Where the Grass is Not Greener

Astro-turfing is Not an Import Australia Wants to Grow

Appendix C: Lobbying in New South Wales - A Submission to the Independent Commission against Corruption, NSW, 30 June 2010

20 July 2006 - Member Update

Astro-turfing, defined as the artificial expression of grassroots efforts, is cute terminology for a serious issue that has been around for decades. The Public Relations Institute of Australia strongly opposes astro-turfing practices and encourages people to check the background credentials and claims of people who say they speak on behalf of many others.

The term ‘astro-turfing’ is historically rooted in US politics and advertising, explained Annabelle Warren, national PRIA president. “Growth of the internet and email as vehicles for mass communication in the last decade has accelerated the potential for astro-turfing in Australia. Email spam and blogs often claim to represent a number of interests beyond their actual circle.

“Websites are now cheap and simple to set up. The web has made it particularly easy for a small group of people to look like a really large group of activists that may be advocating a specific cause. We urge people not to believe everything they read and we continue to encourage organisations to be transparent and accountable.”

Communicators have a responsibility of integrity to their publics, as well as to their clients and employers. The PRIA requires members to adhere to the highest standards of ethical practice and professional competence and there is an explicit requirement in the Code of Ethics that members shall not knowingly disseminate false or misleading information and shall take care to avoid doing so inadvertently’

“We urge all our publics to report any instances of suspected astro-turfing in order that the appropriate action can be taken,” Ms Warren said. “It is also noted that such false and misleading behaviour may contravene the Trade Practices Act and other legal codes.”

According to the glossary on the website of the University of Texas, the term ‘grassroots movement’ implies a broad based, deeply rooted sentiment and action among the populace. “An astroturf campaign, by comparison, is artificial – i.e., it may look like the real thing, but it is orchestrated and directed by a few well-placed interest groups.

“In a democratic system, grass roots support is an essential legitimizing force, so political and corporate economic campaigns often subsidize or even manufacture the appearance of grass roots activity to advance particular interests. Thus, the creation of the appearance of grass roots support has gained its own label: astro turfing.” http://www.laits.utexas.edu/gov310/PIG/glossary.html

Last Updated: Fri, Mar 07 2014