What's Happening

This is discussion archived from a time before the current discussion method was installed.

I do not believe the definition currently given in the article - a fake grass-roots movement - is correct. "Astroturfing," as used derisively by activists etc, generally means a company or organization that attempts to pretend to be environmentally friendly (or "green"), when they really aren't. The word "astroturf" is used because although the organization in question appears to be "green," it is actually fake greenery.
Luminos: I have removed the following passage

Saying that one individual publicly accused the Tea Parties of being astroturfing does not seem to be sufficient reason to include this as an example. If the Tea Parties are astroturf, then they are an example, and the weasel words "specific accusation" aren't necessary. If they are not astroturf, or if there is no reason to believe they are astroturf (beyond the assertions of a politician who opposes the goals of the movement) then they should not be listed as an example. Here is the reason given for the previous reversion:

  • Reverting reason-less delete. The example consists of the objective fact that an accusation was made, and that this is not the place to debate its merits.

The accusation was made, but that on its own does not qualify the Tea Parties as an appropriate example. The accusation was not backed up by facts, but by wishful thinking of a political nature. This IS the place to debate whether a controversial example merits entry.

Rothul: This page purports to list examples of the use of the term "Astroturf" in media and real life examples. It is not debated that more than a few liberal commentators have accused said protests of having Astro Turf roots, originally, the example merely mentioned that fact, whereupon an edit war was launched concerning denying the claim, reasserted evidence for the claim, refusal to accept evidence put forward for the claim, refusal to accept the refusal and so forth. It became the sort of thing that the aforementioned Rule of Cautious Editing Judgment refers to.

You seem to make the argument that since some believe said accusation to be factually true, and some don't, that it should not count as an example. However, I feel that the page is weakened by deleting acknowledgment of the accusations. It is to pretend the term wasn't used in reference to the event, when it fact, it undeniably had been. The fact that a major US political figure made an accusation specifically using the term that the page supposedly contains examples of specific usage of, certainly passes our low notability requirements. Indeed, the claims of astroturfing are discussed in The Other Wiki article concerning the Tea Party events.

This is besides the point, though. Certainly dozens more names of commentators, bloggers, and article can be given, each with their own evidence presented to be judged, but as the front page says "We are not Wikipedia... There Is No Such Thing As Notability, and no citations are needed," and the discussion of what counts as a reasonable source of evidence is not one we come here to have. I merely picked the highest profile person to make the specific reference to the trope and linked to a video of said use in the national media. In other words, it is an example.

The only claim I made is that a national figure, The Speaker of the House, referred to the trope during a high-profile political situation. That alone is notable enough. Perhaps I poorly phrased it as "made a specific accusation", but the claim that these are somehow a "weasel" phrase is useless on a wiki that makes no effort to avoid such alleged phrasing. Certainly there are examples on the page less specific and with a lower profile than that.

I realize the ramifications of this position. The real problem here is that it is near-impossible to "prove" an astro-turfing claim, as the term is so vaguely defined, refers to things that are not really crimes and thus will not appear in a court of law, and isn't particularly any more unethical than most other advertising, viral or otherwise: it sells a product first and is truthful second. We might be faced with faced with an explosion of examples from the political sphere, as the term gains increasingly popular and increasingly politicized usage. On the other hand, the mere fact that accusations would be tiresome to list, doesn't mean that they wouldn't be examples.

Luminos: I have no problem accepting that there are those do view the tea parties as astroturf. It is not my position that such claims must have some obvious proof to be considered legitimate. I still have a problem with the inclusion of tea parties as an example on this page. These are my observations about the tea parties themselves: The protests of the tea parties had massive attendance (perhaps as many as several million people across the country), though all the tea parties were expressing some form of discontent with the government it does not seem that there was any unifying, consistent theme throughout the tea parties, and though many of the protesters seemed uninformed, they all seemed to have personal reasons for protesting. Unless those observations are somehow incorrect, I do not see how the accusation that the tea parties are really some form of viral marketing can stand. My conclusion is that the accusations are made for partisan political reasons, and per Rule of Cautious Editing Judgement I deleted it. Perhaps I have erred. If any of my observations are incorrect, or if my reasoning is unsound, please correct me.

Rothul: Points very well taken. The problem, I think lies not only in the vagueness of the Astro Turf term, but in the very concept of "grassroots" as a whole: that somehow a protest is made more legitimate if it is not "professionally" organized on some level. On the one hand, as you quite rightly say, everyone had their own personal reasons for protesting, and it's not as if anyone was tricked in coming out. On the other hand, I think the protests reaching such a scale were certainly greatly helped along by the publicity or organization efforts by media establishment and lobbyist groups who later tried to downplay their involvement (Fox News and the Freedom Works PAC probably being the most often accused, the Daily Show/Colbert Report had a great couple of great couple of recaps of the former), which is, after all, sort of what the term has come to define, if, as I said, so vaguely.

Luminos: There is no doubt that Fox News and perhaps other organizations heavily promoted the events. However, going by the way tvtropes defines astroturf as "A false or simulated "grass roots" movement that's really a Viral Marketing campaign" this does not qualify the tea parties as astroturf. The tea parties were still organized on a local level and the only thing being marketed by the tea parties themselves was one form of discontent or another. I think a case could be made that the promoting for the tea parties was viral in nature, but never claimed to be grass roots. The tea parties themselves claimed to be grass roots, but even if this claim was false, it was not false due to any attempt to hide a marketing strategy. I can actually see an argument to be made that they are an inversion based on the fact that large corporations promoted grass roots organizations, rather than the other way around.

