Obama’s Gun-Control Campaign, #wedemandavote: Astroturfing?

Photograph by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Students are viewed through a target at a class taught by King 33 Training at a shooting range on Feb. 24, 2013 in Wallingford, Connecticut.

Twitter is all atwitter over a social media campaign on gun-control legislation that’s being promoted by President Barack Obama’s new policy group.

In the past week, Twitter users have sent some 36,000 messages with the hashtag #wedemandavote, according to social media tracker Topsy — many of them directed to the official accounts of members of Congress.

Do the tweets demonstrate grassroots energy on gun control — or “astroturfing?”

Texas Rep. Steve Stockman, a Republican, suggested in a press release that Obama’s group is “using the same scam techniques that sell ‘male enhancement pills’” He said in the release that two-thirds of the #wedemandavote Twitter messages his office had received were from “computer-generated spambots.”

One way to detect a spambot is to look at the Twitter user’s profile and tweeting history. For example, @jimbormiller recently sent Stockman a message saying:

That particular Twitter user has no followers and a history of tweets that reads like a list of infomercials. Here’s one: “OMG I just made $150 USD yesterday thanks to this” and includes a suspicious link.

Some pro-gun Twitter users have spent the afternoon warning members of Congress that the #wedemandavote hashtag shows “astroturfing” — that is, a phony effort to show grass-roots support for something.

Yet a review of the tagged tweets shows that many appear to have come from legitimate users.

Rep. Alan Lowenthal, a California Democrat, took the tag seriously enough to tell his Twitter followers:

The tag is being promoted by gun-control groups, Democrats, unions and Obama’s Twitter account, which has more than 27 million followers and is now run by Obama’s re-election campaign-turned-policy group, Organizing for Action.

On Feb. 22, the @BarackObama account tweeted:

A spokeswoman for Organizing for Action could not immediately be reached.

The #wedemandavote tag sounds a bit like Obama’s State of the Union riff on guns: “Gabby Giffords deserves a vote. The families of Newtown deserve a vote. The families of Aurora deserve a vote.”

On Friday, Organizing for Action held a “National Day of Action” and began an online advertising campaign to press Congress to pass Obama’s proposals on gun control.

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