Bloggers fighting Astroturf

It's getting harder to pretend to be grassroots when the real grassroots has a voice.

A traditional tactic in political campaigns is "astroturfing," or creating a seemingly grassroots group that in fact is backed by a political or corporate entity. Big phone companies have been particularly adept at using this tactic – one might even say they've abused it – over the years, as they've fought for policies that help their bottom lines.

The phone giants' latest battle is against cities or regions creating their own Wi-Fi or fiber optic broadband networks. There are serious case-specific questions about the idea, but the phone companies are bringing all their old tools to bear against the concept as a whole, including the publishing of critical studies and think tank reports.

Yesterday came one from the New Millennium Research Council, a group which eWeek wrote is actually owned and sponsored by Issue Dynamics, a Washington lobbying firm that represents many of the country's biggest telecommunications firms. This little fact is now bounding quickly around the blogosphere.

This is a promising development. Blogs are the real grassroots. Just as bloggers were able to be instrumental in exposing some of the flaws in CBS's national guard memo story, they may be devastatingly effective in exposing and undermining astroturf political campaigns on this and other issues.