The Internet's Chorus of Calumny

Frank Paynter's getting his groove back after the Internet's long tail knocked him around like a stegosaurus. For all of the talk about how bad it is to be the focus of an angry mob, an angry Internet mob gums its prey rather than biting. Once you get used to the slobber it's not so bad.

Civility Enforced by GoatsNow that the horde's moved on to Tim O'Reilly and his stinking badges, Paynter's mocking the outrage brigade by quoting Karl Marx:

All this chorus of calumny, which the party of order never fail, in their orgies of blood, to raise against their victims, only proves that the bourgeois of our days considers himself the legitimate successor to the baron of old, who thought every weapon in his own hand fair against the plebeian, while in the hands of the plebeian a weapon of any kind constituted in itself a crime.

Katharine Newman, a college student in Virginia, works me over a little for defending Paynter, Jeneane Sessum and Chris Locke:

The reaction of some of the Big-Fishes who owned these group blogs became defensive, arguing that they were being unfairly indicted for hate speech, which they weren't particularly accused of authoring. And that was when the story really got under my skin. All these Big-Fishes standing in line to say they wouldn't apologize for what they hadn't said, to decry Sierra's story as a black mark on their careers? Backing these Big-Fish, folks like Nick Denton and Rogers Cadenhead? I really would have hoped not.

I defended them because the mob was 99 and 44/100ths percent wrong. Once people had a compelling story -- mean web publishers drive female blogger into hiding with misogynistic death threats -- they never let go of it, because the facts were more complicated and less entertaining.


My point was this:

Starting a group blog dedicated to being mean (, and specifically allowing anonymous posters - and then being stunned when bad things happen - indicates a level of common sense that approaches room temperature. So sorry Rogers - those three weren't directly responsible for the bad content, but they had no business being surprised by it.

Thanks for the link Rogers. Stavros has set up shop with downloadable and roll-your-own badges here.


I think Frank waited a suitable amount of time before beginning to defend the "mean kids". It's a bit like trying to defend the rights of someone to post pornographic images. Once the guardians of public morality and safety show up you're libel to be stoned for thinking it's a right to do so.

But eventually, Frank gets upset with the distortions of what was happening and tries to set the record straight for the cautious and curious investigators that want to understand the phenomenon in enough detail to study the effects of an on-line community under attack.

Is there a First Amendment issue? Is there a defamation of character possibility for "naming names" and linking those names to "supporting/encouraging death threats"? Was there a mass rush to judgement?

Frank is a likely candidate to clarify the situation but the listener needs to be open to concepts like "satire", "low art", and the fact that some people really do hate "happy shiny" marketing religions and they are ruthless in their ridicule of such types. They can be pretty cruel in that regard... but linking their names to encouraging death threats is a stretch.

Celebrity has such risks built into the pulpit that it offers it's candidates. Can you become an A-List blogger and expect that the whole net will react to you getting ugly "troll" emails? Won't the attention the A-Lister requests just fuel the behavior of the troll(s)? Public life indicates that stalkers, and aggressive sociopaths are encouraged when the victim asks everyone for help and admits they are devastated.
It has the exact opposite effect that the victim would like. Sad? Certainly but still a principal of public life. Don't feed someone illness when they seek to scare you.

Why should blogging be any different in that regard. You can't police all text for offense or the potential to point a sociopath at a target. It's beyond the capability of badges, pledges or any rule that the average blogger would accept. It's a function of deviant personalities in the on-line world.

needless to say, the MSM loves the story... keep your kids away from those computers and all the "virtual world". It's loaded with predators. OK... but wouldn't it be wiser to educate them on behaviors, risks and acceptable boundries for on-line communities?

Do you lock up your kids until their 18? There are risks but they can be managed and the predators can be defended against to a significant degree.

When the mind refuses to accept ANY level of risk you join Howard Hughes in the life of a hermit. And that is, of course, yet another form of mental illness. Not dangerous to others but sad for the "victim".

The story continues...

Ever since you crushed my site with a link from back in the day (over a _decade_ ago now; who would believe it?) when some bozo tried to make off with my domain name, I've appreciated that you are one of the funnier people on the net. The goatse badge is further proof of that, where none was needed.

Well done, dude.

The "mob" is always 99% wrong, Rogers. However, that seems to just fly by the attentions of politicians, who almost daily provide some "mob" statistics to "prove" this-or-that.

The "mob" on the Left believe that it is "okay" for a them to heap the most scurrilous accusations against the "mob" on the Right, but whine and moan about 'civility' when replied to, in kind. The "mob" on the Left believes it is just fine for a fellow "mob" Congressperson to go to foreign nations (whose interests are inimical to our own) and provide that nation's despotic leadership with a different set of diplomatic policies, than those ordered by a nationally elected president; our commander-in-chief!

Isn't that amazing? That this "mob" is somehow given credence in justifying a literal subversion of our nation's constitution, allowed to vilify and demean with impunity, while they address their political opponents using that 'style' of address?

What "mob" of opinion is there to counter that amazing, never-never-land attempt to subvert our constitution, to have their speech and utter it too?

Will "kind words" and "understanding of the neurosis of belief" assist one "mob" in correcting the prodigal "mob?"

Or, will it take stronger measures?

Misterian, you're killing me with your ironic humor!! ROFLMAO, dude, you should see if Colbert needs some new writers.

*chuckles* In twenty years, there have been many interesting renderings of my name - yours easily the most novel.

I would say that I worked you over a very, little and generally agree with your observations about mob mentality. The assembly of a standing "outrage brigade" is the likely result of 24 hour news networks, and a deleterious phenomenon overall. I would argue however, that I'm not a mere hysteric of the masses, who took a stance simply for the sake of being opinionated: women's colleges create a voluntary bubble of isolation, and inside the gates it is all too easy to ignore the harsh reality posed by the "real world." This fiasco reminded me and some of my fellow students, that from our vantage point we see a very narrow scope of the world and that our expectations are not universal. Hope that made sense.

-- incidentally, I enjoy your civility enforced badge very much, and wonder what policing actual goats would do? Just staring at people with their creepy square pupils until order was restored? Something to consider.

Ouch -- sorry about calling you Baldwin instead of Newman. I've fixed that. I can only blame General Hospital.

Completely, utterly off-topic: I just read the Drudge Retort for the first time. The web pages are served quite fast, which I found surprising. What software do you use to run that site?

I'm really not a soap fan, but isn't it Young and the Restless?

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