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Frauds, Liars & Scumbags

Digital Hatfields and McCoys: America’s Need for Better Judges

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Every day, judges have to deal with cases involving technology they don’t understand. This is simply a fact of life. However, with the rise of cases involving the Internet, we absolutely need judges who better understand how this technology works.

The average age of our Supreme Court justices in the United States is 66, and this number is on the low side since two of the nine justices sitting on the court were appointed in the last three years. Supreme Court justices are appointed for life; they hold their position until they resign, retire, or die unless they are impeached.

And what of other courts? According to a 2010 study by ProPublica as reported here, “About 12 percent of the nation’s 1,200 sitting federal district and circuit judges are 80 years or older[…]Eleven federal judges over the age of 90 are hearing cases — compared with four just 20 years ago[…] The share of octogenarians and nonagenarians on the federal bench has doubled in the past 20 years. The demographics of the federal bench have no analogue on the state courts, where judges mostly occupy their office for a term of fixed years and generally have mandatory retirement ages, often in their 60s or 70s.”

Why is this important? As a blogger, podcaster, web TV producer, or other kind of digital content creator, why should you care about the age of judges in the United States?

Digital Hatfields and McCoys

If you’re like me, you’ve become engrossed in History‘s recent mini-series about the Hatfields and McCoys. This legendary feud between families started with a little bad blood about events happening during and after the Civil War, and the major incident causing the feud to escalate was a dispute over a pig in Hatfield possession that the McCoy family claimed belonged to them. From there, things really escalated, with the families continually fighting, suing one another, and even taking the law into their own hands. It got out of hand.

All because of a pig.

I mention this because the Internet seems to be a breeding ground for digital Hatfields and McCoys. Bloggers, podcasters, commenters, and others online are very concerned with their rights to say what they want to say. But just because you legally may have the right to say something doesn’t mean you should. Online arguments have a way of escalating very quickly, just likes the feud between the Hatfields and McCoys did in the 1800s. Too often, people on both sides resort to fighting dirty, even when the original argument was over something as stupid as a pig.

And beyond that, many Internet users do not understand laws regarding free speech. Just because you’re allowed to voice your opinions does not mean you’re allowed to threaten someone or insinuate that your opinions are facts. You can and probably will be sued if you make a habit of doing these things.

The problem is that you can also be sued and punished for writing posts that do fall under the protection of free speech, simply because the judge doesn’t understand how the Internet works.

Aaron “Worthing” Walker versus Brett Kimberlin

To see how this can easily effect digital content creators, one needs to look no further than the case of Aaron Walker (previously blogging under the pen name of Aaron Worthing, according to Popehat) and convicted Speedway Bomber Brett Kimberlin. Aaron wrote about what happened (supported with court documents, video evidence, and other facts) here, which I highly recommend checking out so you understand the background of the story.

The story is rather complicated but according to The Blaze and other sources, Kimberlin and his supporters have been attacking bloggers (like Walker) who write about him with lawsuits, threats, and more. He’s filed over 100 lawsuits to date. Walker and his wife both lost their jobs due to Kimberlin and his allies harassing their employers.  Another political  blogger “Patterico” was “swatted”.

(Edited to add: Patterico’s real name is Patrick Frey whose day job happens to be working as an assistant District Attorney in Los Angeles. – police were sent to his home after someone (allegedly from Kimberlin’s camp) placed a hoax phone call to the LA police department claiming to be Frey. Posing as Frey the caller confesses to shooting and killing his wife. This resulted in the SWAT team being dispatched to Frey’s home with guns drawn. Frey was handcuffed. His wife and children were woke by police officers to verify they were alive and safe. You can read Patterico’s account of this incident here. Did you ever think someone would send the SWAT team to your home over a blog post? – Rick)

Kimberlin was recently granted a “peace order” (which is similar to a restraining order) against Walker claiming his blog posts were harassment and that Walker had incited numerous individuals to make death threats against Kimberly via blog comments and tweets.

I’ll be honest: I personally couldn’t care less about the politics behind this all. Kimberlin’s liberal music, support of the Occupy movement, etc. in relation to his past convictions don’t bother me because, at the end of the day, he served his time. I get why many conservatives and even some liberals don’t like him. But that isn’t what my post is about.

