We can all look forward to higher quality trolls in comments courtesy of the New York Fed (assuming we don’t have them already) thanks to a more thorough blogosphere/social media monitoring program the Fed is planing to launch (hat tip reader Tom via TPM):
The idea that the Federal Reserve is somehow lacking in share of voice in academic and popular discourse is laughable. I’ve gotten estimates from credible sources that the Fed now funds a full 1/4 of all graduate school research in economics. Bernanke, FOMC Board members, and the various regional Fed presidents have ready access to the media and take frequent advantage of it. Fed staffers regularly publish papers, some of which are appallingly close to propaganda as it is (a recent one I did not have the energy to shred tried to argue that foreclosures didn’t result in lower living standards. Fortunately, a New York Times op ed, “Foreclosures are Killing Us” effectively debunked it).
The real issue is that the Fed plays an increasingly active political role and still tries to hide behind its claim of independence. Greenspan promoted Bush’s efforts to privatize Social Security; Willem Buiter (a former central banker) has vehemently criticized the Fed for playing a likely-unconstitutional role by circumventing normal Congressional budgetary approvals via its use of bailout vehicles (the Maiden Lane series used for Bear Stearns and AIG). And blogs have eroded the control of the officialdom over discourse, and also provide independent analysis. Matt Stoller, in his days as a Congressional staffer, said blogs helped undermine the monopoly of lobbyists and government officials on information about the financial services industry.
One of the ways the powers that be push back against independent voices is via attacks in the comment section, either to undermine the credibility of the argument made of of the author. Readers have no doubt seen in happen here in post on unions and on libertarians (particularly when the Koch name is mentioned). There are too many comments early in the thread by first time commenters who are unnaturally persistent for this to be organic.
Now some of these may be ideologues rather than paid trolls. There is one regular commenter who is the employee of one of the financial services regulators who regularly takes issue with the political stance of this blog. He’ll also criticize posts that relate to his employer. Because he seems to be doing this out of his own personal interests, as opposed to at the behest of his employer, I’ve not asked him to say who he works for.
However, there have been other efforts out of the Fed that look to be deliberate. A colleague wrote a paper than had a less than Fed flattering set of comments in passing. The paper was featured on a very prominent academic blog. A persistent critic in comments turned out to be from the Fed (the author became suspicious and tracked the letter writer, who did not reveal his position). When the original author complained to the blog editor, the comments stopped. Mind you, there would be nothing wrong with someone from the Fed contacting either the person who ran the website or the author of the piece to try to dispute the derogatory observation, but to try to pretend that an independent party had come up with that view is just plain dishonest.
Ultimately, this effort is going to reduce, not enhance, the ability of groups like the Fed and the Koch Brothers to orchestrate disinformation campaigns. Regulars on NC are going to become increasingly suspicious of newbies with an axe to grind. In some ways, that’s bad because I use the comments section as a check in case I’ve overstated my case or missed something important. Unfortunately, the only smart response to someone who seeks to monopolize the conversation is to put your fingers in your ears.