astroturf: The creation of a false impression that an orchestrated campaign actually grew from a spontaneous outpouring of the public. It's called astroturfing because it's a false grassroots campaign. Astroturfing is by definition is dishonest; so dishonest that the Public Relations Society of America strictly prohibits it.
Astroturfing can be used both commercially and politically.
The government of China has, for quite a while, been paying some of its citizens per comment to visit online forums, blogs, and bulletin boards and leave comments that put China in a favorable light.
Closer to home, accusations of astroturfing have been flung from both sides of the aisle. One such accusation involves the "Al Gore's Penguin Army" video, a video that looks like an amateur spoof of Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth. When a link to that video appeared as the top paid search result for "Al Gore," someone looked closer. The video was apparently created by DCI Group, a public relations lobbying firm whose clients included General Motors and Exxon Mobile.
Astroturfing in Business
Have you ever heard of Working Families for Wal-Mart? Originally billed as a grassroots organization to combat all the negativity that was (rightly) being thrown at Wal-Mart, it was soon discovered that the Wal-Mart corporation itself was bankrolling the group, and blogs written for the group were created not by Wal-Mart employees and their families but by employees of a PR firm hired by Wal-Mart. Working Families for Wal-Mart has since disappeared.
On the opposite side, The Daily Show recently revealed some astroturfing on the anti-Wal-Mart side when Aasif Mandvi found that people picketing Wal-Mart in protest over low wages and the lack of benefits were actually hired hands who -- you guessed it -- were making minimum wage and got no benefits. That's not just astroturfing, that's irony.
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