Is astroturfing an ethical method for promoting an opinion or influencing a political decision? No, if you are a believer in “new PR” and transparency. Yes, if you are working for Burson-Marsteller or some of the other PR agencies in Norway that willingly serve clients a fake grassroots campaign, as long as they pay the bill.
Claus Sonberg, Managing Director of Burson-Marsteller in Norway tells local marketing publication Propaganda that “our international knowledge database contains 89 such projects”, referring to the infamous Swift Boat Veterans For Truth campaign against John Kerry. Sonberg says that BM for example succesfully helped organize “Women behind the wheel”, a seemingly cross-political movement against higher taxes on new cars. In reality the organization was sponsored by car importers.
Inge Olav Fure at Konsensus PR agency says:
– I don’t see any big problems with starting up an organization for a specific purpose, as long as you don’t lie about who’s behind it.
Well, not lying about something is not quite the same as telling the truth up front. If it looks like an organizaion of female drivers who are concerned with high car prices, then you’re faking it, even if you don’t lie about it.
In the same article Fure says that it is not the agency’s problem if people don’t realize there is a PR agency behind a message, it is media’s problem. But that hardly counts as addressing the real issue, who is paying the PR agency?