Thursday, October 19, 2017

Ethical Drought Makes Astroturf Popular

Xiaoyun Ma

Advertising is probably regarded as one of the least trustworthy professions. After the countless untruthful advertisements the public has watched these years, they chose to lower the standard. According to Nielson Online Survey, credibility in advertising has increased recent years. But now, the astroturfing, the new era's version of false advertising, is permeating everywhere.

The astroturfing has very long and ignoble history which can be traced back to Roman Empire. Roman politicians like Pompey and Clodius paid the citizens to support themselves and to disturb their rivals. Those paid fans followed their patron to the forum, the speeches, and the court to show the political strength.

What Pompey did seems still fashionable in the 21st century. During the presidential election, Hillary Clinton was accused of paying protesters to yell and disturb Trump rallies; also, Donald Trump was alleged that giving $50 to each actor to support his announcement.

With the uprising of the social networks, the emerging effect of "the crowd" has brought the astroturfing to online reviews. I used to read Airbnb reviews carefully before booking the apartment, pored over Yelp reviews to try out a new restaurant, and go through the feedbacks in Urban Outfitters before purchasing a new dress. I used to trust those online reviews; sadly, quite number of the feedbacks are written by people who have been paid.

In 2013, Yelp admitted openly that one-fourth of reviews were regarded as fake. In 2014, New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman was listed 19 companies posting fake reviews on Yelp and Google Local. In 2015, 1,114 people were sued by Amazon for writing counterfeit feedbacks on its site, which promoted the sale of some products to the peak.

Ironically, I am judging how the sordid reputation the practice of astroturfing possesses, but I was a short-term paid astroturfer. I was in high school and didn't understand what exactly I was doing. I had to contribute three long reviews and two short comments to brag my relative's new-opened fancy restaurant. Honestly, it was fun at first, I pretended as different characters to fabricate those feedbacks on different perspectives. After two weeks, my creativity was on the horns of the dilemma. I felt like I couldn't just keep lying about the dining experiences that I never had; besides, I really run out of the creativity.

People know that the real truth in advertising is an antinomy. The islands always look more peaceful and beautiful on travel websites that in real life. In advertising and marketing industries, there is an invisible grey area between the actual products and the advertisements. It's understandable that advertising treats truth like a byproduct or present facts in a creative way. What is wrong and unforgivable is how some companies have tried to use the practice of astroturfing. People may be tricked once or twice, then, they just begin to indulge in their self-produced motion.

Astroturfing has been around for centuries, and become more epidemic as the social network did but in a notoriously way. The best way to strike back the astroturfing may be more concentrate on our own cautious judgment and less to "the crowd" online.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Anyone Can Be A Social Media Influencer

Micaela Marshall

Have you ever noticed someone you follow on Instagram is posting constantly about a certain product, brand or service? Have you ever wondered why? Or how they got that gig?

To be clear, I'm not talking about a celebrity. I'm talking about a person you know in real life, a friend of yours. Perhaps someone who has around 1,000 followers.

And in this case - less is more. Having fewer followers actually makes the person seem more real and trustworthy; therefore allowing the average consumer to feel comfortable listening to their recommendation to buy.

This marketing approach is a growing trend on social media, and that friend of yours I just mentioned, is considered to be a "micro-influencer."

So how do you become one? Is it effective, or simply deceptive?



According to Instagram Social Media Agency, Riotly Social Media,  there are 6 easy steps you can take to become a micro-influencer:

  1. Be an Expert
  2. Share Your Secrets
  3. Start Making Friends
  4. Create A Brand Image
  5. Be the First to Say Hi!
  6. Create a Package

And Riotly Social Media isn't the only agency looking to "help you grow fans on Instagram."

Studies have shown that micro-influencers are extremely beneficial for brands and carry a lot of weight in increasing sales and consumer outreach.