This is about the fact that the judge in Walker’s most recent court appearance clearly does not understand the Internet. Walker was accused of violating this peace order because a blog post he wrote about it was considered “contact” with Kimberlin. Furthermore, the judge overseeing this case, insinuated that Walker is responsible for the death threats Kimberlin has been receiving. Walker was arrested for “inciting,” which is encouraging others to “act in a violent or unlawful way.”

The anti-Kimberlin camp isn’t totally innocent. According to eye witnesses, Walker did not represent himself well in court and the judge became increasingly agitated. Guys and gals, if you have to stand before a judge, get a lawyer.

In addition, those on Walker’s side who resort to anonymous threats to Kimberlin are no better than people on Kimberlin’s side who have threatened Walker or have had others “swatted.” But just like it’s not one Hatfield’s fault that another member of his family shot a McCoy, it’s not Walker’s fault that his supporters took matters into their own hands. They are the people who should be brought to trial, not Walker.

Yet Walker was arrested, simply because the judge did not understand how the Internet works. Kimberlin set up a Google alert so he knows when someone is writing about him. Walker’s post may have popped up, but this clearly does not constitute contact. Has the judge ever used Google alerts? My guess is no.

Walker’s story also inspired others to write about Kimberlin, some very negatively and even in a harassing way (imo), but inspiring action is not the same as encouraging action. If Walker had said, “Hey everyone, send this guy death threats,” that would have been another matter. He didn’t (as far as I can tell).

At the same time, I do think this has gone too far. I refer again to the idea that just because you are legally allowed to do or say something doesn’t mean you should. As deplorable as a person might be, no one, including Kimberlin, deserves to live in fear because they’re getting death threats. We have to be responsible for the things we post online, and if we’re aware that what we write or say is going to cause physical harm to another person (or death threats, which are just a step removed from physical harm), I do think we have the responsibility (morally, if not legally) to edit what we post.

Who has the Power?

Right now, I believe certain people have powerful responsibilities.

First and foremost, Kimberlin needs to stop attacking anyone who writes facts and even opinions about him online. When you do controversial things (both in the past and in the present), some people aren’t going to like you. They have a right and perhaps even a duty to stand up and say why they don’t like you, and suing these people is taking advantage of the legal system. Instead, Kimberlin should spend his time in court against people who actually send him death threats.

Second, if you’re a blogger in the anti-Kimberlin camp, you need to be fair, factual, and professional. Realize that some of your readers are not as mature as you. Do not encourage them to “take up the cause” on your behalf. They aren’t always going to represent you the way you want to be represented. Instead, encourage your readers to do their research and come to their own conclusions about Kimberlin or anyone you don’t like. Present your case and understand that there are two sides to every story.

Lastly, if you’re an America, use your vote to make the judicial system fairer for online content creators. This also applies to people living in other countries with the same  problem. Judges who admit to having no idea how the Internet works should not be involved in Internet-related cases. Term limits or forced retirement is necessary to protect younger generations from rulings by people who don’t understand the latest technology. We need to be a collective voice, demanding that the first amendment is upheld online and that bloggers and other content creators should be treated fairly.

Are We Hypocrites, Tasteless Smut Peddlers or Just Plain Dumb?

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Play

If you haven’t heard there was quite a reaction to our closing keynote at BlogWorld New York. From some very heartfelt honest posts with valid complaints from people like Marcus Sheridan and Jennifer Fong to the typical peanut gallery who like to use every social media controversy as a way to promote their own agendas.

While Dave and I were watching the closing keynote Thursday we were both cringing. The videos were too long, they weren’t being played at the right times, the band wasn’t able to rehearse with the guests beforehand so they weren’t right on cue, the mics were feeding back when they worked at all. The Rhythm was completely off. What we thought could have been our best closing keynote ever was falling apart before our eyes.  We felt terrible for Chris Brogan who had agreed to host the show and kept trying to get it back on track.

Then we saw the reactions. People weren’t complaining about the production, they were complaining about the content.  Andrew Breitbart was too political for some, Shauna Glenn’s video was demeaning to women in technology said others, How could we allow Sara Benincasa to perform a very adult stand-up routine where she eviscerated literally everyone and everything we had been talking about for the last three days after we had asked Danny Brown and Gini Dietrich to change the original title of their blog post from “Doucheblogs and Spin Doctors” to something else?

