Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Astroturfing and Paid Endorsements- Is It a Problem?

Emily Cunningham

In this week’s course readings, two articles stuck out to me the most. One being, “The Need to Protect the Internet from ‘Astroturfing’ Grows Ever More Urgent” by George Monbiot from the Guardian. The other article was “Education Dept. Paid Commentator to Promote Law” by Gregg Toppo from USA today. I really enjoyed both of these articles because the topics of astroturfing and paying other individuals to talk highly of a company’s product are subject materials that are currently being discussed in my other journalism classes.

According to the Guardian, astroturfing is defined as “fake grassroots campaigns that create the impression that large numbers of people are demanding or opposing particular policies.” It is being seen at large on the internet in various social media forums. Monbiot explains how people are being employed to pose online as members of the public to gain support for corporate or political arguments. One man even used 70 different personae online. Companies are even using “persona management software” that creates names, email accounts, and social media accounts to make the person seem as real as possible. Sharyl Attkisson, an investigative reporter, does a wonderful job giving an in-depth look at astroturfing and how to look out for it online in this TED talk video.

Do I See a Problem?

I personally believe astroturfing is wrong and unacceptable. Somebody posing online as several different people, just to gain support for an issue or policy, is not right. The general public reads these posts on sites and forums, and believe them to come from a variety of honest and trustworthy people. The fact that they are not from these sorts of people, poses an ethical problem.

Paying Individuals to Promote Products/Issues/Policies

The USA today article told the story of the Bush administration paying Armstrong Williams $240,000 to regularly comment on and promote the No Child Left Behind Act on his TV and radio shows. Williams stated that it was actually something that he wanted to do because he believed in the policy.

Paying individuals to promote a company’s products or other issues and policies is seen ad nauseam in our world today. Sponsored posts and paid endorsements are a common theme on the internet and on social media platforms.

Do I See a Problem?

It took me a while to come up with an answer on this one, but ultimately I see no problem. It is funny because just today my Strategic Social Media professor asked us this question, “If a company were to pay you $2,000 to write a blog post on how much you love their product, would you do it?” After some thought, my answer was yes. I think that after all, in business, you need to be able to market your product and sometimes that involves paying people or influencers to market it for you. However, I think people who are paid to do such a thing, should be totally transparent on the issue. They should make it clear to the public that they are being paid to say such things. I think people should follow FTC rules and regulations on how to appropriately state this online. The FTC site does a great job of answering various questions on how to properly be transparent and share information with the public online.

I also want to add that I personally think companies or organizations should find and pay people who generally believe in their products, issues, or policies and actually WANT to talk about them. These people can still be transparent and state that they are being paid to do so, but they can add that they whole heartedly believe in what they are saying, making it a much more powerful endorsement.

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