Using Mturk.com for Astroturfing – Fake Grassroots Calling

It looks like a slumlord, group of slumlords, or some sort of pro-slumlord group in New York has been paying workers on Amazon’s Mechanical Turk service to make “grassroots” calls in opposition to a bill in the NY State Senate.

This is a really disgusting use of cheap labor to deceive elected officials.

Carter Cole (via John Horton) stumbled across this and wrote about it on his blog here.

In a nutshell, Mechanical Turk is a marketplace owned by Amazon where people can hire workers to perform tasks. The task, in this case, was to call a phone number, press 1 for voicemail, lie about their location (they’re supposed to claim they’re on the lower east side of Manhattan in zip 10003), then say that they oppose Senate Bill S6873.

The person purchasing this task is named Sam Allen. He labeled the task:

Help a good cause! Read a transcript to a public office voicemail.

The “good cause” they were asked to call about was not explained to workers. Instead, they were told what to say and were offered $3.00 each to say it.

Here is the bill Sam Allen is astroturfing support for:

PURPOSE : To clarify the definitions of terms used to describe the legal occupancy of class A multiple dwellings, to improve the ability of enforcement agencies to curtail the improper use of class A dwelling units as transient hotels, and to provide a pathway for the legalization of certain class A dwelling units constructed before 1929 for uses other than permanent purposes.

It looks like the “good cause” in this case is to oppose anti-slumlord legislation designed to prevent illegal hotels in NY.

This sets a very bad precedent. If armies of people can be recruited to lie about their support or opposition for pending legislation for $3.00 per phone call, you can be sure that lobbying groups will do it. That’s a very cheap source of legislative influence. What would have more influence: Spending $30,000 on TV or generating 1,000 calls to the offices of public officials?

2 thoughts on “Using Mturk.com for Astroturfing – Fake Grassroots Calling”

  1. 3 bucks that seems high, I would think 50 cents would be enough. Can they do the task multiple times?

  2. Ryan, I think you’re right that people would likely be will willing to complete a task like that for less than $3. It looks like they set it up for one call per person.

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