Joining the campaign against astroturfing

Posted on July 16, 2006 8:45 am by | Ethics

imageAn email from Trevor Cook alerted me to a campaign Trevor and Paull Young are undertaking to fight the scourge of astroturfing. Young has created a campaign home page on The New PR wiki, and he and Erin Caldwell have developed the logo you see here, and in the affiliations section of this blog’s left-hand column.

I’m more than happy to support this cause. Astroturfing is one of those behaviors employed by the bottom-feeders of the industry that paint the rest of us with their brush. When exposed (as it more and more frequently is), it only serves to damage the reputation of the company associated with the campaign. While a read of the code of ethics of the various communication associations makes it clear that astroturfing falls outside the bounds of ethical behavior, these same associations don’t talk about it much. I was perplexed, to say the least, to read Young’s account of a seminar hosted by the Public Relations Institute of Australia that seemed to give tacit approval to astroturfing in some instances.

Astroturfing has no place in any PR practitioner’s toolkit. It is deceptive, dishonest, unethical. If you’re unfamiliar with it, the concept is simple—employ people to submit letters to the editor, blog posts, or comments to blogs that make it appear that a grassroots effort is taking root. A good example of this unconscionable practice is the instance in which the president of Halliburton arm-twisted employees to send letters to editors of their local newspapers extolling the company’s virtues in the face of increasing criticism. (The term refers to the artificial grass used in sporting venues; it’s hard to tell the difference between the fake and the real.)

While Cook’s and Young’s blog posts both contain the list of actions you can take to support this campaign, I’ll reiterate them here:

  • Join the conversation - write against astroturfing on your blog or comment on the blog posts listed on the Anti-Astroturfing page on the New PR Wiki
  • Declare you and/or your agency astroturf free
  • Expose possible examples of astroturfing
  • Link to the Anti-Astroturfing page with the image provided and add your name to the list of supporters below
  • Call on your politicians to take tougher legislative action against astroturfing
  • Call on your industry / professional association to speak out against astroturfing
  • Encourage friends and colleagues to get involved

As I have repeated so often, the vast majority of practitioners in our profession work hard every day without ever crossing an ethical line, producing solid results for their clients while displaying amazing levels of creativity and innovation. Yet all of us are viewed as lowlife purveyors of spin and propaganda thanks to the minority of lazy, dishonest, talentless hacks who employ tactics like astroturfing to compensate for their lack of skill, talent, or professionalism. If we want to change the public view of PR, we have to eradicate these kinds of practices.

Count me in, Paul and Trevor.



  • 1.A group of influential bloggers (including Shel Holtz who posted this message on his blog) and PR practitioners are supporting an anti-astroturf campaign.
    If you don’t know what astroturfing is, here’s the definition from Wikipedia:
    In Ame...

  • 2.Thanks Shel great post - I too think astroturfing is the refuge of the lazy and talentless as well as the unethical

    Trevor Cook | July 2006 | Sydney Australia

  • 3.Since I started in PR back in 1991 one of the constant issues I've seen discussed and batted around is the low barriers of entry to this profession. The phrase used to be "anyone with a typewriter and a phone"....

  • 4.Some other communications practitioners are beginning to voice the same opinion. Shel Holtz, ABC, Fellow, IABC, an A-list blogger and For Immediate Release podcast host, says in his blog entry on this topic, "Astroturfing has no place in any PR pract...

  • 5.I am a public relations student studying Honours at the University of Western Australia, and I agree that astroturfing is not ethical for practitioners to be involved in.

    My videoblog is part of my coursework this semester, and I am using this opportunity to investigate the concept of astroturfing online, and you should check it out.


    Angela | September 2006 | Perth, Western Australia

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