We all remember back 1.5 years ago when we had what seemed to be hundreds of commenters coming out of the woodwork aligned against Realtors, The National Association of Realtors, and local MLSs, mostly anonymous, and incredibly knowledgeable on all things real estate- it seemed they all alledgedly disappeared around the time that Ziggy’s House dropped its bid to go public. You still see it today in forums around the country on all sorts of topics, not just Real Estate.
Definition of Astroturfing:
Astroturfing is a word in English describing formal political, advertising, or public relations campaigns seeking to create the impression of being spontaneous “grassroots” behavior, hence the reference to the artificial grass, AstroTurf.
The goal of such a campaign is to disguise the efforts of a political or commercial entity as an independent public reaction to some political entity—a politician, political group, product, service or event. Astroturfers attempt to orchestrate the actions of apparently diverse and geographically distributed individuals, by both overt (“outreach”, “awareness”, etc.) and covert (disinformation) means. Astroturfing may be undertaken by an individual pushing a personal agenda or highly organized professional groups with financial backing from large corporations, non-profits, or activist organizations. Very often the efforts are conducted by political consultants who also specialize in opposition research.
Yes, this really happens- people being paid to sway a conversation, even on your website, right under your nose.
How to spot it:
- Often anonymous
- The ip address is normally new to your site
- The commentator is polite for the first few comments and then becomes aggressive
- They often have little regard for etiquette and can use abusive language hiding behind anonymity
- When you Google the email or name, you find no reference to it at all unless it’s the same subject matter
- Randomly they seem curiously knowledgeable and aggressive on a subject average consumers are not often passionate about
- There is a financial motive in your losing the argument
What to do about it?
You can do whatever you wish about it- at times it can be great fuel for great conversation, but it can get out of hand. If your website is highly trafficked and highly monitored, then you’re probably fine, but if your blog is smaller, and is a dofollow blog, the comments can take on a life of their own through use of your SEO.
However, what you should not do is expose the commentator’s private information, rather watch blogs you’re linking to on the subject and compare- a pattern on the same subject on multiple sites online is a huge sign and can often lead you to who’s pushing the issue in an incredibly devious and possibly illegal way.
In any case, attempt to isolate and follow them, research, document, and expose- in most cases, this sort of activity could embarrass the entity or even violate the law depending on the circumstances, and should be reported to the proper authorities as we do.