Is Your Social Media Experience Being Controlled?

18th January 2012

By Madison Ruppert

Contributing Writer for Wake Up World

There is a little known industry lurking in the dark recesses of the corners of the internet, especially in the United States and China, called “crowdturfing.”

Crowdturfing, coined by associate professor of computer science at the University of California Santa Barbara Ben Zhao, is a combination of the terms “crowdsourcing” and “astroturfing.”

Crowdsourcing means to outsource (hence the sourcing) relatively easy tasks to a large work force (hence the crowd).

Astroturfing means to artificially create what appears to be a genuine grassroots movement in support of a brand, specific product, political candidate, point of view, etc.

The authors of the report exposing these crowdturfing websites have concluded that this is a major problem in China and the United States and the astoundingly rapid growth of this money making method will “make paid shills a serious security problem for websites and those who use them around the world,” according to Technology Review.

Zhao says that the team has in fact discovered “Evil crowdsourcing on a very large scale” which in China mostly originates from two crowdsourcing sites, Zhubajie and Sandaha.

Zhubajie is the largest of its kind in China, processing over a million dollars every month for tasks which cost pennies on a massive scale.

Sandaha is a younger player in this crowdturfing industry but they still process tens of thousands of dollars every month in transactions.

“This industry is millions of dollars per year already and [shows] roughly exponential growth,” Zhao said.

“I think we’re still in the early stages of this phenomenon,” he added.

This is hardly a reassuring assessment, and I think Zhao is quite right given that the entire globe is experiencing economic turmoil and many will jump at the opportunity to make money from the comfort of their home and in the more impoverished nations they will do so for nearly nothing.

This is not just worrisome due to the annoyance of spam on social networks, but more importantly because such crowdturfing methods could easily be applied to more important sectors of public discussion.

This could very well incarnate in politicians, political parties, or special interest groups hiring tens of thousands of crowdsourcers to create a false impression of popular support for an issue, candidate, or whatever they might want to promote.

If the industry continues at this rate of growth, the potential profits very well might become so lucrative that they justify larger, more sophisticated startups which focus on creating realistic internet personas, communities, and dialogues just by paying people ten cents or so for each task.

Since the tasks are so cheap and the budgets for political candidates and some special interest groups are so immense, one can only imagine how many fake accounts, fake tweets, fake Facebook posts, face comments, etc. could be produced.

It is very likely that this method of marketing could be considerably more effective in swaying public opinion.

This is because people are much less likely to steel their psyche from the influences of the comments as they would a television commercial or other advertisement which is clearly identified as such.

Since this industry is still in its infancy, I can only imagine the directions this could go once many more millions – or perhaps even billions – begin to be devoted to this crowdturfing technique


Technology Review

About the Author

Madison Ruppert is the Editor and Owner-Operator of the alternative news and analysis database End The Lie and has no affiliation with any NGO, political party, economic school, or other organization/cause. He is available for podcast and radio interviews. If you have questions, comments, or corrections feel free to contact him at [email protected]


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