Astroturfing Global Warming: It Isn’t Always Greener on the Other Side of the Fence
Astroturf organizations are fake grassroots organizations usually sponsored by large corporations to support any arguments or claims in their favor, or to challenge and deny those against them. They constitute the corporate version of grassroots social movements. Serious ethical and societal concerns underline this astroturfing practice, especially if corporations are successful in influencing public opinion by undertaking a social movement approach. This study is motivated by this particular issue and examines the effectiveness of astroturf organizations in the global warming context, wherein large corporate polluters have an incentive to set up astroturf organizations to undermine the importance of human activities in climate change. We conduct an experiment to determine whether astroturf organizations have an impact on the level of user certainty about the causes of global warming. Results show that people who used astroturf websites became more uncertain about the causes of global warming and humans’ role in the phenomenon than people who used grassroots websites. Astroturf organizations are hence successful in promoting business interests over environmental protection. In addition to the multiple business ethics issues it raises, astroturfing poses a significant threat to the legitimacy of the grassroots movement.
KeywordsAstroturfing Business ethics Climate change Global warming Grassroots organizations Legitimacy Rhetoric
- Aldrich, H., & Fiol, M. (1994). Fools rush in? The institutional context of industry creation. Academy of Management Review, 19(4), 645–670.Google Scholar
- De Souza, M. (2008). Climate skeptics target students. The Gazette, May 8.Google Scholar
- Eismeier, T. J., & Pollock, P. H. (1988). Business, money and the rise of corporate PACs in American elections. New York: Quorum Books.Google Scholar
- Friedland, R., & Alford, R. R. (1991). Bringing society back in: Symbols, practices and institutional contradictions. In W. W. Powell & P. J. DiMaggio (Eds.), The new institutionalism in organizational analysis (pp. 232–263). Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
- Goldenberg, S. (2009). Most Americans Don’t Believe Humans Responsible for Climate Change, Study Finds. The Guardian July 9.Google Scholar
- Greenpeace USA. (2007). ExxonMobil’s continued funding of global warming denial industry. http://www.greenpeace.org.
- Gujarati, D. N. (2003). Basic econometrics (4th ed.). New York: McGraw Hill.Google Scholar
- Hillman, A. J., & Hitt, M. A. (1999). Corporate political strategy formulation: A model of approach participation, and strategy decisions. Academy of Management Review, 24(4), 825–842.Google Scholar
- Hoffman, A. J. (2011). The culture and discourse of climate skepticism. Strategic Organization, 9(1), 1–8.Google Scholar
- Hoggan, J., & Littlemore, R. (2009). Climate cover-up: The crusade to deny global warming. Vancouver, BC: Greystone Books.Google Scholar
- Hoofnagle, M. & Hoofnagle, C. (2010). What is denialism. http://scienceblogs.com/denialism/about.php.
- Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. (2007). IPCC fourth assessment report: Climate change 2007 (AR4). http://www.ipcc.ch/publications_and_data/publications_and_data_reports.htm.
- Jeurissen, R., & Keijzers, G. (2004). Future generations and business ethics. Business Ethics Quarterly, 14(1), 47–69.Google Scholar
- Krashinsky, S. (2009). Spread of astroturfing; bogus online reviews a growing problem, New York Attorney-General says. The Globe and Mail July 17.Google Scholar
- Lind, E. A., & Van den Bos, K. (2002). When fairness works: Toward a general theory of uncertainty management. In B. M. Staw & R. M. Kramer (Eds.), Research in organizational behavior (Vol. 24, pp. 181–223). Boston, MA: Elsevier.Google Scholar
- Mackenzie, K. & Pickard, J. (2009). US oil industry split as leaked memo reveals lobbying plan. Financial Times August 15.Google Scholar
- McNutt, J. G., & Boland, K. (2007). Astroturf, technology and the future of community mobilization: Implications for nonprofit theory. Journal of Sociology and Social Welfare, 34(3), 165–178.Google Scholar
- Oreskes, N., & Conway, E. (2010). Merchants of doubt: How a handful of scientists obscured the truth on issues from tobacco smoke to global warming. New York: Bloomsbury press.Google Scholar
- Pew Research Center. (2010). Survey reports: Public praises science; Scientists fault public, media. http://people-press.org/report/?pageid=1550.
- Rao, H., & Singh, J. (1999). Types of variation in organizational populations: The speciation of new organizational forms. In J. A. C. Baum & B. McKelvey (Eds.), Variations in organizational science (pp. 63–77). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
- Seo, M., & Creed, W. E. D. (2002). Institutional contradictions, praxis and institutional change: A dialectical perspective. Academy of Management Review, 27(2), 222–247.Google Scholar
- Smith, M. A. (2000). American business and political power. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
- Suchman, M. C. (1995). Managing legitimacy: Strategic and institutional approaches. Academy of Management Review, 20(3), 571–611.Google Scholar
- Suddaby, R., & Greenwood, R. (2005). Rhetorical strategies of legitimacy. Administrative Science Quarterly, 50(March), 35–67.Google Scholar
- Worldwatch. (2009). State of the world 2009 at a glance. Retrieved from November 10, 2009, from http://www.worldwatch.org/node/5988.
- Zimmerman, M. A., & Zeitz, G. J. (2002). Beyond survival: Achieving new venture growth by building legitimacy. Academy of Management Review, 27(3), 414–431.Google Scholar