Astroturfing Wikipedia

AstroTurf PR firm discovered astroturfing

In a case of living up (or down?) to its contribution to the English language, AstroTurf became the object of an astroturfing effort on Wikipedia. A public relations firm for the brand was revealed to have been editing the article, as well as that of a competing brand of artificial turf, FieldTurf.

Beginning on Thursday, 1 February, a number of edits from the IP address 216.248.156.53 started appearing on both articles. These added speedy deletion tags to sections of the FieldTurf article, claiming that they were spam, and removed references to FieldTurf and other unfavorable information from the AstroTurf article. The IP address was identified based on WHOIS records as belonging to Richard French & Associates, a North Carolina public relations firm now known as French | West | Vaughan. The person responsible then registered an account as User:Tygast411, and self-identified on the user page as an Art Director for that agency.

Included on the client list for French | West | Vaughan is the Michigan company General Sports Turf Systems. That company was renamed General Sports Venue last year, and in December announced an exclusive partnership to market the AstroTurf brand. The deal includes Archie Manning, father of Super Bowl MVP Peyton Manning, as spokesperson for AstroTurf, and the timing of this incident so close to the Super Bowl is intriguing.

The marketing has emphasized an effort to rehabilitate AstroTurf's reputation. Older installations of AstroTurf have been frequently criticized in the sports world as too hard, being installed over concrete and failing to adequately simulate grass field conditions. It has been cited as increasing injury risks, including in circumstances where players have been injured without being touched, and has further contributed to the lexicon with the phrase turf toe.

FieldTurf is the trademark of another company that makes synthetic turf, which is installed over a mixture designed to better imitate the feel of natural soil. Surfaces of this type have received more positive reviews and gained a significant presence in the market. The more advanced design has been the subject of litigation between the two brands, which also compete for contracts to install their products on athletic fields in North America.

With Wikipedia editors watchful in the aftermath of the Microsoft editing controversy, the activity on these articles produced a few rounds of reverts over the disputed content. Tygast411 began discussing the issue on the talk pages after registering, and eventually after having the conflict of interest policy pointed out, agreed to focus on participating there instead. He also provided a response to this story, found on the talk page, declaring his intent was "only to remove existing marketing language, incorrect information, and update existing information to make the article both more neutral and more informative."

This is not the first case of Wikipedia image-burnishing from the sports world. Activity on the recently renamed Delta Center arena in Utah was traced to both EnergySolutions, the company that bought the naming rights to the facility, and a company owned by Larry H. Miller, owner of the arena and the Utah Jazz franchise that plays there.

+ Add a comment

Discuss this story

The Other Side

I posted the following response on the signpost:

I'm probably breaking numerous WP policies by posting directly on this signpost but I cannot sit here and let someone misrepresent my intentions as some sort of clever marketing scheme. Yes I work for FWV, yes they are AOR for GSV, and yes I just used too many acronyms. But that doesn't mean I was the tip of some "astroturfing" iceburg. I was ( and still am) simply trying to correct information on both articles while maintaining a NPOV. When I started making the edits to the original FieldTurf article there was an advert box at the top of the page which asked for help to neutralize the content. So I attempted to do just that, admittedly, I'm new to editing on WP and I made a few blunders, learned quite a bit about how WP works and the policies it has put in place. Each time I was made aware of a new policy I adhered to it with the best of my ability.

My intentions while editing either article was only to remove existing marketing language, incorrect information, and update existing information to make the articles both more neutral and more informative. I was brought to WP by reading several blogs who's contributors simply copied and pasted incorrect information from the AstroTurf article. I attempted to inform each blog owner I could find that the information they were using was incorrect and decided my efforts were best served correcting the source of the misinformation than spinning my wheels with blogs.

My first edit on the FieldTurf article which consisted of removing the following biased marketing language:

FieldTurf is a major synthetic turf competitor, contributing to the replacement of what was once the most popular artificial turf, AstroTurf.[1]

This edit was reverted one day later by the user, Coz whom I believe is to be the sole person behind the NPOV violations on the FieldTurf page. Note: My initial change was then again attempted by Selket after a brief discussion on the FieldTurf Talk Page[2], and was again reverted by Coz.

Since following the WP COI policies and not directly editing information contained on the FieldTurf, I have attempted to start numerous discussions on the concerns I have about the FieldTurf article. Thus far, only a few changes have been made by Selket (Whom I appreciate taking action) and even his changes have all been reverted back to the orginal biased and unverifiable state that the article was in before I began making changes.

