aaron swartz

Fake Bloggers; Authors Guild Fights Digital

Fake Bloggers

There used to be a publishing blog where a fictitious literary agent posted facts and information about querying agents, getting published, and pretty much all things publishing related. And it was useful information because at the time the only way to get published, build a readership, and sell your books was to have a literary agent…a gatekeeper. But the catch to this blog was that the fake blogger often grew out of control and went on vituperative rants where he/she trashed people, in writing, on that public blog, and there were times when even I sat back and wondered. In one case, I happened to catch a post he/she had written about a routine trip to the “bodega” where things didn’t go well and the fake blogger made some interesting racial comments. He/she must have had second thoughts because the post was taken down within a half hour. This was about eight or nine years ago and we didn’t even think to take screen shots back then. In any event, this fake blogger ultimately shuttered the blog and from what I’ve read online in the dark corners of the Internet wound up in litigation.

I got into blogging about nine years ago, completely by accident. I was surfing the web, noticed a blog called bestgayblogs, and answered an ad to review and interview personal gay bloggers. There were no rules or standards. I kept my reviews civil because there were no rules. Like the fake blogging literary agent I mentioned above, everyone did whatever they wanted to do and no one was held accountable to anything. During the time I spent interviewing and reviewing all these bloggers, I met some wonderful people with whom I’m still in touch, and I also saw a few really interesting characters who would create fake lives and fake situations, and blog about them daily as if they were really happening.

At first I believed them all. What did I know? These bloggers are telling me they are real and I figured they were. I would follow them and study the comment threads, where other readers like me would not only believe all the fictitious stories, they would become emotionally involved in the lives of these fake bloggers. In a way, it was like being invited into someone’s living room, sharing all their personal secrets, and building a bond and a trust that made a lot of people feel very special. And it wasn’t just gay bloggers doing this. This was happening all over the Internet, and good, trusting people were falling into emotional traps of deception and they never knew it was happening.

It was a sign of the times, and the Internet and personal blogging was so new many people were able to get away with a lot of things they wouldn’t be able to do today. I actually started a publishing blog with a pen name for about fifteen minutes, where the pen name took on one of those snarky online persona’s and that didn’t last long for me. My pen name ultimately got into a nasty little flame war with a literary agent I thought was full of crap, and we wound up arguing back and forth for a while. That’s when I shuttered the blog. I’d only had it up for about a month or so, and I decided that if I was going to get involved in online confrontations I would use my own name and not a fake name and identity. But more important, the literary agent WAS full of crap (handing out very bad advice to writers), she’s not even a literary agent anymore, and I didn’t think arguing with her…or continuing the flame war…was worth my time. It’s also very easy to get into situations like this when you’re not using your own name. I haven’t done anything like that since, and I do not plan to do anything like it in the future. When I started this blog about five years ago, I decided to use my own name and identity and everything I write here is something I’m willing to stand behind with my name.

But not every blogger agrees with me, and in spite of how many things have changed about the Internet and blogging, there are still bloggers out there who think they can get away with the same things bloggers got away with five or ten years ago. An author I know recently brought this topic up on social media, and she made a few excellent points. It bothers her to see people become emotionally attached to fake blogs, where bloggers actually create fake lives that nice people believe are real…but without disclosing the fact that these blogs are fake up front. It’s one thing to start a blog about fiction and gain followers who actually know they are reading about fictitious people, but it’s another to create a blog and lead people to believe it’s real when it’s not. I’ve learned how to spot them at a glance. There are a few who claim to be gay and claim to be written by gay men and I can usually tell by reading a few posts they aren’t. There are a few things you can fake, but not everything. And there will always be telltale signs. In some cases they are harmless, but in the same respect the people who are following them, and the people who do think they are real, are being mislead completely.

The thing that really surprises me is that some bloggers think they can still do this. It’s not that hard anymore to do searches and find out who is authoring a blog. In fact, there is one web site that actually takes a great amount of pride in exposing as many fake bloggers as possible. And there’s always someone watching now. Even though I’ve disclosed as much about myself here on this blog as possible, I still get questioned about my identity, too. And I honestly don’t mind that most of the time, because it’s understandable. We’ve lived through enough fakes by now to find it’s hard to trust anyone these days. My own personal issue with fake bloggers has to do with book review blogs. I believe that if you are going review anything professionally…not just books…you should be willing to own your words and stand behind your name, not something like the name of the brightest star in the sky, or even better, a tacky pseudonym like Joan Book. Don’t play games with me and make an idiot out of me as a reader. And I don’t want to hear the excuse that you can’t use your own name because of the genre you’re reviewing. If that is the case, and you could get into trouble for reviewing gay erotic romance, then don’t do it at all. Let someone else who is willing to own their words do it instead. There are plenty of excellent book reviewers out there who are willing to stand behind their own names.