After reading some of the posts and comments, we were relieved. This was something we could defend. Dave, Deb, Patti and I were all talking to each other in a series of phone calls and I asked Dave to just record the conversation we were having.

I think this better explains why we chose the format and the guests we did so please listen to that at the bottom of this post.

We do need to apologize to anyone who was offended by the humor and who felt like they were not warned sufficiently ahead of time. We thought we had made this clear in the show directory, in our email newsletter, on our blog and the online schedule but we obviously completely failed.

Please accept my personal apology for that. I promise you it will not happen again. People will know full well going in what to expect.

We would also like to apologize to our panelists and our host Chris Brogan for any negative reactions they may have received because of their participation. We wanted this to be fun for everyone. Dave and I are responsible for this, not anyone else.

That being said even with the complaints we still believe there is a place for this type of content at BlogWorld.

Our industry is made up of millions of communities and content creators and hundreds of thousands of genres. We believe we have a responsibility to represent as diverse a group of these communities and styles of digital content creation as possible.  We owe it to all of you. We owe it to each other.

In his segment Andrew Breitbart told the story of how when Bill Maher said some very offensive things on his old TV show Politically Incorrect it was Shawn Hannity and Rush Limbaugh who came to his defense. Bill Maher wrote a personal letter to Limbaugh to thank him. The men couldn’t be further apart in their world views and throw hammers at each other daily over the airwaves but at the end of the day, they are all part of the same community of content creators.

This is a lesson we in new media can learn from some in the old media.

We would love to hear your feedback as well. How do you suggest we present this type of content in the future?

Are we completely off base?

Are Spammy Comments Inevitable?

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Hang on, I’m not going to talk about the spam and junk comments we get on our blogs because that’s long since been discussed to death and while it’s managed by Akismet and such, it’s just a fact of life. Even with those tools, I still get 5-10 clearly spam comments on AskDaveTaylor every night (usually between 1-5am, when I imagine that it’s mid-day in India or China?), all easily deleted.

Instead, I’m going to ask whether these sort of comments are just part of being online and a natural outgrowth of any commercial or economic system where there are bottom-feeders trying to exploit and trick both the system and its users for a fast buck?

What made me wonder this, btw, is when I was looking at the app reviews on iTunes for a game and noticed that they’re starting to be overrun by spammers. Yup, those little two-sentence reviews are a brave new outpost for this sort of thing, as shown here:

In case it’s not obvious, I’m not encouraging you to check out either of the apps (or Web sites) mentioned. Like email spam, like blog comment spam, encouraging these guys is like feeding cockroaches in a tenement, a really bad idea.

What really strikes me about this after being in the blogging world for eight years and being online for a lot longer than that is that there’s a sort of inevitability to this sort of thing, a sense that everyone who designs any sort of user feedback or user generated content system, any Web-based app or even standalone app that lets people share their own opinions must take this junk into account and design the system to limit — or, better, prevent — these sort of abuses.

On the blogging front, it amazes me that I see similar sort of daft spam comments on all of my blog articles, from film reviews on my film blog to parenting discussions on my parenting blog. I know, much of it’s automated, but it’s not, really, because the automated stuff is what Akismet is so darn good at catching. This is actually a human being spending the time and effort to attempt to leave a comment that starts out more or less related to the topic (“good review, I love Jolie!”) followed by those pesky links to their scams, hustles and rip-offs.

Is this just the way of things?  Should we all finally buckle down and just assume spam is going to spread and ooze into every corner of our online lives?  What do you think?

Four Ways to Protect Your Blog from Plagiarism

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Plagiarism is no better than breaking into someone home and stealing their physical belongings.

Plagiarism is the bane of every freelance writer, but many people who get into blogging initially aren’t writers and don’t actually understand plagiarism laws or why this is such a problem. Let me emphasize one thing before I go any further: Even if you don’t personally care that someone is stealing your work, plagiarism hurts us all.

It’s kinda like not yelling at your kid when they do something wrong just because it is so darn cute or funny. Yeah, junior looks hilarious covered in the chocolate pudding he used to write all over the wall, but if you don’t reprimand him now, it’ll turn into a slippery slope, and before you know it…well, your child becomes this.

