|Topic 4|Stop Astroturfing! #MANG2049

Topic 4.jpg

My focus today will be on an ethical issue revolving around the business use of social media – Astroturfing.

What is Astroturfing?

It is the creation of a fake review by a company that a reasonable consumer will believe to be by another real consumer. Businesses usually astroturf through their own employees or relatives by asking them to provide biased reviews in attempts to improve their online reputation. (Kevin, 2014)

How is it done?

Making use of the Internet’s anonymity, firms create bogus reviews or accounts to falsely praise a company or defame another. The video below provides some examples.


(Video by me -PowToon, Information from here)

With advertising quickly moving on from traditional mediums to online platforms, there is increasing need for companies to develop positive online reputations and some may resort to unethical means when normal efforts are unsatisfactory.

In 2013, Taiwan’s Fair Trade Commission fined Samsung $340,000 for astroturfing. Samsung was claimed to have paid two marketing firms to hire people to accentuate the flaws of their competitors’ products as well as disinfect negative reviews and post positive reviews about Samsung products. (Mike, 2013)

Why is astroturfing unethical?

We as consumers often rely on reviews on make our purchasing decisions as shown in this study by Nielsen.  I personally am very dependent on Facebook, Instagram and other online forums for reviews and I would hate to know that I have been deceived into believing otherwise about the company! In fact, this can be considered as a form of false advertising which can be prosecuted under several consumer protection laws(Bigcommerce, 2016) as well as by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Act.

This is a problem because a Gartner report predicts that 10-15% of all social media “reviews” will be fake opinions paid by companies by 2014. Not only will astroturfing cause consumers to believe fake opinions, it may also cause consumers to doubt real opinions!

Here is a video by FTC that shows how online reviews and recommendations may be manipulated behind the scenes.

Unintentional astroturfing?

In some cases, some companies may not be aware that they are guilty of astroturfing. The infographic below shows some tips on preventing your company from getting into legal trouble.

INFOGRAPH.jpeg(Infographic created by me, Information from here)

Social media is a great business tool only if it is used in an ethical and appropriate manner. Do not try to astroturf. Once you get caught, you will have to say goodbye to your customer loyalty and reputation!

Word Count: 399


Kevin Kent, 17 June 2014, Review Trackers, The Legal Risks of Writing Positive Fake Reviews: Don’t Astroturf Your Online Business Reputation, http://www.reviewtrackers.com/legal-risks-writing-positive-fake-astroturf-online-business-reputation/, [Accessed on 11 November 2016]

Mike Elgan, 26 October 2013, Are online comments full of paid lies?, http://www.computerworld.com/article/2485252/social-media/are-online-comments-full-of-paid-lies-.html, [Accessed on 11 November 2016]

Nielsen, 4 October 2012, Consumer Trust in Online, Social and Mobile Advertising Grows, http://www.nielsen.com/us/en/insights/news/2012/consumer-trust-in-online-social-and-mobile-advertising-grows.html, [Accessed on 11 November 2016]

Bigcommerce, 3 Feburary 2016, What is astroturfing, and why your business should avoid it, https://www.bigcommerce.com/ecommerce-answers/what-is-astroturfing/, [Accessed on 11 November 2016]

Kyle-Beth Hilfer, 24 August 2015, Why Astroturfing and Fake Online Reviews Are Illegal, http://maximizesocialbusiness.com/astroturfing-fake-online-reviews-illegal-9985/#, [Accessed on 11 November 2016]


21 thoughts on “|Topic 4|Stop Astroturfing! #MANG2049”

  1. Hey Teresa! First of all, great job with the graphics and that video you’ve created using PowToon! It really helped me better understand what astroturfing is and how to avoid it.

    There is a thin line between a real and fake advertisement that can make fake adverts seems like they are genuine hence it is no surprise that people would fall for those adverts and side their idea. I agree that astroturfing can reduce the credibility of the company and social media influencers who are part of it which can affect negatively on their professional online identity. In the methods to avoid astroturfing, one of the point you’ve mentioned is to disclose all connection. Do you think it is ethical to post fake reviews despite disclosing the fact that they are paid/sponsored to?

    Valerie 🙂


    1. Hi Valerie!
      Thank you for your comment 🙂
      I definitely do not think it is ethical to post fake reviews even if they disclose that the product or service is paid or sponsored. The idea behind this whole issue is the integrity of whoever posts these reviews. As long as something is deceitful, it is a no-no. If the author is the one who chooses to lie in his or her review, then that is a question of their own honesty and accountability to his or her readers. If the company requests for the author to provide biased reviews (even if they disclose the sponsorship), then both parties should be ashamed about their dishonesty. However, the problem here is that it is very hard to tell if someone’s review is true or false especially after they disclose that they are being sponsored. Will you be doubtful about the review because you know money was involved and the author would probably favour the product? Or will you trust the review because the author appears to be honest since they disclosed that it was a sponsored ad? In the end it boils down to the reputation and credibility the author has built for him or herself.

