Can you help me sniff out some possible astroturfing?
March 19, 2012 12:13 PM   Subscribe

Can you help me sniff out some possible astroturfing?

This website is totally dedicated to a single purveyor of men's custom suits. I'm a menswear blogger, and I often get asked about the brand, which is one I have some significant reservations about. The author of that website doesn't have any such reservations, to put it gently.

Using this profile, the author often jumps into negative posts about the company on big style blogs, defending it. He doesn't use his surname on his site, and his domain WHOIS is private.

All of these things (plus some of the questionable practices of the two industries - online publishing and fashion) make my Spidey Sense tingle as to whether it's black-hat SEO / undercover marketing, but that's obviously not enough to get all accusatory.

So, I emailed him and basically said, "who are you?", but does anyone have more, uhm, detectivey tools than that?
posted by YoungAmerican to Computers & Internet (12 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
have you thought of inviting them onto a panel about menswear bloggers and asking them in the pre-interview if they are employed by any menswear companies?
posted by parmanparman at 12:21 PM on March 19, 2012

Not definitive proof, but it looks like they have loads of 'articles' on search bait sites like this one. Doesn't fill you with confidence.
posted by KateViolet at 12:59 PM on March 19, 2012

Just a note: he may see the referral traffic to his site from this question and know you're investigating and what avenues you might try. He might then do some things to hide his identity.

For future reference, you might want to anonymize such links with a service like this one.
posted by Vectorcon Systems at 1:04 PM on March 19, 2012

Mod note: Just want to make perfectly clear here, giving the OP tools to solve this problem are great. Going Keystone Kops on this guy in this thread is not really okay. Thanks for helping keep AskMe terrific.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 1:05 PM on March 19, 2012

I did indeed see the referral traffic ;) In short, I'm not employed by the company in question, there is no black-hat SEO going on either. I'm a bit worried by the link KateViolet posted, because I certainly didn't put up my content on that website. I focus on quality content and backlinks from related fashion blogs, not on trying to get random backlinks on dubious or at least unrelated websites.

Anyway, anyone interested in the whole story? Glad to discus it, but I don't want to hi-jack "YoungAmerican's" (I assume he too likes some anonymity?) little investigative thread here.
posted by Lorenz at 1:15 PM on March 19, 2012 [4 favorites]

Glad to discus it, but I don't want to hi-jack "YoungAmerican's" (I assume he too likes some anonymity?) little investigative thread here.

Lorenz, if you click through to his profile (click on his username), YoungAmerican is actually not anonymous. Pretty much the opposite of that! It's not permitted (a general rule) to post profile information here where it's Googleable, but his real name is on his profile. Even without his profile, it's not hard to figure out his rather public identity based on his posting history.

And now y'all can MeFi mail each other too.
posted by Jahaza at 1:26 PM on March 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

Oh yes, indeed - I could have thought about that myself. Well, I treasure those traces of anonymity that are left on the internet. Not because I need to hide astroturfing activity, but because I feel it is not necessary to have my full name and identity readily available for everyone to see.
posted by Lorenz at 1:29 PM on March 19, 2012

I assume it will be better to have the rest of the discussion in private? But for the record, my website is not some kind of a astroturfing project. It would be a pretty amateur effort and I think every big cooperation would have a more professional effort ;) Also, my readers know very well that I am not just a naive fanboy who never says anything critical.
posted by Lorenz at 1:32 PM on March 19, 2012

He's part of the Google Affiliate Network and all the links to the actual business's site in his posts are "ads" (routed through doubleclick - note the hyperlinks). So he makes money when you click on them and when you buy the products.
posted by amaire at 2:44 PM on March 19, 2012

"He" is also not hiding this fact (see disclaimer on blog). I put a lot of work in this blog, I don't see why I should not monetize on it a bit. Not that it earns me all that much... By the way, I had not even heard of the word SEO when I started the blog 2 years ago, but in hindsight I can see how the choice of URL and the topic raises some eyebrows...Where is YoungAmerican now, I was hoping he'd follow this discussion and add his two cents.
posted by Lorenz at 3:13 PM on March 19, 2012

Mod note: OK, this discussion needs to happen in back channels from here on out.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 3:23 PM on March 19, 2012

Response by poster: Lorenz does disclose on his blog that he uses the affiliate marketing links. He also responded to my email with a short note saying he'd respond here.

Anyway: I was genuinely curious, but given that a guy is quoted in Profit magazine here as the proprietor of the site, I'm perfectly willing to accept Lorenz's explanation. Thanks to the MeFite who sent me that link.

I certainly have some concerns about the journalistic ethics involved in posting affiliate links on a blog with "review" in the name, but it certainly looks like it's not astroturfing.
posted by YoungAmerican at 8:12 PM on March 19, 2012

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