Sociology Index

Astroturfing

Social Movements And Activism, Collective Behavior

Astroturfing is advocacy, often in support of a political or corporate agenda appearing as "grassroots" social movements. The goal here 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, by both overt and covert means. Beneficiaries are distant organizations that orchestrate such campaigns, not grass root campaigners.

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.

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 (PRSA), the Public Relations Institute of Australia (PRIA) and the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR).

Astroturfing is a technique where a few people attempt to give the impression that mass numbers of enthusiasts advocate some specific cause. This technique is also known as "rent-a-crowd."

In 1998, television ads and phone-banks were used to simulate "grassroots" opposition to a bill aimed at discouraging teenage smoking. According to The New York Times, "Those smokers who are reached by phone banks sponsored by cigarette makers, or who call the 800 number shown in television ads, are patched through to the senator of their choice."

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."

It has become easier to structure a commercial astroturfing campaign in the electronic era because the cost and effort to send an e-mail (especially a pre-written, sign-your-name-at-the-bottom e-mail) is so low.

The People's Republic of China has employed paid "astroturfing bloggers", known as "red vests", "red vanguard", or the "50 Cent Party", a reference to the 5 mao they are paid for each supportive post.