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Astroturfing

Definition of Astroturfing

Astroturfing is a deceptive strategy in which a seemingly grassroots movement or public opinion is artificially created or manipulated by an individual or organization to promote their own agenda or influence public perception. This technique often involves hiring individuals to pose as genuine supporters, creating fake accounts on social media, or generating automated messages. Astroturfing is commonly used in political campaigns, product marketing, and public relations efforts to create an illusion of genuine popularity or support.

Phonetic

The phonetic pronunciation of the keyword ‘Astroturfing’ is: /ˈæstrɵˌtɜrfɪŋ/

Key Takeaways

  1. Astroturfing is a deceptive practice where organizations or individuals create the appearance of grassroots support for an idea, position, or product, when in reality it is manufactured public opinion.
  2. It can be utilized in various forms such as fake reviews, social media campaigns, and comment manipulation to manipulate public opinion, sway elections, or boost product sales.
  3. Astroturfing can have negative consequences on trust and credibility in social and political discourse as well as in the marketplace, making it crucial for individuals to be vigilant and exercise critical thinking when encountering information online.

Importance of Astroturfing

Astroturfing is an important technology term as it refers to the deceptive practice of creating an illusion of widespread public support for a particular idea, product, or political movement, when in fact, it is often orchestrated and funded by a single organization or influential group.

This technique typically involves using fake social media profiles, fake reviews, and misleading endorsements to manipulate public opinion.

Astroturfing is crucial to be aware of as it threatens the authenticity of online information, undermines genuine public discourse, and can sway consumers, voters, and decision-makers based on falsely generated popularity, effectively distorting the democratic process and fair market competition.

Explanation

Astroturfing refers to a deceptive marketing or public relations tactic where an organization or a group creates a false impression of grassroots support for a particular cause, product, or opinion. The purpose behind this strategy is to manipulate public opinion and influence decision-making processes, often by making it appear as if there is widespread support for their agenda.

By creating this illusion of organic backing, astroturfers seek to sway public opinion, generate positive buzz, and ultimately influence consumer behavior or policy outcomes in their favor. Typically, astroturfing involves the use of fake accounts, paid actors, or generated content to simulate legitimate user engagement and amplify specific messages.

This can take many forms, including fake online reviews, fabricated social media accounts, or blog posts authored by undisclosed paid representatives. In essence, astroturfing capitalizes on the power of perceived popular endorsement by masking commercially driven or politically motivated intentions under the guise of grassroots activism.

Consequently, such tactics have been subject to increased scrutiny, as they can undermine the credibility and authenticity of public discourse and contribute to the spread of misinformation.

Examples of Astroturfing

Astroturfing refers to the practice of creating fake grassroots support for a cause, product, or organization, often used to manipulate public opinion, boost sales, or sway political outcomes. Here are three real-world examples of astroturfing:

Walmart’s “Working Families for Walmart”:In 2005, Walmart started a campaign called “Working Families for Walmart” to counter the negative perception around their employee treatment and business practices. The campaign claimed to be a grassroots initiative supporting Walmart, but it was later revealed that the group was created and funded by Walmart’s public relations firm, making it an example of astroturfing. The goal was to generate an image of widespread public support for Walmart.

The 2009 United States Tea Party:The Tea Party movement in the United States emerged in 2009 as a seemingly grassroots organization opposing excessive taxation and government intervention in the economy. However, it later came to light that several well-funded conservative organizations, such as FreedomWorks and Americans for Prosperity, played a significant role in creating and promoting the Tea Party movement to advance their political agenda. Although some genuine grassroots support existed, the extent of involvement by these well-funded organizations led critics to label the movement as an example of astroturfing.

The Bell Pottinger and South Africa scandal:In 2016, the South African media revealed that international public relations firm Bell Pottinger had launched an astroturfing campaign for their clients, the Gupta family, who were accused of corrupt dealings with South African government officials. Bell Pottinger created fake online profiles and social media accounts to spread disinformation and manufactured racial tensions in an attempt to divert public attention away from allegations of corruption against the Gupta family. The scandal led to widespread public outrage and eventually, the collapse of Bell Pottinger.

FAQs – Astroturfing

1. What is astroturfing?

Astroturfing is the practice of creating a fake grassroots movement or the appearance of support for a cause, product, or idea, often by paid individuals or organizations. It aims to manipulate public opinion by hiding the true source of the support, making it seem as if the support comes from genuine members of the community.

2. Why is astroturfing considered unethical?

Astroturfing is considered unethical because it misleads the public by presenting a false appearance of widespread support. It manipulates people’s opinions and trust in organic movements, often for the benefit of special interest groups or corporations that want to promote their agenda or product without revealing their involvement.

3. How can I identify astroturfing campaigns?

Identifying astroturfing campaigns can be challenging, but some common signs include multiple social media accounts sharing the same content, profiles with a limited number of friends or content unrelated to the cause they’re promoting, or comments and reviews that seem overly promotional or scripted. Additionally, be wary of movements that seem to have sudden, widespread support with little explanation or background information available.

4. What industries are most affected by astroturfing?

Any industry can be affected by astroturfing, but some notable examples include political campaigns, online product reviews, environmental issues, and healthcare. These industries often have high stakes, large budgets, and the potential for significant financial gain or influence, making them attractive targets for astroturfing campaigns.

5. Is astroturfing illegal?

Astroturfing is not always illegal, but it can violate laws and regulations in certain contexts, especially if it involves deceptive practices, false advertising, or misleading consumers about the identity of a reviewer or spokesperson. In some countries, there are laws against deceptive commercial practices that can apply to astroturfing, while other jurisdictions may not have specific regulations in place.

Related Technology Terms

  • Artificial Grassroots
  • Online Manipulation
  • Disinformation Campaign
  • Fake Public Support
  • Social Media Bots

Sources for More Information

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