Definition: Astroturfing is the informal term for campaigns or messages that appear to be naturally occurring, but are actually being defined by a company. Astroturfing hides the financial and business associations between the originating company and the message, potentially making corporate messaging more palatable to a public that might reject forthright propaganda.

The term "astroturfing" is a play on the term "grassroots movement," since the grass is fake. Astroturfing has been attempted by online businesses who present a product as being highly desired and sought out by a certain customer base via company-sponsored message board posts, blogs or articles when there is no evidence to support such an assertion.

Examples Of Astroturfing Online

While astroturfing has been a factor in public outreach for decades, usually through public advocacy groups with hidden funding, it is especially prolific on the Internet. Some examples include:

  • Company-employed bloggers posting product reviews which pretend to be unbiased.
  • Creating multiple fake personas (also called "sockpuppets") on popular message-board sites such as Reddit, Digg, or 4Chan, who spread similar posts to create an illusion of a populist idea.
  • Paid social media accounts, such as on Facebook or Pinterest, which focus on specific brands of products.
  • Pay-for-play deals with independent bloggers, exchanging gifts or trips for positive coverage.
  • Advertisements appearing to be from private websites or public-interest groups, redirecting to corporate-written pages.
  • Doing any of the above with the intention of attacking a rival company, rather than promoting one's own products.

Consequences of astroturfing: why this practice should be avoided

Astroturfing is an extremely controversial practice that is often discouraged or disparaged.

While many forms of online content - such as manufactured memes - often tread a thin line between outreach and astroturfing, blatant efforts are viewed very unfavorably by the public at large. Being caught openly astroturfing can embarrass an online business and potentially do significant damage to its public relations if the incident is wide-spread or well-publicized.

Additionally, many Western countries have explicit laws regulating overt or especially deceptive forms of astroturfing. For example, in both the US and EU, it is legally required for all paid promoters to disclose their financial relationship with that company, including bloggers and social media authors.

It is estimated that up to one-third of all online reviews are falsified, making some forms of astroturfing unfortunately common. Effective marketing, customer service, and product quality make the need for astroturfing unnecessary — if uncovered, the dangers of losing credibility or potentially facing legal action outweigh any potential benefits.


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