a theory regarding anonymity on the internet

i have stumbled across a new, scientific theory that i believe best explains what anonymity does to people on the internet.
internet anonymity theory

you are free to plug in the name of your favorite abuser of anonymity and crunch the numbers because the theory accounts for a diversity of subjects. john gabriel’s ‘greater internet dickwad’ (gid) theory best explains what happens when you give a fool a mask and a microphone. of course, the theory may need slight augmentation to account for extreme cases that end up in jail, but this general theory appears viable.

(ht: the gothamist)

fake martin luther king, jr. quote demonstrates how we got the apocrypha

MLK said what?There is a beautiful quote going around the internet. It reads:

“I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” –Martin Luther King, Jr.

There is only one problem with this quote: Martin Luther King, Jr. never said it. As Megan McArdle and Erik Haugsjaa point out, the second part of the quote is from Dr. King’s 1963 Strength to Love, but the first sentence isn’t part of the original quote. It’s fake. Someone added it to the King quote to make it relevant to Osama bin Laden’s death.

MLK 'Strength to Love' on Google Books

The actual quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s 'Strength to Love' as demonstrated in Google Books. Note the first part of the quotation was not written by Dr. King.

The viral nature of this quote demonstrates how people will believe whatever they read if it fits their preconceived notions, especially when it is attributed to a well-respected authority or personality. This is precisely how we got the Apocrypha (the books that didn’t make it into the Bible), and a number of the books that actually did make it into the biblical canon. Someone writes something, it sounds like something someone authoritative would say, the quote or book is attributed to said authority, people read it, believe it, and pass it on. (Recommended reading: Forged by Bart Ehrman.)

It’s how we got the fake Bin Laden death photos, it’s how we got the MLK quote, and it’s how we got many of the books of the Bible (i.e., some letters attributed to Paul, all 4 Gospels, many of the pastoral letters, the Apocrypha, etc.).

What’s a shame in the modern age is that it’s actually quite easy to fact check. Unfortunately, people don’t. They just parrot misinformation without citations because they like the way it sounds. It reiterates the need for readers to check their facts, and for authors to cite their sources.

In the words of Al Gore, “This is not why I invented the internet.”1

1Al Gore did not make this statement.


UPDATE: See the Salon.com article by Drew Grant, who attributes the quote to a tweet from Penn Jillette, who got it on Facebook from someone named Jessica Dovey. A screenshot of Dovey’s Facebook message shows that she did, in fact, offset MLK’s quote from her own comments. So Penn (apparently) mis-attributed the first portion to Dr. King. Penn acknowledged his mistake, but not before it went viral.

This demonstrates that there are usually two attributions needed for a saying to become ‘authoritative’: attribution to a recognized respected authority, and the propagation by another respected/beloved figure. It also demonstrates a point that Bart Ehrman and his teacher, Bruce Metzger, both make: not all edits and changes are intentional. Like Penn in this case, it was an honest mistake, which, to his credit, he immediately corrected.

Excellent work Drew!!

trying to dig oneself out of a hole: raphael golb posts his appeal online

Raphael Golb is handcuffed and led from a Manhattan State Supreme courtroom in New York to prison after being sentenced to 6 months in jail and 5 years probation. Golb, son of University of Chicago Oriental Institute historian Dr. Norman Golb, was convicted on 30 felony and misdemeanor counts of identity theft, forgery, criminal impersonation, aggravated harassment, and the unauthorized use of a computer. Photo: Steven Hirsch

Raphael Golb is handcuffed and led from a Manhattan State Supreme courtroom in New York to prison after being sentenced to 6 months in jail and 5 years probation. Golb, son of University of Chicago Oriental Institute historian Dr. Norman Golb, was convicted on 30 felony and misdemeanor counts of identity theft, forgery, criminal impersonation, aggravated harassment, and the unauthorized use of a computer. Photo: Steven Hirsch

There’s an old saying: “When you dig yourself into a hole, put down the shovel.”

Apparently, no one ever taught this to Raphael Golb, whose latest attempt to garner sympathy from the paranoid, the friendless, and those involved in similar ordeals is now available online.

