Thursday, October 8, 2015

Astroturfing - What is it & Why Should we Worry?

Kayla Burke
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, 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.


  1. Kayla,
    I can empathize with both your mother's statements and yours. I have been very cautious about the online world after getting burned by a bad relationship that started from a dating site. After a divorce, I didn't think there would be much success in the traditional dating scene so it blinded my judgement. But on the flip side after getting through that nightmare, I've made amazing friends online. Still being cautious I knew my daughters would be involved with social media relationships much more than me. I hope they have learned from my mistakes and successes. I also hope the personal aspects I've experienced makes me want to take action and responsibility for my online persona and decisions. I think everyone takes their personal experiences and parlays them into other parts of their lives (including professional.) Just as you took a scenario regarding the restaurant and hypothetically applied how dishonest it would be to boost reviews, you knew how it was just as deceitful to boost a personal description. Continue to carry those ethics into everything you do!
    Great post!

    Tracy Brewer careful, trust your instincts!!

  2. Kayla,

    I enjoyed your blog post! I agree, my parents said the same thing about not believing what you see on the Internet! Actually, I think I said they told me that in my blog this week too! I have such a hard time believing anything I read on the Internet, Facebook especially, and even magazines. Personally, I have to hear it from the person in an interview or something to actually believe it! That show catfish is crazy. I cannot imagine ‘dating’ someone that I have only met online. No way. Can you imagine being someone that gets catfished?

    Have a great rest of the week!
    Heather Oard