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The Sciences

Newsflash: Astroturfing Works


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My latest DeSmogBlog post reports on a new study, in the Journal of Business Ethics, about the rather icky corporate practice known as "Astroturfing"--e.g., setting up fake grassroots organizations to defend the status quo, rather than challenge it. The study tested the effectiveness of Astroturf websites in sowing doubts about global warming, and lo and behold, they work. Here's a bit of the experimental design, which I appreciated:

The website for each condition, respectively, consisted of a ‘‘Home page’’ with links to five other pages pertaining to global warming and the organization’s activities. In the grassroots condition, these were labeled as ‘‘About us,’’ ‘‘Key issues and solutions,’’ ‘‘Why act now?’’ ‘‘Get involved!’’ and ‘‘Contact us.’’ Similarly, in the astroturf condition, the pages links were labeled as ‘‘About us,’’ ‘‘Myths/facts,’’ ‘‘Climate science,’’ ‘‘Scientific references,’’ and ‘‘Contact us.’’ All of the content was based on information found on real-world grassroots and astroturf web-sites …. A further manipulation consisted of disclosing information regarding the funding source that supported the organization. The organization’s name in all websites, regardless of the condition, was ‘‘Climate Clarity.’’ In each of the funding source conditions, all web pages within the condition specified who funds the organization (donations, Exxon Mobil or the Conservation Heritage Fund). The ‘‘no disclosure’’ condition did not have any information on funding sources anywhere within the web pages.

You can read the full post here; the original study is here.

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