Trust in the Power of Nature
Astroturfing is the practice of masking the sponsors of a message or organization (e.g., political, pharmaceutical, medical, advertising, or public relations) to make it appear as though it originates from and is supported by grassroots participant(s).
Astroturfers often disguise themselves and publish blogs, write letters to the editor, produce ads, start non-profits, establish Facebook and Twitter accounts, edit Wikipedia pages or simply post comments online to try to fool you into thinking an independent or grassroots movement is speaking.
They use their partners in blogs and in the news media in an attempt to lend an air of legitimacy or impartiality to their efforts.
Astroturf’s biggest accomplishment is when it crosses over into semi-trusted news organizations that unquestioningly cite or copy it. That means, CNN, CNBC, CBS, FOX, ABC, .. and all the other news and other forms of media (facebook, pintrest, twitter, etc) are all capable of spreading the astroturf lie.
Hear more about astroturf and propaganda in this TEDx Talk at the University of Nevada, Reno
The whole point of astroturf is to try to convince you there’s widespread support for or against an agenda when there’s not.
Are you part of the problem? 43% of people polled on this topic think it’s unethical but not the worst thing in the world. … UgGGG!
You can arm yourself with knowledge so you don’t get swept away in all the internet and media astroturf.
The language of astroturfers and propagandists includes trademark inflammatory terms such as: anti, nutty, quack, crank, pseudo-science, debunking, conspiracy theory, deniers and junk science.
Sometimes astroturfers claim to “debunk myths” that aren’t myths at all. They declare debates over that aren’t over. They claim that “everybody agrees” when everyone doesn’t agree. They aim to make you think you’re an outlier when you’re not.
Astroturfers and propagandists tend to attack and controversialize the news organizations, personalities and people surrounding an issue rather than sticking to the facts.
Astroturf propagandists try to censor and silence topics and speakers rather than engage them. And most of all, they reserve all their expressed skepticism for those who expose wrongdoing rather than the wrongdoers. In other words, instead of questioning authority, they question those who question authority.
A final category frequently mentioned is quasi-news organizations that sometimes throw readers off the astroturf trail because they publish some legitimate news-type or pop-culture stories, but mix in propaganda or astroturf. (Oh! That is horrible to think, but these people are pretty horrible!)
These sources tend to be highly-cited by the unquestioning traditional news media either to advance an agenda, or in the media’s attempt to be hip and edgy or “get clicks.”
At first glance, it looks like a grassroots movement of everyday people concerned about “big government” and the “difficulty of feeding a family in today’s economy.” The link in the middle (“watch our tv ad!”) takes you to a slickly produced television commercial that aired in heavy rotation on stations in New York State where a soda tax was proposed. In the ad, a “concerned mother” posing as just a concerned citizen, talks directly to the camera and engages her assumed audience in a shared sense of outrage at the intrusion of big government imposing more taxes on hard-working families.
In fact, “Americans Against Food Taxes” is a cloaked site and is part of a front group funded and organized by the American Beverage Association, to protect industry interests. However, it can be very difficult to tell what’s a front group. The text on this website says that Americans Against Food Taxes is a “coalition of concerned citizens – responsible individuals, financially strapped families, small and large businesses in communities across the country” who opposed a government-proposed tax on food and beverages, including soda, juice drinks, and flavored milks. However, the real membership is the world’s largest food and soft drink manufacturers and distributors, including the Coca-Cola Company, Dr. Pepper-Royal Crown Bottling Co., PepsiCo, Canada Dry Bottling Co. of New York, the Can Manufacturers Institute, 7-Eleven Convenience Stores, and Yum! Brands.
Corporations that have a negative impact on the public’s health are especially adept at this sort of strategy.
In the U.S., the energy in public health is focused around regulating food and beverages with high-fructose corn syrup. In case this controversy has passed you by, high-fructose corn syrup is an extremely common additive to foods and beverages that damages health in a variety of ways.
Manufacturers are keen to leave it in products because for palates accustomed to it, it can be tasty and addictive, so it increases purchases and profits for food companies. Borrowing from effective strategies in the fight against tobacco, some public health advocates want to discourage the consumption of high-fructose corn syrup by making it cost more. This effort is sometimes referred to by the shorthand “soda tax.” Several initiatives have been proposed to establish a soda tax to alleviate budget shortfalls and to help pay for health care reform. Not surprisingly, food and beverage manufacturers see this as an attack on their bottom-line and are lobbying hard against any and all soda tax initiatives.
In the Internet era of easily disguised URL’s and no gatekeepers to vet what gets published, this kind of disinformation is harder to detect than ever. I’ve written here before about “cloaked websites” – websites that intentionally disguise authorship in order to put forward a political agenda – and these are a central tool of corporate propaganda in the digital era, including the battle around the soda tax.
examples 1 & 2 via: http://corporationsandhealth.org/2011/06/22/corporations-the-publics-health-and-astroturf/
Today, as part of its “very cool new section … which is being sponsored by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America,” Talking Points Memo published this piece about “the data sharing effort to cure cancer.”
Imagine a world where the cures for diseases are discovered with the speed of software development. … Recognizing that mortality rates for cancer have not improved in 40 years and that the research to find cures is too slow, the CEO Roundtable on Cancer’s Life Sciences Consortium, a group of leaders from life science organizations, have created a data-sharing platform resembling open source tech sites. Known as The Project Data Sphere initiative, the platform is designed to provide one place where the research community can broadly share, integrate, and analyze historical, patient-level cancer phaseIII comparator arm data from commercial and academic organizations. … However, not all data is created equal. Data shared between developers is rarely a threat to individual rights, but sharing clinical trial data runs the serious risk of violating the privacy of a person’s health. Last summer, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of American (PhRMA) and the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA) adopted joint Principles for Responsible Clinical Trial Data Sharing.
Sounds kind of awesome, right? After all, cancer doesn’t exactly have many fans. The problem is that the piece is, under the very kindest interpretation, a little unforthcoming about the actual politics behind behind the Project Data Sphere Initiative and the Joint Principles for Responsible Clinical Trial Data Sharing. Under a less kind interpretation, the article might be read as a deliberate effort to provide covering fire for just the kind of astroturfing exercise that Josh Marshall used to go after.
Read more of this article about Journalism and Astroturfing http://crookedtimber.org/2014/03/27/journalism-and-astroturfing/