Avoid the Astroturf – It’s Dangerous


Are you familiar with the term Astroturf? If not, then today is your lucky day. That is because I am about to provide you with a breadcrumb to help you navigate the seemingly lonely tunnel in which so many are lost.

You may find this ironic, but according to Wikipedia, “Astroturfing is the practice of masking the sponsors of a message or organization (e.g., political, advertising, religious or public relations) to make it appear as though it originates from and is supported by a grassroots participant(s).” If you do not find this ironic yet, hold on… you will.

The term astroturf, or astroturfing, has only been around since April of 2009 when Nancy Pelosi said that the Tea Party Protests were AstroTurf, suggesting that it was a phony grass-roots movement. Her label stuck, though, and I am glad it did because it now represents any fake grassroots organization – on all sides. Essentially, astroturfing refers to organizations that appear to be grassroots-based citizen groups or coalitions that are primarily created and/or funded by corporations, industry trade associations, political interests, or public relations firms. They are rampant in business and politics on both sides of the aisle. Some good examples of such groups might include Media Matters, Daily Kos, Scienceblogs.com, SEIU, ACORN, Working Families for Walmart, etc.

Strangely enough, the mainstream media tends to support and/or publicize these groups to make YOU feel outnumbered or alone. Unfortunately, this is often how uninformed people are influenced. This is also where “alternative facts” tend to come into play. Ironically, in their attempt to stop certain truths from becoming readily known, they will often suggest that the REAL FACTS are the “alternative facts.” This goes back and forth, though. It can become very confusing for some.

So how does one provide “alternative facts” without it being an outright lie? Well, it appears to be due to the underhanded and very old tactic of sprinkling bits of truth in with the lie. You have to understand that a lie with bits of truth sprinkled in is much easier to accept than a blatant fallacy. This is why you have to pay attention to the statement being made and the context and sources provided.

We should look at a couple of examples. Hillary Clinton said, “I never received nor sent any material that was marked classified.” That statement was a blatant lie. We know this because FBI Director Comey directly contradicted Clinton’s claim that she did not send or receive materials “marked” classified. On the other hand, “dihydrogen monoxide can kill, and it is a chemical found in bleach. It is also something that is deliberately sprayed on the foods you eat every day.” This statement is true, but it is misleading because it is made to sound bad even though the reality of this statement is quite harmless.

We know that many people do not pay attention, nor do they research or boldly question. That is why the dihydrogen monoxide hoax got so big. Many simply flow with what they believe is “popular belief”. If you want to sell a lie, make it popular. Now take that same person and give them the truth that counters what they believe is popular or true, and you have created an inner struggle.

Usually, the result is something known as Cognitive Dissonance. It seems very few are willing to see the truth for what it is or admit they might have been wrong or duped. Most people will simply re-interpret the data to reinforce what they want to believe. This will not change until there is another inner struggle that forces that opinion to change. An example of this might be how Harry Reid and the Democrats were very much against criminal immigration in the 1990s, and their followers supported that call. Now, since another party is in power and these same people were told by their party to oppose it, they now oppose it vehemently. Ironically, those often struggling with cognitive dissonance will believe that it is the person presenting information that is suffering from it.

Avoid the trap! Here is what you can do to help prevent yourself from becoming a victim of lies, propaganda, deceit, cognitive dissonance, and astroturf.

  • Do not just hit “send” and do not just accept what has been sent. Understand that many people have a political agenda. Read it with the intent of destroying it; watch it with the intent of proving the video has been edited to fit an agenda. Be surprised when it is not.
  • Understand that misinformed people often have some of the strongest political opinions. That does not mean that all people with strong opinions are misinformed, though. Double-check yourself and ensure your facts are really the facts by using more than one non-biased source.
  • People seek consistency. Do not be one of them. Seek the truth, wherever that may lead. Be open to the possibility that it may take you someplace other than what you had hoped for or expected.
  • Start each search as if you know nothing. Let the data guide you to the answer. Do not let an agenda guide your research.
  • Be open-minded and try to learn something from someone you disagree with.
  • Question your own conclusions. Is it possible your sources are biased or astroturfing? Is it possible that you have missed something? What harm is there in double-checking one more time and becoming the expert in the process? Also, imagine how much respect you will earn from peers knowing that you are more about facts than anything else.
  • Understand that you can lie to yourself without knowing it. This usually happens in an attempt to fit in. Think of a spouse who accepts her beatings, a druggy who says there is no problem, a black man or homosexual wearing a Che Guevara t-shirt, an obese person justifying ice cream, and so on. Go out of your way to avoid doing this.
  • Be realistic. If everyone around agrees with you on everything or you agree with everyone around you on everything… something might be wrong, and you might all be drinking the punch. Evaluate. It is okay to disagree about things, and it is okay to change your mind about things. In fact, I would say you were doing something wrong if you didn’t.
  • Change your mind. Find something that changes your mind about something you have believed your whole life. Start small and simple, like the truth of Napoleon’s height or what “AR” stands for in “AR-15” or which nation killed the most people during World War II. Then move your way to more interesting topics.
  • Review sources that you may not otherwise agree with. Check out the sources provided in what you are reading. Non-partisan sources are helpful. If you use partisan sources, try to balance them — conservative with liberal, for example.

Stay wise, my friends. Do not let yourself get caught up in astroturf. I have heard it said that there is a war on for your mind. So with that being said, let me close this article with two familiar but very wise quotes:

A truth’s initial commotion is directly proportional to how deeply the lie was believed. It wasn’t the world being round that agitated people, but that the world wasn’t flat. When a well-packaged web of lies has been sold gradually to the masses over generations, the truth will seem utterly preposterous and its speaker a raving lunatic.”— Dresden James

And this one… “And then she understood the devilish cunning of the enemies plan. By mixing a little truth with it they had made their lie far stronger.” – The Chronicles of Narnia, The Last Battle, by C. S. Lewis.

Want More? Check out the following video:

Astroturf and manipulation of media messages

Check out this article: There’s nothing neutral about Wikipedia

If you enjoyed this article, you might also enjoy my article titled: The Angry Will Not Listen to Reason – Don’t Fight It