A study done last year by Experticity made several key findings:

  • Micro-influencers are more direct in their recommendations to "buy it or try it" and 82% are "highly likely" to listen to that recommendation 
  • Micro-influencers were seen to be more credible, knowledgeable and better at explaining how the product works and had 22% more "buy conversations" than a typical consumer

Upwork recently posted an article discussing how companies can find and use micro-influencers to gain consumer's trust and increase their sales. The "metrics" mentioned in the article that a brand should consider when finding a micro-influencer to represent you are:

  1. Relevance - which links to "Be an Expert"
  2. Content Quality - which links to "Create a Brand Image"

In that article titled "Influencer Outreach: How to Connect with Micro-Influencers" the best ways to connect with potential micro-influencers are:
  1. Start with Social Media Interactions - which links to "Be the First to Say Hi!"
  2. Look for Influential Fans and Followers - which links to "Start Making Friends"
  3. Be Direct and Honest - which links to "Share Your Secrets

Effective or Deceptive?

Micro-influencers are proven to be extremely effective for the brand's marketing efforts and beneficial for both parties as the micro-influencer is paid and elevates their social status, while the brand appears more trustworthy and gains more customers. Micro-influencers deliver engagement, are cost effective, and create social buzz.

In my opinion, there is nothing wrong with micro-influencers. I think that if I know the person personally and they are recommending a product, I am more likely to try it, compared to a celebrity posting about a brand they use. I don't see the harm in companies using social media stars to reach consumers, especially in this day in age where social media has become a person's main source of information, entertainment, and place to waste time.

However, it is unethical if there is not full disclosure that the person posting about the brand is receiving some sort of compensation or free products. Ultimately, if a company is paying you to post about their brand, it is impossible to be unbiased in your review/sponsorship. But, I would like to believe that a micro-influencer would be ethical themselves and only work for a brand they truly believed in and felt confident supporting.

Astroturfing: Planting a Crisis

Alexis McCurdy

Astroturf campaigns are proving themselves to be the eminent calamity that no one is seeming to talk about.

Astroturf is defined as fake grassroots campaigns, under the guise of citizen groups who vehemently oppose or support an issue for the public group. But oftentimes, they are founded on falsity, funded by major corporations who have their own best interests in mind. While doing so, they seek to dominate public opinion by creating the appearance of widespread support for said issue, generating a buzz backed by no real person, but rather an entity who wants you to believe what they believe.

Astroturf campaigns can take the form of rallies, inundated by paid actors, ghost blogs, or commentators on public forums or articles.

As "The Guardian" reports in an article, companies are creating fleets of virtual astroturfers, complete with online histories, interests, and fake IP addresses. These profiles are developed months ahead of time to give it an authentic feel. Here is where we run into danger.

"As the software improves, these astroturf armies will become increasingly difficult to spot," Adam Bienkov writes in the article. "And the future of open debate online could become increasingly perilous."

And indeed it will.

Astroturf is blatant manipulation of the audience. And furthermore, it is blatantly unethical. It blankets society in a thick fog of deception, restricting the audience from seeing a clear reality. The audience needs to be able to breathe in complete accuracy, without fear of pollution. It further weakens the audience's media literacy skills.

The crises start when no one has any certain answers, and people begin to make arguments without the facts.

Also, media distrust is already down so far. With the rise of fake news, media cannot afford to take another hit like this.

Additionally, the presence of a false reality threatens the very foundation of our democratic society. The real voices of the people begin to be drowned out by these stubborn and forcibly loud astroturfers who attempt to sway the politics of society. They add to the already overflowing pool of corruption, creating an uneven tipping scale that begins to vaguely show hints of an oligarchy.

In order to stop this problem, action must be taken now. While the government should be taking action against astroturfing already, change must start with the communications industry itself. Some may say that this will not be enough, but the public deserves truth and accuracy, as the information that is put out affects their daily lives, their livelihood. Thus, the industry must become as adamant as these ghost voices and begin to fight back. Even the slightest movement matters.

The communications industry must begin to not only discourage, but harshly scold those professionals who disseminate astroturf campaigns as a sort of representation for their company. While they should be serving their company, basic ethical decency is also an integral part of the job and no less important.

There should be no more idle standing. The industry must become more discerning and more skeptical of the information being pumped out. With the rise of social media consisting of a wide, open platform, astroturf is becoming more easily executed.

So now is the time, more than ever, where professionals step up-- before the weeds sprout too far from the ground.

What is Astroturfing Really Going to Accomplish?

Miki McIntyre

Image via

It seems to have become the latest trend in the journalism industry one could say. It’s called astroturfing. This is defined as concealing the public from a specific message, normally through the Internet, by making it seem as if the original source is through a reliable and popular organization. It is misleading. It is not trustworthy. It is cruel. 

