My thanks to Mary Brandel for taking up the subject of cyberstalking in today’s Computerworld article, Five Ways to Defeat Blog Trolls and Cyberstalkers (for full page version). She interviewed me at length and we had a comprehensive discussion on the subject. This is a topic that internet free speech absolutists and blogging platforms and hosts don’t take nearly seriously enough. Personally, I think we all need to treat this not just as a free speech issue but as an issue of human dignity, respect and rights.
As I mentioned in the article, I appreciate blogging platforms like WordPress which give their users innovative plugins allowing them to exert more control, if they wish, over the content and tone of their comment threads. Further development of such features should be encouraged by the platforms. Plugin authors are playing a major role in providing the tools to combat blog trolling and other cybermischief.
The latest on my cyberstalker, Steven Plaut. I spoke with Neve Gordon this week about his libel case against the former. Gordon expects the District Court (acting as a court of appeals) to render a verdict in the case which Plaut originally lost. It may come as early as a month from now. I asked Neve whether Plaut had created a fake blog through Blogger as revenge against Gordon’s legal action. As I suspected, Plaut did create one. It isn’t active now, but thankfully it’s preserved through the Internet Archive’s invaluable Wayback Machine. This further confirms Plaut as my cyberstalker fraud blogger since he’s also created a fake Blogger blog about Roland Rance after Rance took an active role in writing the Wikipedia article on Plaut. I find it remarkable that with a pattern of fraudulent behavior such as this that Blogger would continue to stand behind the fig leaf of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.
I’ve made clear before here that I understand the importance of Section 230 as a protection for web and blog hosts from third parties who upload illegal material to their servers. But Section 230 shouldn’t give a blank check to such hosts and absolve them of any responsibility to remove vulgar, defamatory material which damages the victim’s psyche and reputation. Just because you’re protected from liability doesn’t mean you aren’t free to use common sense as a host. Bsinet used such common sense in taking down Masada2000. Unfortunately, Blogger takes a more obstinate, unreasonable position.
My brother discovered Google’s public listing of its top five executive officers and one of them, Jonathan Rosenberg, is senior vice president for marketing. I contacted his executive assistant who, on first conversation with me understood the severe annoyance this fake blog caused me and said she hoped there was something that might be done. She asked me to forward all the supporting material to her and she said she’d bring it to the attention of someone at Blogger. Within a few minutes she replied:
…It appears that there is nothing more Blogger can do and you must go after the creator of the website.
Which is of course not true. There is plenty Blogger CAN do; but nothing that it WILL do.
My hope is that if Gordon’s victory is upheld by the Israeli court there would then be a pattern of lawbreaking established. I’ll be querying an Israeli attorney about whether I would have standing to sue Plaut in Israel (or here). If not, we may try to persuade other Israelis who’ve been similarly slandered by Plaut to sue him.
UPDATE: Since originally writing this post, I have learned that an anonymous party claims ownership of the fake blog, furthermore stating that Steven Plaut has not participated in its creation. A reporter tells me Plaut has denied his involvement. So while I have no idea whether the anonymous party is being truthful, it is possible that Plaut is either not involved in the blog, is partially involved, or that the blog claimant is lying and Plaut is fully responsible. I don’t yet know for sure which is the case. My impression of Plaut’s authorship was based on a number of factors, including Mr. Rance’s firm conviction that Plaut was responsible for the separate blog of which he is a victim.