Peebles P.R. Firm "Sock Puppet" scam exposed

Quarry owner Don Peebles has been promising Pacificans everything but the moon if they will just vote to rezone the Quarry for 355 housing units. Since most of the promises are not binding and are not even in the ballot measure, they are not enforceable. Yet, voters are being asked to put blind faith in Mr. Peebles, based on nothing but his self-proclaimed integrity. So far, he has put on an impressive show. But now, his credibility in the community is eroding.

First, he held a charrette but failed to deliver the notices to the public in time. That, we were told, was due to a mailing error. Next, the Peebles campaign sent invitations to several public meetings but failed to disclose who was hosting the meetings. That, we heard, was due to a printer error.

Now, as reported in the Tribune last week, some disturbing pro-Peebles messages have appeared on the Pacifica-L list, a local internet chat room. An astute Pacifica-List member proved that these messages, ostensibly from local residents "Jimmy" and "Susan," actually came from the IP address of the server belonging to Davies Communications, Mr. Peebles' paid campaign handlers. Once they were outed, "Jimmy" and "Susan" refused to explain themselves and disappeared from the Pacifica-List.

According to Wikipedia, these internet "sock puppets," as they are known, are created to manufacture the illusion of support in a vote or argument. Creation of a fake grass-roots upswelling of support is known as "astroturfing." Davies Communications is reportedly a master of such techniques. (See Journal of Economics & Management Strategy, Vol. 13, No. 4, Winter 2004, pp. 561-563, available online).

It is perfectly acceptable to openly and passionately advocate for one's position. But it is outright fraud, in my opinion, to fabricate support, and to fail to disclose that communications are coming from paid campaign operatives.

As I write this letter, it has been a week since this dirty trick was exposed. Yet, Davies and Peebles have neither denied their complicity nor issued an explanation to the Pacifica List members. But then, how could such an unethical attempt at voter manipulation be explained?

I don't expect Davies and Peebles to admit to using or condoning these deceptive tactics. They will no doubt issue some statement of deniability in typical PR style. But in the absence of a believable, compelling explanation, what are we to conclude? To quote from Davies' website, "perception is reality." So, Pacificans, if you perceive that Davies Communications is behind the sock puppet scam, can finish the sentence.

In light of these events, I hope all Pacificans will think long and hard before deciding to trust whatever the Peebles campaign promises. We should remain vigilant and skeptical to avoid being duped by phony messages of support for Measure L. The best way to do that is to vote No on Measure L.

Dinah Verby

The above was printed as a Letter to the Editor in the August 30th, 2006 issue of the Pacifica Tribune, and is republished here with the author's permission.