Left- and right-wing versions of an ad seeking social media commenters. Both ads have now been flagged for removal.
Yesterday we (and the rest of the internet) stumbled across an ad, on Craigslist, seeking people to post right-wing comments on online comment boards for pay. Similar ads have since surfaced on Craigslist in other Canadian cities, reportedly. Shortly after we found the original ad, we sent a message to the associated email address, which was just one of those anonymized Craigslist email addresses. We weren’t expecting any response.
But the next day, we got one.
The person who emailed us never revealed his or her name. He or she gave us the name of a company, “Blog Right Canada” that shows no Google results. Because of this, we’re unable to verify anything he or she told us.
Here is our complete, unedited exchange…
Torontoist (March 28, 2:02 p.m.):
Hi there. My name is Steve Kupferman. I’m a staff reporter at Torontoist.
We came across your Craigslist ad earlier today, and I, personally, found it very interesting. We hear a lot about these kinds of newspaper-comment and social media campaigns, but we don’t know very much about how they’re run, who runs them, or why.
I was wondering if anyone at your organization would consent to speak to me, on the record, about the role of online comments in a federal election.
Let me know. And thanks.
Craigslist Poster (March 29, 10:35 a.m.):
We received your email yesterday but it was a busy day and before we could reply, as you know, our Craigslist ad was flagged. Because we don’t know why the ad was flagged, we assume it was a left-winger who doesn’t believe in free enterprise.
We intended to post the ad or some variation of it again, but today someone has taken our ad word for word and re-posted it out of Calgary’s craigslist. We have no way of knowing who did this, but suspect it is the media fishing for a story. Perhaps even you? Or it could be some left-wing nut trying to undermine our business. We have flagged that rip off ad and now have to re-vamp our recruitment to avoid this type of childish take over.
Re: you questions about us. As you can imagine it is not like we can discuss our clients in detail. Suffice it to say they are concerned citizens who feel most media, especially in Ontario is biased against Harper. Forums are fair game for swaying public opinion and certainly the idea of paid posters is not news even in quaint old Canada
Blog Right Canada
Torontoist (March 29, 10:47 a.m.):
Well, let me start by saying that I didn’t repost your ad. I’ll admit to being a little suspicious of so-called “astroturfing,” which really is what you’re doing. But I respect your right to do it.
I would never expect you to discuss clients in detail, but there are other things I’m interested in knowing.
For one: there has been some speculation, on Twitter, that your ad is a left-wing plant. Is there a way you can demonstrate to me that your company is for real? Perhaps you have an office somewhere that I could visit, or a reputable third party that can vouch for you.
For another: I’m very interested in the logistics of running one of these types of campaigns. Have you ever organized one before? If so would you be willing to talk about how it’s done?
Craigslist Poster (March 29, 12:27 p.m.):
We’re busy dealing with the Calgary ad which is still up. Have flagged it but it has not been removed. We cannot get an answer from Craigslist how an ad that obviously ripped off ours is allowed to stay posted. Talk about your left wing plant. Why don’t you ask craigslist why this ad is stll up? Maybe they will respond to the media. Maybe the Calgary craigslist has some lefty nerd on staff. We’re trying to resolve this BS before we re-post new ads
First time orhganizing something this big. I have helped with previous volunteer posting on a municipal level. We are upping the anti now to ensure consistant reponses to some of the garbage that passes for balanced news coverage. It’s not that hard to organize once we have the right writers lined up. Most are assigned a specific media outlet: Toronto Star, G&M, CBC, ect. They create one or more accounts and just ride each news item until its dead.. The dif this time is we have a little ediorial overview. Volunteer posters sometimes they get side tracked or flame out and get banned from posting.
Torontoist (March 29, 12:33 p.m.):
I don’t think Craigslist would respond to questions from the media about a specific ad. But I sincerely wish you good luck in getting that flagged.
So, are you a formal organization under contract to some larger group or campaign, or is this a volunteer effort that you’re funding out of pocket? Because I notice that Blog Right Canada doesn’t really register on Google.
Craigslist Poster (March 29, 1:12 p.m.):
My partner and I are the main organizers, we’re funded by a small group of concerned citizens. Blog Right Canada is our public email when dealing with people from outside our circle.
Torontoist (March 29, 1:19 p.m.):
Do you think we could speak on the phone? I could call you up at your convenience.
Torontoist (March 29, 3:50 p.m.):
Not to be too pushy, but I think it would be in your interest to talk. The Star is declaring you a fake. If that’s not the case, then help me prove them wrong.
And we haven’t heard anything further from them.