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Sunday, April 10, 2016


Want to buy a demonstration of have someone fake outrage? It's easy.

Ever wonder where those demonstrators come from?  They could very well be unemployed actors earning $10 an hour. There's a company called Crowds on Demand that puts it all together for you.

The text says to arrive at an address on California Street in San Francisco’s Nob Hill neighborhood at 5 p.m. on a Thursday. Like my previous Crowds on Demand gig, I have no idea what my work is going to entail. All I’m told is to wear a suit.

Again, I’m running late. As I crest the hill at California and Taylor, I see elegantly dressed older couples streaming into a palatial white building. Photographers and TV news cameramen swarm around each pair, while a reporter blocks their path, bombarding them with questions. Getting closer, I realize that this isn’t a TV reporter — it’s Adam wielding a reporter’s hand-held mic.

“What’s your opinion on the Georgia edict?” he shouts at a couple in their 70s who veer around him, making a beeline for the front door.

“No comment,” the guy says. “We’re from Greece.”

“No comment?” Adam shrieks, as they duck into the building. “What are you saying? Greek people can’t stand up against bigotry?”

He spots me and comes over to say hi, making note of my lateness. Breathlessly, he gives me a hurried orientation. This is the California Memorial Masonic Temple, where Masons have gathered for their annual world conference. Recently, the Georgia grand lodge passed a bylaw — known as the Georgia edict — prohibiting homosexuality among its members. Our job? To pose as a TV news crew, confront Masons as they arrive for the opening gala, and challenge them to take a stand. “Just watch me for a few minutes,” Adam says. “You’ll figure it out.”

Sprawling camera crew in tow, Adam intercepts the Masons and interrogates them as they struggle to rush past him. Most ignore his questions, but now and then a couple stops to talk. “It’s a state’s rights issue,” a courtly, silver-haired man from Florida tells him. “Do I agree with what they’re doing in Georgia? No way. But one of the main things about Masons is, we don’t interfere with other chapters.”

Adam inches closer to the guy, raising his voice. “If you don’t agree with it, isn’t it your duty to stand up and say so?”

The guy shrugs. “I’m not a lodge master.”

Adam goes berserk or, as I observe him more closely, puts on a controlled show of going berserk. “What an embarrassment!” he shouts. “Listen, I go to the Equinox gym in Santa Monica. If the Equinox in Boston bans gays, I’m damn sure going to do something about it!”

Two cops barrel over, a burly male and a spike-haired female. The male cop says, “Hey! You guys can do whatever it is you’re doing. That’s your right. But knock off the swearing! There are kids around.”

Adam wasn’t really swearing, and there are no kids in sight. Left momentarily speechless, Adam allows the Florida Mason to hurry up the temple’s front steps.

Adam turns to me. “All right,” he says. “You got the idea?”

Actually, I don’t, but Adam deputizes me on the spot, passing me a mic. He assigns a ragtag band to shadow me — six altogether, ranging from 20 to 60 years old. We’ve got two photographers, two videographers, a soundperson with a mic on an extendable boom pole, and a young woman balancing the brightest floodlight I’ve ever seen in my life on a rickety monopod. We don’t look like any kind of TV news crew that I’ve ever seen — more like students in a community college filmmaking class — but for Masons visiting San Francisco from Arkansas, Oregon, Portugal, and Uganda, unfamiliar with the local media, maybe we’ll pass.

What brought my fake camera crew here tonight was a Craigslist ad Adam posted earlier in the week: “Adventurous videographers wanted,” with few other details. Emily Ivker is the person wielding the boom pole. She’s a recent college graduate from Wayland, Massachusetts, who just landed in San Francisco the previous week with dreams of becoming a travel blogger. “Twenty bucks an hour,” she says. “I couldn’t pass it up.” (Crowds on Demand wages vary depending on the type of job and the local cost of living: $10 an hour in New Orleans, double in the Bay Area.)

It's clled Astroturfing and you can bet your bottom dollar that a lot of what you see on the street, in rallies and on social media is paid for by some deep pockets.

Read the whole thing.

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The first time I heard the word "astroturfing" used this way was when Nancy Pelosi used it to describe the Tea Party. She knew what it was before we did. Likely she knew because she and hers engaged in it. Probably a lot.
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