When liars dominate the Web

Life is a harsh mistress. And we all make mistakes in life we come to regret in unexpected ways.

In 1997, when someone lied about me on the Tolken news groups, I did what seemed like the right thing: I defended myself. In so doing I helped promulgate a flame war that lasted for many years. After 3 years of vigorously defending myself I attempted to move forward by ignoring as many flames as possible but in 2001 I finally realized there were some people who were so determined to keep the flame wars going they would do anything, say anything, to provoke me.

I left the Tolkien news groups and restricted my online discussion to Web forums and mailing lists. And yet, for the next 2-3 years I had to endure unprovoked attacks from people coming out of the news groups, tracking me down, in efforts to get me thrown out of the Web forums. That some of these people were themselves banned from forums didn’t matter. One of them in particular, Conrad Dunkerson, was prone to ignoring and bypassing bans imposed on him in order to continue his attacks (such behavior under current U.S. Law would constitute cyberstalking, a crime punishable by up to 2 years in prison).

I’m not the only person whom Dunkerson harassed but he wasn’t the only person who attacked me, either. I haven’t heard from the guy in years (thank God) but nonetheless every now and then I still see someone repeating the old lies in some Web forum.

The real problem is that people who never interacted with you read these lies and start to repeat them. One such person, David Gransby, whom I don’t remember ever getting into an argument with, has recently resurrected the old lies. This stuff gets really old after 12 years.

So here is what I would ask of anyone reading this article: If you see other people on the Web attacking the character of another person with whom you’ve never interacted, DON’T REPEAT THE ATTACK.

Most people might think that’s common sense. Unfortunately, common sense runs in short supply on the Internet. People think nothing of repeating lies and derogatory comments about total strangers on the Internet. I’ve encountered many, many victims of such abuse through the years. My experience is really not unusual.

But the fact that it happens all the time doesn’t mean we should accept it — or that we should dismiss it as harmless. It’s anything but harmless. If you have never lived under the burden of being cyberstalked, or had your reputation totally shredded by people who have nothing truthful to say about you, waiting until it happens to you is the wrong attitude to take.

People are too easily convinced by allegations and insults that someone else is not right. You should question yourself the next time you repeat some “minor” insult or accusation about another person in a Web forum, mailing list, news group, blog, or chat room. Why are you saying that?

You can’t stop other people from lying about each other, but you don’t have to engage in that kind of behavior yourself.

When I first joined the Internet in the early 1990s people made a real effort to be polite to each other. If an argument erupted in online discussion groups bystanders sometimes tried to calm things down. Those days of practicing good netiquette seem to be gone.

This is why I created the SF-Fandom forums in 2000. I was tired of the flame wars and I wanted a community where people could engage with each other without fear of being attacked, ridiculed, or lied about. We have had to ban a few bad people through the years but SF-Fandom has continued to welcome people who don’t want to harass and stalk others.

The truth may be out there as Mulder says, but the lies are, too. And as Harry Potter fans might recognize, “How do you sort out the liars” is a question that isn’t easily answered.


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