And I actually think things are changing with respect to fake bloggers. I never would have posted what I did above about book review bloggers with fake names five years ago. I would have been too afraid to do that. The fakes with names like the brightest star in the sky had too much power. But now when I see a book reviewer on a web site who uses the name of the brightest star in the sky, I find it amusing. And even if that reviewer is the best there is, they lose credibility with me and I dismiss them and their opinions. Because that old time Internet way is coming to an end fast. As the mainstream public becomes more involved in the Internet, I think we’ll be seeing a new set of ethics and standards being set for bloggers…the same rules by which we are all expected to adhere in real life. In fact, I haven’t seen as many new fake blogs pop up in the last year, which is interesting in itself. Most of the fakes are the ones who have been hanging around for a while and who haven’t been able to move forward and join the rest of the world.

Unfortunately, there still isn’t a code of ethics for bloggers, and there isn’t a way to enforce a code even if there was one.

Authors Guild Fights Digital

I don’t think I’ll ever fully understand why so many have been fighting the concept of digital books/material without taking into consideration that there is an entire generation of young people out there who don’t know how to write in cursive anymore, who don’t read print newspapers or magazine, and who get almost all of their information online now. Many don’t even watch TV anymore. I’ve posted before how Tony and I have a rental cottage on our property and we usually rent it out to a new adults between the ages of twenty and thirty. In the past five years, not one has bothered to hook up cable TV. They don’t have landlines either. They hook up Internet service only, and use cell phones. When they read, they read digital books on their phones, computers, or tablets.

But the Authors Guild is still on the warpath:

Last year, U.S. District Court Judge Harold Baer in New York ruled against the Authors Guild. He called the HathiTrust an “invaluable contribution to the progress of science and cultivation of the arts,” and said it was protected by fair use principles. Baer noted that digital copies are searchable in a way that print copies are not, and that they “facilitate access for print-disabled persons.”

The article I linked to above is interesting because it shows how much the Authors Guild wants to fight digitalization. They even mention the late Aaron Swartz, in a lame attempt, which a lot of people are not happy about, including me.

“Two months before the filing of this lawsuit an activist was indicted for hacking into a proprietary database of journal articles by sneaking into a network interface closet in the MIT library, hooking his laptop directly into the network and downloading over 4.8 million articles, with the intent to disseminate the archive throughout the Internet.”

I posted about Swartz, here, in January:

For those who might not have been following this, Aaron Swartz was a talented Internet pioneer and activist. He founded Infogami which later merged with Reddit. He was also part of Harvard University and specialized in socially oriented areas that included activism. On January 11, 2013, he took his own life. There’s been speculation about why he did this, and he allegedly suffered from bouts of depression at times. But the fact that the DOJ has been going after him for the past two years for something they claim was an Internet crime seems to be a huge focus.

There is now a web site called JSTOR that allows students and researchers to download articles for free. As an activist, at the time the alleged crime was committed, Swartz did not like JSTOR. According to wiki, this is why: “it charged large fees for access to these articles but did not compensate the authors and it ensured that huge numbers of people are denied access to the scholarship produced by America’s colleges and universities.” As a result, Swartz allegedly found a way to download millions of articles from JSTOR with his JSTOR account within a time frame of a few weeks. This resulted in shutting down JSTOR’s servers and it blocked MIT’s library from getting into JSTOR, which is where Swartz allegedly did all this.

The comment thread to the link above is even more interesting, and I have a feeling this war is going to continue for a long time. And while they are all in battle, the rest of us will be moving more toward digitalization in every aspect of our lives.

Aaron Swartz; What Defines Bullying and Criminal Internet Activity; FREE Excerpt from The Wall Street Shark

What defines cyberbulling and criminal Internet activity is not something that can be pinpointed as clearly as other criminal activities, and what Aaron Swartz was dealing with at the time of his death has caused more than a few interesting reactions.

For those who might not have been following this, Aaron Swartz was a talented Internet pioneer and activist. He founded Infogami which later merged with Reddit. He was also part of Harvard University and specialized in socially oriented areas that included activism. On January 11, 2013, he took his own life. There’s been speculation about why he did this, and he allegedly suffered from bouts of depression at times. But the fact that the DOJ has been going after him for the past two years for something they claim was an Internet crime seems to be a huge focus.

There is now a web site called JSTOR that allows students and researchers to download articles for free. As an activist, at the time the alleged crime was committed, Swartz did not like JSTOR. According to wiki, this is why:  “it charged large fees for access to these articles but did not compensate the authors and it ensured that huge numbers of people are denied access to the scholarship produced by America’s colleges and universities.” As a result, Swartz allegedly found a way to download millions of articles from JSTOR with his JSTOR account within a time frame of a few weeks. This resulted in shutting down JSTOR’s servers and it blocked MIT’s library from getting into JSTOR, which is where Swartz allegedly did all this.