Plagiarism isn’t in any way cute or funny, but some bloggers just let things slide or sweep problems under the rug. I’m begging you not to do this, as your fellow writer. It only gives the plagiarist the impression that it is OK to steal work from other people. Slippery. Slope.

If for no other reason, consider this: when there’s duplicate content online, it negatively impacts your search engine rankings, which means that your earning potential decreases. Every dollar the plagiarist makes is a dollar you could have been making yourself.

I’ve found that most people don’t do anything to stop plagiarists simply because they don’t know how to do so. Here are four tips you can use to combating this crime:

  1. Check your site regularly on Copyscape. While there are paid services on this site, it’s free to add your URL and do a quick scan of the Internet to see if anyone is stealing your work.
  2. Watermark your pictures. Unless you’re OK with other people using your picture, consider adding a watermark, either lightly in the background or at the corner of the picture. This probably deters 99% of people who would otherwise use your picture.
  3. Learn what is allowed. People aren’t allowed to steal your work, but they are allowed to quote you, as long as you are given credit. However, they aren’t allowed to use your work just because you don’t have a copyright notice listed at the bottom your post. Know the law.
  4. Don’t be afraid to contact hosts. When you notice that someone has plagiarized you, send them a letter to ask them to stop. If they ignore you, don’t be afraid to contact their post. By looking at their page source, you can find out who is providing their hosting, and contact that company directly to let them know that one of the sites they’re hosting is using copied content. Most hosts will require the website to remedy the situation to avoid being banned. Don’t just let it go. Remember, slippery slope.

In addition, I hope that it goes without saying that you should never plagiarize someone else’s work on your own blog. Use pictures that are uploaded with permission to be reused, and if you truly love someone’s text, contact them and offer to exchange guest posts or ask if you can repost something on your own website.

Also keep in mind that it is easy to make mistakes. If you see someone else posting your work, give them the benefit of the doubt. Maybe your picture was uploaded somewhere incorrectly, making it look like you offered it for free use, or maybe they truly don’t understand that it is wrong to copy and paste someone else’s text. Ignorance of the law certainly doesn’t make you innocent, but be polite in your request for them to remove the content, rather than attacking.

In closing, I’d just like to leave you with a list of other blog posts dealing with this subject, since many of you out there have written much more in depth about plagiarism:

Allison Boyer is a writer for BWE’s blog and the owner/manager of After Graduation. All this slippery slope talk has inspired her to buy a Slip N Slide. She doesn’t have kids. It’s just for her.

Image credit: sxc.hu

Dear Gurus: Let's Talk Less and Listen More

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Dear Gurus: It’s Time to Talk Less and Listen More
By Hadji Williams

It’s been about three weeks since Keith Elam, one of the most accomplished artists of my generation passed away.

As one-half of Gang Starr, Elam was truly a Gifted emcee who pioneered an ill poetic street corner philosopher’s eloquence not yet heard prior. Between his Gang Starr catalog and his groundbreaking Jazzmatazz work, he proved to source of seemingly Unlimited Rhymes. And his willingness to discuss everything from the writing process to manhood to parenthood to politics to crime made his lyrics truly Universal.

Looking back, April 19, 2010 saw the passing of perhaps the only non-east Indian who could rightfully call himself a guru with a straight face. Elam’s death also got me thinking about all the other so-called gurus out here…

A while back I met a guy who’d penned the definitive book on Twitter. I know it was the definitive book on Twitter because he said so. And so had his publisher. Now the guy admitted to never having worked for Twitter. To my knowledge he didn’t even know anyone who did. He hadn’t even been using Twitter very long himself. But no matter.

He had a book, a title, and full schedule of speaking gigs and media appearances to validate his self-inflicted gurudom.

Now, the easiest thing would be to insult, slander folks like this. That’d be the one-off sureshot that would garner plenty of RTs, comments, and e-daps. But instead, I wanna try something different, beginning with a question:

What if all the gurus, particularly those of us in marketing, PR and social media, just said—out loud:

“I don’t know.”

