I first saw the term “astroturf” used in relation to Reopen America protests during the weekend of May 2-3. Forbes Magazine followed research that shows that the internet presence of the Reopen America protests is not the work of people in a grassroots movement to end stay at home orders. Instead, it is a well-financed movement led by gun and conservative lobby interests. The hundreds of domains that were registered in April with names related to “reopen” were funded by American Firearms Coalition and the Dorr Brothers.
As of April 23rd we have now seen over 500 new domains registered since the initial reopen domains from the Dorr brothers. Facebook groups spun up by the Dorr brothers use these groups to direct traffic to these domains. We are now seeing other groups piggyback off of this popularity, resulting in the number of registered domains growing daily. We expect this trend to continue through the current wave of protests with new terms such as “liberate” and others cropping up in social media. [source]
How to handle yourself, among astroturfed terrain on the internet
Remain aware that the stories that you read online could easily be bought and paid for by some lobbying organization. They may not reflect large numbers of people who are in a grassroots effort to support some cause. People are searching “reopen” and finding hundreds of sites about reopening businesses and schools before the pandemic is sufficiently slowed to be within current hospital capacity. That’s because there are hundreds of them; they have a presence on social media driving traffic to them. That does not mean that the information on these sites is accurate or persuasive.
Remain aware that some of the “people” you read commenting online do not exist. The Guardian researched astroturfing and found that there is “persona management software” that is used to create “people”, complete with the details of their non-existent life, that can then be used to comment on news stories and posts. That’s how public opinion gets swayed. An article or blogpost is written, then there is a deluge of comments about it that becomes the prevailing opinion.
If there are already 30 comments on a post saying that the author is dead-on right, it discourages readers from posting that that the story is utter destructive nonsense.
Control your information feed. Vet your sources, vet the people who send you posts, vet the people commenting. Here’s some of the ways to do that.
Comment when you disagree with the prevailing wave of comments. If you think the comments on a post are overwhelmingly positive or negative in a generic way — without specific reference to the article — don’t trust it. It may be a deluge of bots trying to discredit a good article or blogpost or its author.
By commenting, you are being an active bystander. Instead of being the person who walks away, you can be part of the support for ideas that are important to you. If you post an opinion that opposes the bots, you accomplish these things:
- You are publicly stating that there is another opinion.
- If you keep your post clear and respectful, someone else who agrees with you may be encouraged. You do not know who is reading your comment. They may not write themselves.
You may get a hate-wave of comments back. If they are immediately personal and nasty – and you don’t know any of the commenters – you can ignore them. This is not a time to care about what strangers and bots think of you.
If they come from people you know, then you can address them using tactics like this:
Act with integrity, then walk away, if you must. If you are a minority opinion in an online conversation that includes people you know, stay on the high road. Repeat your stand in as many different ways as possible. Ignore any name calling. Avoid blaming them or name calling them. If they continue to aim at you — not your opinion –disengage without an angry goodbye.
Take the conversation to your own turf. Repost the article or blogpost on your site, highlighting your opinion. This can be as simple as cutting and pasting the URL of the article onto Facebook or other conversation site. You can introduce it, based on your opinion of it. That starts another conversation where the nay-sayers are in the minority.
Take the conversation to a private exchange, if you disagree with someone you know. Don’t expect to change someone’s mind. We are neurologically designed to hold onto our world views (we are, and they are). Change does come with built trust. Read more.
You may also write about the topic in your own blogpost. I am a blogger, so I rework my anger after bad social media interchanges and turn them into statements about the world I want to live in. When I got dumped on by a group of liberal Catholics after the Monsey attacks last winter, I wrote this to turn lemons into lemonade. Not everyone has the time, energy, or inclination to do this, but this is my way.
There are many moneyed people attempting to change public opinion on many important issues of the day. Do your best to speak your truth, every day.