And good news: this latest volley from Dr. Golb seems to be having the desired effect. For instance, the “Overturn the Wrongful Conviction of Raphael Golb” group on Facebook has seen its membership rise significantly from 15 to 16 over the past month. Given that at least one of those “members” is a marketing bot, I’d say that it won’t be long until the Raphael Golb Facebook group has as many fans as “The Great Kim Jong-Il” group (4377) or the “Sarah Palin for President 2012” group (92). Even ol’ Jimmy Barfield’s “Copper Scroll Project” has more supporters with 394.

Yes, Dr. Golb is back, and this time per the requirements of his sentencing and bail writing in his own name! Remarkably, Dr. Golb has essentially posted his conviction appeal online. I’m guessing the State of New York thanks him for the additional time to prepare its response. I mean seriously, didn’t Dr. Golb learn anything from the trial? He hung his lawyers out to dry by posting every possible angle of every possible line of their questioning online several months before the trial actually began! Every witness knew exactly what Golb’s attorneys were going to ask because the verbally-incontinent Golb had already posted it online months before. So thanks again for the advance notice.

(Unless, of course, Golb is using the same tactic he used during the trial, where he knew he would be found guilty 30 times, but decided to use the trial to attack his victims further, and decided to attempt to try his case in the blogosphere. The only problem is, I don’t think Dr. Golb’s most recent posting on the indymedia.org website qualifies as “protected speech.” I’m assuming he didn’t make any false claims in his indymedia post…)

For those of you who don’t want to waste the time reading Dr. Golb’s rant appeal, let me summarize it for you. I’ve listed who Raphael Golb thinks is responsible for his arrest and conviction in the table below:

People whose fault it is:

(in order of appearance)

People whose fault it is not:

  • Dead Sea scrolls “guild” or “monopoly”
  • “traditionalists”
  • “creators of museum exhibits”
  • a fake “consensus”
  • “defenders of the sectarian position”
  • “abuse of power and of financial influence” by scholars and academic institutions
  • “evangelical Christian educational institutions”
  • “orthodox Jews” who shared their basic perspective
  • Robert Cargill
  • museums
  • “religiously oriented scholars”
  • Larry Schiffman
  • NYU officials
  • Assistant District Attorney John Bandler
  • Patrick McKenna, an investigating officer assigned to the New York Country D.A.’s identity theft unit
  • New York Criminal Court Judge Carol Berkman
  • “acute stress reaction”
  • agreeing “to be interrogated without an attorney”
  • “sly” interrogation techniques
  • District Attorney Robert Morgenthau
  • New York court system and “rules”
  • jury selection process
  • failure of judge “to explain to the jurors that my case was the first of its kind”
  • prevention of Golb’s attorneys “from engaging in significant cross-examination of witnesses”
  • “Judge Berkman instructed the jury to find me guilty”
  • New York Jewish Museum
  • Salem witch trial
  • Senator Joseph McCarthy
  • Stephen Goranson
  • Duke University provost
  • UCLA faculty members
  • Risa Levitt Kohn
  • San Diego Natural History Museum
  • “coincidences” like despite claiming not to have known of “Johnathan Seidel,” a rabbi in Oregon named Jonathan Seidel coincidentally graduated from Golb’s alma mater, Oberlin College, and coincidentally was introduced to Norman Golb in England in 1986, and coincidentally discussed things over a coffee with him.
  • jurors’ sheer fatigue
  • ill equipped jurors
  • academic “gatekeepers”
  • getting “carried away in the midst of a heated campaign of criticism which I [Golb] directed against a group of scholars
  • duplicitous museum exhibits
  • NYU
  • Raphael Golb

As you can see, just like his father and his theories, Golb argues that the reason neither is accepted by the academy is not because of problems with the theory or its proponent, but because of a massive conspiracy involving just about everyone else in the field. Raphael Golb’s appeal argues that his conviction was not the result of his own illegal activities, but the result of a grand conspiracy, and everyone else is to blame.

