We here at Purple Stripe have decided to start a new weekly feature called Word of the Week. Our purpose? To help enlighten, educate, and entertain you with the terms, lingo and buzzwords that we live every day on the social web.
An English-language term referring to political, advertising, or public relations campaigns that are formally planned by an organization, but designed to mask its origins to create the impression of being spontaneous, popular “grassroots” behavior. The term refers to AstroTurf, a brand of synthetic carpeting designed to look like natural grass.
The goal of such a campaign is to disguise the efforts of a political or commercial entity as an independent public reaction to some political entity—a politician, political group, product, service or event. Astroturfers attempt to orchestrate the actions of apparently diverse and geographically distributed individuals, by both overt (“outreach”, “awareness”, etc.) and covert (disinformation) means.
To a lesser degree, any form of endorsement or testimonial that gives the impression of coming from someone’s personal point of view rather than a paid endorsement (or for corporate gain) can be considered astroturfing. Popular examples of this are Twitter messages from people that rave about the new restaurant in town or review-style blog posts that give glowing reviews of products, when in fact there was money exchanged to publish a positive review. Not only is the practice frowned upon, but the FTC is in the game with new guidelines and require disclosure if any sort of financial gain (payment or free products for example) were exchanged.
So the FTC doesn’t mind the President of The United States getting elected using a completely astroturf-based campaign, but they want to crack down on tech blogs getting free product trials? The dictionary entry for Astroturfing might as well be: “David Axelrod” – but God forbid I say something on a social network that’s positive about a company with whom I once had a financial relationship.