Saturday, November 12, 2011

Astroturing: narrative in disguise

Surfing around various blogs and Facebook pages recently, especially to do with political issues, I notice that every now and then a poster will arrive on the scene and begin defending businesses or politicians or demographics with great fervor. This is often suddenly accompanied by related articles, charts, graphs, a wealth of links that seem to materialize very quickly. In moments like this I wonder if I'm looking at an example of what is called 'Astroturfing.'

Astroturfing (named after the artificial grass) originated as a term used to describe the formation of a grassroots movement of the people to support a particular cause, which turned out not to be grassroots at all, but instead  a covert paid public relations campaign. One famous example was an organization in the U.S.A. called the National Smokers Alliance, which was an ordinary citizens movement fighting for the rights of smokers. But it wasn't. It was set up by tobacco giant Phillip Morris. In China a couple of years back it was revealed the government was paying people to search blogsites and mainstream and social media to post pro-government comments, and/or make posts and comments to steer discussion away from any protest or complaint about government. Legend has it they were paid $0.50c for each positive post, therefore became known as The 50 Cent Party.

It is organized, usually professionally funded and paid, propaganda. 

Another noted example of a different kind of astroturfing was when Al Gore's film An Inconvenient Truth was released in 2006 an amateur video clip appeared on YouTube lampooning Al Gore and his message. An American journalist, Antonio Regalado, noted that this clip came up first when he did a Google search on Al Gore's name - something that can only happen if someone pays a lot of money. He traced the 'amateur' video back to a major PR firm - the actual client was never identified, but with Gore's anti Greenhouse Gasses message you can make reasonable guesses.Here is a link to the clip, which is still on YouTube.

There has been much speculation that the Tea Party movement in the U.S. is an astroturfed entity.

Pays to look closely at what you read and who is behind the telling. By the way, my opinions are mine alone. No one is paying me. I don't think anyone wants to.

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