Astroturfing – what is it… how do we spot it… and protect ourselves from it

One of the most devious forms of propaganda is affectionately known as astroturfing.

According to Wikipedia:

Astroturfing is the practice of masking the sponsors of a message or organization to make it appear as though it originates from and is supported by grassroots participants. It is a practice intended to give the statements or organizations credibility by withholding information about the source’s financial connection.

In simple speak, astroturfing is a fake grassroots’ campaign. We are given the idea that a rapidly growing number of regular people are spreading a message…

But in an astroturfing campaign, the effort is funded by big-time interests. And these interests gain financially (and/or worse – gain control over our minds).

In fact, the “fake news” label is usually associated with astroturfing.

The ultimate divide-and-conquer tactic

Astroturfing campaigns use at least one front group. These front groups claim they are representing the best interest of the public. But in reality, they serve their masters.

Often, many front groups are created. One seems to be opposing a corporation or agenda and another endorses it. But in the end, both groups come to a “consensus” and agree upon a compromise that benefits the corporation or agenda. This is known as the Delphi Technique. And it uses the classic dialectic of problem/agitation/solution scheme to fool we the people.

Walmart does this all the time. They create fake front groups of “homeowners” protesting the opening of a new store. Another front group is created to claim that Walmart will create new jobs. And in the end, Walmart almost always wins… opening a new store in the neighborhood – even if it takes decades.

Technology fuels the fire

These days, technology makes creating these large front groups easy to manufacturer. These front groups seem large, but they are really fake entities created by computer software.

These “sockpuppet” accounts are created in a click of a computer mouse button. Fake sockpuppet personas can seem to do anything we humans can. This includes posting positive reviews about a product, attacking participants that criticize an organization – even post negative reviews and comments about competitors.

One such software company – HBGary (a subsidiary company of ManTech International) can create thousands of online personas in a click of a mouse button. This includes personas with fake names, fake personal data – even photoshopped, faked picture avatars.

Strangely, the United States military is one of the biggest users of these bots. And this is frightening because the misinformation campaign on social media is fabricating consensus out of thin air. Groupthink kicks in. And in no time, group-think conditioning is used on the masses.

The bots are coming at us

According to Professor Filippo Menczer, astroturfing bots are generating fake consensus:

Some bots are deceptive. They want to make it look like they are real human users, but are in fact controlled by a person, or an organization, or perhaps a company (that may) control many, many fake accounts, tens, hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands (of accounts)…

On Twitter, 9 percent to 15 percent of all accounts are the so-called bots. They often pad out the popularity of already huge social media stars: 76 percent of Lady Gaga’s Twitter followers are bots, as are 67 percent of Taylor Swift’s. And, as Newsweek reports, 49 percent of President Donald Trump’s Twitter followers are bots

“You may have an account that looks like a housewife in Nebraska, supporting a particular candidate, and then, six months later, all of their tweets are deleted, and then this person becomes a journalist in Ukraine, tweeting about a different topic,” Menczer said. “These attacks are sophisticated, created on a large scale, and it’s very hard to see who’s behind them.”

Menczer invented a super cool, FREE online tool called Hoaxy. It helps us visualize the spread of claims and fact-checking. This is a promising resource. (I am still playing around with it.)

Examples of astroturfing campaigns

Just about every big company and government use astroturfing to manufacturer consensus.

Here are the most obvious campaigns:

Feminist movement
Feminism is the King (rather Queen) of all astroturfing campaigns…

The worst-kept secret was the feminist movement’s leader – Gloria Steinem was a CIA agent. After decades of denying it, The Chicago Tribune exposed Steinem as a CIA spook here. The expose also reveals that her Mrs. Magazine was a front organization, too.

And this eye-popping, rarely-seen interview confirms it – Steinem admits being a CIA agent of change:

I always knew the feminist movement was an astroturfing campaign. Because the vast majority of women I know do not see us men as an enemy… but rather a partner.

Large-scale protesting
I have never seen a real, grassroots’ protest in my life. I can tell by the signage… all the signs are made in bulk… just a few of the exact same messages.

Whenever we visit Washington, D.C., I always laugh at each protest. Because I know they are led by paid shills. Sure, a low percentage of protesters are real people – no doubt. But they are being led astray by people paid to astroturf.

Anti-vax astroturfing
A quick glance at most anti-vax campaigns show links to big Pharmaceutical corporations.

And any time a “grassroots’ campaign gets big-time media coverage, I know it is an astroturfing scheme… like this. We KNOW this is astroturfing… it is in plain sight… look at the bottom in the bio – the author admits it (and I quote):

Peter J. Hotez, a pediatrician at Baylor College of Medicine, is director of the Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development.

I could go on and on with astroturfing examples.

Bottom line about astroturfing campaigns

We can win the war against fake news and astroturfing. All we have to do is better understand how it is used against us.

Knowing that most of the Internet has bots pushing falsehoods and false group-think agendas help keep our sanity.

I ignore echo chambers and consensus. It helps me live the good life!