Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Astroturfing: Planting a Crisis

Alexis McCurdy

Astroturf campaigns are proving themselves to be the eminent calamity that no one is seeming to talk about.

Astroturf is defined as fake grassroots campaigns, under the guise of citizen groups who vehemently oppose or support an issue for the public group. But oftentimes, they are founded on falsity, funded by major corporations who have their own best interests in mind. While doing so, they seek to dominate public opinion by creating the appearance of widespread support for said issue, generating a buzz backed by no real person, but rather an entity who wants you to believe what they believe.

Astroturf campaigns can take the form of rallies, inundated by paid actors, ghost blogs, or commentators on public forums or articles.

As "The Guardian" reports in an article, companies are creating fleets of virtual astroturfers, complete with online histories, interests, and fake IP addresses. These profiles are developed months ahead of time to give it an authentic feel. Here is where we run into danger.

"As the software improves, these astroturf armies will become increasingly difficult to spot," Adam Bienkov writes in the article. "And the future of open debate online could become increasingly perilous."

And indeed it will.

Astroturf is blatant manipulation of the audience. And furthermore, it is blatantly unethical. It blankets society in a thick fog of deception, restricting the audience from seeing a clear reality. The audience needs to be able to breathe in complete accuracy, without fear of pollution. It further weakens the audience's media literacy skills.

The crises start when no one has any certain answers, and people begin to make arguments without the facts.

Also, media distrust is already down so far. With the rise of fake news, media cannot afford to take another hit like this.

Additionally, the presence of a false reality threatens the very foundation of our democratic society. The real voices of the people begin to be drowned out by these stubborn and forcibly loud astroturfers who attempt to sway the politics of society. They add to the already overflowing pool of corruption, creating an uneven tipping scale that begins to vaguely show hints of an oligarchy.

In order to stop this problem, action must be taken now. While the government should be taking action against astroturfing already, change must start with the communications industry itself. Some may say that this will not be enough, but the public deserves truth and accuracy, as the information that is put out affects their daily lives, their livelihood. Thus, the industry must become as adamant as these ghost voices and begin to fight back. Even the slightest movement matters.

The communications industry must begin to not only discourage, but harshly scold those professionals who disseminate astroturf campaigns as a sort of representation for their company. While they should be serving their company, basic ethical decency is also an integral part of the job and no less important.

There should be no more idle standing. The industry must become more discerning and more skeptical of the information being pumped out. With the rise of social media consisting of a wide, open platform, astroturf is becoming more easily executed.

So now is the time, more than ever, where professionals step up-- before the weeds sprout too far from the ground.

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