James, what’s astroturfing and why is it so bad?
Astroturfing gets a “wikipedia entry of its own”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Astroturfing that does a pretty good job of summarizing the metaphor.
My $0.02: astroturfing is when someone who is interested, such as someone working in a professional capacity representing a company / brand / service, portrays themselves as disinterested or neutral – as just another member of a community.
This lack of transparency is almost always fairly evident to community members, who tend to have very good bullshit detectors. It almost always backfires too because online environments can work as time machines or outboard memories, searchable in the past with new information that comes to light in the future.
People have “strong reactions to astroturfing”:http://www.thenewpr.com/wiki/pmwiki.php?pagename=AntiAstroturfing.HomePage because it takes advantage of the trust people place by default in others to uphold the practices of a community. The recent case of “LonelyGirl15”:http://youtube.com/profile?user=lonelygirl15 on YouTube is a good example of a fairly inert false-grassroots effort that people have worked hard to sniff out and debunk. Something is either legit and authentic or it’s not, and folks hate it when someone tries to appeal to them with false sincerity.