Abstract

Due to the drastically elevated prominence of social networking sites (SNS), online social impres-sions such as views, comments, followers, subscribers, likes, and dislikes have become a valuable currency that translates to popularity, credibility, and even financial gains. Aside from machine-generated impressions, a growing industry known as crowdturfing utilizes human workers to pro-vide “real” social impressions as-a-service. Although crowdturfing platforms are often seen as a clear example of deceptive conduct, they justify their business by leveraging well-crafted persua-sive strategies and ethical appeals. Given the increasingly significant role of online impressions on shaping people’s views and opinions, the servitization of these impressions calls for a clearer understanding. To address this call, we set out to investigate 1) What persuasive strategies do crowdturfing agents leverage to promote their service offerings?; and 2) To what extent these of-ferings can be ethically justified? Our analysis reveals utilization of three key persuasive strategies – namely, educational messages, bragging messages, and reassuring messages. Moreover, we find that they use various ethical appeals which largely depend on the conception of what ‘real’ means. The theoretical and practical significance of these findings are discussed.

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