Conspiracy theories. Blaming others. Not taking responsibility for actions. Victim mentality. It seems like it never ends…

dr. ed wright responds to my peer-review article on bible and interpretation: a word on professional conduct in the academy

Dr. Ed Wright, Professor of Judaic Studies at the University of Arizona and President of the W. F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research in Jerusalem has responded to my article entitled, “How and Why Academic Peer-Review is About to Change,” on the Bible and Interpretation website. Dr. Wright’s article is entitled, “The Case for the Peer-Review Process: A Rejoinder to ‘How and Why Academic Peer-Review is About to Change’.”

Dr. Wright is a friend and colleague, and I respect his opinion and the solid points he makes in his response. I’d also like to point out that this is how scholarly debate is supposed to take place. When a scholar produces research or a publication for consumption by the academy and/or the public, the scholar should expect and even invite professional criticism. It is the only way to expose holes in a theory or an academic argument, and this process makes the theory stronger. By pointing out problems with a theory, members of the academy contribute to a global discussion and together collaborate to find an interpretation or theory that best explains all of the data. Political candidates do the same thing during debates: they stand up and critique their opponent’s points of view, and, if done properly and professionally, they shake hands when it’s over and go have a beer together. That’s how it works.

Scholars should never personally smear or attempt to harm the professional development of anyone with whom they disagree. Rather, scholars (and students, and the public at large for that matter) should always argue each case on the merits of the argument. This is precisely what Dr. Wright has done here, and it is precisely what Dr. Jodi Magness and I did last year in the pages of NEA and the SBL session that reviewed my book. We stood up, exchanged points of view, pointed out flaws in each other’s theories, and then walked to the next session, where we advocated side-by-side on the same side of a different issue. Scholars should never respond to a professional, public critique of their work with personal attacks. Rather, scholars should respond on the merits of the argument in public (including peer-review journals, blogs, professional conferences, etc.), let others contribute responses, or not respond. Attacking someone personally will only bring much-deserved shame upon the attacking scholar.

This is how it’s supposed to work. Scholars should make their arguments in their own name and stand behind their claims. They should submit to the peer-review process to be critiqued by an assembly of their peers. This ensures the quality of the academic work and improves the collaborative understanding of a particular subject. Rather than attacking a scholar personally with an anonymous campaign of letters designed to impugn the credibility of a scholar who may hold a differing point of view, scholars should offer alternatives and allow the public (i.e., the academy if a scholarly issue, or the greater public if a popular issue) to determine which arguments seem best.

This is what Dr. Wright and Dr. Magness have done. It is what Larry Schiffman and John Collins and Eibert Tigchelaar and David Stacey and the late Hanan Eshel and Eric Cline and Yuval Peleg and many others have done. We all disagree with each other on any number of topics. And we may very well agree on any number of other issues as well. The point is that we humbly submit our contributions to the academy and the greater public for consideration, we make our critiques professionally, and we stand behind and are accountable for the manner in which we conduct ourselves. The academy has, with very few exceptions, always set the example for professional conduct in the exchange of ideas. The academy is the model to which the public and politicians ought to look as the ultimate example of civil disagreement. And this is what Dr. Wright and so many others have done. I hope to follow their example and always offer commentary and scholarly opinions in a professional, transparent (and occasionally humorous) manner.

Thanx again to Dr. Wright for responding. I’m sure the topic will come up when I see him at the ASOR annual meeting this year in Atlanta, hopefully over a beer (that he buys ;-)

bc

news sites beginning to prohibit anonymous comments

Anonymous Speechit was only a matter of time.

the claims by some that certain forms of speech including slander/libel, defamation, and forgery are protected under the first amendment simply because they are spoken or written anonymously is coming to an end. according to an article by stephanie goldberg on cnn.com:

Like those bathroom-stall messages, online comments on news stories can be difficult to police. For years, many publications have tried to strike a balance between encouraging open communication among readers and maintaining civil discourse. But a few sites, fed up with rude or inflammatory comments, are taking bold new steps to raise the level of dialogue.

