Thursday, October 8, 2015

Astroturfing - Really?

Diana Taggart

    This week several of the articles we read were about integrity for public relations personnel and one of them caught me by surprise. It was a blog by George Monbiot, and was titled: “The need to protect the internet from ‘astroturfing’ grows ever more urgent.”

I had never heard that term so looked it up in the dictionary. The Urban Dictionary states that astroturfing is “the act of creating a small organization and making it appear to represent something popular for the purpose of promoting a particular entity, cause, etc.” and Wikipedia shows it as “the practice of masking the sponsors of a message or organization (e.g., political, advertising, religious or public relations) to make it appear as though it originates from and is supported by grassroots participant(s).

It is a practice intended to give the statements or organizations more credibility by withholding information about the source's financial connection. The term astroturfing is a derivation of AstroTurf, a brand of synthetic carpeting designed to look like natural grass, a play on the word "grassroots."

The implication behind the use of the term is that there are no "true" or "natural" grassroots, but rather "fake" or "artificial" support, though some astroturfing operatives defend the practice (see Justification below).” I was astounded. I had never heard the term and it never occurred to me that people were so dishonest as to do this.

I think in light of the upcoming elections for a new president, we would all be prudent to dig a little deeper into what appears to be a phenomenon of support for one candidate or another because – how can we trust what we read, or hear, or see on television news reports or advertisements? This harks back to my blog post of “Who Do You Trust?” earlier this semester. If we can no longer trust the beloved news anchors, and if “grassroots” have been corrupted as well, where do we go next? I am afraid this semester has taken away some of the naivety I have had for 63 years. Sigh.

A quote from one of our readings, “Follow the Leader: Ethics and Responsibility,” by Virgil Scudder, has stuck with me since I first read it – although I did know the concept, I had never put it into words. “Wrongdoing or malfeasance rarely occurs in a vacuum.” That is a truism, I believe.

One of my husband’s favorite television programs is "American Greed," on the CNBC station. This is an ongoing series about CEOs and brokers and others in the financial world and how they scam the American public into thinking their company is legitimate. I never really thought about it, but with all the Medicare and Medicaid scams, the “American Greed” TV show, and the things I have learned in this ethics course, I should not have been surprised that the ‘bad guys’ would have figured out a way to sell their technological skills to the highest bidder. Sigh.

I was buoyed up by reading the “Brace yourself for the corporate journalism wave” and the “PR Ethics and Reputation: PR Professionals Are Not “Yes Men” When Pressured to Be Unethical, New Baylor Study Finds” articles. There is hope for me, yet. I love to write and was beginning to be discouraged that I would not find honest employment in an ethical firm doing ethical journalism. I need to remember that there are always two sides to every story, every company, and every job. No sigh.

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