Ripping Up the Astroturf: Regulating Deceptive Corporate Advertising Methods

By Scott, Matthew J. | Iowa Law Review, November 2019 | Go to article overview

Ripping Up the Astroturf: Regulating Deceptive Corporate Advertising Methods


Scott, Matthew J., Iowa Law Review


I. Introduction

In recent years, the Supreme Court's decision to grant First Amendment speech protections has garnered significant attention.1 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission opened the floodgates for "dark money" to flow through elections and campaigns in the United States.2 But an analogous issue-one that affects the average person more directly-has largely been ignored. Astroturfing is a practice in which corporate sponsor employs a public relations firm, or maintains a non-profit front group, to serve as its voice while the company remains anonymous.3 This front organization projects an image of public support for a social cause or for the business itself, when in reality, there is minimal public support. The hope is that the front group can convince enough people that widespread public support exists, and those people will then support the cause in the best interests of the hidden sponsor. Individuals continue to support companies that employ deceptive tactics to serve their interests, while citizens remain unaware.

This information deficit between individuals and the actual facts makes it difficult, if not impossible, for individuals to access the information necessary to make informed decisions. As individuals increasingly care about the social impact companies have on the world,4 they are often not provided with sufficient information about what their money actually supports. The Federal Trade Commission ("FTC") and the Securities and Exchange Commission ("SEC") were created to protect consumers and investors, respectively.5 Under the current regulatory regime, neither consumers nor investors are able to access adequate information to inform their monetary decisions.

This Note argues that these agencies, along with the states, have the tools available to combat astroturfing without banning corporate speech. Part II of this Note examines the history of grassroots movements, the adaptation of grassroots to the corporate astroturf context, and provides examples of the astroturf practices. Part III argues that the current regulations are not allencompassing enough to ban, or even limit astroturfing practices and thus, fail to protect consumers and investors alike. Lastly, Part IV proposes a solution for both consumers and shareholders. For consumers, the states should recognize the FTC's policies surrounding disclosure, and effectuate them by universally adopting and amending the Uniform Deceptive Trade Practices Act to cover astroturfing. For shareholders, the SEC should modernize its disclosure policies to reflect the growing influence of socially responsible investing. Alternatively, Congress should pass legislation regarding mandatory public disclosure for businesses generally, in effect allowing citizens to structure their behavior regarding practices that they might find objectionable.

II. The Evolution of Grassroots and the Emergence of Astroturfing

This Part outlines the definition of a grassroots movement, provides a historical example, and juxtaposes traditional grassroots movements with modern astroturfing practices. It then defines astroturfing, outlining methods by which corporations attempt to achieve success by using the practice, and provides a historical example of corporate astroturfing. The Part concludes by discussing past attempts to regulate the practice and the associated complications involved with regulation.

A. Corporate and Citizen Influence in Society

Over the last few decades, corporations have become powerhouses of influence.6 Similarly, citizen groups continue to play a major role in influencing other citizens and society as a whole.7 The difference between the two types of group influence is that corporations often face issues in advancing their interests due to a credibility barrier.8 It follows that corporations have an interest in emulating the power present in citizen groups to represent their own interests and to influence other citizens. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Ripping Up the Astroturf: Regulating Deceptive Corporate Advertising Methods
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.