|At the end of a column fingering the commercial capability for spawning personas to confuse debate, aka astroturfing, George Monbiot asks: "what should we do to fight these tactics?" I hope I have something useful to say on this below, but first I need to widen the context.|
In the parent, I make reference to a long ago working subtitle "the prospect of an informed age". The intended title which I said a lot less loudly at the time: "Beyond Democracy". Of late there is at last emerging a conversation in that once taboo direction, or at least an informed bemoaning of the collapse of party membership and the takeover by passionless careerists. Traditional political parties are as bad as the churches in having established vast property and income at the same time their supposed constituents are deserting en masse.
Beyond even that, we are finally starting to talk about an answer where the still loose idea of "open government" might eventually displace the overindustrialised strangulation that currently passes itself off as "mature democracy". (I'm all in favour of checks and balances, but not in them becoming yet another industrial complex.) "Open" (government) is very much in the sense of the open source movement whereby those who care enough to do the work get most of the say. The critical factor will be establishing widely recognised signs of success comparable to those which discipline the open source movement (has to work and be useful) and science at its best (confirmed by ongoing observation).
The idea that those who do real work (should) get real attention gets us back to George's question. Trust metrics are an idea which is increasingly understood but still rarely implemented, each notable case still being somewhat special. And none of the examples I'm about to mention pretends to be perfect, they are just qualitatively better that the simplistic to nonexistent moderation systems of popular blog hosts and even more so traditional media dabbling with their own naive online presence. Such astroturfing welcome mats are in the heartland of white collar creep that I posted about from my last but one vacation. But the problem is not near as bad at Wikipedia (where contribution demands real work), Slashdot (with its time-tested user moderation) or eBay (where your track record really counts).
To me, this all leads to the idea of making discussions adjuncts to real work. This is largely why my ideas for TransForum 2 became too big to tackle on my own (especially while still waiting for Perl 6, but this is another story). My unimplemented designs are predicated on discussions hanging off the side of a working database application where specific domain knowledge is maintained, the kind of often transactional background which should underpin our thinking but which is usually kept so separate as to be effectively unreferenceable.
But until we can get a lot further down such a track, George's problem just serves to confirm my 1997 observation: In coming rounds, she who can converse the most effectively wins.