Astroturfing is corporations creating fake “grassroots” opinions to affect legislation, and you couldn’t ask for a better example than this:
On Facebook, the political action organization “Get Health Reform Right“, which is funded by health insurance trade groups, is paying people to send anti-health care reform emails to their congressmembers. But in this case, they aren’t bribing people using real money, they are using virtual currency, which is used in various popular online games.
Normally, this virtual currency is paid to people for trying a product or service (e.g., the movie rental service NetFlix). But in this case, the political organization is paying people virtual money in exchange for them sending an email to their congressperson.
Does this work? Let’s see. The email they are asked to sign says the following:
I am concerned a new government plan could cause me to lose the employer coverage I have today. More government bureaucracy will only create more problems, not solve the ones we have.
And today, Senator Bob Bennett (R-Utah) gave a speech of the Senate floor and waved a stack of printed emails from his constituents, saying that they are “concerned a new government plan could cause me to lose the employer coverage I have today” and “more government bureaucracy will only create more problems, not solve the ones we have.”
Unfortunately, paying people to send letters to their congresspeople is not illegal — either in real or virtual currency.
UPDATE: Now the US Chamber of Commerce is giving out $150 Amex Gift Cards to Hooters as an incentive to get people to send emails opposing health care reform. Who needs health care when you can go to Hooters?