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VIDEO: Sharyl Attkisson (in a TEDx) cautions on Astroturfing and pseudo-consensus

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And while one may have reservations or quibbles about particular cases, the overall point is well taken.

In her article on a “top ten” list of astro-turfers, she comments, soberingly:

What’s most successful when it appears to be something it’s not? Astroturf. As in fake grassroots.

The many ways that corporations, special interests and political interests of all stripes exploit media and the Internet to perpetuate astroturf is ever-expanding. Surreptitious astroturf methods are now more important to these interests than traditional lobbying of Congress. There’s an entire PR industry built around it in Washington . . . .

Astroturfers often disguise themselves and publish blogs, write letters to the editor, produce ads, start non-profits, establish Facebook and Twitter accounts, edit Wikipedia pages or simply post comments online to try to fool you into thinking an independent or grassroots movement is speaking. They use their partners in blogs and in the news media in an attempt to lend an air of legitimacy or impartiality to their efforts.

Astroturf’s biggest accomplishment is when it crosses over into semi-trusted news organizations that unquestioningly cite or copy it.

She then probes, more analytically:

The language of astroturfers and propagandists includes trademark inflammatory terms such as: anti, nutty, quack, crank, pseudo-science, debunking, conspiracy theory, deniers and junk science. Sometimes astroturfers claim to “debunk myths” that aren’t myths at all. They declare debates over that aren’t over. They claim that “everybody agrees” when everyone doesn’t agree. They aim to make you think you’re an outlier when you’re not.

Astroturfers and propagandists tend to attack and controversialize the news organizations, personalities and people surrounding an issue rather than sticking to the facts. They try to censor and silence topics and speakers rather than engage them. And most of all, they reserve all their expressed skepticism for those who expose wrongdoing rather than the wrongdoers. In other words, instead of questioning authority, they question those who question authority.

That seems to be highly relevant to the longstanding case of debates surrounding design theory, and I therefore beg us to heed the point in Aristotle, The Rhetoric, Bk I Ch 2, that pathos, ethos and logos are the three key levers of persuasion. Also, his hint that warped and especially hostile emotions and/or undue and blind adherence to presenters or experts may easily warp sound judgement.

Accordingly, I note:

1 –> PATHOS: Our emotions, while quite persuasive, are no more sound than the underlying perceptions, judgements, expectations and values.

2 –> ETHOS: No presenter or authority is any better than his facts, reasoning and assumptions, backed up by his character.

3 –> LOGOS: It is only when claimed facts accurately say of what is that it is (and of what is not that it is not), present to us the material truth and surround such with correct and reliable steps of reasoning that conclusions are to be trusted.

I trust this will help us as we deal with the controversies surrounding design theory and thought . . . as well as with (sometimes, apparently organised) trollish misbehaviour, and far more generally than that. END

One Reply to “VIDEO: Sharyl Attkisson (in a TEDx) cautions on Astroturfing and pseudo-consensus

  1. 1
    kairosfocus says:

    F/N: Ms Attkisson’s remarks on dangers of Wikipedia in light of the problem of agenda-driven manipulative moderation (a form of undue censorship . . . ) are well worth the time spent in watching the vid. KF

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