      Cheers to you too 🙂


  2. Hi Teresa,

    That was a very informative and well-structured article on astroturfing! I strongly agree that astroturfing is unethical as it compromises the trust between a company and its customers, affecting their authenticity of future claims. I would think that astroturfing is a common shortcut used by many companies as it is a cheap and effective way to garner support, albeit unethical.

    Having mentioned this, I would like to seek your opinion on the following. By paying influencers to boost a brand or product, which they may not necessarily support, it is essentially similar to astroturfing in the sense that a company fabricates ‘public support’ instead of actually achieving the support of the public. I’m aware that you’ve mentioned about disclosing material connections so that these influencers would be deemed as advertising, but would this make a company any less authentic as astroturfing would?


    Ps. Here’s an interesting article that discusses this:


    1. Hi Shafiq!
      That was really a very interesting article! I was very very entertained by the videos 🙂
      I feel that the subject of influencers is very iffy because apart from the company, it depends on what basis the influencers work on. Even though they are offered payments for their work, some influencers actually make the choice to not take on the offer if they really do not like the product and do not wish to advertise it. If the influencer works on such a basis and only promotes products they truly believe in, then it would not be fabricating ‘public support’ but true and honest advertising. It will not make the company nor influencer any less authentic because there is truth behind what they write or say. However, if they fall under the type of influencers that would still promote the product even if they do not support it, then the act really is not very different from companies paying agencies, relatives or employees to provide fake reviews for the company, just like astroturfing. Furthermore, like what the article you shared highlighted, viewers can tell someone is faking authenticity.It all boils down to what ‘type’ pf influencers these companies choose!

      Thank you for your comment 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Teresa!

    Thanks for teaching me a new term! I didn’t know this term ‘Astroturfing’ existed until I read your post.

    Besides Astroturfing, do you think there are other ethical issues on how brands plan their marketing? For example, brands often give free products to influencers, and it is free to how they want to use it. Some influencers tend to include the free products, along with other products that are bought, in a usual video that is done quite often, such as a summer lookbook video, but the influencers are not compensated and did not state that certain products were given to them for free, do you think it is unethical as well? As in a way they are “promoting” for the brand (even though they were not required to and brands leverage on that), and not being honest with the consumers.

    Let me know your thoughts! 🙂


  4. Hi Liting!
    Thank you for your comment 🙂
    Personal I do not think it is unethical in this case because it was the choice of the influencer to include the product his or herself. As an influencer, they should be aware of how their form of advertising and payment works, when they should be paid and when they need not be. I believe that if the influencer chooses to include the product into their video even though they were not paid to do so, then they must really like the product that they truly want to recommend it to their viewers. I would say that in this case, the company got lucky! Ultimately it still comes down to the choice of the influencer. If they wish to receive payment for their inclusion of a company’s product in their video, they should approach the company to come up with a proposal themselves. After all, apart from companies looking for famous social media users to promote their product, these users themselves are also often looking for sponsors. If they choose to use the free products that a brand gives them and decides to include them in their videos, I believe they would work out some form of negotiations with the company. If not, then the company just struck gold!


  5. Hello Teresa!!

    Kudos to the images and video made!! The video made me better understand how Astroturfing works! I’ve not heard of this term, thanks for broadening my knowledge 🙂

    I do agree that astroturfing is rapidly increasing due to the advance in technology and with everything moving online. Companies uses Astroturfing as a fast way to garner positive reviews which then leads to better reputation and positive image online. In fact, Astroturfing can even be use in politics or to garner votes!

    I personally love reading blogs from various social media influencers and trusted their reviews. Especially when it comes to make up, as they are more experienced, i would usually read up on their product review and decide on my purchase decision. Now that you mentioned about astroturfing, I am unsure if i should continue heading reviews online.

    You demonstrate steps whereby companies can prevent themselves from Astroturfing, but how can readers like me and you who obtains review from social media decipher what reviews are accurate?

    Cheers 🙂


    1. Hi YangTing!
      Thank you for your comment 🙂
      Unfortunately, I think it will be a very hard job to try deciphering between which reciews are real and which is not, which is what makes this whole business of false reviews so unethical. I believe that the best one can do is to find information and reviews of the same product from MULTIPLE sources and compare the reviews. Another is to look at the history of the influencer, if he or she takes on any and every product offered to them or if they have made a disclaimer before that they only provide good reviews for products they like. When everyone is hiding behind a computer, it really is hard to determine the intentions behind their actions. Hence, I suggest that before you decide something is good, try to search on the internet or ask the people around you for their opinions as well. Always practice caution! Thank you for your time 🙂


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