A "grass roots" movement that's really a Viral Marketing campaign. AstroTurfing is not limited to social media, but the increased prominence of online user-submitted content has made it a prime target for exploitation by groups with an agenda and a willingness to fake greater support than they really have. This might be a company, a political party, a religion, or any other kind of organization with more money than integrity.
AstroTurf® is a brand name for artificial grass used for sports fields, invented by Monsanto in 1966 and named for the Houston Astrodome, the stadium where it was first installed. During the rise of the internet, it got borrowed to describe a campaign which appeared to originate from and be driven by public demand, but was carefully staged and managed by interested parties ("artificial grass roots"). The idea of generating an appearance of public support is much older, of course: it appears in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, and probably dates back to ancient times.
AstroTurfing is usually managed by employing a large number of Sock Puppets to post messages supporting the group's position in various Fora, including blog comments and newsgroups, and by creating bogus blogs and websites that purport to be by "real people" but which are actually written by shills working for the group. Such people are called Meat Puppets to differentiate between the alternate identity of an interested person (Sock Puppet) and a third party induced to support them. Very often AstroTurfing extends out into the non-electronic world, with letters to newspapers from "concerned citizens", paid opinion pieces, and the formation of grass-roots lobbying groups that are actually funded by PR firms.
AstroTurf efforts are often easily detectable, though, because such campaigns typically use a small number of templates for their messages and blogs, making them repetitive and eerily alike despite the geographic or social differences between alleged posters. (Sometimes the 'post this' instructions are thoughtlessly copy-pasted into the message as well.) It has been proposed that form letters should count as a single complaint in official statistics, regardless of the number of instances sent, to combat this.
The term has recently begun to gain wider usage in politics, and with it, a certain amount of subjectivity, resulting from of the varying interpretations of "grassroots" and what it means for an appearance of such to be "fake". For instance, a professionally-run organization may assist with the organization and publicity of a rally in support of an issue. On the one hand, those that attend the rally because of such efforts are likely sincere in their beliefs and, like most political involvement, go uncompensated. On the other hand, the rally and organization may attempt to present itself in such a way to downplay the professional involvement to appear more "grassroots" and thus, legitimate, when, at the same time, said involvement vastly contributed to its apparent success.
This latter point may cause opponents of the rally to claim there is an insincerity on a level that qualifies as "astroturfing", and whether you agree or not may depend on your personal views and definitions on any of a dozen levels. (The confusion, of course, stems from how many individuals will gladly advertise and work to further their political views without pay, in ways that they wouldn't for a corporate product. Even the most fanboyish veterans of Console Wars don't volunteer at phone-banks to promote their system of choice.)
Another occasional use of increased public attendance that might be viewed as astroturfing is at an event that is originally billed as some type of entertainment, and a Bait-and-Switch is pulled on the audience. These people are later described as grassroots supporters. In the 1970s one would sometimes find easily available tickets to free concerts, only to find that not only were they church group meetings or political rallies, but in news coverage, any PR people interviewed would show an obsessive need to repeatedly comment on the large attendance.
AstroTurfing has been around for a long time, but became more popular as the Internet did, as it's easier to retain anonymity and still be widely read, and comments on news articles can be posted instantly (and repeatedly) with little to no moderation.
On the internet, the term is sometimes used as a synonym for a False Flag Operation, usually the kind where someone pretends to be a radical member of the other side to discredit them.
For the purposes of this page (and to avoid stepping on anyone's toes), emphasis here is placed on specific incidents with confirmed little-to-no unpaid involvement.
- In the Excel♡Saga manga, Kabapu hires a bunch of shills to attend Il Palazzo's speeches and shout disparaging comments during his campaign for mayor.
- In the lead-up to Civil War, before he became firmly pro-registration, Iron Man hired his old foe the Titanium Man to attack Washington, D.C., and monologue in public about how the likes of him are just waiting for the Superhuman Registration Act to bring down superheroes.
- In "Blackstarr", the eponymous villain tries to drum up support for her neo-Nazi party by organizing a rally and hiring a "protester" to cause a riot during the proceedings.
- It happens in Walter Melon: "Yes, thank you, Lefuneste. I know you were hired to applaud vigorously during my conference, and, honest man that you are, want to earn your salary, but I'd like to begin the conference now!" (Lefuneste is the only guy in the audience.)
