Posted on | January 13, 2014 | 11 Comments
Background: In April 2013, liberal blogger Matt Osborne — someone I hate nearly as much as he hates me — wrote a long post exposing the fact that Bill Talley, who had been an activist in the #UniteBlue progressive online group, had recently pleaded guilty to multiple felonies, including possession of child pornography. Osborne’s “burn notice” of Talley was part of an internecine fight among two groups of liberal activists. Osborne was allied with Matt “Shoq” Edelstein’s #StopRush boycott network which, evidently, viewed #UniteBlue as illegitimate rivals. That aspect of the story is interesting, but ultimately irrelevant to claims by some #UniteBlue activists that Osborne got certain important facts wrong, e.g., these claims about @7serf7:
Talley’s known Twitter accounts:
@7serf7 . . .
William Talley has outed himself as @7serf7, an account that is still wearing a Unite Blue twibbon (see slideshow below). @7serf7 has doxed and harassed Twitter users who exposed Talley or criticized Unite Blue over him. . . .
The Twitter account @7serf7 has been identified as a sock puppet account of William Talley by multiple independent observers. While insisting this identification is not true, the account does engage in pedophilia advocacy. . . .
Two of [Talley’s] sock puppet accounts, @7serf7 and @politaire, both actively conversed with users who made a great show of unfollowing @Political_Bill. On Tuesday, @7serf7 and @politaire indicated they may be “taking time off” from Twitter; the next day, the accounts were alternately protected or tweeting with new voices.
At this time, Steven Hatlestad, a key figure in the doxing and harassment activity that characterized the flame war over William Talley, appears to be running @politaire; Aurora Grajeda aka @cihuamexica was clearly tweeting through @7serf7.
When the Talley story came to my attention, I cited Osborne’s post at length and used the word “reportedly” to describe the association Osborne alleged between Talley and various Twitter accounts, including @7serf7. Now, @7serf7 has claimed that this was libel — which it quite obviously was not. Nevertheless, because Bill Talley is now in prison and therefore not likely to have access to online social media accounts, it seems self-evident that whoever is currently operating the @7serf7 account is not Bill Talley.
You cannot libel a pseudonymous Internet account, because pseudonyms are just that, pseudonyms — fictional identities.
“George Spelvin” can’t file a libel suit. Q.E.D.
For that matter, as Brett Kimberlin is learning vis-a-vis “Kimberlin Unmasked,” trying to figure out who is actually behind a pseudonymous Internet account is actually quite difficult. There had been much speculation among Kimberlin’s allies about who was behind that account, but when Kimberlin went to court to get the person’s identity, the information provided didn’t point at anyone who had previously been a subject of their speculation.
This demonstrates the folly of most such speculation. For several weeks in 2012, I was lashed to and fro by people speculating that various Twitter accounts were sockpuppets for Neal Rauhauser who has at times boasted about his use of online “personas,” but who obviously cannot be behind every troll account on Twitter. There was similar speculation about other accounts, including the now defunct @OccupyRebellion. It is quite a popular game among some people to create online personas, and an equally popular game to try to “out” the people behind such personas.
All of which is relevant to the situation complained of by @7serf7 who, according to Osborne, “doxed and harassed Twitter users who exposed Talley or criticized Unite Blue over him.” In other words, @7serf7 was clearly an active ally of Talley and from this it was deduced that @7serf7 was in fact a Talley sockpuppet. If that deduction was incorrect, it was not illogical, and it can only be disproven by @7serf7 publicly identifying his or herself.
Finally, if @7serf7 has a complaint, it is against Matt Osborne, and not against me. If another blogger gets their facts wrong, and I link and quote that blogger, I do not thereby become responsible for their errors. Major news organizations also make mistakes, but I do not commit defamation by quoting Rachel Maddow’s lies.
People need to stop using the words “libel” and “defamation” every time somebody says something nasty about them. If I sued everybody who ever defamed me, I’d never have time to do anything else and, frankly, lawsuits are against my religion.