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Despite appearances astroturfing is not a US space program for making Mars more habitable. Instead it takes off from AstroTurf(TM), the artificial grass which came to fame in the 1960s at the Houston Astrodome, when natural grass refused to grow under its white-painted glass roof. Because AstroTurf was a substitute for real grass, astroturfing quickly became a metaphor for the quasi-grassroots campaigns engineered for commercial and/or political purposes by vested interests and public relations firms. US Senator Lloyd Bentsen used the word in 1985 to refer to the “mountain of cards and letters” he received all expressing support for the insurance industry. During the 1990s, astroturfing for the cigarette industry’s campaign against a bill to discourage teenage smoking was organised through a “grassroots” Smokers Alliance (not focused on marijuana!). In the recent US election, bloggers were encouraged with small rewards to post messages supporting John McCain’s presidential campaign. Astroturfing makes conventional lobbying that little bit less unattractive: at least it doesn’t pretend to be grassroots advocacy.

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