Anyone who has had the misfortune of scrolling all the way down to the comment sections of news websites knows they can be gladiator pits full of preening self-righteousness and ALL-CAPS fury. Most news outlets have taken concrete steps to improve discourse in the comments sections or have nixed them altogether. Others, though, have apparently dived into the digital fray with gusto.
In his forthcoming book, Murdoch's World, NPR media reporter David Folkenflik alleges that Fox News' public relationships team was ordered to create dummy accounts to defend the organization's public image from the mid-2000s to about 2010 in comment sections across the web.
Staffers, according to four former Fox News employees, were ordered to post "pro-Fox rants" in the comments sections of websites both large and small, including blogs "with minor followings." Media Matters has the excerpt:
Fox PR staffers were expected to counter not just negative and even neutral blog postings but the anti-Fox comments beneath them. One former staffer recalled using twenty different aliases to post pro-Fox rants. Another had one hundred. Several employees had to acquire a cell phone thumb drive to provide a wireless broadband connection that could not be traced back to a Fox News or News Corp account. Another used an AOL dial-up connection, even in the age of widespread broadband access, on the rationale it would be harder to pinpoint its origins. [Media Matters]
Since The Week covers Fox News from time to time, I decided to do a quick search of a few articles from 2010 (about the time when the shadowy PR blitz reportedly concluded). I'll admit: A few of the comments look a tad suspicious!
Here is one from an article titled "Is Fox News pushing climate change skepticism?":
Here is another pro-Fox comment from an article that neatly summarizes a sprawling New York Times' profile on Glenn Beck:
And finally, here's one last one in which Glenn Back calls President Obama a racist:
Of course it's totally plausible that these aren't dummy accounts created to spam the gospel of the Fox News mothership... What do you think? Can you spot any others? Let us know — of course — in the comments.