Sunday, October 11, 2015

Astroturfing- the act, not the grass.

Taylor Zanville

According to Adam Bienkov, a writer with 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." The specific issue Beinkov discusses in his article is about Vladimir Putin, the President of Russia for the last three years. One could see why lobbyists or activists would use such a frowned upon strategy to support their President who is more often looked at as a dictator than a President.

Constantly looked at as a narcissist who practices things like "Anti-Americanism," Putin needs all of the support he can get. We have discussed how the internet is the most frequently used method of astroturfing, but the article being referred to by Bienkov also details other methods of astroturfing via newspapers and other anonymous methods of communication for the public to view. The most typical form of astroturfing comes from blogs or online newspapers, making it easy for those who add posts to remain anonymous in most cases.

Major companies have even gone so far as to create their own tech in order to apply mass amounts of positive news and information- TheGuardian. The article that this link leads to talks about the need to check in and prevent fake grassroots operations. Whether these groups are created to boost social media presence for large companies or otherwise, they only serve one generic purpose- show the public a front; a fake portrait to show high demand where there really is not one at all. 

Companies have become so desperate for the public eye to see them in a positive light, no matter what, that they have changed their moral codes to suit their egos and their paychecks. Certain whistleblowers have come out and made claims against companies for having their employees initiate and participate in threads to improve their status and appearance. According to the Threat to Democracy article I read, by George Monbiot, the issue lies with trained hackers who change and manipulate online information like politics and governmental issues.

We are all human, right? We all want to be well-liked, popular if you will. Can you blame certain companies for trying to establish themselves or "pretty themselves" to look more successful than they really are? Could you blame political activists for hacking and boosting into sites to change governmental or political information? Sure you could if the information is false, slanderous, or dangerous, but in some way or another we can understand why one would simply want to be popular. 

There is the other side of the spectrum though. It is morally wrong to hack, lie, change and create misinformation. Bare with me for a moment- what if Donald Trump, or any other candidate, paid hackers to change information on the other candidates online? What if it was slanderous and created an image that makes that candidate a victim? Say Trump pays John Smith to put fake information about John Doe on the internet before the debate, what happens? Things of this nature can destroy many aspects of our lives today; as individuals and as one general group. So maybe we should do our best to get rid of astroturfing all together? Everyone can decide for themselves.

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