NATIONWIDE – You may have noticed small groups popping up around the country protesting stay-at-home orders during the coronavirus pandemic. Some of these groups may have a bigger impact than you may think.

  • Small groups protesting safety regulations
  • Groups encouraged by political groups, leaders

Governors across the country are eager to rescue their economies and are feeling heat from President Donald Trump to ease restrictions meant to control the spread of the coronavirus, even as new hot spots emerge and experts warn that moving too fast could prove disastrous.

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Adding to the pressure are protests against stay-at-home orders organized by small-government groups and right-wing supporters. They staged demonstrations over the weekend in several cities after the president urged them to “liberate” three states led by Democratic governors.

These protests can fall under the definition of astroturfing.

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the definition of astroturfing is:

  • organized activity that is intended to create a false impression of a widespread, spontaneously arising, grassroots movement in support of or in opposition to something (such as a political policy) but that is in reality initiated and controlled by a concealed group or organization (such as a corporation)

Several hundred people rallied in Texas’ capital, chanting “Let us work!” Many clamored for an immediate lifting of restrictions in a state where more than 1 million have filed for unemployment since the crisis began.

The rally was organized by a host of Infowars, owned by conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, who joined protesters on the Capitol steps. Jones is being sued in Austin over using his show to promote falsehoods that the 2012 Sandy Hook school massacre in Connecticut was a hoax.

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According to The New York Times, social media has been a key platform for organizing these protests. Facebook even removed some posts devoted to the protests on Monday for encouraging violations of social distancing laws. Similarities in online organizing efforts behind different protests have sparked accusations that they are not, in fact, organic grass-roots campaigns, but astroturfing efforts that are manipulated by Washington conservatives to appear locally driven.

Astroturfing can have dangerous consequences, as the spread of incorrect information can hurt individuals, including the spread of COVID-19 between protesters. 

The Associated Press contributed to this story.