Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Wanted: Solution to Astroturfing

Katie Smoleny

There isn’t anything ethical about astroturfing or creating false content in order to positively promote a company, issue, or individual. It completely goes against every ethical code in existence.

The completely ridiculous argument by Armstrong Williams saying that he wanted to promote No Child Left Behind because he believed in it just makes him look even worse. There a million ways to promote something you believe in without accepting a six-figure sum from the founder of the project.

I didn’t realize that astroturfing was as prominent as it is until I read the article in The Guardian. As a reader, if I trust the brand, I trust the content. I enjoy reading other readers responses to an article, but now I will question if these “people” are real. It’s disheartening that the Internet, once a place for productive debate, is being discredited by companies partaking in astroturfing.

As journalists, it is our duty to tell stories and to guarantee readers that those stories are true. By reporting stories that aren’t true, such as the Josh Shaw situation, it has the opposite than intended affect. USC wanted to promote its player in a positive way, and in turn, show the football organization in a positive light. It’s hard to know if they were fooled by Shaw or knew it was less than accurate from the start. But as a journalist, we need to make sure everything we print in 100% factual. If random readers can expose a false story, we should be able to before print.

It’s hard enough to find authentic sources of information. Now that these sources are practicing unethical means of promotion, it gets even harder. It’s frustrating always having to second-guess what I’m reading. Are positive reviews on products real or is it the company faking a persona to promote a product?

I don’t know what the solution to this problem is, but I do know that these unethical practices will inhibit consumer’s views on particular sources of information. And as we all know, once your credibility is shot, it’s all over.


  1. Hi, Katie,

    I loved your concluding comment: "And as we all know, once your credibility is shot, it's all over." That is, I think, the main thrust of this week's reading teach us that bad guys are out there and we do not want to join their ranks, so must guard our credibility as carefully as we can. Thank you for your post.

    Diana Taggart

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