- Koati: When Zaina proposes that everyone leave The Land of Xo, Jithu (Zaina's sidekick) pretends to be a random audience member who enjoys the idea.
- In Coalition, Lord Mandelson reveals that the supposed Liberal Democrats protesting against a possible deal with the Tories are actually Labour partisans whom he hired.
- Four's a Crowd: To help Dillingwell decide that he needs a PR firm to help rescue his reputation, Bob the PR guy hires people to throw vegetables at Dillingwell.
- Elvis Presley's first big movie as a star, "Loving You," is a near-biopic about him. In it his character's agent hires a few girls to scream at a concert his character is giving, and pretty soon all the girls are screaming.
- The Purge franchise, as shown in The Purge: Anarchy and The First Purge, features this as a regular way for the corrupt government to keep the Purge going. The First Purge especially shows that most people within the Staten Island experiment zone were partying, vandalizing, and otherwise doing minor crimes with their newfound freedom rather then murdering (barring a few psychos). It wasn't until groups of hired mercenaries descended upon the zone in masks (to hide the fact they weren't locals) that the screaming started.
- Wag the Dog has the main characters faking a grassroots campaign in support of fake war hero William Schumann. They invent the nickname "Old Shoe," go around throwing old shoes into trees and get a phony old folk song called "Good Ole Shoe" playing on radio stations. Within a day, the public is in complete support of "Old Shoe."
- Animorphs: Rachel takes Cassie shopping for new clothes ("dragged me through the mall, dressing me up like her own personal Barbie doll" is how Cassie worded it). The next day, she parades Cassie around to several boys, one of which is obviously intimidated by Rachel, one of which asks if Cassie's put on weight, and Jake (who says she always looks great no matter her clothes). And then Cassie goes into class...
"No! No! It can't be!"
Marco's voice. He usually sits two rows over. But now he leaped clear over one row of seats and slithered into an empty desk next to mine. He stared at me, eyes wide with wonder. Way too much wonder.
"Who is this vision of loveliness? Who is this fantasy come true? Excuse me, but are you Tyra Banks? No, no you can't be any mortal girl. So much perfection could never be achieved by a mere human. You're an angel descended from heaven! I mean, they say clothes make the man, but these clothes make you an angel."
I took out my homework and placed it on my desk. "Are you done?" I asked Marco.
He thought for a moment, then nodded. "Yeah. That should be about enough."
"What did Rachel pay you?"
He grinned. "Two bucks. Girls are such idiots sometimes. I'd have done it for a dollar."
- In Durarara!!, most of the early online posts spreading rumors of the Dollars were made by Mikado and his online friends, who formed the group in the first place.
- Martian Time-Slip: Anne Esterhazy, a prominent member of a safety committee, campaigns to ban spaceships from landing more than 25 miles from a major canal. The only landing field within 25 miles of a major canal serves the settlement of union leader Arnie Kott, who would benefit financially from more traffic. Although the fact isn't well-known, Anne is Arnie's ex-wife, and the two are still good friends and business partners.
- Spoofed in Mind-blowing Music, a book from the The Knowledge series (a general culture spin-off of Horrible Histories). The book contains a "How to create a popular band" guide that in a few points mentions that the reader should bribe people to act as rabid fans of their non-existent rock band.
- In Clifford Simak's Ring around the Sun a company sells improbably cheap and reliable (unbreakable if used properly, even) things of all kinds, such as houses, light bulbs, cars and razors. The fact that leads to the heroes correctly guessing there's some sort of a world conspiracy in action, though, is that despite not being able to make that much profit from their own products their advertisement fully relies on the word of mouth, and that's incredibly expensive.
- This is used by the tyrannical regime in Victoria to bolster its popularity, though as the system crumbles, they have to resort to increasingly crude methods. When they have to drum up a crowd to hear General Wesley's speech live when he takes over, they end up "paying every bum, drunkard and whore for miles around to turn out and cheer."
- Diff'rent Strokes: In the Season 7 episode "Arnold's Strike," Arnold, protesting the school's dress code, attempts to gather signatures on a petition to at least force a discussion. When he has trouble gathering support, he resorts to forging names (getting one from the bottom of his shoe); Mr. Drummond happens to be walking by and immediately puts a stop to it.
- In Rescue Me, the firefighting crew opens a bar, and after trying several themes, they finally hit on the idea of hiring people to "stand
inon line" outside the entrance and therefore appear busier. It works like a charm.