i applaud these news sites that are attempting to engage their readers in a responsible manner. while it is certainly possible to fake a name, an email, and even a credit card, these websites are taking positive steps toward ensuring that the comments offered in response to online articles are, in fact, not hateful, libelous, or a part of a greater campaign of defamation. (besides, even fake email addresses can be tracked back to a single ip address ;-)

news websites are beginning to realize that the continued tolerance of anonymous comments, especially those that make unsubstantiated claims, contain hate speech, or are designed to defame others actually undermine the website’s credibility over the long term. the credibility of news websites that allow unbridled anonymous talk slowly comes to resemble the bathroom stall and not the reliable news source they seek to be. and just like journalism that reports on whispers and rumors, for every significant scoop that unveils a conspiracy or exposes a crime, there are hundreds of sites that do little more than spread gossip and make claims that smear others.

while it is true that anonymous speech allows some to say things that would otherwise go unsaid, credibility over the long term resides in the consistent verifiability of a story’s source. and when an anonymous source is shown to be involved in a systematic campaign of media manipulation for the purposes of discrediting a perceived rival, then we have moved from a realm of protected speech to the basic elements of slander/libel and defamation on the civil side, and in some cases, forgery, identity theft, and criminal impersonation on the criminal side.

a site is only as good as its sources. put your name on what you write. use your own name, write responsibly, and don’t cite rumors and whispers. don’t make sensational claims, and never attempt to use any form of protected speech to commit crime – it always backfires.

and oh yeah, i almost forgot: there is no such thing as anonymity on the internet!!!

email etiquette: tips on email use

the following is a set of practical guidelines for anyone who uses email in the course of their work in higher education. a good email citizen sends emails that are effective and collegial in terms of content, and is cognizant of the differences between emails with a single recipient and those with multiple recipients. in this age of spam, email overload, and privacy concerns, it is just as important to know how to address your messages as it is what to say, as well as what not to say and reserve for means other than email.

most universities have standard email policies. for example, ucla’s email policies can be found here:

uc policy link (http://www.ucop.edu/ucophome/policies/ec/)
ucla policy link (http://www.adminpolicies.ucla.edu/app/Default.aspx?&id=455)

as a good email citizen, you will want to use proper ‘netiquette’ and know how to send emails that convey only essential content to appropriate recipients. here’s how:

tips about email content

  1. don’t complain via email.
    1. the commonality of email has pushed traditional letter writing on paper to an elevated status. because one is more likely to complain via email, letters of complaint written on stationary and signed by hand are inevitably treated with greater importance.
    2. customer service managers regularly state that a signed letter of complaint is worth 100 phone calls. anyone can make a phone call in the heat of frustration, but those who take the time to articulate thoughtfully their complaints in a professional manner are taken far more seriously. because emails are considered less formal than written letters, they tend to be treated more like phone calls. therefore, do not complain via email, but rather use email to communicate information and send quick reminders to colleagues when appropriate.
  2. don’t compose lengthy emails in your email client.
    1. never compose a document in a client that you cannot regularly save. email clients are notorious for disappearing and lost content during composition. unlike many word processing apps that automatically save content while it is being composed, email clients often crash, messages are accidentally closed, or worse yet, the messages are accidentally sent without the message being complete, leaving the sender looking like he or she is not capable of sending a proper letter.
    2. for emails of some length, or that require more thought than is involved in simple communication, it is better to compose the email in a word processer, which possesses spell check, auto save, and a full array of formatting options, and then cutting and pasting the message in to an email for sending.
    3. this process prevents what many techies call premature e-jaculation, that is, the premature sending of emails before they are complete and proofread.
  3. don’t write too much in an email.
    1. no one likes to open an email and see an essay. when most employees see a lengthy email, they immediately skip to the next, smaller, manageable email and respond accordingly. employees tend to put off lengthy emails until last, meaning the lengthier your email, the lower priority it receives.
    2. reserve email for concise information. ask and answer questions briefly and to the point. don’t be reluctant to send a one-line email. if your question requires a lengthy email, think about making a phone call. it will save you time and will receive more attention from the recipient than a lengthy email. make full use of bold facing and colors to highlight the important items in your email, but AVOID USING ALL CAPS, which people tend to interpret as screaming.
      • (you can always use no caps at all when writing electronically; it’s hip, distinctive, very relaxed and informal (which is popular on the west coast among those who distinguish between formal academic writing, personal electronic correspondence, and blogs), makes up for german capitalizing every single noun, is a tribute to early internet programming pioneers who didn’t use caps (check your url and your email address), and saves you the effort of having to reach all the way over to the shift key every sentence.)
    3. remember: you are competing for the recipient’s attention in a full inbox. shorter is sweeter when emailing.
  4. think before sending.
    1. many have heard of ‘drunk dialing’ – the practice of making a phone call to another individual that under normal circumstances (and usually much sober, next-day reflection) should not have been made. the same is true for email.
    2. you don’t have to send every email you write. often, the mere process of articulating your feelings through words written in a letter is all the release one needs to vent frustration. wait a half hour and re-read your email. is that really what you want to say? will this email be used against you down the road? in court? if the email is still worthy of sending after some sober reflection, send away.

