Exposing Astroturfing As Only John Oliver Can

Astroturfing is the deceptive practice of presenting an orchestrated public relations or marketing campaign under the guise of unsolicited comments from members of the public. The term originated from the artificial grass astroturf applied to an artificial  grass-roots campaign.

Astroturfing is rampant across industries that are inextricably connected to health: Food, beverages, climate, and safety, just to name a few. Oliver humorously calls out:

The 18-minute segment is filled with media literacy gems (and fair warning: plenty of profanity since it’s HBO afterall). Oliver calls out the “Dr. Evil” of the public relations industry (Rick Berman) for a transparent lack of transparency. Oliver also points out the ridiculosity in the lobbying efforts of “Citizens for Fire Safety” (a front group for chemical companies that manufacture fire retardants) and its attempt to promote fire retardants through the paid testimony of a paid doctor who can’t keep his story straight. Oliver shows footage from the brilliant 2014 documentary film “Merchants of Doubt” (based on the book by Erik M. Conway and Naomi Oreskes) directed by Robert Kenner and produced by Participant Media. The film is well worth watching as it peels back the veil on the public relations magic of the tobacco industry and how the playbook is replicated in other arenas, including that of climate change.

In this Last Week Tonight segment, Oliver also calls attention to the fumblings and falsehood of paid demonstrators (“Crowds on Demand”). But he also cautions viewers against assuming that everyone who dissents is paid as a crisis actor or as an astroturfer. It is a slippery slope when viewers take critical thinking to the extreme and become cynical and dispirited.

Ultimately, Oliver has a well-balanced call to action: More corporate transparency at the macro level and a healthy dose of media literacy education at the micro level. Or as Oliver says, “fighting candle fire with candle fire.” You’ll understand the reference after watching the video below. Enjoy.

Feeding Kids—One Step at a Time

This is a guest post by Hope Green. She is 9-years-old and in 4th grade. Her hobbies are DIY/crafting, Suzuki piano, song-writing, and writing fiction. 

The UNICEF Kid Power Band is technically a “fit bit” for kids. It’s a pedometer that tracks your steps, tells the time, and turns exercise into “lifesaving nutrition that UNICEF delivers to severely malnourished children around the world.” When you sync your band to your smartphone, it tells you where you are in your “mission” to feed undernourished kids, and how many  power points you have:

I love how the band is designed and how the app is designed. I sync my band every night to look at missions and how many packets I got in the day. Here’s what it looks like:

I like how when i forget to sync it some nights that when I sync it days later it syncs all the points I got from when I didn’t sync it days before.

If I could change anything with with the Kid Power Band I would make the battery last longer, so  I wouldn’t have to charge  so much. If I could change anything else with the Kid Power Band I’d  add to the watch for it to show how many kids you’ve fed. I love syncing the band and seeing how many points I got at the end of the day. I also like to get 10 to unlock missions and packets. Even though my legs hurt I’m eager to help kids in need.

I like how the app is designed that even if you have a small phone, you can download it and watch missions with special guests helping. Many celebrities like to help the children and UNICEF like Laura Marano, George Clooney, Madonna, Bridget Mendler, and Selena Gomez. Selena Gomez is the youngest UNICEF Ambassador.

Becoming healthy by walking, is for such a great cause. I also like that they go all the way to help kids in other countries just to save lives.