- In The Slingshot, another of Do-woo's tactics is to pay people to spread nasty Internet gossip about companies he's looking to ruin.
- The Cabinet would come to Ring of Honor events with hired security dressed up as "fans" constantly chanting and waving signs reading "make wrestling great!" in order to drown out the inevitable booing their Cheap Heat drew.
- The Zeroth Law of Trope Examples of William Shakespeare:
- Julius Caesar, Cassius has several letters sent to Brutus' house, each in different handwriting, expressing admiration for Brutus' nobility and obscurely attesting to Caesar's ambition. He hopes, of course, to get Brutus off the fence so that Brutus will join the conspiracy to murder Caesar.
- Used by Ratcliffe in Richard III to stir up support for the eponymous Richard's bid for the crown after he imprisons the boys in the Tower.
- Hypnospace Outlaw: During the game, you witness the rise and fall of a musical genre called "Coolpunk", essentially a mishmash of Vaporwave and samples from vintage soda commercials. Its apparent popularity culminates in Gray's Peak—the company whose commercials are being sampled—sponsoring an official Coolpunk festival, which ends disastrously (one of the main performers is caught lip-syncing, and the other is caught in a helicopter crash). Afterwards, it's revealed through private chat logs that Coolpunk was really just "a few kids being weird online" being propped up by Gray's Peak as part of a promotional deal with Hypnospace.
- In Persona 5, one member of the evil conspiracy hacks the Phantom Thieves' fansite to convince them the public wants Kunikazu Okumura, CEO of Big Bang Burger, to have his heart changed, as part of the conspiracy's plan to murder Okumura and blame his death on the Thieves.
- In Pokémon Sword and Shield, this is basically what Piers was doing with his younger sister Marnie; he sent out trainers from his gym to not only assist her on her journey to become Champion, but raise her popularity outside of Spikemuth as well.
- Freefall: Doctor Bowman, while mulling on how millions upon millions of sentient robots, a population of nearly half a billion, had been created in but a few years, casually comes up with an unnerving version of this as a thought experiment: Come up with an idea, and then manufacture the sentients to support it.
Dr. Bowman: You know, in twenty-five years, we've created a population of 450 million. What if someone who wanted to spread a point of view decided to do the same thing? Come up with an idea, then come up with the population to support it? It would be a whole new working of the population bomb. BOOM, and your meme spreads through the entire city!Henri Mer: Have you considered retiring before you break the galaxy?
- In the Webcomic Questionable Content, Angus is a professional Strawman Political. He is paid to participate in public debates for one particular side, and lose the argument as an astroturfing measure. No specific campaigns he has worked on are described, but he says that he only takes jobs arguing against positions he actually supports, thereby promoting them.
- Climate Town: "It’s Time To Break Up With Our Gas Stoves" and "The Troll Army of Big Oil" talk about Real Life instances of the oil and natural gas industries creating webpages with testimonials from entirely made up people with stock photos supporting them and paying influences to talk about their products as if they just love them.
- The "5 Mao Party", a group of pro-Communist/government sockpuppets who were hired by the Chinese government to counteract the number of people posting their dissatisfaction with the way the country is being run on the internet. The name comes from the fact that, when it first started, each person was paid .50 yuan, or 5 mao, for every post that they made.
- And the complimentary "5 U.S. Cent Party", which is allegedly sockpuppets hired by anti-communist organizations to combat pro-communist claims. Expect racist slurs when these two groups clash on fora.
- Similar organizations can also be found in Russia, where, according to a number of media, there are groups of so-called "Olgino Bots" Or more local "kremlebots", who for money depict Russian pro-government support on the Internet. Nevertheless, recently this word has become used as a label for any pro-Russian point of view on the web, so expect that mention of them will cause a separate angry political controversy.
- Speaking of communism, with the fall of communism came the revelation that a LOT of astroturfing went on during the Russian revolution. One of the most notable examples comes from Lenin's arrival in Russia where the Germans (who also paid for the trip) simply hired people to cheer as he arrived. Many of his early speeches and rallies went the same way, but he eventually did amass enough genuine support to do what history remembers him for.
- A supposed amateur YouTube video spoofing An Inconvenient Truth was found to have been sponsored by the DCI Group, which at the time did PR for General Motors and ExxonMobil.
