Brazil Air Disaster: Birth of an Astroturf Campaign

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HOWARD BEALE: want you to get up right now, sit up, go to your windows, open them and stick your head out and yell – ‘I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!’ Things have got to change. But first, you’ve gotta get mad!… You’ve got to say, ‘I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!’ Then we’ll figure out what to do about the depression and the inflation and the oil crisis. But first get up out of your chairs, open the window, stick your head out, and yell, and say it [screaming at the top of his lungs] “I’M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!” — Paddy Chayevsky, Network

… emotional appeal is not always the weapon of tyrants, it can be the shield of liberty as well. And emotional appeal is not always an illogical trick, it can bring the facts into a clarity which some notions of logic would disallow. So if democracy rests partly on rhetoric, and rhetoric rests partly on the appeal to the emotions of the audience, then the defense of democracy must involve an understanding of emotional appeal. What is an emotion? What is it to appeal to it? — Bryan Register, “The Logic and Validity of Emotional Appeal in Classical Greek Rhetorical Theory

Don’t get mad; do something!

Doria afirma que ‘Cansei’ é movimento cívico (Terra Magazine, Brazil): The “Civic Movement for the Rights of Brazilians” is an astroturf campaign.

… the term astroturfing pejoratively describes formal public relations projects which deliberately seek to engineer the impression of spontaneous public reactions to a politician or political grouping, product, service, event, etc. by many diverse and distributed individuals acting of their own volition, when in fact the efforts are centrally coordinated. The goal of such a campaign is to disguise the agenda of a client as an independent public reaction to some political entity—a politician, political group, product, service or event. Astroturfers attempt to orchestrate the actions of apparently diverse and geographically distributed individuals, by both overt (“outreach,” “awareness,” etc.) and covert (disinformation) means. Astroturfing may be undertaken by anything from an individual pushing their own personal agenda through to highly organized professional groups with financial backing from large corporations, non-profits, or activist organizations.

The term plays on the name of a well-known brand of artificial surface used in sports stadiums and the notion of “grassroots” politics. See also Trust 2.0: Triumph of the Shill?

A grassroots political movement is one driven by the constituents of a community. The term implies that the creation of the movement and the group supporting it is natural and spontaneous, highlighting the differences between this and a movement that is orchestrated by traditional power structures.

Example. The Wikipedia article on the subject comes with this disclaimer:

This article or section deals primarily with the United States and does not represent a worldwide view of the subject.

The explosive growth of weird little Wikipedia disclaimers and objectivity challenges I find astonishing. While someone post this disclaimer to the article on “democracy” because it does not reflect the thinking of Kim Jong Il on the subject, for example? Is the article on phlogiston fair to scientists who still defend phlogiston theory?

But anyway, so, is “astroturfing” really such a bad thing?

The perjorative connotation comes from the implication that such campaigns are deceptive — or, in the case of a message addressed to emotions, insincere (deception or dissimulation about the speaker’s own motivation rather than some independent fact).

The infamous Edelman Worldwide “spontanous outpouring of support from Winnebago-driving Nascar dads for Wal-Mart” blogging campaign — the spontaneous Nascar dads were outed as undeclared paid shills, which meant that Richard “Rashomon” Edelman was advising his client to tell you The Truth 2.0 — is often cited.

“Grassroots” campaigning funded by COPARMEX in Mexico — the Mexican counterpart to FIESP, the industrial federation behind this campaign — was used to circumvent technical legal limits on political advertising in that country’s elections last year, for example.

When charges of election fraud first surfaced, COPARMEX-funded, arms-length “grassroots” front groups ran a massive ad campaign defending the competence of the federal elections commission, IFE (one of whose self-admitted failings was that it did not curb the use of funny money for an out-of-bounds media blitz in that campaign.) By filibustering while changing the subject in heavy rotation on prime-time TV.

See also Democracy 2.0.

Imagine it: General Motors funding an ad campaign to defend (or criticize) some Supreme Court decision or other to the public at large.

The basic gambit here is incomplete disclosure of institutional affiliations — or as the buzzmachinists are fond of calling it, “identity management.”

