An attempt to create imitation grass-roots support. A recent example (though it never became operational) was Microsoft's reported plan to use paid testimonials and advocates in fake letter-to-the-editor campaigns. Name origin: from baseball; AstroTurf was an early brand of artificial turf, used in the Houston Astrodome (the world's first indoor baseball/football stadium) after the grass failed to adequately grow.

During the first phases of the Microsoft trial, several journalists and advocates reported that Microsoft had instructed some of its employees and partners to write letters to the editor and opinion articles in Microsoft's defense. Trouble was, the writers didn't exactly come out and say they were MSFT employees and partners. The purpose of this operation was to create the illusion of massive grassroots support for Microsoft's position.

Some clever commentator decided that the appropriate word for "phony grassroots" is "astroturf". Thenceforth, any suspected shill for Microsoft or another large interest has come to be known, in some circles, as an "astroturfer". Astroturf is distinct from FUD in that astroturf's purpose is to create the illusion of public opinion whereas FUD attempts to cast doubt and uncertainty upon a competitor.


Update, August 2001: Recently, Kevin Reichard, the editor of Linux Today, admitted having trolled his site's own message boards. Under several pseudonyms such as "George Tirebiter" and "Rosh", Reichard posted anti-Linux (and particularly anti-GNU) flamebait, and attacked competing tech news sites. His actions have been widely reported as "astroturfing", and Slashdot linked to this node to clarify the term's meaning.

In the sense defined by Microsoft's earlier actions, Reichard was astroturfing when he posted attacks on competing sites. He masqueraded as a member of the general public and claimed to represent general opinion. However, in posting anti-GNU flamebait he was more simply shilling, or baiting the audience -- his intention was not actually to create the appearance of public opposition to GNU/Linux, but rather to create flamewars, thus drawing hits to Linux Today and thus increase ad revenues.

Reichard's actions were clearly contrary to journalistic ethics and basic honesty. They blurred the lines between news, editorial policy, opinion writing, and advertisement, and used deception as a means of increasing revenue. There is, however, no evidence that Reichard was paid by Microsoft or any other organization opposed to open source.

ASCIIbetical order = A = atomic

astroturfing n.

The use of paid shills to create the impression of a popular movement, through means like letters to newspapers from soi-disant `concerned citizens', paid opinion pieces, and the formation of grass-roots lobbying groups that are actually funded by a PR group (astroturf is fake grass; hence the term). This term became common among hackers after it came to light in early 1998 that Microsoft had attempted to use such tactics to forestall the U.S. Department of Justice's antitrust action against the company.

This backfired horribly, angering a number of state attorneys-general enough to induce them to go public with plans to join the Federal suit. It also set anybody defending Microsoft on the net for the accusation "You're just astroturfing!".

--The Jargon File version 4.3.1, ed. ESR, autonoded by rescdsk.

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