- The "Brooks Brothers Riot" (so called for the expensive clothing worn by the participants). The "angry mobs" outside of the recounts of the 2000 Presidential Election in Florida were made up of Republican staffers, many of whom were flown in. A good number of them got prime jobs in the Bush administration for their trouble. Robert Parry detailed the facts in Bush's Conspiracy to Riot. Salon.com called it Miami's Rent-a-Riot.
- During Nicolas Sarkozy's presidential term, the French government was caught red-handed more than once: after the infamous "casse-toi, pauvre con" incident there was a lot of filtering to avoid the contact between the French president and people who did not like him, and members of his government did the same thing, like putting fake shoppers in a supermarket visited by a minister, or the French president making a speech in front of an attendance of genuine employees of the factory he visited, but making sure that everyone behind him was shorter.
- Workers for the Parents Television Council were accused of using AstroTurfing to bolster its pro-censorship campaigns against various television shows.
- The webcomic Joe And Monkey had a character, Kvetchbot, specifically designed to write letters to networks and newspaper editorial pages for this purpose.
- Protesters in Kyiv, Ukraine are often claimed to be local students paid for participation. Since there is always someone protesting against somebody else in Kyiv, it looks like a stable source of income.
- In May of 2008, Cyclone Nargis devastated Burma (or the Union of Myanmar). When citizens started clearing streets of debris, the ruling Junta ordered them to put it back, purely so the Junta could be filmed helping the people and show the world that they're not bastards.
- Part of the underhanded activities associated with the 1972 U.S. Presidential election involved Richard Nixon's aides distributing faked opinion polls and letters-to-the-editors to news papers from "concerned citizens" that supported Nixon's plans.
- 2008 US presidential candidate Ron Paul's (primarily Internet-based) campaign was accused of using astroturf tactics. At the very least, it is almost certain that some of his more vocal supporters and workers, who tended to flock to any mention of his name on forums, blogs, or YouTube comments, seemed to utilize the tactics of spammers or weren't averse to the use of spambots.
- The "Swift Boat Veterans For Truth," whose commercials opposed John Kerry's presidential hopes in 2004, were alleged by Kerry's supporters to be a Republican front group. The group was indeed lead by Vietnam veterans, many of whom served on swift boats, and most of Kerry's superior officers; however, none actually served on Kerry's swift boat. The group was mostly funded by Republican donors and political groups, leading to charges of astroturfing.
- Two anti-GOP pages on Facebook, "Americans Against The Tea Party" and "The Bad, the Ugly, and the Irrelevant: The 2012 GOP pretenders" were actually started by Obama campaigners. On Twitter, Mitt Romney's campaign ran a fake Bill Clinton account, while Obama's campaign started a fake Mitt Romney Twitter.
- A lot of politicians buy fake social media followers. The fakest followed politician in the US is possibly Montana governor Steve Bullock whose Twitter account is followed by almost 2/3 fake accounts, likely from his brief entry into the 2020 Democratic presidential primary.
- Hillary Rodham Clinton's 2016 campaign started with a trip across several midwest states, including multiple stops to talk to voters. Several of these were later discovered to be staged, with the supposed voters having been briefed and given specific questions to ask Clinton.
- The Tea Party in general — supporters and opponents — frequently attracted claims of astroturfing.
- The Tea Party was itself formed in response to CNBC commentator (and former investment banking firm VP) Rick Santelli's famous rant against homeowner bailouts. There were many groups calling themselves "Tea Parties", but no specific leaders or groups that they united under; however, many Tea Party-affiliated groups received funding or support from, or were allied with, mainstream GOP organizations like FreedomWorks. One accusation from October of 2012 found in a National Institutes of Health study abstracted here, that the Tea Party, in fact, was in large part the creation of an alliance between the Koch Brothers and major tobacco companies looking for a new way to fight government efforts to place restrictions on smoking and marketing of tobacco products.
- Several attempts had been made to create an anti-Tea Party. The Coffee Party failed to attract many supporters and underwent frequent face-lifts, going from liberal activist group to non-partisan issue advocacy center, but gradually coming to endorse the entire Democratic platform anyway. It was founded by Annabel Park, a former member of the Obama campaign, and heavily supported by left-wing donors and groups.
- The Occupy Wall Street movement was far more successful but attracted accusations similar to those leveled at the Tea Party. As with the Tea Party, it appears that liberal organizations and money appeared after the group formed, to harness the movement's energy, rather than being faked enthusiasm from professional agitators. The group proved too disorganized and unfocused to control, and has since dissolved into several different successor groups.
