Astroturfing, or How to Bamboozle Your Opponent

Astroturfing refers to promotional propaganda: things like using actors to promote a product or service, putting on a fake, angry demonstration (with paid actors); falsifying facts; using false media testimonials, etc. See John Oliver’s 8/12/18 program about how companies use astroturfing to trick you: http://(1080) Astroturfing: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO) – YouTube.

Peter Facione, a prolific and well-known critical thinking expert, outlines the main strategies these astroturfing companies and organizations use to bamboozle you:

• Falsify data, misinform, and lie.

• Promote false experts and cite fake facts.

• Create uncertainty, worry, and fear.

• Mobilize true believers.

• Attack the other side’s messengers (you cannot win when the real facts are against you). 

• Ridicule all who dare to disagree.

Go to this jaw-dropping video to see how the tobacco industry used these very techniques to fool the public: https://archive.org/details/tobacco_fiy27a00  (It begins with a little static – stay with it).

Facione includes some remedies for astroturfing.

“Astroturfing would not work on us, if we applied some of the most basic and obvious critical thinking strategies to evaluate the credibility of claims. We need to take a moment and ask ourselves simple questions like these:”

  • Is the expert being paid or coerced to say these things? 
  • Is the source speaking from first-hand experience, and not just passing along what someone else posted/ tweeted?
  • Can the person explain why what s/he is saying is true? 
  • Is the person generally truthful and without bias, or has s/he lied in the past?
  • And, most important, does the source stand to gain financially, politically, or socially or have any other ulterior motives?

NOTE: I have shortened Facione’s questions for brevity. Please download his (very short) article for details: (26) (DOC) Astroturfing Credibility | Peter A Facione – Academia.edu.

Facione concludes his article:

“Yes, we are a gullible species,” Facione admits. “But we do not have to swallow every rotten fish astroturfing organizations toss at us. We can cultivate a healthy skepticism. We can protect ourselves, our families, our employers, our economy, our communities, and our nation from the corrosive effects of intentional deceit. We can think critically.”

Huzzah!

Published by Nancy Burkhalter

I am in love with words. Trained as a linguist, journalist and researcher, I write, teach writing, and research everything about writing, especially how writing aids critical thinking. I've taught around the world, including three years in Kazakhstan, and a year each in Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Germany.

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