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Wikipedia Founder Has "No Problem" with Fraud

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I first heard about this story this morning. /HT Infothought. The basics; A wikia employee (a for profit entity related to Wikipedia) who calls himself Essjay on Wikipedia and claims the following academic credentials “a tenured professor of religion at a private university” with “a Ph.D. in theology and a degree in canon law.” turns out to be 24 year old Ryan Jordan who now admits to having no advanced degrees and never having taught anywhere (has he even graduated anywhere) in his life.

Ok so the guy is a fraud and so every entry he has ever made at Wikipedia now needs to be questioned. Fine. Frauds come along and scam very smart people all the time. I questioned Wikipedia’s hiring practices in the comments section over at Infothought and Hacking Cough.

Do they do any kind of background checks on the employees? A cursory call of his references would have outed young Ryan.

Who is their CPA? A bookie who always dreamed of being an accountant?

Ok so they have some lax business practices so did Enron, and WorldCom and lots of other companies.

Here is the straw that broke this camels back. From the New Yorker article:

He was recently hired by Wikia—a for-profit company affiliated with Wikipedia—as a “community manager”; he continues to hold his Wikipedia positions. He did not answer a message we sent to him; Jimmy Wales, the co-founder of Wikia and of Wikipedia, said of Essjay’s invented persona, “I regard it as a pseudonym and I don’t really have a problem with it.”

Excuse me? The guy is a fraud and you have no problem with it? He is your employee and you have no problem with it?

Ahhh that is exactly one of the things that is supposed to make new media different from old media. Self correction and all. Any new media CEO who goes around covering and making excuses for frauds is no better than Ken Lay.

Wikipedia is definitely a new media trail blazer, we would love to have them as part of our event but Jimmy Wales needs to rethink his position on this one pretty damn fast.

This small bit from Freakonomics:

This is hardly a felony, but it does make you wonder about what else happens at Wikipedia that Jimmy Wales doesn’t have a problem with.

I am no attorney (nor have I ever claimed to be one on TV or otherwise) so I have no idea if what Ryan Jordan did constitutes a felony or not, (any legal experts want to weigh in?) but in the world of journalism and media what he did is certainly one of the highest crimes imaginable. He claimed to be someone he was not, claimed to be an expert on subjects he is not, claimed credentials he does not have to give weight to his positions, numerous entries on Wikipedia and misrepresented himself as such to several people outside Wikipedia.

Game over, any legitimate local newspaper let alone encyclopedia would fire him immediately and begin researching everything he ever wrote for them.

/rant off.

More from the Freakonomics post:

For me, a more interesting question is the degree of Schiff’s error: should she, e.g., have insisted on some verification of Essjay’s credentials, or at least omitted his academic claims. This illustrates, if nothing else, how journalists get lied to, pretty regularly.

Also, FWIW, has anyone else noticed that Wikipedia entries often exhibit a rather serious interest in a subject’s religious background — particularly if the subject is Jewish? It turns out that Sergey Brin of Google has also noticed this. (I am about to get on a plane so I do not have time to look, but I am curious to know how Brin’s Wikipedia entry has changed since the article linked above was published.)

I don’t know anything about anti-Semitism or anything else at Wikipedia but that is exactly the danger of allowing a fraud to live among you, let alone protect him. Everything you say must now be questioned and taken with a very skeptical eye. Your integrity is ruined until you cut it out and come clean.

**update 2:02pm**

I jumped the gun a bit when reading Kelly’s comment. It looks like we agree completely on this one. here is an excerpt from kelly’s post at Nonbovine Ruminations:

Quite frankly, a man who would lie about his academic credentials, and then use those credentials to add undue weight to his own opinions in debate on Wikipedia, does not deserve to even be allowed to edit Wikipedia, let alone sit in judgment over those who do.

Over the past few years, a number of people with included false claims on their resumes or CVs have lost academic leadership posts (for example, Eugene R. Kole, former President of Quincy University, who resigned when two of the degrees he listed in his biography were found to be fictitious). It is startling and telling that Essjay, after revealing similiar lies, is not only not censured, but in fact elevated to one of the highest positions of responsibility that Wikipedia has. Clearly Jimbo has decided to demonstrate just how much unlike academicia Wikipedia is.

NBR has several other posts in Wikipedia that can be found here, here, here, and here.

My original update below for all to see.

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