Rothul: I disagree that Fox News did not try to obfuscate their promotion of the events, framing the story as the network was only covering spontaneously created events, when it seems certain that their specific promotion of said events is largely responsible for people attending in such numbers. To quote the Colbert clip above "It was really unexpected how these spontaneous grassroots political events that Sean Hannity is hosting in Atlanta, Greta Van Susteren is hosting in DC, and Neil Cavuto is hosting in Sacramento just sprang up without promotion for the media." What's more, I'd have to say the tea parties were marketing not "discontent", but support for a political agenda. Such support is to Fox News favor (whether on a purely political level, or if only on the level that the more people that take a conservative political interest, the more potential viewers they have), and they advertised for it while professing such to be a coverage of a "grassroots" movement. In other words, a corporate interest hoped to sell a product through the supposed legitimacy of a "grassroots" organization, and professed that they weren't. The accusations that Fox News attempts to sell a conservative perspective under the guise of an objective news source have been so frequent as to become mundane, but it makes it no less relevant an example.

I think the real interesting this is the sort of real life Trope Decay that the term (in the political sense) has undergone since the tea-parties (which is why my original example only noted the use of the term). The definition of the trope may be changing around us to become more meaningless.

Luminos: Allow me to attempt to list some of the things that we agree on, so that we can avoid going in circles on this.
  1. We agree that the events was heavily promoted by Fox News
  2. We agree that Fox News was somewhat dishonest when discussing its promotion of the events.
  3. We agree that Fox News has an ideological bias, which is the most likely reason for their promotion of the events.
  4. We agree that the attendees of the events did so out of personal motivation
  5. We agree that the attendees were not tricked into attending.

I am not certain if we agree to use the same definition of astro turf, and welcome clarification on this point. To reiterate what I have stated above, I am using the description of astro turf provided in the tvtropes article. I do not see how that description pertains to locally organized events that receive public support from outside entities. It is my understanding that the outside entities would have to be faking the local events to generate attention for themselves. In other words, the tea parties would have to have been just a bunch of Fox News contributors pretending to protest in order to direct attention to Fox News. It doesn't count if just four or five Fox News contributors get invited to speak at the protests. Even if Fox News finds the tea parties to their benefit, that does not negate the fact that every attendee finds the protests to their own benefit. What distinguishes a grass roots campaign from an astro turf campaign is the sincerity of the participants. If the participants have been bribed in some way or are all employed by the coordinators of the event, then they are part of an astroturf movement. If this is not the case, it's not astro turf.

Rothul: I think the problems comes from the vagueness of the term in general: Using astroturf to mean "Fake Grassroots", when it is uncertain what "grassroots" really means, and what it means to "fake" it. Did the tea parties start as a grassroots excercise? Maybe. As near as I can tell they got their inspiration from comments Rick Santelli made nationally on CNBC, but it went from there. Did the tea parties get help from larger professional companies, including Fox News, in their organization and publicity? I think so. Do I think they would have achieved such notoriety without help from these organizations? Probably not. Do I think said professional companies have tried to obfuscate their role in the proceedings so that said protests would appear more legitimate/meaningful? Yes. This, I think, has the elements of deception implied by the term, if not on the part of the protesters, than on the professional level: I do not think that payment or even insincerity is a requirement to fake a grassroots movement: an uncompensated person who sends a hundred form letters to newspapers around the country, or even just clicks multiple times in an online poll is an astroturfer because they have intentionally misrepresented their own opinions as belonging to a wider quantity of people than they truly speak for. Or course, I realize that to be my subjective interpretation of the term, but an ill-defined term is inherently subjective.

Luminos: If astroturf is ill-defined and inherently subjective, then any political examples should be kept off the page per Rule of Cautious Editing Judgement

Rothul: Sounds right, save in cases where payment has clearly been received by the vast majority of participants. I've updated the article to reflect thoughts from this discussion. Thank you.

Removed the following:
  • Anyone who's worked at a media outlet will attest that any comment by an on-air personality that's the least bit controversial will attract letters from the public. In the early 2000s, though, this started to go insane. It got to the point that small radio stations in the middle of nowhere would suddenly receive tens of thousands of letters, all virtually identical, always sharply critical of the station's programming. Some stations received more letters than they had potential listeners in their broadcast area, and although every letter bore a local postmark, most of the (suspiciously overwhelmingly Anglo-Saxon) names weren't in the phone books. It turned out that there were groups actively astroturfing stations to try to silence certain opinions and artists. Every one of these groups was conservative. Every single one. (Not specific as to the groups)
  • Rush Limbaugh frequently made reference to "seminar callers," supposed liberals who would frequently call onto his show to espouse astroturfing-like statements. (Likely callers were not compensated)
  • Another non-internet example: in Washington state's 2008 election season, one of Seattle's better-known talk show radio hosts, who plainly disapproved of the current governor, started an hour by attacking some points of her campaign and then opening the lines to callers. The first two callers that he took used suspiciously similar and prepared-sounding rhetoric to make their counterarguments without sticking around to discuss them, and when the third such call was put on, the host interrupted by asking for some more specific details. You could actually hear the caller stopping to talk with somebody else before coming back on and just repeating himself. No way to prove it, of course, but the host was pretty sure afterward that these callers were on the clock with the incumbent's campaign staff.
    • Please Elaborate, What Radio Show?
    • Dori Monson? (Can't really find any evidence of paid involvement, or even if this was the radio show referred to.)
  • Someone who might have been a McCain campaign insider made numerous edits to Wikipedia's page on Sarah Palin in the day before her candidacy was announced. (Perhaps intellectually dishonest, but not really faking grassroots.)