- Wikipedia once suffered a tempest in a teapot when it was discovered that the biographies of several members of Congress had been written or re-written by their own staffers. The staffers argued that they were doing it in their capacity as private citizens, and that the changes just happened to be very complimentary to their bosses.
- Several American labor unions have been caught hiring people to stand in picket lines in place of striking workers, often at or near minimum wage. Labor unions also frequently do send their members to protest in favor of unrelated left-wing causes such as gun control or abortion rights, which might be considered astroturfing.
- Unions mutually supporting each other's strikes and pickets has a long and honorable tradition, especially in Great Britain, where a government legislated to make it illegal. Here it is called secondary picketing.
- In states such as California where ballot measures are an important part of the legislative process, look for campaign ads funded by organizations like "Citizens United for a Better X" or "Concerned Citizens against Y". The named groups — on both ends of the political spectrum — have no existence except as a means to camouflage the ads' primary funding.
- There have been accusations that Donald Trump paid actors $50 to show up and cheer at his presidential campaign announcement.
- James O'Keefe, a Republican activist known for selectively editing his work until it distorts the truth so much he has to pay the subjects money to settle the resulting lawsuit, created a series of hidden camera videos during the final month of the October 2016 campaign where a few people working for the Clinton campaign discussed how they staged several protests against Trump, one of who proudly admitted to paying people to intentionally riot at one campaign and another discussed plans to bus in voters to polling places (and claimed he had been doing it for years).
- It was discovered that when the FCC in the US allowed for public responses on a measure involving the vastly unpopular repeal of net neutrality measures, a large number of positive responses were fake.
- British anti-trans activist group LGB Alliance has several twitter pages for spin-off groups in other countries, or representing their alleged faction within all the mainstream parties. Many have noted that when one of these pages springs up, their Twitter followers almost exclusively consist of people who were already following the main account.
- The term "AstroTurfing" got its first real mainstream exposure in 2003, when it was discovered that the Republican National Committee set up a website called "gopteamleader.com", an “online toolbox for Republican activists", in which participants could earn points toward merchandise by using an automated form to email pro-GOP letters-to-the-editor to newspapers. Over 100 papers unwittingly published an identically-phrased letter, sent under different names (some papers published it more than once even), that started out with the phrase "When it comes to the economy, President Bush is demonstrating genuine leadership."
- In 2021 the diet plan Noom began to advertise on Facebook indirectly through hundreds of "real person" blogs purportedly written by influencers. This astroturfing technique effectively makes it impossible for users to block Noom, as blocking one ad only blocks further ads from that one specific influencer and not from Noom as a whole.
- Trope inversion by EA Games: they hired an advertising firm to position protesters outside E3 2009 calling for their product, Dante's Inferno, to be banned. Then they owned up to it, creating even more publicity for their product (which, being about sin after all, is probably quite appropriate). It's an inversion because they likely never intended to have the protest itself drum up support; they've been doing similar sin-based viral marketing campaigns for this game and this was just part of the theme.
- After a parents' group launched a protest against the existence of a Gay Option in Mass Effect 3, AllOut.org created a "petition" showing support for this practice. Fair enough. But then the petition was hit with a barrage of signatures very blatantly generated by spambots, and AllOut took it down. Not long afterwards, images began circulating showing alleged screenshots of traffic towards the website originating from Origin, EA's digital distribution/Copy Protection app.
- This practice occurs from time to time on entertainment message boards. For example, on a message board dedicated to a movie that is getting negative buzz, a newbie will show up claiming to have seen it in advance of its release saying that none of the bad buzz is to be believed, because the movie was just awesome. Oftentimes, the poster is soon discovered to be a studio plant.
- Film companies and producers are infamous for doing this on the web. For instance, ever see a comment on a movie trailer on YouTube that was highly in favor of the movie, even though everyone else was bashing it? That's probably Astroturfing. This happens on tons of various film websites.
- However, the inverse is also true: If a game or movie's release was controversial, sites like Metacritic or Rotten Tomatoes may see tens of hundreds of new accounts registered solely to bash it, lowering its score and "proving" the public hated it all along. The process is known as "review bombing", similar to dislike bombing.
