I'd like to bring to your attention the following academic paper on an increasing trend in Internet marketing / propaganda using Hidden Paid Posters:
It is already well known that companies use bots to post favourable reviews of their products and give 5/5 stars on everything to increase customer trust. Most likely, they are also using bots to downvote rivals' products. What seems to be a newer trend is that the PR companies actually hire mass amounts of people to flood forums etc. to influence opinion.
What makes this seem relevant here is that the paper cites a case of a Chinese WOW community site (called "Baidu Post Community of World of Warcraft" in the paper; not exactly sure what it is), where something like that happened. Apparently a Chinese PR company was using 800 "hirelings" to do flood posting (300621 posts in two days) to keep the forum activity up while the WOW servers were down. This was apparently done "with an intention to maintain the popularity of this online computer game during its temporary system maintenance".
The paper doesn't mention who might have hired the PR company, but the question is of course, who else except Blizzard could have been so eager to maintain the popularity of WOW while the servers were down...?
Even if Blizzard was not involved in that, there are some hints that Blizzard is taking a more 'aggressive' route with their PR. I'm thinking of the strict PR rules for fansites (are not allowed to post about other games etc.), the fact that diablo.incgamers as a huge fansite doesn't get invited to PR events anymore etc. I also recall that Bashiok recently went to Europe for a meeting on "how to work with bloggers" (or something like that), so what do you think that could have been all about?
My question to you is: Have you ever had a feeling that some people here may be Hidden Paid Posters? Certainly myself I sometimes wonder at the amount of people whose contribution on the forums is nothing except supporting the Blizz PR line at all times - even if said PR line changes three times a day.
I think there is no doubt that the methods described in the paper are effective. There don't seem to be any legal restrictions, either. Whether or not Blizzard would be ruthless enough to go that way, I'm not sure, but with Kotick at the top, I'd say it's not out of the question.