Susan Crawford began rattling cages some time ago in telecom sects, but now big corporate providers are enlisting mercenaries in an online astroturf campaign. They are targeting her most recent book, Captive Audience, with fake Amazon reviews.
Mike Masnick, who describes himself as “the curious sort,” wrote an article for Tech Dirt describing the results when he investigated the one-star and five-star reviews. Masnick quickly points out that he is not a Crawford groupie and describes what he doesn’t like about the book but also recommends it.
Masnick noted that in many of the bad reviews, the writer inserted information that seemed irrelevant, usually about his or her job, and the tone was “folksy.” He felt it displayed a weak attempt by a “clueless DC astroturfing firm” to connect with everyday people.
He also established a set of criteria of three common traits that he would expect from a sincere reviewer:
My second check was to look at whether or not the reviews had one of the following three criteria: they were a verified purchaser, they were enrolled in Amazon’s “REAL NAME” program, or they had reviewed other products besides just Crawford’s book. While this is a rather crude measure, I figured that having any of those things be true at least suggested that there was a real person behind the review.
He weeded out known D.C. policy advocates who disagree with Crawford to find the real people and only 35% of the remaining 31 reviews qualified under his criteria. The rest gave the appearance of coming from astroturfers.
Masnick applied the same formulas to the five-star reviews. He removed those that stated they were reviewing positively only to balance out the astroturf reviews and 80% of the remaining five-star reviews met his common sense criteria.
He also looked at whether or not reviewers had reviewed other products, weeding out a serial Amazon reviewer who is unusually active. The one-star reviewers averaged 1.4 reviews of other products and the five-star reviewers averaged 13.
Basically, no matter how you slice it, there’s some sort of statistical anomaly going on here that makes it pretty clear that someone was pushing a ton of fake astroturfing reviews on Crawford’s book, and didn’t even care to take the time to hide it well. As I said, even if you don’t fully agree with the book, I’d hope we can all agree that this is a pretty disgusting move by whatever lobbyists/shills/think tanks dreamed up this astroturfing campaign just because they don’t like what the book says. Can’t fight on the merits, huh?
Somewhat hilariously, the ardent telco and cable company defender Richard Bennett now points to the 1-star reviews as proof that Free Press has launched a campaign of rating down a book that it supports in order to deligitimize his review.
Busted. It was a good time while it lasted, but Operation Double Secret SETEC ASTRONOMY has now been suspended.