Next Level Astroturfing

The for-profit appropriation of social movements is in full swing.

Obama’s election victories, the marriage equality victory, and the Net Neutrality victory have served as rapid incubators for internet-based activism. They’ve created an unprecedented level of talent, tools, and tactics that, so far, are pretty much undefeated. The allure of that record has caught the attention of the private sector.

The use of mission-driven rhetoric by Valley tech companies and start-ups – ‘But what we’re really trying to do is save the world.’ – is a truism at this point. It’s referenced in countless articles on how to recruit and retain millennial employees. It’s the central tenet in the cults of Jobs and Musk. (Though I’m an admitted fan of Musk.) And it’s the frequent object of ridicule.

But the for-profit appropriation of the tactics of social movements makes mission-driven tech rhetoric, greenwashing, and corporate social responsibility cause-related marketing seem harmless in comparison. It’s a real threat to those of us who wield those tools for good.

Overuse will blunt their impact. Misguided use will undermine public faith. And the private sector has more resources to throw at the innovation required to stay ahead of both these trends.

The Republican use of working class rhetoric to dismantle the labour movement demonstrates what can happen when organizing falls into the wrong hands.

Here’s hoping the Election Workers Class of ’16 stay true to their beliefs and resist the siren call of stock options.

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