Monday, 7 September 2009

Astroturf - A better term for Manufacturing Consent

The Hindu ran a piece today from The Guardian on Astroturfing titled "Dealing with Fake Support" [original here].

The Astroturfing principle is very similar to Chomsky's manufactured consent and is a more vulgar manifestation. Astroturfing is about lobbyists and PR firms creating artifical grassroots support for an issue of public interest such as the environment. Astroturfing @ wikipedia

My last two pieces on Air India and the Facebook Messages are good examples of Astro Turfing. The Facebook messages on healthcare in particular is a good example.

Here are some more examples of Astroturfing -

  • NDTV Greenathon a.k.a NDTV Toyota Green Campaign
    The world's largest manufacturer of cars wanted to convince us that they are really concerned about the environment. An article that I wrote on this available here.
  • DNA, TOI and Bartering
    Both DNA and TOI barter ad-space for either vouchers or an equity in the company. For example if I were running a retail chain - TOI would run wonderful articles about me in exchange for either vouchers or equity depending on the volume of coverage that I desire. You would see "active" discussions on their websites as well with some amazing feedback on my store etc etc etc. The perception of "public support" based on articles that have actually been bought that makess it astroturfing.
  • India Shining and BJP
    India shining will remain the best known example of Astroturfing from an Indian perspective. The year they ran the India shining campaign was the worst for farmers and availability of food grain was less than what it was during the Bengal Famine. We had the entire media talking about how wonderful everything was based on sound-bytes from ordinary citizens from urban India. The fact that this was staged and fake came out in the elections. QED.
In a nutshell Astroturfing will be prevalent and enabled by social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook. We will see increasing noise about schemes such Unique ID in these spaces. Beware. We have to watch out for how these messages are manipulated by firms that specialize in marketing through social networks.

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