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Botched Coal Astroturfing: Linguistic Analysis Reveals Hundreds Of Fake Names On Coal Ash Petition

T

he U.S. coal industry is so deeply unpopular, it has now turned to its imaginary friends for help.

That’s according to a linguistic analysis of a recent petition opposing new regulation of toxic coal ash. The petition, which was sent to the White House by the coal industry last year, featured more than two thousand Chinese names. That raised the curiosity of the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP). So the organization commissioned an analysis of the signatories.

EIP says the analysis shows that hundreds of the names are complete fakes. When translated, many of the Chinese “people” supporting the coal industry’s petition have names like “Steamed Bun Little Sister” and “Come to China Donkey.” The translator who examined the signatures determined that “most of the Chinese names in the petition are not authentic, and … appear to be generated by a piece of software or a group of individuals.”

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The analysis of “Citizens for Recycling First” shows that the only recycling this organization is doing is recycling names:

  • Generated by software/small group of individuals. Based on the consistent wording and style of many of these names, they appear to be generated by a piece of software or a small group of individuals. While many of the first names might be real, they appear frequently with either the last name or one character altered. An illustration of a similar randomly combined list of Western names might look something like this: George Jones, William Jones, James Jones, Henry Jones, Peter Jones, William Smith, Frank Smith, Jim Smith, Larry Smith, etc.
  • Use of non-names. At least 80 of the names identified in Chinese characters in the petition refer to objects or descriptions that are not used as surnames in the Chinese language. These include: Popular food items: Steamed Bun, Older Sister, Steamed Bun Little Sister, Small Steamed Bun and Big Steamed Bun, etc. Dozens of the names are simply names of animals in Mandarin, including: Big Bear, Big Grey Wolf, Little Duck, Little White Rabbit and Yellow Tiger.
  • Invitations to travel. Some of the names included in the petition are in fact invitations to visit China, such as: Come to China Big, Come to China Cat, Come to China China, Come to China Donkey, Come to China Little Girl, and so on.
  • Appearance-obsessed fake names. Thirteen names appearing in the petition include the first name of “Handsome”, including Handsome Six, Handsome Eight, Handsome Good Looking, Handsome Dragon and the Most Handsome Guy.
  • Famous historical/literary figures. Another 30 of the Chinese names in the petition actually identify famous characters in Chinese politics, history or literature. These include: Dasheng Sun: The monkey king in the Journey to the West (a famous Chinese novel) and Shanbo Liang, who is the protagonist in a very well-known legend.

This follows revelations in May that the coal industry paid people $50 to wear pro-coal t-shirts at an Environmental Protection Agency hearing.

With coal consumption dropping precipitously in the U.S., the industry is looking for some friends to help prop it up. But when buying them didn’t work, it appears that making them up was the next best option.