So before you go accusing me, or FWV, of attempting to alter the neutrality or validity of the information (in favor of AstroTurf or against FieldTurf) contained within either article, take a closer look at my changes, understand that I didn't know all of the policies of WP, and once I was made aware of them I have attempted to work within the bounds of those policies to get both articles neutral and correct.

And since I'm an Art Director and not a PR director I'll simply write to some of the points made above in an unorganized, bulleted fashion.

"added speedy deletion tags to sections of the FieldTurf article, claiming that they were spam"

Chalk this up to not being familiar with WP. After making a minor edit and removing a line of blatant marketing speak, I realized the edits were going to take me much longer than my lunch hour allowed. So I added the "spam" tags thinking it would catch the eye of someone else who would notice the NPOV erros and make some neutralizing edits as well.

"and the timing of this incident so close to the Super Bowl is intriguing."

The timing was purely coincedental. Honestly, this is the first time anyone has even brought that up. The "re-launch" happend in December last year, so if my edits were part of that marketing plan it would have happened last year. And how was I supposed to know the Manning and the Cotls were going to win the SuperBowl? It's ironic how even an article written for WP has unverifiable assumptions within it. Again, I attempted to make the articles more neutral on my own accord. FWV wasn't requested to make any edits to WP by GSV, and I wasn't asked to make the edits from FWV. I did it because having to learn about the business to service our client I learned a few things and wanted to share that knowledge and when I noticed the errors and bias I attempted to correct them. The truth really is that simple.

"The marketing has emphasized an effort to rehabilitate AstroTurf's reputation. Older installations of AstroTurf have been frequently criticized in the sports world as too hard, being installed over concrete and failing to adequately simulate grass field conditions. It has been cited as increasing injury risks, including in circumstances where players have been injured without being touched, and has further contributed to the lexicon with the phrase turf toe.

FieldTurf is the trademark of another company that makes synthetic turf, which is installed over a mixture designed to better imitate the feel of natural soil. Surfaces of this type have received more positive reviews and gained a significant presence in the market. The more advanced design has been the subject of litigation between the two brands, which also compete for contracts to install their products on athletic fields in North America."

The biggest problem facing AstroTurf is the public misunderstanding that the original AstroTurf product called "AstroTurf" produced in the 1960's isn't still being sold and installed as it was 40 years ago. AstroTurf has been selling "new generation turf" (as FieldTurf likes to call it) for years now. So you are comparing products with 40 years between their creations with no regard for the current AstroTurf product line. That's like comparing the Model T with the Chevy Cavalier. It just shows a lack of knowledge. Try comparing FieldTurf to AstroTurf GameDay Grass. That's more of a level playing field (pun intended).

"which is installed over a mixture designed to better imitate the feel of natural soil"

AstroTurf installs with a very similar infill design. FieldTurf does have a patent on it's infill layering system. I don't know all of the details but it's something about the percentage of rubber infill and sand mixture within the infill.

I could probably go on about the misrepresentation of AstroTurf in the media and the public but this article isn't about that. It's about realizing that my intentions are purely neutral and for the benefit of WP. I just hope someone with a little bit of time can head over to the FieldTurf article and make a few neutralizing edits. Perhaps read a few of my concerns over misleading statements regarding the differences and similarties between AstroTurf and Fieldturf. And make both articles up-to-date, accurate, and neutral. Ben 20:12, 6 February 2007 (UTC)[reply]


As the person who started this off I shall make one formal response. I shall base my response around the statement by Tygast411 above (emphasis added by myself):


I have to say I was lost for words when I read the above text. I don't really need to say much, apart from provide the relevant versions: The article before, The article after (relevant diff). Excluding the advert tag - added by another editor - all the changes I see are "marketing language" and less neutrality. Is a statement like "AstroTurf is the only brand of synthetic turf that supervises its product from raw material selection through manufacturing, and all the way to the final phase of installation." neutral? It sounds like something I would read in a brochure - as does "AstroTurf® GameDay Grass MP™ sets the standard for high durability among systems that feature honeycomb slit film fiber technology" and countless other examples. I (genuinely) appreciate that the editor is now willing to operate within the framework - but the past activities speak for themselves, and should not be misrepresented as a strive for neutrality. I hope that what we now have is a strive for neutrality - that, after all, is one of the cornerstones of WP. SFC9394 23:51, 6 February 2007 (UTC)[reply]

Allow me to explain each of those changes.

The Removals

...known today as a "classic system". Though it still the preferred surface for field hockey, classic systems are being replaced in many stadiums with newer generation artificial turfs whose materials have properties much closer to natural grass. Players have said that playing on AstroTurf was similar to playing on concrete.

