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Telecommunications Advocacy: Who's Behind That Blog?

Rob Frieden

An assignment in a Media and Democracy course I teach at Penn State invites students to select a telecommunications advocacy web site for analysis. I want my students to decode the message and attempt to identify whether a bias exists and who financially supports the site. The exercise typically fails miserably.

Too many students accept at face value a web site's pledge or representation of independent analysis. Most students cannot infer that a site that advertises books by Ann Coulter trends to the right and one that talks about social justice trends to the left.

However, I cannot blame my students entirely. How are they to know that a noble sounding site seeking truth, justice and the American way is an "astroturf" (fake grass roots) organization fronting for a particular set of stakeholders? As I researcher in the network neutrality debate I risk personal attack, misrepresentation of my work, and assorted snarky debating tactics befitting a food fight. It would be an understatement to say it chills my desire to engage in the dialogue. Indeed it's not always a dialogue, or debate as the conference session or blog discussion gets nasty.

No wonder telecommunications and information policy accrues suboptimal results in the United States. The process has become so partisan, political and doctrinal. There may come a time — not too distant — where people will recognize that the U.S. lost its best practices leadership in telecommunications infrastructure, because the stakeholders spent more time funding web sites and blogs as well as foolish litigation in lieu of doing what's needed to install and operate next generation networks.

By Rob Frieden, Pioneers Chair and Professor of Telecommunications and Law
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Re: Telecommunications Advocacy: Who's Behind That Blog? Suresh Ramasubramanian  –  Nov 30, 2007 8:28 AM PDT

I posted this to my blog in September: not about telecom blogs, but yes, about astroturf. And about political blogs in general.

2007.09.24 11.13
The Petraeus ad and my reactions to it

Seeing all the noise around this made me think a bit.

Sneak propaganda and personal attacks masquerading as political action is reprehensible, whether it is Eli Pariser and Moveon.org doing it, or purveyors of right wing froth like Ann Coulter, or backstairs political manipulators like Karl Rove.

If you condemn swift boat (and I do) and think Ann Coulter is a brainless rabble rouser (and I do that, too) you should condemn the Petraeus ad.

For just about the same reasons as I have condemned moveon and other organizations's campaign against Goodmail (www.circleid.com/posts/eff_use_of_propaganda_karl_rove/ ).

Someone has to take the high road - a road that doesn't include simply operating in a "moderate" area demarcated by extremists on the right (coulter) and the left (moveon.org), with the boundaries made very gray indeed by Karl Rove and his ilk.

With "friends" like moveon, the democrats don't need enemies. Of course, unless the ultimate goal is just winning elections (isn't that every political party's goal, anyway..)

One bonus that seems to have come out of this entire mess is that Moveon has had to cough up a much larger sum for their attack ad than they figured to pay - and the NYT is out to collect the same from Guiliani. Nice take on it on the NYT's political blog

http://thecaucus.blogs.nytimes.com/2007/09/23/moveon-to-pay-full-times-ad-rate/?hp

Pasted below (omitted for circleid), makes entertaining reading. Particularly:

… And so, here’s what MoveOn’s Eli Pariser had to say today. In effect, he’s trying to move away from the controversy, while saying the organization stands by its message ...

Sad, for organizations that claim to speak plain, unvarnished truths (and what political action campaign doesn't?)

--srs

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