Astroturfing under threat from new U.S. guidelines

One of my favourite terms is in the news, for the right reasons for once.

“Astroturfing”, the creation or use of fake grass roots voices or authentic-looking comment is used increasingly by PR, advertising and lobbying firms, often acting as proxies for big companies.

Wikipedia defines it as: “describing formal political, advertising, or public relations campaigns seeking to create the impression of being spontaneous “grassroots” behavior, hence the reference to the artificial grass, AstroTurf.”

Now some elements of the practice may be under threat from new guidelines emanating from the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, whose activities on the topic we also reported on last month.

A translation of what these new guidelines might mean in action comes from the Financial Times, which says that:
“Advertisers), celebrity endorsers and even some internet bloggers will be held liable for false statements they make about products as part of a crackdown by US regulators on deceptive advertising practices. The new rules on the use of testimonials in advertising, released by the Federal Trade Commission on Monday, also say that anyone who endorses a product, including celebrities and bloggers, must make explicit the compensation received from companies.”

The FTC wants, according to media, to tackle the use of astroturfing in new/social media, which is growing at an exponential rate. The FT reports that “…spending on social media marketing reached $1.35bn in 2007 and is expected to reach $3.7bn by 2011”

Some of the companies that have already developed social media ethics code include Coke, UPS and IBM, according to another FT piece, which you can find here.

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