When I started writing for Thetruthaboutcars.com in 2008, I had access to an automated statistic that told us from which ISP our readers dialed-in. According to the stats, surprisingly many people accessed TTAC from their computer at General Motors. On the list, GM ranked right with AT&T and other biggies. TTAC founder Robert Farago, who was on some kind of a GM crusade, was proud that TTAC was so closely read at GM. GM did not stop at reading though. Some of TTAC’s most prolific commenters were and still are working for GM. Thousands of comments left at TTAC originated at General Motors, and from the same IP numbers as used by GM’s PR department.
Sand in the vagina
I would have never noticed, wouldn’t it have been for a commenter who went by the name of “Jjster6.” Early this year, Jjster6 asked in the commenting section of TTAC whether another contributor had “sand in your vagina or something.” Jjster6 was a friend of robust language. It was time to take away his commenting privileges. The TTAC ban system blocked the IP number also, so care had to be taken not to ban other people who might use the same number. I ran the number, and found hundreds of comments from different people originating from the same number. This is common in large corporations. I ran the number through a service that does what is known as a “reverse DNS.” It showed Jjster6’s IP as being owned by “General Motors Corporation.”
I dug a little further and noticed that over the past years, more than 3,000 comments were posted from just two small subnets of the netblock owned by GM, and then from only a few IPs. The General Motors Corporation owns the netblock from 18.104.22.168 to 22.214.171.124. However, the bulk of the comments originated from just 8 out of more than 65,025 theoretically possible IP numbers.
When Alan Adler, number 2 in GM’s PR department, left a “statement about Dan Akerson’s pay” on TTAC’s commenting system, he did do from the same IP number as “BerettaGTZ”, “BostonTeaParty”, “Captain Tungsten”, “gm-uawtool”, ”indi500fan”, “mikey610”, “toplessFC3Sman”, and a few others that left comments on TTAC from the GM network. Alan’s IP was used by Christy Garwood more than 100 times. The prolific posterette went to great pains to disclose at just about any post that she is speaking on behalf of GM – something the other commenters usually failed to do.
NAdude learns how to spell
Alan’s and Christy’s IP was also used by our friend Jjster6 on occasion. Most of the time, Jjster6 commented from an IP that he shared with “1984”, “gearhead455”, and a few times with “nadude.”
Nadude deserves special mention.
Nadude’s email address was “firstname.lastname@example.org,” and the folks at TTAC were quite proud of the fact that they had among their readers and commenters a veritable Executive Vice President at GM, North America Chief Mark Reuss. People who posted at TTAC from a GM computer loved the anonymity of Hotmail accounts. Later in the years, the likewise anonymous Gmail accounts became en vogue.
As far as Mark Reuss is concerned, it looks as if most of his posts were not his, but penned by PR operatives. The give-away: Most of the allegedly-by-Reuss statements were grammatically correct.
“Mark is borderline dyslexic,” said a source that had worked with him. “If it has proper capital letters, points and commas, then it’s not him.” Only once did a message from Mark Reuss look like it was from Reuss. This was written late at night from a Comcast cable IP, and it did read:
“Ed–no worries. I cant talk about our future product stuff obviously and your clarification is great so thanks for that and I just want people to know there are lots of customers with different views of what they need for cars or trucks and we obviously try to please them on many levels, so I just want to make sure folks know I have an open mind and want to win. thanks man–mark .”
Not that there is anything wrong with GM’s North America Chief having his comments written by someone else. However, if that someone else uses his or her computer to post surreptitious comments on auto websites, then it is safe to conclude that this his or her is in the PR department of GM. If Alan Adler and Christy Garwood comment from one IP, then it is safe to assume that this IP is used in the vicinity of GM’s PR department.
“BMW burns gays at the stake”
“Sure, it’s done by a small team that is working right at RenCen,” a source with an intimate working knowledge of the GM PR machine told me. The source said it is possible that agencies also post under cover for GM, but, says the source, “the good stuff is done right at the RenCen.”
The comments themselves ran the gamut of what one would expect to originate at RenCen: Defense of the bailout. “GM DOES NOT OWE US TREASURY $40 BILLION.” If the Treasury lost money on its stock purchase, tough. If bondholders lost their shorts, even tougher, they should have read the fineprint. Occasionally, there are barbs against the competition one would not hear when the spokesfolk is on the record, they range from “You can easily recognize the latest Ford’s from the smoke and flames pouring out from under the hood” all the way to “BMW uses slave labor and burns gays at the stake.”
“Kirkorian is a dick”
Also occasionally, commenters using the General Motors network show their lack of gratitude towards the Canadian government by referring to the recent Ontario Premier as “feminine hygeine product-bag Dalton McGinty running the clown show at Queen’s Park.” GM’s network is used to put the credibility of websites in question, as in “Any website that calls itself “The Truth About…” just reaks of self rightous pretentious douchebagery.” At around the same time Kirk Kerkorian owned 9.8 percent of GM and had his man Jerome York on the board, GM’s network is used to announce that “Kirkorian is a dick,” or that “Kirk is an idiot.” All these morsels can still be found on-line; with the help of Google, nothing gets lost.
While the language shows nothing worse than a lack of manners, the systematic undercover shilling is likely to be illegal in certain circumstances and jurisdictions. It also could collide with internal regulations at GM which say that “it is never, at any time, acceptable to “cloak” your identity or to try and “plant” statements that appear to be from an objective outsider when they are really made by GM employees.” In any case, such practice would betray the trust of the reader who believes that these comments come from individual who speak for themselves.
Over the years, comments were left on TTAC’s message system by more than 100 different alias via GM’s network. In 2009, a few commenters at GM created a new identity with an “of GM” tagged to the user name. That done, the “of GM” account tended to quickly fall in disuse, and it was back to their surreptitious selves.
Most of the comments were authored from a GM IP during the critical times before the GM bankruptcy. In 2008, more than 1,200 were comments were posted on TTAC. As time passed and GM’s destiny solidified, GM’s PR flacks found something better to do than posting false flag comments on TTAC. After Jjster6 was banned, with a note that it might not be smart to write about vaginas from a desk at GM, the cadence of comments slowed markedly. When I started to ask around, the frequency of comments from GM IPs dropped again – word must have reached the RenCen. When I departed TTAC in July this year, it was down to a few.
Valuable resources were freed for writing press releases instead of surreptitious comments on TTAC.
As we shall see in a further installment of “Send in the shills,” this practice did not stop at TTAC, and it also did not shy away from good old smear campaigns. That said, we would be astonished if TTAC was the only car site that received personal attention from GM. Editors should scan their comment logs for contributions from 198.208.x.x. If you require assistance, please contact us.
Note: Bertel Schmitt and Edward Niedermeyer were Editors in Chief of Thetruthaboutcars.com. Niedermeyer was EIC from September 18, 2009, through December 31. 2011, together with Schmitt as Managing Editor. Schmitt was EIC of TTAC from January 1, 2012 through his sudden departure at 5am on July 12, 2013.