Thursday, October 8, 2015
Astroturfing - What is it & Why Should we Worry?
I’ve listened to my mom for years telling me “don’t believe everything you read on the internet” or “that person you met online probably isn’t your age like they say they are.” Initially, I shrugged these comments off, wanting to see the good in everyone, unable to figure out why someone would possibly want to lie about who they are on the internet. As I got older, and saw more things like the TV show “Catfish” and the various Dateline specials on internet predators, I realized that the possibility that most of what you see on the internet is probably fake, or not telling the whole truth.
Astroturfing, as defined by politicaldictionary.com, is “the artificially manufactured political movement designed to give the appearance of grass roots activism”. Basically, this allows certain programs to have instant “manufactured” support of the public, by the creation of various commenter profiles, that will then list all the reasons this movement or campaign should be supported, or all of the positive things attached to this idea. While usual grass roots campaigns are well supported but under-funded, an astroturf campaign is usually the opposite – well funded but little support.
Why Is this Important?
Because of this trend, many large companies are able to sort of take advantage of this – while it does tend to help the company in someway, it can ruin their credibility and good standing with the public in others once the public finds out it is reading false information and reviews.
One such campaign – led by Microsoft – used the names of individuals who were already deceased in order to garner support for their campaign. Microsoft had been experiencing anti-trust issues, and subsequently being sued for their practices. A group called Americans for Technology Leadership and Citizens Against Government Waste organized a letter writing drive to Attorney Generals across the country. It was later revealed that not only did Microsoft fund this company, therefore funding their own letter drive, but they used the names of deceased individuals to sign some of the letters.
Why Should it Be Stopped?
While this is sometimes a beneficial practice in the short run for companies that utilize it, it usually ends up being detrimental in the long run once the practice is discovered. This causes the company to lose their credibility, and it will cause them to lose their good standing with the public, once the public finds out about the false information being released.
Lets look at it this way – Imagine you ran a restaurant in your small town. In the Sunday newspaper, read by a large majority of the town’s residents, there is a very negative review about your restaurant and the service. In order to retaliate, you go online to the paper’s website, and then proceed to make various comments under various aliases in order to give your restaurant a good name and good review. Obviously, you are going to be bias towards your restaurant because it’s just that – yours. However, you would be doing a disservice to the public for not allowing them to receive all the unbiased, accurate information about the situation.
As journalists, and professionals in general, it is our duty to share the truth with the public, rather than just fabricating what we want to be known for. I hope that in the future, more and more companies adhere to being truthful rather than making up these reviews or comments for their own good.