This week on The Living Experiment, we’re talking about Astroturfing — the insidious and increasingly common strategy by which special interests create the illusion of grass-roots movements in order to manipulate public opinion, promote unpopular policies, and even subvert elections.
From shady mis-information campaigns waged by Big Business to the rise of “fake news” and fake social-media feeds created with the express purpose of dividing a nation, we’re seeing the emergence of a new and highly effective form of public brainwashing.
So here, we explore the potential this sort of dis-information has to undermine our media and democracy. We look at how astroturfing is being used to mess with our minds, influence our behavior, and to subvert our common interests.
Finally, we offer you some experiments to help you get wise to how astroturfing works, and where it might be showing up in your own life.
“Astroturfing” Episode Highlights
- Pilar and Dallas share their first-hand experiences with astroturfing
- A current example of astroturfing — Russia’s widespread efforts to influence recent elections in the U.S. and Europe
- Other issues, industries, and topics where astroturfing is common
- How organizers of these campaigns use social and mass media to spread their messages
- The influence that fake news, social-media polling, and personal attacks can have on legitimate journalists, compounding astroturfing’s reach and impact
- How to recognize astroturfing, and why it’s so difficult to publicly uncover and extinguish
- Avoiding the herd mentality that astroturfers rely on
- The importance (and practical challenges) of doing deeper research before forwarding, sharing, or reversing your own position based on what looks like strong “public” or “scientific” support (but isn’t)
Pick a notable new thing you’ve learned online in the last year — some idea that really grabbed you or that changed your opinion. Think about how you came upon that new idea, whether you spent any time at all checking out its legitimacy, and if groupthink played any part in your perception of reality.
Check out an item from the Resources section below to educate yourself about what astroturfing is, how it works, and for whom. See if these new insights inspire you to become a more discerning media consumer, and if you can now better spot astroturfing when you see it.
Share the Love!
Have you told your friends and family about The Living Experiment? If you dig the podcast, please share it! Every recommendation from you means a lot!
We’d also love to have you connect with us on Facebook. Tell us about your experiments, and share your thoughts, stories and reflections there.
- Trust Us, We’re Experts by Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber, on the insidious efforts of industry to influence opinion through lies.
- The New York Times article, “The Fake Americans Russia Created to Influence the Election”.
- “Turf Wars” via Experience Life magazine.
- From The Guardian, a terrific article on astroturfing by George Monbiot.
- Our “News” and “Health Media” episodes — more on how to find reliable sources of information.
- “Monsanto Hired this Guy to Help it Win Over Millennials” via NPR’s The Salt.
- Sheryl Attkison’s TEDx talk on astroturfing.
- Sign up for The Living Experiment newsletter so you can stay up to date with us, get free gifts, and receive notifications when new episodes are released.
- Subscribe to The Living Experiment on Apple Podcasts to have fresh episodes delivered to your podcast feed each week.