For example, in a “fake news” report run by a Fox affiliate last year — produced by Intel but claimed by Fox News as its own reporting — Genevieve Bell was identified simply as an “anthropologist” rather than fully as an anthropologist who works for Intel, which seemed to imply that she is an independent expert on the subject and nothing else.

For a Brazilian precedent, see also The Legend of the Lurking Lobbyist: The ‘Identity of Identity and Non-Identity’ Gang Strikes Again.

In this interview with Brazil’s Terra Magazine, the coordinator of the Cansei (“I’m Sick and Tired of …”) project — a prominent ad executive who has already lined up free TV advertising time — denies that he is the coordinator of anything.

It’s all spooky emergent behavior on the part of smart mobs! This is not old-fashioned shilling for the house! It’s an innovation revolution in disintermediated New Age social communications!

Passadas 48 horas do acidente com o avião da TAM em Congonhas, um grupo de empresários começou a organizar o movimento “Cansei”, lançado hoje em campanhas publicitárias por todo o país.

Within 48 hours of the TAM crash at Congonhas airport, a group of business owners began to organize the “I’m Sick and Tired” movement, launched today with advertising campaigns all over Brazil.

No site, a campanha, oficialmente chamada Movimento Cívico pelo Direito dos Brasileiros, é assinada apenas pela OAB-SP. Mas tem o apoio declarado de empresários, outras associações de classe e ONGs.

The Web site of the campaign, which is officially known as the Civic Movement for the Rights of Brazilians, is signed by the Order of Brazilian, São Paulo chapter, but has the declared support of business owners, other industrial and trade associations, and NGOs.

A reunião que criou o projeto foi no escritório de João Doria Jr. que, no entanto, nega ser o líder de qualquer movimentação: “Não tem autor. Decidimos isso para colocar como um movimento cívico”.

The meeting that created the project was held in the offices of João Doria Jr., who, however, denies being the leader of any movement: “It has not author. We decided this to place it as a civic movement.”

Seizing of the Nanking Palace.” See also “Spontaneous Joy as the Free Iraqi Forces Seize Firdaus Square” and “A grass-roots groundswell of podcasters rise up to bum rush Billboard Magazine!” “The revolt of the users” is an “innovation journalism” masterplot.

Also read:

Doria é jornalista, publicitário e organizador de eventos. É presidente da Doria Associados e da Videomax Produções. Apresenta o “Show Business”, programa semanal de entrevistas exibido pela RedeTV! aos domingos. É dono do Campos do Jordão Arts & Convention, situado na cidade turística paulista onde, no começo deste mês, organizou o 6º Passeio de Cães e o Passeio de Bebês – que premiaram o cão e o bebê mais belos da cidade.

Doria is a journalist, ad man and event organizer.

In the Brazilian system of labor classification, the job title “journalist” applies equally and indiscriminately to the public relations, advertising and marketing professions and to factual reporting and critical analysis in the public-interest and “service” vein.

He is president of Doria Associates and Videomax Productions. He hosts “Show Business,” a weekly interview show that runs Sundays on RedeTV. He owns the Campos do Jordão Arts & Convention Center in São Paulo were, earlier this month, he organized the 6th Annual Parade of Dogs and Cavalcade of Babies — which awarded prizes to the loveliest dog and baby in the city.

These additional details, from a site called Lideres Empresarias — a group organized by Doria — point out that he has also served in appointed office and in state-run enterprises … where so many Brazilian entrepreneurial free-market virtues are incubated.

Journalist and advertiser, Doria was the youngest São Paulo Tourism Secretary and president of PAULISTUR, during the city administration of Mário Covas, from 1983 to 1985. During the same period, he was president of the City of São Paulo Tourism Board. He was also the youngest president of EMBRATUR and of the National Tourism Board, (CNTUR), from 1986 to 1988, during the government of President José Sarney. He is the CEO of VIDEOMAX PRODUÇÕES and of DORIA ASSOCIADOS, Vice-president of ADVB – (Brazilian Marketing and Sales Managers Association) and member of the SOS Mata Atlântica (Rain Forest) Board. He was the creator of the Business Forums and founder of LIDE – Group of Business Leaders.

