Automatic editor runs amok

Craig Silverman of Regret the Error has released his 2008 list of bizarre, alarming and downright funny corrections from newspapers and websites.

The entire list is worth a read, but this one caught my eye, pointing out the dangers of too much automation in web publishing:

The American Family Association’s OneNewsNow site has a standard practice of using the word “homosexual” instead of “gay.” They even set up a filter to automatically make the change. This didn’t serve ONN well when a sprinter named Tyson Gay made news at the U.S. Olympic track and field trials. He suddenly became Tyson Homosexual when the site’s filter got a hold of an AP story:

tysonhomosexual.jpg

Apart from the obvious question of why anyone want to change “gay” to “homosexual”, it’s fun to think of how many other names could be similarly mangled.

I once worked with a person whose surname was Blind. I suppose he could end up as “Visually Impaired”, or maybe just “Impaired” if the “middle name” were edited out.

I’ve used this sort of technology in the past, to spare editors from having to make the same spelling changes over and over, for example, converting al-Qaida or al-Qa’ida to al Qaeda. But for every rule I set up, I spent at least as much time trying to imagine and prevent all the ways in which it could backfire.

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