- In July 2009, New York State fined Lifestyle Lift, a firm specializing in facelifts, $300,000 for astroturfing in response to a growing number of negative reviews and consumer comments on various sites. According to this story in The Register, the company's president ordered his employees to pose as satisfied customers and flood message boards and websites with fraudulent testimonials — on company time.
- In late 2008 in Osaka, Japan, McDonald's acknowledged hiring almost one thousand temporary workers to artificially create long lines (and the appearance of instant popularity) for a new hamburger release.
- Microsoft has infamously attempted to use AstroTurfing to sway and/or forge public opinion in its favor numerous times over the past two decades, most notably in an attempt to forestall its antitrust prosecution in 1998, and during the worst of its anti-Linux hysteria.
- They also made the website "Internet Explorer: The Browser you loved to hate" which tried its best to look like a site made by fans of the newer versions of IE, complete with Forced Memes such as an image comparing different browsers to different kinds of girlfriends (all of which are needy, high-maintenance, etc except for IE). It also has an unusually high number of likes on StumbleUpon for this kind of site.
- Netflix's Canadian launch event was patrolled by actors posing as consumers who gushed about their excitement to the press... which had a field day when it got its hands on the actors' script.
"Extras are to behave as members of the public, out and about enjoying their day-to-day life, who happen upon a street event for Netflix and stop by to check it out. [...] Extras are to look really excited, particularly if asked by media to do any interviews about the prospect of Netflix in Canada."
- RIM (now BlackBerry Ltd.) hired actresses to cruise bars and flirt with guys... while working their BlackBerry phones into every interaction.
"We'd say, 'Put your number in my phone and I'll totally call you. We'll go out on a date!' But we just wanted them to try the BlackBerry. I definitely didn't call anyone."
- In December 2006, Sony attempted a so-called "viral" marketing campaign for the PlayStation Portable by faking blogs, user-created videos, and even graffiti concerning the theme "All I Want For Christmas is a PSP" — and were caught at it within days. While, to their credit, they fessed up to it almost immediately and even poked a little fun at their failure, the backlash lasted quite some time.
- The Shadow God by Aaron Rayburn has several five-star reviews on Amazon, but none of the unironic ones are posted by people who've written more than one review. And considering that all the other reviews give it one star, except a two-star review whose writer admits he kept cringing and skipping pages, well...
- In October 2006, several blogs that appeared to be written by independent supporters of megastore chain Wal-Mart turned out to be the products of Wal-Mart's public relations firm, Edelman. "Working Families for Wal-mart" and "Paid Critics", both of which explicitly approved existing Wal-Mart employment and benefits policies, turned out to be complete fabrications created by Edelman employees. "Wal-Marting Across America," which told the story of a couple traveling across the country in an RV by staying overnight only in Wal-Mart parking lots, was only semi-fake — yes, the couple did travel around from city to city in an RV, but it was all paid for by the PR firm, which also retained final editorial control over the blog. (See this story on CNN.com and this story on Business Week.)
- In the video game fandom, many people will accuse a person of working for a game company if the person defends a game or tries to show how good the game can be instead of just the bad. People will only make the accusation if the person is a little persistent, but then again, it's mostly a result of a Broken Base or Fan Dumb.
- The PS3 board on GameFAQs has its own Viral Marketing troll, who blatantly promotes Monster Cable connectors.
- After being criticized for homophobia, Chick-Fil-A created fake facebook accounts to defend itself. It did not work.
- For a while there were people posting comments on blogs and YouTube singing the praises of some NBC programs, primarily game and reality shows. The big cover-blowing giveaway was the way these "fans" appeared to have an Obsessively Organized obsession with mentioning the shows' time slots in multiple time zones at least once per paragraph. One such account on YouTube even wrote like a teenage girl, then suddenly switched into perfect professional grammar to respond to a user asking about how to audition for the show. Supposedly, at least one blog's admin also saw a user register using an @nbc.com e-mail address to post such comments. (Note that this may not have actually been orchestrated by all of NBC — when they fired producer Craig Plestis, these alleged fans turned to singing his praises. Combined with the fact that he produced all the shows that were being promoted by those user accounts, plus he had been caught editing his own Wikipedia page for Shameless Self-Promotion, he might have been the sole person responsible.)
- A Vanity Publisher called Author Solutions tried to do what Chick-Fil-A did and also created a fake individual to defend their business. It also didn't work.