(Atavistic) Brazilian labor law classifies both hacks and flacks, as we like to say — journalists 1.0, on the one hand, and PR, marketing and other advocacy-speech specialists (legitimate endeavors all), on the other — as “journalists.”

Which explains a lot. See also

LIDE needs a better English-language translator and editor for its Web site, by the way. Some of the other members of the Business Leaders group appear to be Doria Assoc. clients, but I am still trying to firm that point up.

O empresário organiza anualmente encontros como o Meeting Internacional, que recebe homens de negócios e políticos. No ano passado, o Meeting aconteceu em Bariloche, e teve apresentação de humor de Tom Cavalcante e personagens como o ex-presidente colombiano César Gaviria e Fernando Henrique Cardoso na platéia. Neste ano, o encontro será em Mendoza, Argentina, e terá o senador José Sarney (PMDB-AL) como primeiro palestrante. Em seguida, o governador amazonense Eduardo Braga (PMDB-AM).

The businessman organizes annual meeting such as Meeting International, attended by businessmen and politicians. Last year, the Meeting was held in Bariloche, featuring the humor of Tom Cavalcante and celebrities such as former Colombian president César Gaviria and former Brazilian president Fernando Henrique Cardoso in the audience. This year, the meeting will be held in Mendoza, Argentina and will have Sen. José Sarney of Amapá as its keynote speaker, followed by Amazonas governor Eduardo Braga.

The original text mistakenly identifies former President Sarney as a senator from Alagoas, which is represented by impeached former president Collor and Renan Calheiros, currently president of the Brazilian Senate (and the subject of an ethics probe that could lead to impeachment proceedings, in which case Sarney would assume his leadership post, Brasília scuttlebutt has it).

Sarney is a principal target of a campaign by PROJOR, led by Observatório da Imprensa editor Alberto Dines, that seeks to enforce laws against elected officials controlling public broadcasting concessions, by hook or by loopholes in a border fence that no one patrols. See also

Sarney’s communcations minister, who handed out broadcast concessions on a political patronage basis (the Sarney clan, for example, controls the TV Globo retransmitter in Maranhão and the northern state’s principal metro daily newspaper), was Antônio Carlos Magalhães. The Magalhães clan controls newspapers, radios, and TV Bahia.

Em outubro do ano passado, o ex-presidente tucano foi homenageado por Doria – e presenteado com uma escultura da artista plástica Anita Kaufmann – por sua trajetória política e contribuição à transição democrática do país. Durante a campanha eleitoral de 2006, Doria foi um dos organizadores de um almoço de Geraldo Alckmin com empresários.

In October of last year, the former Toucan (PSDB) presence was feted by Doria — and presented with a sculpture by artist Anita Kaufmann — for his political career and contribution to the democratic transition in Brazil. During the election campaign of 2006, Doria was one of the organizers of a luncheon with candidate Geraldo Alckmin and members of the business leadership.

Na entrevista abaixo, Doria fala sobre a criação do “Cansei”:

We interviewed Doria about the creation of the campaign:

Terra Magazine – Como foi a organização do movimento?

How was the movement organized?

João Doria Jr. – O acidente foi no dia 17, nós nos reunimos dia 19. E esse grupo, com várias pessoas, ganhou aderência numa velocidade muito grande, e cristalizou-se na idéia de criar um movimento pelo direito do cidadão brasileiro.

The accident occurred on July 17, we met on July 19. And this group, with various persons, got adhesion very, very fast, and crystallized around the idea of creating a movement for the rights of the Brazilian citizen.

I am a person.

I do not oppose the ethical treatment of animals, qua animals. Most people don’t, I would venture to guess.

I certainly try to treat my animals ethically (although I sometimes wish the damn cat would return the favor.)

So I must be in favor of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, right?

Not! Those people are Moonies who think the idea of human rights is a form of “speciesism” that is worse than racism and genocide! They are utterly bonkers. I remain a brainwashed dupe of ecumenical speciesism (humanism, that is).

E ele é apolítico?

And it is apolitical?

Sim, é cívico, não tem nenhum viés político. Nenhuma vinculação partidária, nada. É uma manifestação cívica de cidadania.

Yes, it is civic, it has no political slant. No party affiliations, nothing. It is a civic manifestation of citizenship.

