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January 25, 2003

Don't Let 'em Put Words in your Mouth

OK... I'm back to astroturf, but I'm doing it with a newfound positivity! Got a letter from Stephen Phelps of the Bristol (VA) Herald Courier, who just wrote an editorial titled Don't let 'em put words in your mouth. He received 8 identical Astroturf letters, Googled to see if there were more out there, and wrote to the submitters to investigate the source. Good spadework, Stephen!

"It wasn't party discipline or uniformity of thought that made America great, after all -- certainly not people sending in letters to the editor that they didn't write. It was a majestic cacophony of voices, raised in perpetual argument, all counterpoint rather than harmony. It was original thinking. It was a passion for freedom, an eagerness to take part in the greatest experiment the world has ever known."

A thought that just occurred to me: Someone (perhaps Google) should provide a service to newspaper editors. Editors would paste letters they receive into a web-based form and Google-check it against what's already out there and what other editors have already submitted. It would be very similar to the way teachers use to detect plagiarized term papers. In fact, this would make a great sideline for Turnitin.

There... that's my million dollar idea for the day. Now someone go do it and send me 1% of the proceeds. Thank you.