In the mid-1990s, an organization called the National Smokers’ Alliance sprung up in the U.S. to fight new laws to restrict smoking. Although the group seemed to have been started by disgruntled smokers, it had, in fact, been created by Philip Morris Tobacco.
By masking its role in what seemed to be a grassroots movement, the company was “astroturfing.” Used by corporations to influence public policy, the practice is now being employed to get people to buy products, says Jenna Jacobson, a PhD candidate at the Faculty of Information. Companies identify social media “influencers” and pay them to promote their brands to followers. Not all influencers disclose the relationship, though – hence: astroturfing. “One objection is that audiences are being duped,” she says.
A U of T lab is working with actors, writers and directors on how they could harness AI and other emerging technologies to generate new ideas and – just maybe – reinvent theatre