



  21. Romania's Patent Office (OSIM): Nine Different Chiefs in Just Eight Years

    The Romanian State Office for Inventions and Trademarks (OSIM), being the equivalent of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) in the sense that it covers both patents and trademarks, is a very flaky institution with no shortage of scandals; for our English-reading audiences we now have a summary of a decade’s worth of blunders and leadership changes



  22. The EPO’s Overseer/Overseen Collusion — Part XXIV: The Balkan League - Romania

    Romania’s patent office has been in flux this past decade, occasionally led by people with no relevant experience, but rather political connections (like EPO President António Campinos) and sometimes forged documents and fake degrees



  23. IRC Proceedings: Monday, October 25, 2021

    IRC logs for Monday, October 25, 2021



  24. [Meme] “Social Democracy” at the EPO

    Some comments on the current situation at the European Patent Office from Goran Gerasimovski, the new EPO Administrative Council delegate for North Macedonia and Social Democratic candidate for mayor of Centar (a municipality of Skopje)



  25. [Meme] António Campinos Visits the OSIM

    António Campinos visits OSIM Director-General Ionel Muscalu in February 2014



  26. [Meme] [Teaser] Meet the President

    Later today we shall see what Romania did for Battistelli



  27. Links 26/10/2021: Latte Dock 0.10.3 and Linux 5.15 RC7

    Links for the day



  28. Gemini Protocol's Originator: “I Continue to Care About This Project and I Care About the Community That Has Formed Around It.”

    'Solderpunk' is back from a long hiatus; this bodes well for Geminispace, which grew fast in spite of the conspicuous absence



  29. Bulgarian Like Bavarian Serfdom

    Bulgarian politics seem to have played a big role in selecting chiefs and delegates who backed Benoît Battistelli‘s unlawful proposals, which treat workers almost like slaves and ordinary citizens as disposable ‘collaterals’



  30. The EPO’s Overseer/Overseen Collusion — Part XXIII: The Balkan League - Bulgaria

    Today we examine the role of Bulgaria in Benoît Battistelli‘s liberticidal regime at the EPO (as well as under António Campinos, from 2018 to present) with particular focus on political machinations


RSS 64x64RSS Feed: subscribe to the RSS feed for regular updates

Home iconSite Wiki: You can improve this site by helping the extension of the site's content

Home iconSite Home: Background about the site and some key features in the front page

Chat iconIRC Channel: Come and chat with us in real time

Recent Posts