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Astroturfing in online news comments: an investigation

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Murray Dick


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This paper investigates ‘astroturfing’ (the creation of armies of ‘sockpuppet’ personae towards influencing public opinion) in online news comment ‘below the line’. Concerns about this practice and its potential impact on public discourse have been voiced in the press, and across a range of disciplines; but it has been little studied in communications and journalism studies. The practice of artificially inflating or creating fake ‘grassroots’ campaigns long pre-dates the rise of the internet but new technologies (such as ‘persona management software’) make the scale of these campaigns potentially greater, and their reach potentially wider. This has significance for the circulation of news and decision making within the public sphere, especially given that uncivil comments beneath news stories have been found to inform reader interpretations. How is online 'astroturfing' in contemporary online news and current affairs defined (operationally); how is it experienced, and what can be done to mitigate it? Interviews with the Reader’s Editor and Community Manager at The Guardian were undertaken towards exploring the phenomenon in general terms. Given the difficulties attendant to normatively defining (indeed even proving the existence of) astroturfing, discussion shifts to frameworks in journalism ethics; and how these perspectives may help journalists challenge astroturfing.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Dick M

Publication type: Conference Proceedings (inc. Abstract)

Publication status: Unpublished

Conference Name: Future of Journalism Conference

Year of Conference: 2015