Monday, October 23, 2017

Astroturfing: Scamming the people

Reece Patton


Today, the internet is one of the most valuable resources. There is no shortage of communication opportunities. The internet is a great tool for collaboration and sharing feedback with those whom you will never come in physical contact with; unfortunately, there are increasing obstacles that arise in the online environment. There are endless amounts of campaigns for organizations that seem genuine and appear to be a grassroots community but there is much more to how these groups get recognition and support for their causes.

This major problem online is called astroturfing. Astroturfing is an act usually with political intention to accumulate followers to trust and support a cause that they are not completely aware of. Some ways that people are able to gain so many views and followers is through the use of software that creates robots that continually surf web feeds and forums to act as "real" online identities. The appearance of a large following can attract people to support these groups because viewers believe that they are joining others who share the same ideals but in reality, it is a scam.

This is a dangerous practice because the organizations that are developed can easily be misinterpreted as very specific groups of people with strong beliefs about specific causes. This means hidden groups are rallying regular people to fight against companies or causes for their own benefit and not that of the vulnerable people. There is an interesting story of a man who received a letter to be involved in an astroturfing event and he was even compensated for participating.

Sadly, there are many groups who are using this astroturfing platform for their own benefit; some even associated with public health risks. There are big tobacco companies using campaigns against their own product to push the growth of their alternative vaping products. In this news story, the company is recruiting people to tell their story of how vaping helped them stop smoking. In reality, the more awareness that an anti-tobacco campaign has, the more publicity that the big tobacco company receives. Not all publicity needs to be good, because, the public will become aware of the big tobacco companies products and causes.

In our Media Ethics class, we also heard stories of astroturfing happening in outrageous amounts within politics. There have been groups formed by big money political supporters in order to rally people against an opponent or a policy to gain more overall support. The major problem now is addressing where and how we can recognize these astroturfing campaigns and how they can be regulated or uncovered early. In the United States, there is great pride in allowing the citizens of the country to voice their opinions and support what they believe, but astroturfing is taking the peoples voices away and allowing big money and big companies to control the voices of the people.

Astroturfing is nothing less than propaganda. Allowing this practice to continue in such a high volume is damaging to the people and consumers of the online and offline world. In a time where credibility and ethics are valued so much, I continue to learn more and more of the deception that is disguised all around the world everyday.

The internet is one of the most valuable resources, but it is also one of the most deceptive environments. Astroturfing needs to be addressed so the public can be aware of its true intentions. If we can slow the control of the large producers behind the "grassroots" campaigns then we can gain more independence and value as people and citizens of the world.

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