Nestle would be the first company to line up and tell you why perception, not truth is the key to good PR and keeping clients happy. For them, it doesn’t matter if they actually were carrying out the questionable practises in third world countries involving formula and women dressed as nurses, because that’s what people believed they were doing.
A whole generation of women, threatening to boycott Nestle. Globally damaged reputations. I would assume that the PR company they employed to do damage control after this information came out would have been skilled in manipulation of media and information.
Astroturfing is manipulation of the comments on the Internet, designed to look like a grass roots campaign. It shows up often on articles about climate change and controversial things like that. While it’s relatively new to bloggers, I hear that online newspapers have been dealing with it for a long time.
The point to astroturfing is to derail the conversation. To lose articulate and intelligent comments in amongst the white noise of abuse and name calling. To set the commenters on each other and turn it into a bun fight, instead of a discussion about the original issue.
This article from the Tasmanian Times goes into more depth about Astroturfing, what it is and how it presents itself.
I’ve run up against astroturfing here and not known it. I just assumed that the commenters who continually reposted the same argument over and over again, regardless of how many times I explained that I wasn’t talking about those points, I was talking about legalities, well I assumed they were incredibly stupid. In hindsight, I expect that they were paid by the Coeliac Society, or PR company, to come in and derail conversation here. They were incredibly effective and 150+ comments in, I gave up and shut down conversation. They’d achieved what they set out to do and silenced debate.
Watching the #dickileaks debacle play out online has been interesting. The St Kilda Schoolgirl started a blog and posted an articulate post about what had happened to her and how she was feeling.
The first 40 or so comments were divided in their support of her, but everyone was reasonably fair and there was little abuse.
However, once the masses got wind of her having a blog, the comments degenerated. Flame wars started, the girl was abused, and the general language deteriorated beyond what the current conversation should have been about. Name calling between commenters was rife, with the supporters of the girl remaining mostly articulate and polite, while the dissenters were trying to draw everyone into an argument.
The most interesting thing that I found, all of the vocal dissenters and name callers, their blogger profiles were private. “Profile not Available” Some weren’t, but the ones who kept coming back and arguing, calling names and making a nuisance of themselves, they were all privatised accounts.
There is no shame in starting a new blogger account to comment on a new blog if you don’t have one. Several commenters appeared to have signed up for an account, just so they could comment. If you don’t want to be contactable, then you don’t add any email information to the profile.
I think that St Kilda’s PR team had discovered her blog and decided that as articulate as she is, they’d best do everything in their power to discredit her. Calling her a slut and a thief, a whore and a football chaser. Things that really have no bearing in the discussion about her treatment after the fact.
Perception is the key to good PR. It doesn’t matter what the AFL has or hasn’t done, because they are perceived as being bullies. As the controlling body in charge of the teams, it doesn’t matter who was actually being horrid, if the general public thinks that the AFL body should have reined them in and stopped the threats and name calling.
Truth is a fickle thing. There are always multiple versions of truth, depending on what side of the fence you’re on and how you perceived the actions of the other party.
Widely held perception is that this girl was badly treated and that the AFL are bullies. Like the catch cry of ‘Nestle kills babies!’ that ‘The AFL are bullies’ is an effective tool that doesn’t need to have any bearing on the truth.
When photos were released of Lara Bingle in the shower, surprise photos taken by Brendan Fevola, a footballer, the media and AFL brushed it off with claims of ‘Boys will be boys’. Lara Bingle wore the shame for that, her photos splashed all over the Internet. She didn’t consent to those photos being taken, they weren’t posed, like the recent Saints photos.
However, when the photos emerged of the Saints boys, the combined weight of everything they could bring down upon the girl who released them, was designed to make us believe that she was in the wrong.
Why the double standard?
St Kilda and the AFL are in damage control now and I expect their PR company is working double time to control what the discussion is actually about on the Internet.
What their next step will be remains to be seen however. I think this is a bigger cover up than a lot of us have realised and I can only wonder what is in the other photographs that they don’t want us knowing about.
What can I say, I’m eternally curious.