youtube astroturf

Youtube and other sites have allowed activists to reach the world with amateur videos promoting their causes. Guess it wasn’t long before the videos were astroturfed.

One of the current top-rated videos on youtube is An Inconvenient Spoof, a play on Al Gore’s movie, An Inconvenient Truth. In it, a caricatured Al Gore is boring little (Linux!) penguins with his slide show, which attributes all sorts of silly things to climate change (e.g., David Spade dating Heather Locklear). It has a Flash animation home-made quality, like many of the videos on the site. Done by an amateur, Toutsmith, who’s disgruntled by the idea of global warming, right? In a great bit of investigative reporting, Wall Street Journal reporters asked a simple question: Just where did that video come from?

In an email exchange with The Wall Street Journal, Toutsmith didn’t answer when asked who he was or why he made the video, which has just over 59,000 views on YouTube. However, computer routing information contained in an email sent from Toutsmith’s Yahoo account indicate it didn’t come from an amateur working out of his basement.

Instead, the email originated from a computer registered to DCI Group, a Washington, D.C., public relations and lobbying firm whose clients include oil company Exxon Mobil Corp.

A DCI Group spokesman declines to say whether or not DCI made the anti-Gore penguin video, or to explain why Toutsmith appeared to be sending email from DCI’s computers.

Chalk it up to the continuing battle among activists on the Internet. Then add the market.

Politicians and marketers already make wide use of email lists and blogs, and it has long been possible to distribute information over the Internet while disguising its origins. But Web video operates on a different level, stimulating viewers’ emotions powerfully and directly. And because amusing animations with a homespun feel can be created just as easily by highly paid professionals to promote agendas as by talented amateurs, caveat emptor is more relevant than ever.

Update: Almost as quickly as the spoof appeared, so did the anti-anti global warming videos.

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