Astroturf, original product or current, is not known as a "classic system". Go ahead, google it. This is a fabricated term to create an aged and out-dated view of AstroTurf. Yes, AstroTurf is still the preferred surface for field hockey, but not the original product or "classic system" as it's being referred to in the sentence. The sweeping generalization and pro-FeildTurf statement that follows shouldn't need an explanation. The negative claim that AstroTurf (with no mention to which product) is similar to playing on concrete is unverifiable and clearly subjective.

No National Football League (NFL) or Major League Baseball (MLB) stadiums currently use AstroTurf. The last NFL stadiums to use AstroTurf were the RCA Dome (Indianapolis Colts) and the Edward Jones Dome (St. Louis Rams) in the 2004 season. The last NFL game played on AstroTurf was a playoff game at the RCA Dome between the Denver Broncos and the Colts on January 9, 2005.

The first statement that no NFL stadium currently has AstroTurf is false. The Buffalo Bills have AstroTurf GameDay Grass installed.[3] Because of this fallacy the following two statements are thus false as well.

The last MLB stadium to use AstroTurf was SkyDome (now Rogers Centre), home of the Toronto Blue Jays, during the 2004 MLB season.

I believe the Metrodome, home to the Minn. Twins had AstroPlay (AstroTurf product, now called GameDay Grass) installed in 2004.[4] Thus this statement is also false.

As of 2006, Ralph Wilson Stadium, home of the Buffalo Bills, is the only NFL stadium to use AstroPlay, an artificial grass surface (similar to FieldTurf) manufactured by SRI. This AstroPlay surface was installed for the 2003 Bills' season. A few colleges (such as the University of Mississippi's Vaught-Hemingway Stadium) use AstroPlay. One noteworthy installation is Bronco Stadium, the home field of Boise State University's football team and home of the MPC Computers Bowl, which is famous for its blue turf.

This entire paragraph was removed and placed back in, in a bulleted list format which was later changed to a chronological listing of installations with historical relevance to keep the page from turning into one long list of installations. I created a new page specifically to list out the current AstroTurf installations in keeping with what was established with the FieldTurf article.

The Additions

Today's AstroTurf performs and looks much more like natural grass.

SFC and I have recently come to the agreement that statements such as this, though prevelant on FieldTurf's article, are to be considered generalizations and should not be accepted on either article. We are working on another more neutral way to inform the reader that there is a significant difference between the original AstroTurf of the 1960s and the products of today.

For the sake of scrolling I won't copy the entire product section here, that I added to the AstroTurf article.

It should be noted, that everything about the product was true and verifiable, though I will admit, looking back the marketing jargon was pretty heavy. I was trying to convey the differences between the original product that everyone associates negatively with and the better, more advanced product that's available today.

Again I won't copy/paste the entire History section here to save space.

Each entry in the History section is accurate and neutral in it's tone. Unlike the installation mentions on FieldTurf, where almost every description starts out with something negative about the field that FieldTurf replaced.

So how did I do for a first time editor? Do those edits really seem like some kind of marketing ploy? Ben 04:26, 7 February 2007 (UTC)[reply]

Hatred of commerce

This news article is typical of the libelous approach Wikipedia contributors often take toward corporations that take issue with secret contributors' efforts to tarnish their reputation. Typically, buried among accusations that this or that company is inappropriately contributing to the encyclopedia anyone can edit and where users are to "ignore all rules" we find unsubstantiated comments intended to imply which corporation readers are to favor in a conflict.

In this news story, we find the phrase "Surfaces of this type have received more positive reviews." This is original research, but Signpost has become a routine source for introducing opinions as original research when they would be banned from most other parts of the project. Not only is it original research, it is unsubstantiated. It's not real research. It is a person advancing their preferred veiw as an objective fact. Who classified "reviews" as negative or positive? Who comprehensively surveyed sports publications, trade publications and popular press to conclusively determine which of the two brands has more positive reviews? Who determined the time frame of the non-existant comparative assessment?

Accusing this contributor of astroturfing is bold-faced, black-letter libel. Fortunately for Wikimedia Foundation's limited resources, the victim of the libel has not expressed an intent to seek relief in a venue where laws have some real meaning. Truthibuster 20:11, 10 February 2007 (UTC)[reply]

  1. ^ http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=FieldTurf&diff=104923856&oldid=104461260
  2. ^ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talk:FieldTurf
  3. ^ http://www.southwestrec.com/news/field/filled/buffalo_bills_030506.htm
  4. ^ http://www.baseballpilgrimages.com/american/minnesota.html



       

The Signpost · written by many · served by Sinepost V0.9 · 🄯 CC-BY-SA 4.0