Astroturf refers to grassroots groups or coalitions which are actually fake; often created or heavily funded by corporations, public relations firms, industry trade associations, and political interests. Astroturfing is used by organisations to give the illusion of genuine public support to their cause, manufacturing public opinion in what some commentators have called "democracy for hire". When an individual creates a fake identity for similar purposes this is known as a Sock puppet.
Unlike genuine grassroots activism, which tends to be people-rich but cash-poor, Astroturf activism is normally people-poor but cash-rich. Astroturf campaigns work by recruiting the support of less-informed activists and individuals to their cause, often my means of Deception. Astroturfing can mislead the public into believing that the views of the astroturfer are mainstream and that widespread genuine support actually exists, when in most cases it does not. Deceptive Astroturf campaigns are thus most likely to occur where the interests of wealthy or powerful interests come into conflict with the interests of the public.
A lot of Astroturf campaigning occurs in both local and national newspapers, especially in the letters to the editor section, where 'concerned citizens' and 'expert organisations' attempt to convey their biased agenda.
Online Comment Forums
As the size and importance of online debate increases, Astroturf campaigns are increasingly targeting the Internet to further their agenda. The forums and comment sections of popular blogs and newspaper websites are often prime targets for Astroturfers, who can leave scripted comments anonymously without fear of detection. For wealthy interests, publicly crowding out opposing views with a stream of Astroturf support online is an increasingly prevalent phenomenon.
This online presence can be efficiently and automatically generated, through the use of 'Persona Management Software', which gives organisations the ability to multiply their Astroturf capabilities across the Internet; generating fake online profiles for their use, complete with their own individual backstory and IP address, in order to crown out genuine debate on website comment forums.
Examples of Astroturf Organisations
- Hands Off the Internet
- Freedom's Watch
- Citizens for a Sound Economy
- Americans for Prosperity
- Citizens for Access to the Arts
- Andy Gittzlitz, I was a political astroturfer, Salon, 14 April 2013
- Wikipedia, Astroturfing: Overview of subject
- SourceWatch, Astroturf: Critical look at corporate Astroturfing
- Adam Bienkov, Astroturfing: what is it and why does it matter?: Opinion piece on astroturfing
- George Monbiot, The need to protect the internet from 'astroturfing' grows ever more urgent: A look at online astroturfing
- Sharyl Attkisson, Top 10 Astroturfers: Astroturfing in the US
- Corporate Watch, Online Astroturfing: Astroturfing on the web
- PR Wiki, Astroturfing: Astroturfing in public relations industries
- SourceWatch, Astroturf, SourceWatch website, accessed 23 March 2015
- George Monbiot, The need to protect the internet from 'astroturfing' grows ever more urgent, The Guardian website, 23 February 2011, accessed 23 March 2015
- Adam Bienkov, Astroturfing: what is it and why does it matter?, The Guardian website, 08 February 2012, accessed 23 March 2015