Among the cool stuff that you never see on your side of the computer screen are the shills. Write a post critical of cops or police unions, and suddenly a bunch of lengthy comments appear from people who have never commented before offering some nonsensical rationale for the conduct, together with some similarly nonsensical attack on me for being critical.
There’s a fun game I play, where I google the content of the comment, and see how many other blogs or articles include the exact same words, the exact same comment, under miscellaneous names like “John,” or “Robert.” The reader won’t be clear on how I know a comment comes from a shill, trolling the web in search of criticism and offering this carefully crafted comment prepared by a publicist to blunt the edge of criticism. But I’m clear. I have mad skillz.
In time, and with experience, you can spot the shills quickly. Sometimes, it’s one or two comments. Sometimes it’s dozens. Sometimes, you get an actual person who acknowledges that he’s a rep of whomever is subject to criticism and wants to offer the other side’s position. I tend to post one pseudonymous shill comment just to point out when the shills are hard at work.
If a comment comes from a real person, I give them enough credit for being honest about it to post the comment. There’s nothing wrong with giving someone a fair opportunity to defend themselves, since they approach it with enough integrity to use real names.
But when it comes to defending itself on the internets, nobody does it better than Taser International. The Guardian found that out.
Senior staff at Taser International appear to have posted scathing online reviews of a new film that is critical of the electronic weapons manufacturer, without disclosing that they work for the company.
At least three one-star ratings for Killing Them Safely, a documentary by Nick Berardini released in November, were posted on Amazon and iTunes this week by men with names matching those of Taser employees.
After the men and the company were contacted by the Guardian on Thursday, one of the reviews was removed from the web. Another review appears to have been taken down since its original posting and reposted under another name.
“Waste of time,” Robert Lovering wrote on an Amazon.com page for the film on 7 December, under the heading “Do not waste your time or money”. Lovering continued: “The information delivered in this movie is not creditable and extremely boring.”
If nothing else, you have to admire Taser’s tenacity in defending itself on the internets. Attack its bread and butter and the Taser swarm cranks up its computers and gets to work.
A Bob Lovering works for Taser as a sales director at its headquarters in Scottsdale, Arizona. He has been praised by senior executives at the company for delivering record sales by telephone of weapons to police departments across the US. After a message was left for Lovering on his office phone on Thursday, the Amazon review disappeared. The message and a subsequent email were not returned.
In the grand scheme of things, I would call this a relatively fair defense, given that he used his real name. While he may not have disclosed his connection to Taser, or that he’s conflicted or a shill, at least he provided the means by which someone could ascertain that he’s just a company guy defending his paycheck.
And when I’ve been critical of Taser, Steve Tuttle, Taser’s crisis management guru, or International Vice President of Strategic Communications as they prefer to call him, showed up here to defend the brand. While he may not have mentioned that he’s paid to defend Taser, he did include a link to Taser in his comment, so he gets points for honesty there.
But at least you have the balls to use your name, given that Taser sent a shill to do its bidding last time, so I give you credit for standing behind what you write.
This was a bit different, as the shill used what may be a real name, but doesn’t appear to be in the direct employ of Taser, creating the appearance that he might be legit. He wasn’t, of course.
When shills descend, their comments are usually artfully crafted to counteract the impact of negative news and commentary. Sometimes they’re flagrant lies. Other times, mixes of truth and lies, and on rare occasion, legitimate arguments that raise responsible issues. The problem is that readers don’t realize that these aren’t other readers who take a different view, but paid provocateurs whose job it is to clean up a mess on the internet any way they can.
Remember, there’s a whole industry of highly paid, brilliantly managed, businesses whose purpose is reputation management. Screwed up and got caught? They’re available to fix it. Any way they can.
And as for readers, it comes off as if it’s just some neutral person who disagrees with the criticism, and is being treated poorly. The blawger must hate criticism! He can’t take the heat! He’s being mean to this nice guy who wrote this comment about why the blawger is wrong, and the blawger’s reaction is so dismissive and mean. He can’t really be a shill, right?
Yes. Yes he can.