In politics and advertising, the term astroturfing describes public relations (PR) campaigns that seek to create the impression of being spontaneous. Hence the reference to the "AstroTurf" (artificial grass) is a metaphor to indicate "fake grassroots" support.The goal of such a campaign is to disguise the a client as an independent public reaction to some political entity—a politician, political group, product, service, event. Astroturfers attempt to orchestrate the actions of apparently diverse and geographically distributed individuals, by both overt ("outreach," "awareness," etc.) and covert (disinformation) means.
Astroturfing may be undertaken by anything from an individual pushing their own personal agenda through to highly organised professional groups with financial backing from large corporations.
TechniquesA form of propaganga astroturfing attempts to selectively affect the emotions of the public, whether trying to win a campaign, be the top music record seller, the top book seller, or gain political support.Astroturfing techniques usually consist of a few people discreetly posing as mass numbers of activists advocating a specific cause. Supporters or employees will manipulate the interest through letters to the editor, e-mails, blog posts, crossposts,etc .
They are instructed on what to say, how to say it, where to send it, and how to make it appear that their indignation, appreciation, joy, or hate is entirely spontaneous and independent. This makes their campaign seem "real" rather than the product of an orchestrated campaign.
Local newspapers are often victims of astroturfing when they publish letters identical to those received and printed by other newspapers.It has become easier to structure an astroturfing campaign in the electronic era because the cost and effort to send an e-mail (especially a pre-written, sign-your-name-at-the-bottom e-mail) is so low.
Companies may use a boiler room full of telephones and computers where hired activists locate people and groups that create enthusiasm for the specified cause. .
This leads to misuse of the Internet, for one person is able to play the role of a whole group of like-minded people (see also Internet sockpuppet).News consolidation services, such as Google News, as well as PR Watch and Sourcewatch, have made it easier to spot such campaigns through the search of specific key phrases that bring up results showing identical letters, articles, blogs, websites, etc.
In the 2005 general election in the United Kingdom, the Labour Party packed press conferences with party workers who appeared as genuine, concerned members of the public. The Labour Party, The Conservative Party and the Liberal Democratic Party workers also sent letters to the local press purporting to be ordinary members of the public; all of the letters fit a common template covering specific party issues. Aside from deceiving the readership, such tactics also deny space to genuine local residents. (New Labour's use of astroturf tactics was exposed by a UK Channel Four team with the use of an undercover reporter, shown in May 2005 - see below.)