In a recent online article published through The Guardian, astroturfing is discussed stating, “The anonymity of the web gives companies and governments golden opportunities to run astroturf operations: fake grassroots campaigns that create the impression that large numbers of people are demanding or opposing particular policies.” 

It has become quite noticeable with recent advertisements and other authorized materials that astroturfing comes into play when it involves the government and highly noted companies. If one of these organizations has a concern that does not match with what the public wants, astroturfing is bound to occur.

When it comes down to it, companies seem to really only care if whether or not an individual as a positive attitude towards a campaign. As long as they believe the message and are completely unaware of where the information came from, then the company must be doing there job right. In the end, astroturfing ultimately stems to the public’s lack of trust in the news and the issue of how accurate journalism really is in today’s society.

Not only can astroturfing involve media and the Internet, but lately it has also been derived from social media as well. The public’s access of news has drastically changed over the years and social media is a big reason. 

Every day, people around the world are obtaining their daily news through outlets such as Facebook, Twitter, Snap Chat, and Instagram. Even these sources, however, do not always portray the correct details for whether it’s a story or just a simple status post.

On websites such as Instagram, users will always see advertisements for products as they scroll through their news feed. According to an article published on AdAge, these ads or other products that may be promoted through a celebrity’s page are not always authorized. 

People with a mere dozens or hundreds of followers can promote products on Instagram just like they're a Kardashian. Unfortunately, sometimes these "micro-influencers" don't disclose the incentives they received to do so.” So while the product has already been put out there for the world to see, this does not necessarily mean that they received any sort of approval to make a promotion.

While some may believe it is the best way to bridge any sort of conflict between the media and an individual, astroturfing really does not seem to accomplish a whole lot. Although it may be hiding specific information that a reader could be offended by or simply just not want to hear, most readers nowadays are beginning to pick up on this fake news trend. Yes, do not get me wrong, there are still plenty of readers who can naive and not immediately catch up on what is accurate and what is not. All in all, astroturfing is simply pointless. It simply makes an individual’s trust with the public completely inadequate.  

Bots on Astroturf with Synthetic Opinions

Ryan Harroff

"Astroturfing," or the process used primarily by corporations and government entities to create fake grass-roots campaigns, is on the rise in the modern era. With the ease of information dissemination that the internet provides, it is easier than ever to create the impression of groundswell support for a cause, even if in reality the public is against it.

This is not a new development or a surprising one, but one interesting player in this information game is not a free-thinking corporation or person. It is a few lines of source code, a bot.

Image courtesy of

These days, any group looking to create an astroturf campaign does not have to advertise its movement, nor does it have to hire powerful speakers to rally more of the public to their side. There is no reason to do so when there is a limitless legion of online personas who can dominate discourse on internet forums, comment sections, and social media.

One recent example of this sort of robotic astroturfing came in early May of this year, when the FCC's website was flooded by false accounts all claiming to be people against net neutrality. The issue of net neutrality had gotten a surge in public discourse following a segment on the popular HBO show, "Last Week Tonight with John Oliver."

Image courtesy of

According to a report by Business Insider, thousands of comments using real people's names were posted on the site, each with an exactly identical message against net neutrality. The people whose names were used often did not know about the comments and had not commented on the site themselves.

The interesting thing about this situation is that John Oliver was almost astroturfing himself, since he ended his segment by urging viewers to go to the site and comment in favor of net neutrality. The only thing stopping his action from qualifying as astroturfing was that he was upfront with his motives and resources, rather than attempting to have his movement seem like a movement within the general public.

Cases like this are sure to continue as we move further and further into the digital age. The interesting question is what steps can be taken to combat it, if any. Is this the sort of issue that legislation could curtail?

Beware: Astroturfing. Who Needs Ethics?

Mikaela McGee


It seems like just a few hours ago I was reading a tweet written by President Trump about fake news and the media and God knows what else. But look out fake news, there's a new unethical act on the rise and its name is Astroturfing! Now the public must look out for another thing as to not be manipulated. Ah, what a time to be alive.

