Overcoming the negative effects of astroturfing attacks on crisis outcomes with strategic communication strategies
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[ACCESS RESTRICTED TO THE UNIVERSITY OF MISSOURI AT REQUEST OF AUTHOR.] The primary purpose of this study was to explore and develop an effective strategic communication strategy to guide organizations on how to both proactively and reactively respond to paracrisis events. While this study set out to provide theoretically supported strategies for practitioners to deploy, it also worked to expand upon the well-developed theoretical models supporting post-crisis communication to empirically support the use of pre-crisis communication. In order to explore this realm of both risk and crisis communication, this dissertation dovetailed concepts from both disciplines to examine the unique paracrisis of astroturfing. Providing a more holistic strategy for practitioners and researchers, this study worked to merge the well-documented success of both autonomy support from the self-determination theory and inoculation theory to strengthen an individual's ability to hinder unwanted persuasive attempts. The experiment encapsulated a crisis scenario situation that has been experienced by the Humane Society of the United States, who comes under frequent attack from astroturfing campaigns sponsored by Humane Watch. In order to explore these concepts and ideas, this study was done using a between-subjects experimental design with 813 participants recruited from MTurk. By expanding theoretical insight of the two crisis phase constructs, this dissertation provides a better understanding of how to maximize the effects of proactive and reactive communication on crisis communication outcomes such as perceived organizational credibility and reputation. In addition, dimensions of social amplification were explored to determine if two-sided organizational messages can thwart the spread of disinformation provided in astroturfing campaigns. According to the results, individuals who received messages with a solo or combined strategy of using autonomy support and explicit warning were more likely have higher perceptions of post-crisis organizational outcomes towards HSUS such as perceived credibility and organizational reputation, higher intentions to engage with HSUS in the future, and lower intentions to amplify the astroturfing information. Overall, this study sheds light on how proactive and reactive communication can be used during a paracrisis to protect post-crisis organizational outcomes, while also enhancing resistance towards disinformation persuasive attempts and dissuading amplification.