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@contra contra/ Secret
Last active Aug 30, 2015

What would you like to do?
experiments in automated lobbying and artificial politics


With recent technological developments, we now have access to tools that can automate just about anything. How about automating public outrage, with the goal of changing a government policy? Is it possible to manufacture a political movement using tools like Mechanical Turk, Task Rabbit, and assorted custom programs? How much money would something like this cost? This repository will start off experimenting with automation tools to get the desired responses, then move on to actually testing these in the field. This is purely for research purposes and shouldn't be used to manipulate the government for your own gain.


Goal: Get park officials to change the light bulbs at Alamo Square park with new ones that create less light pollution.

I will be observing the park throughout the entirety of this experiment - If any officials show up to survey at the lights or change the bulbs I will document that.

  1. Get mechanical turk to write a bunch of complaint letters.
  2. Send complaints to relevant officials, staggered out over a duration of time so as to not seem suspicious.
  3. Use Mechanical Turk (or Task Rabbit) to pay people to call relevant government officials to complain, staggered out over a duration of time so as to not seem suspicious.
  4. Use Task Rabbit to hire people to pass out flyers around the area
  5. Use Task Rabbit to hire protestors to demonstrate in front of the relevant government offices
  6. Use the artificial outrage to create real outrage (media coverage)
  7. Disconnect your programs and watch the rest unfold


I want to change a government policy for under 100 dollars, then streamline the process to be fully automated. I honestly believe that for under 20 dollars you can change things, but obviously the cost will scale with the complexity of the issue. I think by the end of this I can write a program that just takes your billing info and details about what you are trying to change and spawns a political movement overnight with hard cash.


Do the lights in the park even cause light pollution?

I don't know anything about lighting so I can't say for sure. This issue was basically picked at random. Here is a picture I took of one of the lights:

Is this illegal?

I hope not.

Do you actually care?


Experiment 1 - Manufacturing Outrage


Variable Value
Complaint Light pollution at Alamo Square Park
Type of work Letter to local official
Payout 0.20 USD
Requested responses 20

Here is what the workers saw:



After 2 hours, 18/20 requested responses were submitted. The quality was surprisingly high - many of the responses even did some research into the issue and cited sources. The workers put an average of 325.5 seconds into each response, with the highest being a whopping 1418 seconds (23 minutes).

Legal Threat #1

I also received an email from a Mechanical Turk worker ranting about how they have reported me to the government for lying and that I should quit trying to take their gasoline away or something - Here is the full text of that email for a quick chuckle:

I notified the local government officials already, including the ones over utilities within the city.
Writing fictitious complaints to the government is never a good idea.
The thing that ticks me off is the people complaining to the "government" about pollution due to the tools me use to make a living and feed our kids, for example gasoline vehicles, leaf blowers, and so forth.
These tools we use to make a living, electrical tools certainly aren't advanced enough to do the job that we do to support our family.
But people complain just to be complainers like it's certainly effecting their life.
Rather than complaining about some lights, why not go to prison where they make you sleep with the lights on.
I mean their only criminals right, not humans? Yet the country calls for making things "equal" between humans.

Raw Data

Duration (seconds) Response
1418 Let me begin by explaining that I truly do understand the need to generate tourism through Alamo Square Park as well as the safety benefits of keeping the park well-lit. However, as a neighbor, please understand that the park is a nightmare to live near.

As the SFGate reported several years ago, large and obstructive tour buses clog my street at seemingly all hours of the day and night. I have been made late to work simply because I could not pull out of my driveway for considerable lengths of time. But worse still, the park is constantly illuminated as if to pretend it's never nightfall in Alamo Square. I've already had to take two sick days off of work because I have been unable to rest properly at night due to this outrageous amount of light pollution, and I likely would still be dealing with that issue had I not invested in expensive dark-out curtains for my entire home.