According to The Guardian astroturfing is, "The attempt to create an impression of widespread grassroots support for a policy, individual, or product, where little such support exists. Multiple online identities and fake pressure groups are used to mislead the public into believing that the position of the astroturfer is the commonly held view."

Ever since the rise of online media, astroturfing has also increased. It frequently takes place on online forums and blogs where people can leave numerous comments under different names and most likely not be caught. Who is most responsible for this trend? Major companies and corporations.

This trend has been on the rise ever since Twitter and blogging have allowed millions of people to assert their opinions openly and online. This opens the doors to many fake people and fake reviews, which is utterly unethical. This usually starts out by employees asking friends or family to write a biased and very positive review on their company. When that doesn't work, corporations take many drastic measures. They begin astroturfing to increase the amount of reviews and their ranking.

So how is this done? According to an article on Computerworld they use a class of software called "persona management software." This "magnifies the effectiveness of each paid fake opinion writer by auto-generating a credible but phony online persona, including a fake name, email, address, web site, social media profiles and other data."

Honestly, I think this is a whole lot of work, just to not have loyal customers. This type of behavior is not at all sustainable! Yes, by posting fake positive reviews and high ratings you might initially have a lot of customers. But, once they become dissatisfied consumers and no longer trust your fake reviews they will stop buying from you. Therefore, with a high amount of one-time customers and a low amount of loyal customers, the business will not grow nor succeed.

Also, astroturfing can land the company in a lot of hot water. If they are caught they will face penalties and fines that can untimely take away the revenue they were bringing in with the fake reviews. According to Review Trackers astroturfing can be prosecuted under several variations under consumer protection laws put in place to protect consumers from false and deceitful advertising. In 2013, 19 local businesses were fined over $350,000 for generating false reviews on sites.

Why even risk it? Then your business and your credibility are ruined. I also think that more companies need to be concerned about astroturfing. We cannot only rely on the government to take care of it because it is already so widespread. Because of this when looking at reviews and blogs people need to take into account whether the review is by a professional reviewer at a reputable company. Also, we need to make more people aware that the trend is actually happening. Many people have never heard of astroturfing and therefore, would not know to look out for it.

The media should be shining a light on this problem because many people already do not trust them. People do not need to feel as if they are being farther manipulated. Therefore, this problem must be addressed and taken seriously.

Astroturfers Need Something Better To Do

Maria Meece


There seems to always something that people need to be aware of when browsing the web. First of all, we need to teach people how to identify fake news. Now, we have to teach people how to not get swept into giving money to a fake organization. Essentially, people need to not be so gullible online. Don't believe everything you see!

Astroturfing is when "an artificially-manufactured political movement designed to give the appearance of a grassroots activist." Basically, a way for giving people to get faked out - quite horrible if you ask me!

Organizations can be so devious when it comes to getting money. Red Cross, a highly respected organization only gave one-quarter of the money given for earthquake relief to Haiti back in 2010. This isn't exactly astroturfing, but this just shows how these organizations that we think we are giving good money to, don't actually give it to the right people. The people of this world deserve to know where their money goes to and what that process is. Society always seems to be scamming people out of their money.

How To Identify Astroturfing
Thankfully, we do not have to sit by and let these astroturfers scam us. At the Indiana University for Complex Networks and Systems, a system was created to find and weed out the different astroturfs on twitter. With this system, people are able to analyze tweets and see if they are true or false. This system is a great way for people to understand and see how astroturfers work and how they can sneak up on you.

I think that this system needs to be expanded on and provided for the public. If they could make a website to identify astroturfing like people did with fake news, maybe people would start to trust journalist more because they can check if it's fake or not. If more things like fake news or astroturfing enter the web, people will not believe what the web or journalist say to them.

Astroturfing is unethical and bad. Such an evil way to get money, honestly. People that give money to organizations really do care about what they are giving to. There shouldn't be an issue as to where the money goes. With a website that shows if a campaign or charity where one can give money to shows if it is fake or not, more trust will be built between the people and organizations. Being trustful and honest is so important this day-and-age. One must be able to be trustworthy if one is trying to get people to believe or give to a cause.

Truly, I believe a website that shows how things or organizations were made could really help people start to trust the web and journalist again. Indiana University is really onto something with this system trusty. I can only hope to see this grow over the next year so that journalist can recover from the election.