- There's also the currently unknown but blatant fake writer advocacy site called the Write Agenda, which seems to have been set up to discredit certain writers and critics. No one knows exactly who runs it, but it's been proven to use sockpuppet accounts, stock photo avatars and poorly written hate articles to try and turn people against certain writers.
- In October 2013, Samsung was fined for hiring people to post comments online singing the praises of Samsung's cell phones while lambasting their competitor HTC.
- The Oogieloves in the Big Balloon Adventure, a critically thrashed Box Office Bomb, has a user rating of 2.1 out of 10 on IMDb as of March 2021, but the user rating was much higher thanks to what many users believe to have been an attempt at vote-stuffing by someone who worked on the movie in order to make the movie look good. As the film was performing disastrously both critically and financially, a slew of accounts with suspiciously-similar naming formats began to give the film copious amounts of ten-star reviews on IMDb, many of which had dubious formatting (paragraph breaks in mid-sentence) and/or fell victim to a Translation Train Wreck. Making things more suspicious, 82,1% of the overall voters gave it 10/10, yet the ratings by demographics (read: by users who bothered to fill out their profile info, which most astroturfers don't) mostly hover around the more realistic 2 to 4 points range. Furthermore, almost all of the positive reviews were the only reviews of their authors, all of these being clear signs of astroturfing. The amount of ten-star reviews posted were enough for the film to have a user rating of 8.1 out of 10 at its highest. This astroturfing attempt was eventually undone when IMDb took action and invalidated all ten-star reviews posted for the movie.
- A televised real-life example: During the Kitchen Nightmares episode "The Fish and Anchor", Gordon Ramsay discovers that the owner of the eponymous restaurant had put up fake positive reviews up on a restaurant review website. He wasn't particularly good at it, either, with one review using the owner's real name and claiming to be from Afghanistan (the restaurant itself is located in Wales).
- Shortly after the release of Balan Wonderworld, the game's Metacritic page started getting flooded with several fake positive reviews from the developers and publisher in an attempt to counteract the genuine negative reviews the game had been receiving and salvage the game's reputation.
- Genius Brands International employees write false reviews of their works on IMDb such as Rainbow Rangers, Stan Lee's Superhero Kindergarten, and Llama Llama in order to make them seem better than they actually are. Note that the reviews were published around the same dates, accounts were created just to review Genius shows, and many accounts only review Genius Brands shows. They also pay IMDb to delete any and all negative reviews of Superhero Kindergarten, even if said reviews don't violate any of the rules.
- Several flogs within 2008 to 2010 have appeared for açaí berry supplements, making proud flowery proclamations of grand weight loss using their pills, and linking through sites like Yahoo!! Answers. They're very easy to see through after skimming for just a few seconds, but they're still written as if they're just personal blog entries.
- The National Smokers' Alliance was an organization founded in 1993 by tobacco companies in protest of anti-smoking laws, but masquerading as a grassroots-founded coalition. This included outright bribing people to "sign up" to the organization just so they could announce that they had millions of members. Despite massive funding, the organization ultimately had very limited success, not helped by one of its most prominent members, Morton Downey Jr., contracting and eventually dying of lung cancer, renouncing his pro-smoking views after his diagnosis.
- Temu, the American subsidiary of Chinese e-commerce retailer Pinduoduo, has engaged in an aggressive Web ad campaign, and a sideline to it is the appearance of a bunch of almost-identically worded tweets, generally along the lines of "There's been a lot of Temu ads lately. I'm curious about/I've learned more about this app", all from users who've only been on Twitter for a matter of weeks.
- Frank Sinatra shot to fame after a number of concerts and radio appearances were disrupted by hundreds of squealing, screaming, hysterical bobbysoxers. Newsreels of the pandemonium were shown in theaters all over the US and became so well-known that they were parodied by Warner Brothers cartoonists (most notably in "Long-Haired Hare"). Only after Sinatra's death was it revealed that the screaming bobbysoxers were actresses hired by Sinatra's publicist. He went from being a band singer of middling fame to a superstar almost overnight.
- Some of the early rabid Beatles fans in the US were also hired actresses.
- X Japan has done a variant of this - while not specifically hiring an audience aside from paying models and stunningly physically attractive individuals to be front row for various recorded shows, it has given out free tickets to fans and others, and opened video shoots/events to the public - which often provides for a fairly large crowd. Downplayed overall in that the band was/is popular in Japan and elsewhere without the need to use such, and that when known, this tends to upset the existing legitimate fanbase.
