March 16, 2004
Freep this Poll! "Der Spiegel" Exposes The Free Republic's "Freeping" Strategies
BUZZFLASH READER CONTRIBUTION
Something funny happened to the online version of Germany's weekly newsmagazine "Der Spiegel" earlier this month. Starting on March 5, its normally Bush-allergic readership suddenly appeared to turn around 180 degrees, giving an enthusiastic thumbs up to the American president in the magazine's online poll.
Fortunately, the editors of Der Spiegel didn't fall for the ruse, and unlike the mainstream U.S. media, they immediately alerted their readers to the growing right-wing menace: "Freepers!"
In its March 15, 2004 issue, Spiegel Online [LINK] took the gloves off and put the spotlight on the Free Republic's guerilla warfare tactics, which range from disrupting Democratic rallies, to lies and intimidation techniques, and their most notorious claim to fame: fixing Internet polls. The Freepers goal is to drown out of the opposition in the United States and build support for conservative causes and candidates through whatever means necessary.
The Free Republic website, owned by ultraconservative activist Jim Robinson, emerged as a political force in the late nineties. Der Spiegel traces the right-wing phenomenon from its Clinton-hating days through its tech-savy online voting manipulation techniques.
The Call to Freep Der Spiegel
On March 5 a call went out on the Free Republic website to freep --quote -- "Germany's left-left-wing Spiegel Online." The magazine had asked readers to rate Bush's performance on a 1 to 6 scale. What's especially noteworthy about the post is that it did not come from an American member, but from German activist David Kaspar, who runs a right-wing web log of his own. The request, complete with instructions and screenshots of the online voting to date, read:
"Bush needs your help ... As of 5 March, 2004, 1 pm (Berlin time), Bush's results are rather miserable. Only 3.3 per cent for ‘1’ and 1.47 per cent for ‘2.’" (with "1" and "2" being the best ratings).
Soon after the freepers went into action, Kaspar followed up with the following entry:
"As of 5 March, 2004, 10 pm (Berlin time), Bush's results are EXCELLENT. 41.23 per cent for ‘1’ (= Bush did a great job as President) . Many thanks!! You guys are doing just great!! The Bush haters at Spiegel online will have a heart attack tomorrow morning ... Keep up the good work!!"
Two days later Kaspar not only bragged about the "large pro-Bush base" -– by that time giving Bush a 59% excellent rating -- but he even referred to an imaginary interview with an imaginary Spiegel online editor, and credited the Free Republic with changing the future course of the magazine's political line. He then followed up with further calls to "drive the German left insane."
Other freeper actions noted by Der Spiegel include the posting of John Kerry's campaign schedule on the Free Republic website on March 8, asking members to show up with digital cameras to take "more realistic" shots of the Democratic candidate. Poll manipulation, however, is freepers’ specialty. Recent targets included polls on CNN and New York Times on gay marriage, Bush's 9/11 ads, and the greenhouse effect -- which does not exist, according to 86.5% of the respondents. Freeped!
The tragic irony is that it took massive interference with a poll in a foreign site for this gross manipulation of public opinion by a fanatical fringe to be denounced in a major publication. But as always, not a peep in the mainstream American press. On this side of the Atlantic, awareness of Free Republic's cyberwarfare is limited largely to sophisticated online activists. Meanwhile major websites whose polls are freeped merely note that their polls are "not scientific," giving readers no inkling that a massive and deliberate attempt at public opinion manipulation by the right wing is at play.
Yet the publishing of online polls continues in spite of media’s knowledge of the freeper attacks. That in itself is more ominous than the freepers themselves. The mainstream media is being used with its full consent. Shouldn’t we ask, "Why?"
A BUZZFLASH READER CONTRIBUTION
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