The fact that blogs are becoming influential players in the political sphere is most certainly not news. When CNN has started tracking the phenomenon, you know it’s gone mainstream. In the political blogs I follow, occasionally a persistent commenter gets accused of being on the payroll of one party or another. Maybe it’s true, maybe not — but I suspect politicians hardly need to pay people to play out their passionate debates online (the blogosphere itself is evidence enough of that!).
But recently, I do think I spotted evidence of a concerted political effort to drive “grassroots” interest in legislation. Take a look at this post about video game violence over at Hit and Run. Scroll down to about the tenth comment, and you get this:
There is a lot of talk about this here:
Visit the site, and you quickly see that it’s a political advocacy blog, with posters uniformly trumpeting the same agenda, and even the occasional “celebrity” post by the likes of Rob Reiner and Barack Obama. I wouldn’t have thought much of it, until we received this comment on one of our Cognitive Daily posts on video game violence:
Interesting argument from both sides. Did you notice how this research is being used to forge legislation?
Really? I never would have guessed this was a political issue! “Lynne” has taken care to enter the commonsenseblog URL into the commenting engine, so clicking on her name brings you back to the commonsense blog.
If I were a politician or a political organization looking to generate grassroots support for my cause, I don’t think I’d pay anyone to troll the blogs of the opposite party, but I might consider unleashing my minions to go fill the comment forums of relevant blogs with relatively unsubstantive posts that link back to my organization’s homepage.
What the two comments I’ve quoted here have in common is the fact that they have little or no substance, the same commenters don’t participate in the discussion in other areas of the blog, and they don’t obey the standard conventions of blogging — they have no embedded links, and don’t contribute much to the existing conversation.
If I’m correct in guessing that commonsense has let the interns loose on the blogosphere, the two comments I’ve highlighted here reveal a couple of problems with the approach. These commenters don’t have much street cred — they’re not involved in the larger discussion going on at any of the blogs they’ve visited. They haven’t even been taught how to make hyperlinks. In a gigantic political machine, even such a modicum of training is generally not something that’s bothered with. The approach is to get lots of feet on the street with a couple of talking points and hope to generate public interest in those issues.
On the other hand, the scattershot approach can be effective. It did get me to notice the commonsense organization, which seems to be a relatively sane political group. The associated site, commonsense media, offers reviews of movies, video games, and other media, with recommendations of what’s age-appropriate. In fact, commonsense media seems to me to be a much better approach than the political one in helping parents choose appropriate media for their kids. Even though they’ve chosen a somewhat clumsy method of publicizing the site, I’ll probably keep it bookmarked. Just don’t expect me to start advocating censoring video games any time soon.