Astroturfing

I intend to keep this blog short; I hope that is a pleasing first sentence.  I want to toss you a tough piece of meat to chew on or, rather, give you a piece of astroturf to lay…

Last Week Tonight

 

 

Are you fans of UK satirist, John Oliver, and his HBO show “Last Week Tonight”? It is broadcast in the UK on Sky Atlantic.

For me, it is required viewing on a Monday night.

 

This week, after his usual verbal fusillade at President Trump, Oliver does a lengthy piece about something called “Astroturfing”.  You can watch it here, https://www.dailymotion.com/video/x6rxztfThere is an ad for a web-site building business fronting the piece. 

As ever with Oliver, his soliloquies contain some strong profanity.  His frustration at the legal advice constraining him from saying what he wants to remark is palpable and a joy to watch. 

Astroturfing – what’s that?

I hadn’t heard the term “Astroturfing” before.  As Oliver defines it, it is where big organisations mask themselves to promote certain issues that work in their favour.  For instance, as shown, soft-drinks manufacturers covertly condemning a proposed sugar tax.  Some of the other examples he gives are astonishing yet, perhaps, in 2018, not unsurprising.

The clip of one company boss asking the PR agency will it get found out represents a new apex of corporate vice rather than virtue.  If you need to ask about “getting away with it”, what on earth induces you to consider doing it at all?

How many firms are paying huge sums, way beyond the average pay of their employees, to have these lies peddled in their endeavour to get their voice heard and their product or service sold?  If sales mean bonuses, what is the psychology at play, here?  Some pact akin to Faust selling his soul to Mephistopheles or, perhaps, it’s your soul that has been traded, a bit like your data on social media?

Astroturfing – insidious marketing?

Extending the astroturf beyond the oblique lawn of PR to advertising and marketing, what is believable nowadays?  What is the reckoning about how many marketing messages we see every day?  This article,  https://stopad.io/blog/ads-seen-daily, includes the tale of “marketing expert” Ron Marshall starting to count and giving up around the 500 mark before he had finished his breakfast.

Rather than firms rely on their own spiel, on-line most rely on their buyers’ or users’ recommendations.  How truthful are these star-ratings on web-sites? There are numerous stories about the fiction, often critical, peddled on TripAdvisor, e.g. https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/woman-tripadvisor-restaurant-review-high-rocks-tunbridge-wells-illegal-kent-sarah-gardner-staff-rude-a7744201.html, or Amazon, e.g. https://thewirecutter.com/blog/lets-talk-about-amazon-reviews/ (health warning: I have quoted the links to these articles without any due diligence to check their provenance; is such a cursory predisposition something that successful marketing relies on)?

Last week saw a whopping fine levied on Monsanto, now part of Bayer, for selling allegedly carcinogenic weed-killer, see https://www.theguardian.com/business/2018/aug/10/monsanto-trial-cancer-dewayne-johnson-ruling.  The CEO has said there are hundreds of scientific papers that establish the product is safe.

I’m no scientist, but this all smells akin to the campaign to prove cigarettes were harmful.  Tobacco companies strenuously denied this for years, portraying their product in glossy advertising, sports sponsorship deals (Ferrari F1 and Marlboro, for instance) and placement in movies.

Is it an appropriate time to download and watch The Insider staring Russell Crowe and Al Pacino?

Can astroturf be laid on a swamp?

Dare I stray into the political swamp?  President Trump says he will drain the US swamp yet seems to be busy filling it up with his own pet alligators.  When they bite him, he skins alive (a nice bag for Melania or Ivanka?), e.g. stripping John Brennan, ex-CIA head, of his security clearance.

Here in the UK, we are nostril deep in the falsehoods perpetrated by both sides of the Brexit chasm.  New polls suggest the Brexiteers are now feeling more duped than the Remainers.  Or, is it just another piece of astroturf being laid on top of the post summer heatwave, sun-burnt remnants of our front lawns?

The truth – RIP?

 

 

These are some of my favourite quotes concerning the truth.

Mark Twain is cited as saying, “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything” as well as “When in doubt tell the truth. It will confound your enemies and astound your friends.”

George Orwell is alleged to have said, “In an age of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”

 

 

So, comrades, are you up to foment a revolution and help bring truth back into vogue?  Or do you fancy a low maintenance, astroturfed garden?

 

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