Astroturfing is advocacy in support of a political or corporate agenda appearing as grassroots social movements. The term astroturfing is a derivation of AstroTurf, a brand of synthetic carpeting designed to look like natural grass, that is, astroturfing refers to imitating or faking popular grassroots opinion or behaviour. The goal in astroturfing is to disguise the efforts of a political, commercial or other entity, as an independent public reaction to a politician, political group, product, service or event. It has become easier to structure computerized activism and commercial astroturfing campaign in the electronic era because the cost and effort is so low. In business, astroturfing is one form of stealth marketing, which can include the manipulation of viral marketing.
First coined in 1985 by Texas Democratic senator Lloyd Bentsen, “astroturfing” refers to the practice of disguising the original sponsors of a campaign or message of a large corporation or powerful lobby group, in order to appear like an organic grassroots movement. By giving a false impression of significant public support or opposition to a cause, these astroturfing efforts can more easily drum up actual enthusiasm for an otherwise obscure movement. Astroturfing campaigns can trick politicians into falsely believing that there is a clear, widespread consensus about a specific issue.
In Australia astroturfing is regulated by Section 18 of the Australian Consumer Law, which broadly prohibits "misleading and deceptive conduct." Astroturfing does not occur just in politics. Astroturfing is common in social media and advertising. astroturfing has reached a level in our society where it is increasingly hard to separate fact from fiction. For example, paid social media trolls who pose as regular people to media reports on a new wonder drug.
"Astroturfing" is public participation that is perceived as heavily incentivized, as fraudulent, or as an elite campaign masquerading as a mass movement. - Grassroots for Hire: Public Affairs Consultants in American Democracy - Edward Walker.
Oxford Professor Philip N. Howard argued that the internet was making it much easier for powerful lobbyists and political movements to activate small groups of aggrieved citizens to have an exaggerated importance in public policy debates. - Howard, Philip N. (2005). New Media Campaigns and the Managed Citizen. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
Astroturfing may be orchestrated by political consultants who specialize in opposition research. Astroturfing may be by an individual promoting a personal agenda, or highly organized professional groups. Some studies suggest astroturfing can alter public viewpoints and create enough doubt to inhibit action. - Lyon, Thomas P.; Maxwell, John W. (2004). "Astroturf: Interest Group Lobbying and Corporate Strategy."
Astroturfing is the masking of sponsors of a message or organization in political, advertising, religious or public relations to make it appear as though it originates from and is supported by grassroots participants. Astroturfing is a intended to give the statements or organizations credibility by withholding information about the source's financial connection.
Astroturfers orchestrate the actions of apparently diverse and geographically distributed individuals. Astroturfing is also known as "rent-a-crowd." The People's Republic of China has employed paid astroturfing bloggers, known as red vests, red vanguar, or the 50 Cent Party, a reference to the 5 mao they are paid for each supportive post. Issues like healthcare reform and climate change are all issues covered by astroturf, fake grassroots movements, usually by lobbyists and Public Relations Experts. The practice of astroturfing or faking support for a product or cause is on the rise both online and offline.
A study examined the effects of websites operated by front groups on students. It found that astroturfing was effective at creating uncertainty and lowering trust about claims, thereby changing perceptions that tend to favor the business interests behind the astroturfing effort. - Cho, Charles H.; Martens, Martin L.; Kim, Hakkyun; Rodrigue, Michelle (2011). "Astroturfing Global Warming: It Isn't Always Greener on the Other Side of the Fence". Journal of Business Ethics.
Astroturfing is prohibited by the national associations for members of the public-relations and communication profession in the United States, Australia and the UK respectively through the code of ethics of the Public Relations Society of America, the Public Relations Institute of Australia and the Chartered Institute of Public Relations. Astroturfing is a technique where a few people attempt to give the impression that mass numbers of enthusiasts advocate some specific cause.
Studies suggest astroturfing can alter public viewpoints and create enough doubt to inhibit action. In the first systematic study of astroturfing in the United States, Oxford Professor Philip N. Howard argued that the internet was making it much easier for powerful lobbyists and political movements to activate small groups of aggrieved citizens to have an exaggerated importance in public policy debates.
In 2003, "grass-roots" letters favouring Republican Party policies appearing in local newspapers around the US were denounced as "astroturf", Google searches revealed that identical letters were printed with different signatures.
Journalist Ben Smith of The Politico has observed, "Interest groups across the spectrum have grown expert at locating, enraging and turning out authentic Americans. And the operatives behind the crowds say there's nothing wrong with a practice as old as American politics."
on Twitter: How to Coordinate a Disinformation CampaignOpen Materials
Franziska B. Keller, David Schoch, Sebastian Stier, JungHwan Yang, Published online: 26 Oct 2019.
Abstract: Political astroturfing, a centrally coordinated disinformation campaign in which participants pretend to be ordinary citizens acting independently, has the potential to influence electoral outcomes and other forms of political behavior. Yet, it is hard to evaluate the scope and effectiveness of political astroturfing without “ground truth” information, such as the verified identity of its agents and instigators. Features that best distinguish these accounts from regular users in contemporaneously collected Twitter data are traces left by coordination among astroturfing agents. By using the principal-agent framework to analyze one of the earliest revealed instances of political astroturfing, we improve on extant methodological approaches to detect disinformation campaigns and ground them more firmly in social science theory.