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Astroturfing: a tool or weapon?

Since the early appearance of traditional media like the press or radio, parties have used propaganda as a manipulation technique to alter the image perceived through the public in many circumstances, situations, or events.

Well-known techniques of this nature are name-calling, agenda-setting, and card stacking, only to name a few, used by individuals, political or corporate organizations within the mass media environment very often.

With online media being in the spotlight for over two decades now, communication has also turned digital, resulting in the “arrival” of new techniques used to drive the public’s perception.

A widespread and well-known technique within the digital environment that fits the narration is called “astroturfing.”

Astroturfing occurs with the planting of “fake” evidence. It applies to occasions where individuals with fake identities are commenting, rating, or reviewing in an attempt to create “grassroots” decisions.

Reported cases of astroturfing are various as JungHwan Yang – a University of Illinois communication professor – states.

He reports that bots are not as convenient as actual users managing fake profiles, nurtured in some cases even for years, in the attempt to look “normal” towards the public. Therefore, these profiles appear at times of crisis or when most needed to influence the media’s attention and drive the public’s perception towards a specific outcome.

Where can we locate such events in the hospitality & tourism industry?

Well, companies and PR specialists should be on the lookout to spot fake reviews and monitor their comment sections. Once they locate such profiles through their interaction and engagement with the business account, the best thing is to report them. The relevant authority responsible will review the report and respond with a decision outcome based on the community standards and guidelines.

The option to block users who are purposely harmful to your business is also available on most media and platforms. Although not suggested, it should apply only to probable cause after close consideration of other solutions, such as confrontation and understanding of the issue.

Depending on the size of the business, sometimes, the best practice is to ignore repetitive negative behavior and manage it while keeping in mind the brand’s tone of voice and relevant guidelines.

Always examine the authenticity of a user’s profile by looking at its creation day, past activity, and engagement before making any decisions.

After all, corporate and brand image is defined by whatever a company does, says, and communicates.

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