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Astroturfing

Astroturfing is advocacy, often in support of a political or corporate agenda appearing as "grassroots" social movements. 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.

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.

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.

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. It has become easier to structure computerized activism and commercial astroturfing campaign in the electronic era because the cost and effort is so low. 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. 

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 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.

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. 

Black propaganda is information that purports to be from a source on one side of a conflict, but is actually from the opposing side. In business, astroturfing is one form of stealth marketing, which can include the manipulation of viral marketing.

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."