tips about how to address your email

  1. don’t address the email until the very end.
    1. anyone who has accidentally sent an email before it is complete has experienced the frustration of having to email the original recipient yet again, apologizing for looking like a luddite or worse yet, a dumbass, before once again emailing with the original intended email.
    2. to guard against this, try not addressing the email until the email is proofread and ready to send. perhaps cut-and-paste the intended email address in the body of the letter at the top. this way, should you accidentally click ‘send’ or type a combination of keys that sends the email, the email will not be sent, but will return an error asking for a destination email address. this simple trick can save you much potential embarrassment.
  2. learn to use the bcc feature.
    1. the blind carbon copy, or ‘bcc’ feature is not just for tattling on your coworkers by secretly showing your email to a colleague. the bcc feature can be very handy when sending distribution emails to a large number of people.
    2. the bcc feature allows you to send the same email to multiple recipients, but each recipient only sees their address in the ‘to’ field and cannot see the other recipients’ addresses.
    3. it is important to write emails that are to be sent to bcc recipients in a generic manner so that each recipient assumes the email is written to him or her specifically (that is, unless you want the letter to appear as a form letter intended for many people. features include addressing the email with ‘all,’ or ‘dear applicant.’)
    4. a few years ago, a department search committee chairperson at a university that shall remain unnamed sent rejection letters via email. but, rather than loading the 125 rejected recipients’ email addresses into the bcc field, the chairperson listed them all in the cc field, meaning every recipient could see the emails of the other rejected candidates. remembering to use the bcc field is a discreet way to send one email to many people.
  3. use distribution lists
    1. most universities make extensive use of dedicated distribution lists, which allow an employee to join a list and receive emails from an authorized sender on a specific topic. the benefit is that the ‘from’ field clearly states the sender’s distribution list, which can be filtered or read based upon the desire to follow messages from the sender. one additional benefit is that the recipient’s email address in not lumped into a massive list of email addresses in the ‘to’ or ‘cc’ field, meaning other recipients cannot see your email address and instantly be reminded, say, that you owe them money of a reply to an earlier email.

one last thing

  1. anonymous emailing
    1. dont email anonymously. ever! first, it’s cowardly. second, there is no such thing as anonymity online! if someone wants to, and has the patience and the resources, one can find out who you are and what you’re doing.
    2. never, ever, ever, ever take out an email address in someone else’s name, pretend to be them, and confess to made up crimes the person didn’t commit. if you do, you could end up under arrest and on trial in new york for identity theft, criminal impersonation, forgery, aggravated harassment, and unauthorized use of a computer.

these email tips will help you be an effective emailer. you will communicate your message more effectively, and will do so with a professional etiquette. and you’ll stay out of jail.


(a simplified version of the above is located at the ucla center for digital humanities (cdh) blog here.)

a legal word on free speech

a colleague sent me this recently.

Polito v. AOL Time Warner, Inc., 78 Pa. D. & C.4th 328 (2004)

The First Amendment is not intended to protect unconditionally all forms of expression. Clearly those people who have committed no wrongdoing should be free to participate in online forums without fear that their identity will be exposed under the authority of the court. But, if an anonymous Internet speaker engages in tortious or criminal conduct, the protection of the right to communicate anonymously must be balanced against the need to assure that those persons who choose to abuse the opportunities presented by this medium can be made to answer for such transgressions.

accountability in the event of criminal conduct can outweigh one’s expectation of anonymity.

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