In the words of Shakespeare himself, “everything’s fair in love and war”, but I often wonder how far should we take the implications of this quote. We believe with the advent of media, transparency and authenticity of the news that we hear is increasing. Little do we know about the concepts like Astroturfing – creating make-believe campaigns.
The term originally arises from the brand “Astro Turf”- manufacturing synthetic turfs which resemble natural grass quite closely. Likewise, Astroturfing denotes political, advertising, or public relations campaigns that are formally planned by an organization, but are disguised as spontaneous, popular “grassroots” behavior i.e. Imitating/ faking popular opinion to drive the mass opinion in general.
Both the corporate world and the political parties are now paying a greater attention to their public relations and management of image. This doesn’t come as a surprise, as the educated public of today looks for the successful initiatives/bloopers made by the firms. Hence, in order to woo this informed stakeholder, companies go as far as creating fake news and events. A good example can be the ghost-writing of letters by professionals for newspapers, focusing on the points provided by the campaigning companies.
Marketing through creating controversy is not a new term for us as we already observe the phenomenon of spread of rumors and gossips related to a movie before it is officially released, in order to evoke the sentiments of the target audience. However Astroturfing is different as it not only creates buzz, but portrays an opinion desired by an interested party as the opinion of the masses. This phenomenon is specially observed in developed economies, like the US, where PR forms a major spending avenue for the firms and big, professional PR agencies exist. They devise systematic campaigns that are bound to create controversies and influence popular opinions.
This term is often inter-exchangeably used with terms like “black propaganda”-the information that appears to originate from one side of a conflict, but is actually arising from the opposite side. It’s similar to astroturfing in the sense that the identity of the source is falsified.
Institutions like PRSA (Public Relations Society of America) and CIPR (Chartered Institute of Public Relations), recognize the threat these acts cause to independent decision making; and hence, have tried to oppose this practice by laying down proper definitions of PR actions which come under astroturfing. The code of ethics of these institutions, prohibit such practices keeping the interest of the public at large.
But such measures, can at best, just cover the tip of the iceberg. It is in the hands of the common man, like you and me, to not only reach out to avenues of information, but also validate and authenticate such information in order to make a just, truly independent opinion.