Thursday, October 8, 2015

Did You Know?

Heather Oard

This week we read articles on astroturfing.  They were very good articles and really opened my eyes.  Everyone always says not to believe everything you see on the Internet.  Made sense before, but now it really makes sense. Astroturf marketers typically use blogs, message boards, podcasts, wikis, vlogs, chat rooms and social media Web sites like MySpace when building an artificial buzz. Deceptive astroturf marketing techniques include impersonating someone in the targeted demographic, creating an entirely fictional character that's meant to appear to others to be a real person.

The practice of astroturfing has a long and sordid history. The term was coined by U.S. Senator Lloyd Bentsen of Texas in 1985, referring to a letter-writing campaign orchestrated by the insurance industry. As a matter of fact, astroturfing has been a major tool of political dirty tricks since the Roman empire.

1985 coining of the term astroturfing.

With the rise of the Internet, online messages boards and social media, it has brought the practice to business, including the mobile computing industry, as well as other types of businesses. Sites like Fiverr host astroturfing transactions openly. A Fiverr user named "Jay from India,” for example, offers to promote your iOS, Android or BlackBerry app on 25 online forums for $10.  Astroturfing scale ranges from the local business where the owner asks family and friends to write positive online reviews to the biggest sustained astroturfing campaign in history: China's 50-cent army.

The Chinese government reportedly pays as many as 300,000 people to post pro-Chinese government comments on forums, message boards and social media sites within China and all over the world. It has reportedly being going on for years as part of a sustained policy. When I read this I was baffled. 

A class of software called "persona management software" magnifies the effectiveness of each paid fake opinion writer by auto-generating a credible but phony online persona, also called a "sock puppet," including a fake name, email address, web site, social media profiles and other data. The software creates fake online activity to give the non-existent users a "history" or online "footprint." Persona management software specific to social networks is called a "social bot."

Some industries rely almost entirely upon web-based reviews, and so astroturfing is rife. Hotels, restaurants and books are heavily reliant on customer-generated reviews to attract new business.

Now that you know more about astroturfing, what do you think?  Personally, I think it needs to stop.  How are we supposed to believe anything anymore?  

1 comment:

  1. Heather, love your post! I did mine on astroturfing as well, and I was blown away. I didn't know it was happening, but at the same time I wasn't surprised at my findings. Companies want to make money off their products, so they have to spread the word. If they can't get real people to support them or buy their product they need to influence and persuade them in another way. So, along comes the idea to create fake people to help them. I agree that it needs to stop, but at the same time how can it?! Even if companies say they aren't doing it anymore, how can you trust them? Someone like myself with only intermediate computer skills wouldn't be able to do the necessary tracking to figure out if it's real or not. The concept of astroturfing is very saddening, I have now become a huge skeptic of internet comments, blog, posts, etc. I know you can't trust everything you read online, but now I don't know what I can trust at all!