I am confident that if San Francisco can work so hard to take care of its tourists, it can work just as hard to take care of its law-abiding and tax-paying residents. I urge you to please consider reducing the light pollution at Alamo Square Park to a reasonable level so that neighbors such as myself can sleep soundly at night and work functionally during the day.
221 I'm at my wit's end. The lights in Alamo Square Park have kept me up into the wee hours of the night for far too long now. At first I thought it was charming, but then I stopped being able to fall asleep when I wanted to. Those blasted lights in the park have got to go. If not go completely, at the very least get turned down. There's simply no reason for that amount of light pollution in the park. Everybody knows that the only people who hang out in that park at night are thugs, who don't deserve light, and homeless people, who would probably appreciate the reduced light so they can sleep on their respective benches as well.
108 I write to you today about the lights around the Alamo Square Park and the disruption this has caused to my life. I live across the street from the park and the lights make it hard for me to sleep at night. Rather than being able to enjoy the quiet atmosphere of night, the street lights make everything bright and unnatural. Please fix this by dimming the lights at night.
460 I have been a resident of San Francisco and for the last 2 weeks there has been a lot of light pollution to where it doesn't allow me to sleep and also many of my neighbors have been also complaining to me about this. I was wondering if there is anything you or any other local official can deal with this issue.
191 Pollution from the lights around the park can be noticed. Staying across the street from Alamo Square Park gives me a bad view of how these lights have negatively affected our community. As a San Francisco resident I am furious that officials are allowing this garbage in plain site for people to see. Progressive cities do more than normal ones to stay ahead in matters like this
738 As a lifelong resident of San Francisco, I am concerned about the light pollution in our wonderful city, specifically around Alamo Square Park. I remember looking up at the stars in the park during my childhood and now I would be lucky if I can see a single star on a given night. I am writing you this letter to implore you to reduce the light pollution around the park in order to conserve the beauty and peacefulness of nature.
251 I live across the street from Alamo Square Park. At night time it is hard to sleep, not only because of the noise, but also because of the constent light pollution that infiltrates my house. I wish not to be subjected to this pollution, it needs to be curbed. There needs to be a clearer defined hours for this light, and you need to respect the neighborhood and the people that live around it. We are paying taxes, but I don't want my taxes going towards disruption of my well being.
291 Let me just start this letter to say I have nothing against Alamo Square Park. I live near it and it's a wonderful place to spend the time during the day. At night however, it's a nightmare. The lights are detrimental to this neighborhood. It's already a challenge to sleep with all the noise in SF, but the lights just make it worse. I know the park is extremely popular, but do we really need to keep it open at all hours?
8 I am writing this to let you know that I feel personally offended and let down by the amount of light pollution across the street from Alamo Square Park. Is so much light really necessary? That is a rhetorical question! I think not! I am very concerned about this issue and ask you to look into it immediately. Thank you for your time.
488 I am a resident of a home across the street from Alamo Square Park. It's safe to say I already feel pretty blessed and lucky to live just a stones throw away from the Painted Ladies. However, I have noticed that the lights that surround the park are a bit too bright and there's quite a bit of light pollution. I'm not happy about that -- now don't get me wrong. I love the park! I frequent it often to play tennis or just jog, and it's not as busy as Dolores, a park I also love. It's a high point -- literally and figuratively of SF, so I love watching the sunset from here. However, the lights seem to have taken over. They're too bright at times and really take away from the charm that this park has -- especially around dusk. I hope you will take some action soon to fix this. Thank you for your time and consideration.
186 I am writing to inform you that the light pollution near Alamo Square Park is horrible. I have a new born baby and no matter how hard we try to block the lights out of her room we can't. She ends up waking up due to the light problem almost right after we put her to sleep. Please fix this issue it'll be a huge load off our shoulders
175 As a resident of our great city of San Francisco, I find the amount of light pollution emanating from Alamo Square Park to be quite disruptive to my neighborhood. We live across the street from the park and find that the lights are visible at all times of night, which is very distracting for our family. I have spoken with several other families in my area and we are all in agreement that something must be done to reduce the amount of light pollution coming from Alamo Square Park.

I hope you will consider the needs of your public and implement a new plan for lighting and lighted hours in Alamo Square Park. Our residents deserve to live in peace at all times of day.
110 The lights at Alamo Square Park are aggravating and is polluting my town! Please get these removed or turn them off or something! My late night romance has been ruined because of these bright lights! Please put them on a shorter timer and shut-off sooner than all night long. I miss my park without lights.
309 I think technology could solve the lighting problems if we were to study it more and put more money into research.
It is critical to preserve the night sky for man and beast. The stars above should considered a part of the landscape and, if obstructed, measures should be taken to allow people to enjoy it as they would a park.
169 I'm writing to address the lights around Alamo Square Park. As someone who lives in the neighborhood and is around the park frequently, I find the bright lights to be too intense. These lights cause a fair amount of light pollution, which interferes with my enjoyment of the night sky. I urge you to consider an alternative.
234 I currently live across from Alamo Square Park. While I appreciate it being properly lit, as of recently, the lighting surrounding the park is in a abundance. The lights themselves are keeping me awake, and drowning out the night sky. Surely there is something that can be done about this current light pollution that meets both yours and my needs so that I am not drowned out and the park should remain safe
7 I am writing this in hopes that something can be done about the lights at the Alamo Square Park across from my house. For me and others who live across from this park, the lights at night are making life unbearable. We are all upset over the abundance of light at the time of day we are mostly trying to relax and get ready to sleep for the night. I can not even keep my room dark enough during the night without blocking out my window with large blinds and shades. I understand there needs to be some lighting, but it could be cut in half or directed away from residential property. I even heard one of my neighbors talking about taking the lights down himself! He is no electrician and could get himself hurt. Please look into this and make sure you know that it is a daily struggle for us here across from the Alamo.
496 When was the last time you saw the night sky for what it truly is? Have you ever seen the night sky so filled with stars you could not possibly count them? Have you ever saw the night sky and thought human words could not fully describe what you were seeing because it transcended human thought and knowledge, because you realized the night sky truly is the last unexplored realm of humanity's understanding?

I can't see that in San Francisco and neither can countless others who deserve to see the natural night sky for what it is: a beautiful limitless tapestry of stars and distant galaxies and other cosmic elements decorating the horizons above our heads in a light shows that far surpasses any technological or artistic endeavor we humans have created. Due to the light pollution we cannot see even an inkling of what the night sky truly is.

We need this fixed so that generations upon generations of future children and humanity will be able to appreciate the beauty and splendor of the last frontier to be explored, simply by just looking up at the sky. I am angry that the the inability for people who can't see the night sky where we live. We live across the street from Alamo Square Park. Perhaps it's impossible to fix all the lights, but please try to fix the lights around us and await the positive feedback you'll get when all our friends and neighbors realized what they've been missing at night.

Please fix the light pollution around the park Alamo Square Park.

Automation Potential

This could be totally automated. The user would simply type in some basic information about their goal, and a Mechanical Turk HIT would be created and responses saved to be sent out later.


If these were sent via email they would definitely come off as legitimate, assuming that "to whom it may concern" was replaced with the official's name, and "a concerned citizen" was replaced with a realistic sounding name. These replacements would be trivial, and you could even replace them with names of people who live near the area the complaints address to add more authenticity.

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