Patterico lays out the distinction between “Donald Trump astroturfing,” where a person spams his wit and wisdom (or otherwise) all over the universe in his own name while claiming an implausibly large number of home addresses, and “David Axelrod astroturfing,” where a person spams with multiple identities. The latter is a potentially serious offense in my book, but not always. The latter is truly a yawner. Here’s why.
Let’s start by stipulating to Patterico’s observation that Ellie Light is a liar. Of course she is, having falsely claimed to live in too many places to count. People lie all the time; so what? Let’s further stipulate that she didn’t just lie on a lark, but she lied in order to get something she otherwise would not have gotten, making her lie not just a garden variety lie but a species of fraud. So now she’s a liar and a fraud. Bully for her. The question is, on whom did she commit that fraud, to what end, and why should I care? Was it a fraud on the newspapers, her fellow letter-writers, or the public at large? That matters to me, as I’m not a newspaper or competing letter-writer, but I am a member of the public at large. Traditional sock puppetry, or “David Axelrod astroturfing” is frequently, though not always, a fraud on the public at large. When Thomas Ellers, Rick Ellensburg and the gang rushed to the defense of Dan Douchewald, they didn’t just make up their phony identities “just because,” akin to me telling a Starbucks barista that my name is Fred. No, they … um, I mean, he … made up those names to make it look as though at least four other individuals had independently reached the same conclusions His Douchitude wanted the rest of us to reach, when in reality, all we were really witnessing was the late (early?) Festivus miracle of the Douchemeister agreeing with himself. Ditto for Mikekoshi, Nofanofcablecos and Mary Rosh, each of which lamely attempted to portray the views of one as though they were the views of many. That is David Axelrod astroturfing, in essence.
By contrast, bloggers, commenters or letter writers may adopt a fake name for other, less nefarious reasons. Some use assumed names for privacy, which is a non-issue in my book unless either the true identity or the false one is material to the point being made. If a letter decrying the evils of Issue X purports to have been written by an inconsequential Joe Schmoe, but was really authored by an equally inconsequential Richard Cabeza, who cares? Other than the nosy neighbors and/or colleagues Mr. Cabeza was trying to avoid, probably no one. If, on the other hand, the same letter was actually penned by a well-known figure with a dog in that fight, who knew that his true identity would cause readers to take his views with an appropriate grain of salt, then that’s another matter entirely. Still other letter writers, particularly veterans, may rotate either fake names or names of real people they know in order to circumvent a newspaper’s policy of only running letters by a particular author so often. The Whizz-Urinal, for example, limits you to one every 30 days. But if a letter ends up getting published that way, as surely happens all the time, does that give the reader any reason to attach more credence to the letter that is due, solely because it purports to be from Guy I’ve Never Heard Of In My Life when it was really authored by Guy I’d Never Heard Of In My Life Until I Skimmed Last Week’s Letters To The Editor? And if not, I submit that this was merely a fraud on the newspaper, and not a fraud on the reader. The newspaper wants letters from different people to keep things interesting; that rule has nothing to do with the credibility of the letters or their authors.
I submit that what Ellie Light has done is no different. She hasn’t invented a slew of identities to all conveniently “agree” with each other and create a faux consensus. All she did was make up fake addresses to improve her chances of getting her letter published all over the globe. That’s a fraud on regional papers, who prefer to run mediocre letters from locals rather than potentially better ones from faraway places. It’s arguably a mini-fraud against other letter-writers, whose chances of seeing their own letters in print were diminished accordingly. But on the reader? Hardly. If any reader of the Myrtle Beach Sun actually believed lame talking points from Ellie Light of Myrtle Beach but would not have believed the same talking points coming from Ellie Light of Huntington Beach, then with all due respect to that reader, he’s dumber than a box of retards and shouldn’t be allowed to read at all, let alone vote. And query why the N&O is even on the list, seeing as they didn’t publish any representation at all as to where she supposedly lived. Ellie’s lie bought her ill-gotten access, not credibility.
Yes, it was really, really naughty of Ms. Light to lie about her residence. No, it’s not a huge deal worth getting worked up over. It’s not as though we don’t have bigger problems to deal with right now. Seriously.