Old politics meets new media

Sometimes when I have to fix something, I use a technique I call “shotgun problem-solving.” That means I try a couple of different possible solutions at once, and see if the problem is gone. This has the disadvantage of I don’t always figure out what the problem was, but it tends to get the recalcitrant machine back up and running faster than a more methodical approach.

I’m apparently not the only one who believes in this method.

Accuweather is one of the biggest private providers of weather information in the US. Two of their biggest competitors are The Weather Channel and the National Weather Service. It would be a great boon to their business if the NWS would stop giving away what Accuweather charges for, so they apparently decided to do something about it.

Accuweather is located in Pennsylvania, so they started off with the traditional approach. They went to Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA (sometimes)), and he has filed a bill to prevent the NWS from giving away their data. They still will collect it all, but he wants to cut the minimal money involved in actually publishing it for the benefit of the people who pay for it. It was probably no hindrance to Accuweather’s case that the owners had given several thousand dollars to Santorum’s campaigns.

But I guess they wanted to cover their bases, too. A couple of bloggers who also happen to be weather geeks got wind of Santorum’s bill and started raising a stink.

I’ll admit I find the whole idea of getting excited about weather a bit silly, but to each their own. But Dave and Boyd noticed that their criticisms of Santorum’s bill (and, by extension, Accuweather) attracted some rather heated responses. Boyd was a bit puzzled, but Dave was intrigued enough to look into his critics. Lo and behold, he reports they are posting from IPs owned by Accuweather. And when (ahem) someone suggested Boyd check his own commenters, he reported the same thing.

There’s a new term floating around the blogosphere that I rather like: “astroturfing.” It is a play on the old “grass-roots movement” term, but refers to a movement that is arranged by larger forces that is supposed to look like a grass-roots movement. To me, it looks like Accuweather is dabbling in this, along with more traditional forms of political influence.

Now, one thing I’ve noticed about us bloggers: once we get our teeth into something, it’s hard as hell to get us to let go. That’s got its down sides (I could cite one person who devotes his entire blog to nitpicking every single thing he can about one specific blogger), but it also can work wonders.

Bloggers are, for the most part, not influenced by traditional economic factors. They don’t have powerful advertisers who can threaten to pull their money. They aren’t dependent on large numbers of readers to keep paying. And they tend to work alone, meaning there isn’t someone above them who can be contacted to work some influence.

Dave Halliday didn’t really care much about Senator Santorum before now. He didn’t really like the guy, but it was a passive form of dislike. But now that Santorum is goring Dave’s ox, he’s looking to sink his teeth into Santorum’s butt and not let go.

Here’s Exhibit One.

I doubt Dave will hurt Santorum in the long term, but I bet he’ll end up outweighing the benefits Accuweather’s six grand gave him.

Keep it up, Dave. You’re not just shouting into the wilderness. People are listening.


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  1. -S- April 26, 2005
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  3. zach April 26, 2005
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  7. zach April 26, 2005
  8. JimK April 26, 2005
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  10. seawitch1261 April 28, 2005