Digital astroturfing in politics: Definition, typology, and countermeasures

Marko Kovic, Adrian Rauchfleisch, Marc Sele, Christian Caspar


In recent years, several instances of political actors who created fake grassroots activity on the Internet have been uncovered. We propose to call such fake online grassroots activity digital astroturfing, and we define it as a form of manufactured, deceptive and strategic top-down activity on the Internet initiated by political actors that mimics bottom-up activity by autonomous individuals. The goal of this paper is to lay out a conceptual map of the phenomenon of digital astroturfing in politics. To that end, we introduce, first, a typology of digital astroturfing according to three dimensions (target, actor type, goals), and, second, the concept of digital astroturfing repertoires, the possible combinations of tools, venues and actions used in digital astroturfing efforts. Furthermore, we explore possible restrictive and incentivizing countermeasures against digital astroturfing. Finally, we discuss prospects for future research: Even though empirical research on digital astroturfing is difficult, it is neither impossible nor futile.


political communication; Internet; public opinion; astroturfing; bots

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Copyright (c) 2018 Marko Kovic, Adrian Rauchfleisch, Marc Sele, Christian Caspar

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Studies in Communication Sciences | ISSN: 1424-4896