It exists in a legal framework comparable in some ways to our own 501(c) and 527 organizations, I think you could say — in that twilight between electioneering and public-interest informational activities where the Swift Boaters lurk.

Alguns slogans da campanha, como o da crise aérea, podem levar a uma questão política. Você não acha que corre o risco de haver vinculação?

Some of your campaign slogans, such as the crisis in the aviation sector, might lead to political issues. You do not think you are running a risk of there being a connection?

Não. O caos aéreo não é político, é uma realidade. Basta olhar os aeroportos, a TV.

No. The chaos in the aviation sector is not political, it is a reality. It is enough to look at the airports, the TV.

It does seem to be principally a management and engineering problem compounded by watered-cement no-bid public-works contracting, I guess you could speculate, from early information.

A major division of the São Paulo Metrô authority, for example, is run by the brother of the mayor of São Paulo, who owns a civil engineering firm. The Pinheiros stations on the Line 4 extension to the subway system collapsed into a smoking hole earlier this year. Post hoc ergo propter hoc? Interesting question.

Vocês já conseguiram muitas adesões em uma semana?

Have you had a lot of people signing on in one week?

Muitas, e continuam no Brasil inteiro. De entidades e associações de classe, cidadãos, médicos, advogados. É impressionante. E ele começa amanhã (hoje, sexta) publicamente. Mas as informações que já correram ampliaram as adesões.

Many, and it continues throughout Brazil. Organizations and trade and professional associations, citizens, doctors, lawyers. It is impressive.

If I do say so myself.

And it rolls out publicly today (Friday). But the information that is already out there has already widened participation.

It will be interesting to see if the national OAB signs on rather than just the São Paulo chapter.

[Update: The Rio de Janeiro chapter described the campaign, in effect as being squarely in “the long tradition of São Paulo coup-plotting.” OAB-SP: “Look who’s talking, Land of Lacerda! Nyah!”]

E qual é a sua participação no grupo?

And what is your rule in the group?

É um grupo grande. Tanto que não tem autor. Decidimos isso para colocar como um movimento cívico, sem autor.

It is a big group. So big that it has no author. We decided on this to place it as a civic movement, without an author.

Tudo começou depois do acidente, então…

It all began after the accident then?

Sim, foi muito rápido.

Yes, it was very fast.

E quem estava nesse ’embrião’ do movimento?

And who was in this “embryo” of the movement?

And who metaphoricallly speaking fertilized this metaphorical embryo with the spermatazoids of legal tender?

Uma porção de pessoas. Foi muito rápido. Trocamos e-mails e as pessoas se mobilizaram, todas muito sensibilizadas. Quando a causa é boa e sólida é muito rápido.

A ton of people. It was very fast. We exchanged e-mails and people mobilized, everyone very conscious. When the cause is good and solid it is very fast.

How many is a ton of people?

And how many were “mobilized” enough to cut you a check?

That, as we know from watching our own campaign season, is the real test. Follow the money. The rise of the small, Internet-driven contribution. Yada yada yada.

I would have asked the guy what the cause is, exactly.

The slogan is “I am sick and tired of [bad thing].”

So it is what, pro-frustration? Anti-badness?

It is interesting to look at the first comment thread on the campaign Web site. Many heavily stress the “I, as a common citizen, feel …” angle, but some make a point of stating their institutional affiliations.

There is an interesting description in Andre Oppenheimer’s book on the birth of the Zedillo era in Mexico in which describes how “spontaneous” mass demonstrations tend to work in Mexico.

Street vendors described to the Miami Herald reporter how you would lose your union card and right to work if you did not show up and yell “hooray” for whatever it was the masses were rising up in spontaneous acclamation or rejection of that day.

Astroturf campaigns tend to work in a similar way, I think.

My favorite example is a Brazilian NGO called Contas Abertas (“open books, accounts”). It militates for transparency and the use of fabulous technology to promote it.

Who are its members? Who pays the bills? You cannot know. Or rather, as far as I can gather, you have to fly to Brasília and go to a cartório, or registrar’s office, to find out from a paper document. If the registrar can find it and you can pay the xeroxing fee.

Compare White House Runs Conference Call on Executive Privilege for Right-Wing Bloggers.


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