Sunday, August 23, 2009

Astroturfing - Legal But Incredibly Immoral

Tags: astroturfing

It's tough finding an audience for a new product or service on the internet - especially with the sheer amount of noise found on the Web these days. For some, the daunting task of launching something new online means hiring a PR firm to handle the marketing side of things. While most PR firms are ethical in their practices, some have taken the "easy route" when it comes to online marketing. One of the shadier tactics that's starting to rear its ugly head more and more is something called astroturfing.

Astroturfing is basically the process of getting some people together to advocate whatever you are pushing (such as a product, a message, or a candidate for office). While the concept is not new and has been used before the internet came along, the simple fact is that creating fake reviews, testimonials, and word of mouth online is cheaper and easier than it has ever been before. Take for example Reverb Communications, a company that appears to be heavily into the astroturfing game.

In their own sales pitch, Reverb Communications outlines their tactics of creating positive reviews in house. Mobile Crunch goes into further detail by examining specific clients of Reverb Communications with example reviews posted in the iTunes App Store.

While Reverb Communications seems to focus on iTunes Apps, astroturfing has likely influenced all major user review sites. And that right there is the problem. How big is that influence on a particular site? Two of the sites I use frequently for online purchases are Amazon and Newegg and both have a user review system that I use to help me in find the right product. For instance, last year when I built a new computer, I purchased most of the parts from Newegg. I had the general specs in mind, but used online reviews to help me determine which specific part or brand to go with. What if most of the positive reviews for a particular product were artificial? At that point, it's basically a crapshoot whether or not I picked a good product or not.

And that is why astroturfing is 100% unethical in my book. When I watch television and see an advertisement with a professional athelete saying how much they love a particular energy drink, I know it's an advertisement and can filter the "review" of the product with that in mind. However, when legitimate online reviews are mixed with paid reviews, fake testimonials, and other such nonsense, the consumer is left without a major tool in deciding what's best for them. Sure it may be legal, but that doesn't mean we should all stand for it.


  1. testing Said:

    After I initially commented I clicked the -Notify me when new comments are added- checkbox and now every time a comment is added I get four emails with the identical comment. Is there any method you possibly can take away me from that service? Thanks!

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