Hot on HuffPost Tech:

See More Stories
AOL Tech

Health Insurers Caught Bribing 'FarmVille' Gamers to Oppose Healthcare Reform

Most political parties or interests (from countless fan pages or groups devoted to espousing one doctrine or another, or just general forums where people can go to learn more) use Facebook in a pretty innocent way. But why go through all that effort to inform and educate when you can just manufacture political opinion with "money"?

That seems to be the philosophy of several major health insurance companies at least. Companies opposed to President Obama's healthcare plan have started "paying" online gamers with virtual money, in exchange for written letters to congressmen or local representatives expressing their opposition to the Obama plan. Usually, people playing 'FarmVille' or 'Mafia Wars' earn virtual "money" on their own gaming merits, which they can use to buy new weapons or something equally silly to advance further in the game. Alternatively, they could actually buy the fake money with real money. Or, they could get third-party offers -- normally from companies who require gamers to try a product in exchange for extra points.

An anti-reform group called 'Get Health Reform Right' is one such third party, but instead of offering users to try a certain product, they require them to fill out a short survey. The catch is, after the gamer fills out the survey and goes back to shooting gangsters or raising digital cattle, an e-mail is automatically sent to their political representative, saying: "I am concerned a new government plan could cause me to lose the employer coverage I have today. More government bureaucracy will only create more problems, not solve the ones we have."

This practice of paying people to act like political supporters is known as "astroturfing," and, believe it or not, it's actually legal. It's certainly not the first time during the healthcare debate that we've seen this kind of misrepresentation of public opinion, so perhaps we shouldn't be surprised. And besides, as you can see from the screen shot, the survey makes it very clear that the message will be sent to senators and representatives, so it's technically transparent enough. We just think that there are better, less unctuous ways to use Facebook to promote a cause, without dangling the carrot of virtual money in front of vulnerable gamers. We're glad the story's out, and we hope congressmen read it. That way, when they see a flood of identical e-mails calling for the destruction of Obamacare, they'll take the message with the generous helping of salt that it deserves. [From: Business Insider]

Tags: facebook, famrville, gaming, get health reform right, GetHealthReformRight, health insurance, HealthInsurance, insurance, mafia wars, MafiaWars, top