Astroturf wars
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Astroturf wars

Arun Sudhaman

There's a piece in Politico.com examining the 'astroturfing' that has now become a rampant part of American politics. Hard to disagree with the story's general thrust, that the lobbying process is becoming dominated by front groups that are funded by well-hidden corporate interests. It's a little more sophisticated than China's 50-cent army, but the thinking is pretty similar - creating a fake grassroots movement. It's a useful way for an insurance company, for example, to lobby against a healthcare bill it might not like. As if such a thing could actually happen... Looks like astroturfing is moving up in the world. Last year it was all about hiring a few students to make the right comments on blogs and forums. Or watching Edelman get crucified for creating the  now-legendary Working Families for Wal-Mart fake blog. A couple of weeks ago, meanwhile, Spinvox was accused of astroturfing on the PRWeek site - a charge it has strenously denied. In the Guardian story I wrote on the practice, I managed to find only person who would actually admit to paying astroturfers - a marketing consultant who went by the moniker 'Sillicon Calley':
"I have in the past hired people to astroturf, but always temporarily. If you leave the same people in for too long, they get too obvious and it's easy to get someone to do it for like a week."
Calley also refused to name her clients -  "it would kind of defeat the purpose, if everyone knew it was fake". Ain't that the truth. Update: As if on cue, it emerges today that a PR firm has been astroturfing the user review section of Apple's iPhone store. Pretty sophisticated pricing model - they actually charge per successful app download. Expect a hailstorm of ethics to erupt around this one - but it's practically impossible to police. Unless, like Reverb, you set your strategy out in a document.
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