Today boys and girls we’re going to learn about astroturfing. Can you say “astroturfing”? I knew you could.
A grassroots movement is an authentic spontaneous movement of support. Astroturfing is when an organization, business, or politician fakes grassroots support.
Today I received two comments on my blog within minutes of each other, both about a new site called “the eLearning Society.” One was on my post about professional organizations for instructional designers; the other was on my top ten tools list.
The content of the posts themselves isn’t as blatantly advertisement as some other ones I’ve seen, but I still consider this astroturfing.
- Although the posts were under two different names and email addresses, they were from the same IP address. I’m really skeptical that it just happened to work out that way, especially within a few minutes of each other. He felt the need to fake his identity when talking about his own group—not a sign that fills me with a sense of confidence.
- When the person running the eLearning Society posted under his own name, he linked to his personal website and used an email address that isn’t connected to the site. I’m actually much less likely to delete comments from a company representative when they are honest about who they are. I don’t mind comments from vendors if they are upfront. For example, Maggie Tsai from Diigo has commented here on a number of occasions, and she’s been very helpful.
When you look at the site itself. you see that the eLearning Society asks vendors to pay to be listed in their directory. The page asking for advertisers claims that “thousands of eLearning professionals” are using their site, but it looks to me like it’s just one guy who’s active. There’s only one profile listed in the “community.” There are no jobs or resumes posted in the career center. On several of the pages you can see “discussions” started by a nameless registered user. I’m not kidding–it says it’s a registered user making the comments, but shows up as “Your Name Here.”
Usually I just delete these sorts of comments, but this seemed like a “teachable moment.” Maybe I’ll save someone else some trouble researching this group themselves.
I’m curious–did anyone else get comments about this group recently, from sockpuppets or under a real name?
Update: The owner of the site and I have had a long conversation; see the comments for the full text. Per his request, I have removed his name from the post. He’s new to Web 2.0 and made the following assumptions when he commented here:
- He thought no one would read his comments other than the Google search bot.
- He didn’t think it would matter that he posted under his wife’s name; he was trying to test Google Analytics and whether it would pick up differently under two names rather than one.
- He assumed he didn’t need to disclose that it was his own site when he recommended it.
- He didn’t realize that what he posted online could affect his professional reputation.