I have been meaning to write about my support for the anti-astroturfing campaign, which was kicked off by Paull Young after hearing about a disturbing account of a pro-astroturfing speaker that was brought in by the Public Relations Institute of Australia.
It prompted an avalanche of support, including at least 41 posts by bloggers and a special section of the NewPR Wiki was devoted to the subject, making me wonder what I could possibly say that hadn’t already been said.
Then last week, Steve Field, from D-Ring blog, had a post exploring how to differentiate between grassroots mobilization and astroturfing.
“Formal public relations projects which deliberately seek to engineer the impression of spontaneous, grassroots behavior. The goal is the appearance of independent public reaction to a politician, political group, product, service, event, or similar entities by centrally orchestrating the behavior of many diverse and geographically distributed individuals.”
This leaves Steve wondering, what about grassroots mobilization, is this astroturfing? And what code of ethic provision, if we all agree that astroturfing is bad, should public relations professionals follow?
After some wrangling, I suggested rewording what both Steve, and then Paull in the comments suggested with the following:
- I will not fabricate a public concern by paying or coercing individuals to falsely act as concerned citizens. I will only seek to help give voice to those who already hold an existing concern and/or provide education to stakeholders that might be affected by a particular issue.
- When supporting grassroots efforts, I will ensure that I am transparent in all my actions and clearly and publicly state what actions I am taking and which organization or client I represent.
- I will never knowingly distort of falsify information to help my client/interest achieve a strategic/emotional advantage in a public debate.
- I will encourage all grassroots supporters to be open and honest in all of their communications, just as I will be open and honest in mine.
These are ethical provisions I can live by, alomg with the PRSA Code of Ethics (pdf) that I have pledged to follow.
That said, I am not a single-issue gal, there are equally deplorable behaviors that we need to guard against as we interface with stakeholders on behalf of our clients, if you didn’t read it, Trevor Cook had an excellent post about Black, White and Grey PR.
Anti-Astroturfing and beyond…