Anonymous Online Advocacy Sites
Chris Kelly, a writer for Bill Maher’s TV show, uses his column at Huffington Post today to take aim at an online petition drive surrounding the F-22 Raptor fighter jet program. He laments the fact that he has seen ads for this petition on a variety of conservative web sites, and he skewers the merits of the ad. (Some commenters on his column note that the ad appeared, at least for a time, on Huffington Post immediately adjacent to his article, so one suspects the ad buy was probably a bit broader than just conservative sites.)
I’m not here to opine on the pros and cons of this or any other specific defense spending program. Rather, I want to look at Mr. Kelly’s other objection. He quite rightly notes that the petition web site, protectraptorjobs.com, is completely anonymous. He speculates as to who might be behind the site, but that is mere conjecture on his part.
The trouble is that entirely anonymous advocacy sites like these make it more difficult for legitimate online public affairs programs to gain traction. The shadow of suspicion falls on everyone when some folks try to play fast and loose.
Surely there is no shame in working to protect businesses and jobs, so why not carry some sort of attribution on the web site? In this case, even if the group were named something bland like
“Citizens to Preserve Raptor Jobs” with a PO Box address, it would at
least be something to hang one’s hat on, rather than a web site with no
Though many are quick to blame the companies suspected to be involved in these situations, often times these campaigns may be undertaken by outside groups, including industry associations or issue advocacy organizations. Regardless, it would be helpful to have some idea who is sponsoring this or any other adovacy site or activity.
In this particular situation, the only thing we can surmise without truly guessing is that Democracy Data, a Virginia-based public affairs firm, is responsible for the web site and advertising. A WHOIS search on the domain reveals that firm controls the DNS records for the domain name. But that’s a vendor, not client. And, of course, we don’t know who decided to omit any attribution on the web site — or even for certain that it was intentional and not an oversight. Since it takes less than 10 seconds to discover the firms involvement, why not at least put that on the site as a starting point?
Now, I’m not one who believes transparency means one must share every little detail. For instance, many non-profit organizations enage in advocacy, but it would be impractical and inappropriate to release all donor names. But at the least it would be good to attribute any of their activities to that organization.
I have long decried the scourge of anonymous web commenters. Let’s not see the same thing happen with anonymous advocacy sites.