Beware while surfing…someone may be AstroTurfing

  

What is AstroTurfing?

– AstroTurfing is a formal public relations project launched under the impression of spontaneous, grassroots behaviour. The goal is to fool the public/intended audience into believing the posted material was authored/created by a person/persons who have no ties to the person/service/product/organization in which the post is related to.

Wikipedia’s definition of AstroTurfing:
In American politics and advertising, the term astroturfing describes formal public relations projects which deliberately seek to engineer the impression of spontaneous, grassroots behavior. The goal is the appearance of independent public reaction to a politician, political group, product, service, event, or similar entities by centrally orchestrating the behavior of many diverse and geographically distributed individuals.

Several cases of AstroTurfing have made headlines across North America.
Wal-Mart and Edelman Public Relations launched the Working Families for Wal-Mart organization and portrayed it as a grassroots group in December 2005. The organization was created to counter criticism of Wal-Mart from union-funded groups like Wal-Mart Watch and Wake Up Wal-Mart. The organization’s website posted the following mission statement:

“Working Families for Wal-Mart is committed to fostering open and honest dialogue with elected officials, opinion makers and community leaders that conveys the positive contributions of Wal-Mart to working families. We believe that Wal-Mart provides value to its customers, to its associates and to the communities it serves.”

Working Families for Wal-Mart apparently also sponsored the “Wal-Mart Across America” blog – where a couple posed as “Wal-Mart” fans travelling in an RV to various Wal-Mart locations across the country. It was later discovered that the male was actually a photographer for the Washington Post and the female was freelance writer who worked for United States Department of Treasury.

To read Fortune’s article about the issue click here.

We live in the electronic era, making it easier for companies to form an AstroTurfing campaign. A number of resources and tools are ready at the click of a button and the Internet makes it more cost effective.
PR bloggers Paull Young and Trevor Cook have spearheaded a true grassroots campaign to get PR practitioners around the world to take a stand against AstroTrufing.

AstroTurfing is unethical and – when carried out as a PR campaign – makes the profession look horrible. So how can young PR people help? Pall Young has a couple of tips:

  • Join the conversation – write against astroturfing on your blog or comment on the blog posts listed on the Anti-Astroturfing page on the New PR Wiki
  •  Declare you and/or your agency astroturf free
  • Expose possible examples of astroturfing
  • Link to the Anti-Astroturfing page with the image provided and add your name to the list of supporters below
  • Call on your politicians to take tougher legislative action against astroturfing
  • Call on your industry / professional association to speak out against astroturfing
  • Encourage friends and colleagues to get involved
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