Astroturfing gets its name from the brand AstroTurf, a synthetic form of grass. The term is a play on grassroots – grassroots movements are movements that begin at a local community level to create change on a larger scale. Astroturfing is the act of pretending to be a grassroots movement to mislead the public.
Examples of astroturfing
A common example of astroturfing is using sockpuppets, which are deceptive online identities. Sockpuppets enable people to post online criticism under a fake identity. A similar method is the usage of bots on social media, which are bought to imitate real people.
Bots allow people to push their agendas through mass tweeting. Other examples of astroturfing include paying independent bloggers and journalists to give dishonest reviews and displaying advertisements that companies create under the pretense of being grassroots.
In the online age, astroturfing has become much easier. Reviews and fake accounts can be created and accessed by anybody. Estimates show that about up to a third of all reviews online are fake – either through sockpuppets or paid for.
Astroturfing is common not only amongst many businesses, but also politicians, critics and authors. The online Russian propaganda that affected the recent American elections is an example of astroturfing causing chaos on a large scale.
Why you shouldn’t astroturf
Astroturfing has become a common practice today. Though it enables companies to look better than their competitors, you should avoid it. Bot accounts and multiple accounts managed by the same person are easy to detect.
Besides being embarrassing for a company to get caught, it can also harm your reputation. Astroturfing erodes the credibility of a company. As a consequence, you may be discouraging customers from returning or other organisations from affiliating themselves with you.
Additionally, astroturfing doesn’t solve the problem of unsatisfied customers. Customers will remain unsatisfied with the service or product that a company offers regardless of the reviews they get. Instead of astroturfing, companies should focus on improving the quality of their service or product.
Hence, despite the supposed short-term benefits of astroturfing, it should be avoided. Apart from being illegal in certain countries, astroturfing is highly damaging to a company and rarely acts as a viable solution to any problems.