It’s the practice of lying to the public on a grand scale for profit or power.
The word ‘astroturfing’ is a play on the term ‘grassroots movement’ (since Astroturf is fake grass). A ‘grassroots movement’ can often be referred to as a sway in public opinion.
By paying professionals we trust such as doctors, scientists, celebrities or specialists to spread misinformation.
They pay an industry professional such as a ‘dietician’ or a doctor to speak on a TV commercial or a morning talk-show and ‘inform’ the public on what they should be buying (or not buying). These people are called ‘thought leaders’ and are given a script to read, and are told to stick to it.
Let’s say you see a documentary on television with scientists recommending you take a new cholesterol-lowering drug (suitable for children too).
So you do some homework and there is a family health organization that promotes the drug. You Google the name, and you see doctors promoting how good the drug is. You look it up on Facebook and there are hundreds of people who claim the drug is great. So you finally ask your doctor and he also praises the product. So you decide to use it for the whole family.
But what you didn’t know was that the documentary was paid-for and produced by the pharma company.
The health organization is an affiliate for the pharma company.
The pharma company has flooded the internet with false testimonials to drown out any negative press about the drug.
The Facebook page is owned by the drug company… along with the fake FB profiles (bots).
And your doctor has been influenced by cherry-picked research results… along with incentives to prescribe the product.
And to top it all off – the concept that cholesterol causes heart disease is based on a theory that has ZERO scientific backing (the lipid hypothesis)… meaning you were being tricked into thinking you needed the drug in the first place!
Now that’s evil!
The oil industry used astroturfing to convince the public that leaded fuel was safe. They paid scientists to come up with false scientific conclusions. This stunt allowed petroleum companies to shorten the lives of hundreds of thousands of people over the span of 50 years.
Tobacco companies used astroturfing for decades to fool people into thinking that smoking didn’t cause cancer.
The breakfast industry uses astroturfing to trick us into buying their products to this day…
We constantly hear this famous tagline: “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day”
The breakfast industry is an international network worth billions of dollars… and this single phrase is the foundation that it was built on.
But did you know that this famous phrase is a giant sham?
Breakfast literally means “to break your fast” (because the 12 – 15 hour period between dinner and when you wake up is considered a fast).
You may have read lately that fasting is a popular way to lose weight. Intermittent fasting is a popular weight-loss technique where you skip breakfast and try to hold out for lunch as long as possible.
But the breakfast industry doesn’t want you to believe that… So they roll out some ’dieticians’ to muddy the waters with the lie: “you need breakfast to kick-start your metabolism otherwise your body will go into ‘starvation mode’ and actually hold onto fat rather than burning it” – but this is simply clever marketing spin.
Your local personal trainer and doctor hears about the lie, and without fact-checking; they start spreading the rumor further…
The trouble with astroturfing is that it can be so believable that it influences even the most educated people. It can sway the opinion of doctors, scientists, and government officials. That’s when a lie becomes ‘the truth’. People don’t bother to fact check because the ‘fact’ has become ‘common knowledge’ – “if it’s on Wikipedia then it must be true”.
Wikipedia is an astroturfers dream… Wikipedia claims to be ‘open source’ but couldn’t be further from the truth… Wikipedia works with corporate and political interests to serve their agendas
Check out ‘the lipid hypotheses’ on Wikipedia… even though there is zero scientific evidence supporting the hypothesis; Wikipedia has watered-down and twisted the words of the ‘controversy’ at the bottom of the page to appease the all-powerful drug companies.
Powerful interests trying to manipulate your opinion using non-profit organizations
Another classic example of astroturfing is a ‘non-profit organization’ that fights regulation… when in reality; the non-profit org is a front-group acting in the interests of a corporation. Or a group of corporations that risk losing profits from certain regulations.
Eg: The group ‘Save Our Tips’ organization which is meant to be representing restaurant staff is actually a front-group funded by a body of restaurateurs that disagree with a minimum-wage price hike.
‘The National Wetlands Coalition’ worked on behalf of oil companies and property developers.
‘The American Council of Science and Health’ is funded by chemical corporations and oil companies.
The ones that cry ‘fake news’ are often the ones who are bias
Astroturfers seek to controversialize those who disagree with them… calling them fake news, a conspiracy theorist, a quack, crazy or even a bigot. This is a popular technique in politics.
Astroturfing can even be someone fronting as ‘your average Joe’ giving their humble opinion in a magazine forum, radio talkback or on social media.
Around the time of an election, pick up your local paper and you will find countless letters from ‘concerned resident X’ objecting to the disastrous policies of Y.
Although it sounds hard to believe that a political power would stoop to such a low level; most of this low-level astroturfing is done by ‘bots’. These bots come in the thousands and are ‘virtual astroturfers’ complete with fake IP addresses and fake online histories.
Lazy reporting makes matter worse
Newsgroups aren’t interested in reporting the proper news. They report on ‘clickable news’ or sensationalist news… the type of news that will make sure you keep watching after the commercial break. This complacency in the media is where news outlets don’t bother fact-checking. They use astroturfed ‘facts’ and perpetuate the myth by reporting on it.
Misinformation can influence your lifestyle choices such as:
Your diet – “Eat margarine instead of butter for heart health” (Ironically, margarine causes heart disease)
Drugs you take – “Take these drugs for depression” (side effects may cause suicidal thoughts and tendencies)
The way you bring up your children – “Growing bodies need carbohydrates… this breakfast cereal is high in carbohydrates to fuel your child’s brain while at school” (‘high in carbohydrates’ is a loose term for 35% sugar)
How you spend your money – “This celebrity uses ‘wrinkle eraser X’ to look more youthful (when in reality, you’re rubbing unnatural chemicals into your body that can mess with your hormones).
Astroturfing is a minefield to navigate through…
It is so poisonous that many people throw their hands in the air and dismiss the good information with the bad.
I urge you not to be a total skeptic, but an open-minded skeptic, giving both sides of a story a chance.
Most importantly, be mindful of the drugs that the pharma industry tells you are safe to take.