- Limp Bizkit also did this kind of thing for a while. They noticed that there were basically no girls coming to their shows, so they made an unannounced rule that women could get into their shows free, and then leaked "rumors" about it to the internet. Boom, instant female fanbase. Eventually they did start advertising it for real though.
- After Ashlee Simpson's infamously off-key Orange Bowl performance, over three hundred online forums saw identical spam posts in support of her.
- Payola (slang for "pay-off-law", probably inspired by the shoe polish brand Shinola or the phrase "is it shit or Shinola") is the practice of being paid to play music on the radio, disguising it as regular airplay, used by many "request" shows. Although outlawed in the U.S. by the 1950s (following a scandal that destroyed the career of many DJs, most infamously Alan Freed), record companies got around this by hiring "independent" promoters who acted as middlemen for the process (at least until the FCC closed that loophole). Note that payola itself is not illegal, if the DJ were to announce before the record was played that they were paid to do so. The type of payola that is illegal is the kind not disclosed to the public.
- After the first The Police single "Fall Out" was released, letters began appearing in some local London music magazines praising the band's drummer, Stewart Copeland. Later (much later), it was revealed that those letters were written by one Stewart Copeland.
- Urban radio stations have been accused of this, as have Music Video networks.
- Justin Bieber:
- An unusual application of this is what made Justin Bieber so popular. Allegedly, his Periphery Hatedom was spawned by covert promoters telling everybody how bad he is and how much they hate him all over the internet.
- According to SourceFed, over half of his Twitter followers are sock puppets.
- According to Christopher Andersen's book Michael Jackson Unauthorized, when Jackson made his first U.S. public appearance following the child molestation allegations of 1993 at the Jackson Family Honors awards show in Las Vegas, tickets for the event sold so poorly that not only were 3,500 freebees given out, but the organizers rounded up young people at the venue and surrounding environs to serve as seat-fillers and hold premade pro-Jackson placards for the benefit of the cameras taping the show for broadcast on NBC a few nights later.
- Any winner of Britain's Got Talent, X-Factor, Pop Idol etc, are beneficiaries of this tactic, what with the multi-million-pound promotions that the artists get, swamping the smaller publicity machines of independent record labels (and even sometimes manufactured pop bands if there's a Christmas No.1 at stake).
- Organisers of awards ceremonies will often hire 'seat-fillers' to make sure the event looks as well-attended as possible. If an attendee leaves their seat to go to the bathroom or whatever someone (usually young and good-looking) will slide into their seat to make sure no gaps in the 'celebrity' audience are apparent if the cameras pan over to them.
- This is the concept of a "plant," or an up-and-coming artist who appears to be unsigned but is secretly signed to a major label and has the resources of a major-label artist. While it does happen, accusations of this are flung at up-and-coming independent artists all the time (particularly in hip-hop), and "plant," for the most part, has become synonymous with "rising independent artist I don't like whose success I take issue with".
- A voluntary rather than paid case of this: Billboard's Social 50 ranks artists based on how much attention they earn online. At a certain point, certain fandoms decided to make sure their idols remained ranked high by campaigning for fans to create posts on social media about them, view\play their music, and read their Wikipedia articles at least once a day. Bots to do this activity automatically might also be created.
- Kpop fans have been criticized for constantly tweeting videos of their favorite musicians dancing, usually doing this to hashtags that are largely irrelevant. This has attracted hate from many users, especially when these fans tweet these videos on serious topics like protests and mass shootings. In the Kpop fandom itself, some have noticed that a few of these accounts only made the one post or are bots made to spam hashtags, indicating that at least some of it is Astroturfing from the other side.
- The comment sections on articles at ProFootballTalk.com shows that the NFL wasn't above this tactic back during its 2011 labor dispute.
- More than one pro athlete under investigation for domestic violence has been the beneficiary of numerous posts on message boards, Reddit, etc. all claiming that he's innocent and that the wife is 'a (fill in the insult) looking for a payday'. In at least one instance these messages were traced to a group of IP addresses registered to the athlete's agent.
- In 2021, following the announcement of the "European Super League," a breakaway league in European footy in which many of the top teams would form their own league and play each other that was met with near-universal criticism, people began to notice that most of the "support" that showed up on Twitter seemed to be a bit familiar...