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Is Lee benefiting from astro-tweeters?

Published September 13, 2012 12:00 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

You may have heard of astroturfing, but it appears Sen. Mike Lee has some astro-tweeters.

Minutes into Sen. Mike Lee's testimony this week before the House Judiciary Committee, @BritneyLobber tweeted out that the Utah Republican was a "freaking constitutional ninja." Then @AlexandriaLexin noted on Twitter that Lee was "destroying that first guys complaints."

@AdamReckley1 chimed in, noting that President Barack Obama and unconstitutional are "like peas in a pod" and for Lee to "go get 'em."

All three comments flowed into the Twitter feed, adding to other positive comments they have made about the senator since the accounts were created in early July.

In fact, I found six Twitter handles created around that time that laud the senator, re-tweet his posts and pose tough questions for an online town hall as, "What do you consider to be your greatest accomplishment thus far?"

Many of the tweets come on the same day - Sept. 7, Sept. 4, Aug. 23 - and several of them said the same thing on Aug. 11: "I found out what @SenMikeLee said about @RepPaulRyan" with a link to a Lee statement.

In politics, the term astroturfing refers to artificial grassroots efforts used to make a candidate appear more popular. Is the same thing happening with Lee on Twitter?

More intrigue: Two of the Twitter feeds' profile pictures are from the same website from an 80s party in 2005. There are two Adam Reckley accounts, and someone by the same name has commented positively about Lee on YouTube videos.

Lee spokesman Brian Phillips said neither he nor anyone in the office knows the people named on the accounts and there's no effort by his office to create fake accounts.

"We certainly don't have any connection to it," Phillips said. "It's not coming from our office."

Phillips notes that if there was an effort at astroturfing then it certainly isn't effective since the accounts total just over 1,100 followers. Lee's official Twitter feed has more than 13,000 followers alone.

Still, the accounts are a bit suspicious. Take the @AlexandriaLexington feed where out of 41 tweets, seven are about Lee. The other tweets? Random sports statistics or odd state laws.

Who knows. In the Twitterverse, there are a lot of real people and a lot of faux voices. Lee appears to have attracted both.

— Thomas Burr twitter.com/thomaswburr