This will come as a shock to many of you, but I've heard complaints over the years about the quality of commenters at Philly.com in general, and at this blog in particular. Can you imagine? Anyway, it never occurred to me that -- to the extent that there is a problem -- this might be the work of professionals:
NPR media reporter David Folkenflik writes in his forthcoming book Murdoch's World that Fox News' public relations staffers used an elaborate series of dummy accounts to fill the comments sections of critical blog posts with pro-Fox arguments.
In a chapter focusing on how Fox utilized its notoriously ruthless public relations department in the mid-to-late 00's, Folkenflik reports that Fox's PR staffers would "post pro-Fox rants" in the comments sections of "negative and even neutral" blog posts written about the network. According to Folkenflik, the staffers used various tactics to cover their tracks, including setting up wireless broadband connections that "could not be traced back" to the network.
A former staffer told Folkenflik that they had personally used "one hundred" fake accounts to plant Fox-friendly commentary.
There are definitely sockpuppets out there. I hadn't really noticed it with Fox, and I've written plenty of negative pieces about Murdoch & Friends over the years. There are definitely commenters on every negative piece about Gov. Corbett (although there's too many of those to keep up with these days) who write like they're angling for a job in the governor's press office...if they don't have one already.
But I can also say that the best way to take down a blog is through a string of short and sweet, illiterate, racist illogical remarks. That kind of thing goes on every day, anyway -- and billionaire Rupert Murdoch doesn't have to spend a penny to make it happen.