According to HuffPo:

This was inconvenient for JSTOR and MIT, and a violation of JSTOR’s Terms of Service agreement. Had JSTOR wanted to pursue civil charges against Swartz for breach of contract, it could have. But JSTOR did not, and washed its hands of the whole affair. In 2013, JSTOR made several million academic journal articles available to anyone, free of charge. Academic research is designed to be publicly accessible and is distinct from the research of private corporations, which assert aggressive intellectual property rights over activities they fund. Last June, Swartz told HuffPost that both JSTOR and MIT had advised prosecutors they were not interested in pursuing criminal or civil charges.

So, both JSTRO and MIT were *not* going to press charges against Swartz. However, the DOJ decided to do it anyway. They decided to interpret all this as a federal crime.

“Aaron Swartz devised a scheme to defraud JSTOR of a substantial number of journal articles which they had invested in collecting, obtaining the rights to distribute and digitizing,” the indictment reads. “He sought to defraud MIT and JSTOR of rights and property.” The prosecutors seem unaware that if an article is downloaded, the original copy remains with the owner.

The indictment also says that, “Swartz intended to distribute these articles through one or more file-sharing sites.” JSTOR has just released 4.5 million articles to public this week.

It gets more interesting. Swartz was also  highly active in stopping the passing of SOPA, a bill that wanted to police the Internet for violations of copyright. The bill was ultimately defeated, and Swartz spoke about it in public. From Wiki:

It was really stopped by the people; the people themselves—they killed the bill dead. So dead, that when members of Congress propose something now that even touches the Internet, they have to give a long speech beforehand about how it is definitely not like SOPA. So dead, that when you ask Congressional staffers about it, they groan and shake their heads, like it’s all a bad dream they’re trying really hard to forget. So dead, that it’s kind of hard to believe this story; hard to remember how close it all came to actually passing. Hard to remember how this could have gone any other way. But it wasn’t a dream or a nightmare—it was all very real. And it will happen again; sure, it will have another name, and maybe a different excuse, and probably do its damage in a different way, but make no mistake, the enemies of the freedom to connect have not disappeared. The fire in those politician’s eyes has not been put out. There are a lot of people, a lot of powerful people, who wanna clamp down on the Internet. And to be honest, there aren’t a whole lot who have a vested interest in protecting it from all of that … We won this fight because everyone made themselves the hero of their own story. Everyone took it as their job to save this crucial freedom … the senators were right—the Internet really is out of control!

The HuffPo article to which I’ve linked above gets into a lot more of the legalities and details associated with this case, but I find the entire subject interesting because of all the ambiguities and interpretations involved, and what is and what is not considered legal on the Internet. Or how far something that may or may not be an Internet crime can be prosecuted. I’ve reached a point where I’m terrified to post any photos here on this blog for fear of backlash that would claim I’m stealing their copyrights…even if I link back to them and give them full credit. So I don’t post photos anymore unless I know they are free to use, and it states so clearly…or if I take photos myself.

And the ambiguities go even deeper with regard to cyberbullying. The laws are not clear and each case that pops up so to speak seems to be setting a new precedent. Until recently, I didn’t know there was Cyberbully Research web site here.http://www.cyberbullying.us/ There are other web sites like it I don’t need to link to right now. But the bigger picture seems to be the argument between free speech and what’s considered online bullying. And the laws are just not clear enough to know what to expect. As these cases start do crop up, and they will, I’m sure we’ll be seeing more surprises along the way. I don’t think what the DOJ did with Aaron Swartz is by any means the end of a new brand of Internet we’ll be seeing in the future. Or, a new brand of criminal charges that will be associated with Internet activity…or what is interpreted as Internet crime.

In any event, this is a statement Swartz’s family released to the media:

“Aaron’s death is not simply a personal tragedy,” the statement reads. “It is the product of a criminal justice system rife with intimidation and prosecutorial overreach. Decisions made by officials in the Massachusetts U.S. Attorney’s office and at MIT contributed to his death. The US Attorney’s office pursued an exceptionally harsh array of charges, carrying potentially over 30 years in prison, to punish an alleged crime that had no victims.” 

What happened to Swartz is highly significant from a historical POV, too. The charges sound harsh to me, especially since no one was actually harmed and JSTOR recently released all those articles to the public this week anyway.

The bottom line is: watch your back online at all times, because you never know who is going to come after you and turn something you might think is small into something that could affect the rest of your life. You could be playing with fire, and I don’t think I’m exaggerating in lieu of what happened to Aaron Swartz.

Free Excerpt from “The Wall Street Shark.”

This is a scene where Evan goes to watch Carson in an amateur boxing match in Lower Manhattan. It also shows how gay men often cover up the fact that they are gay in certain situations.

Evan smiled again. “I don’t know shit about boxing, but that doesn’t mean I can’t learn. Besides, I’m curious.” He chose his words with care, because he wasn’t sure if the other two guys knew Carson was gay. This came naturally, as it comes so naturally to all gay men when they are placed in situations with straight men.

When Carson’s gloves were on and he was ready to step into the ring, he asked the other guys to leave so he could have a moment alone with Evan. His exact words were, “I need to talk to my buddy for a minute,” which meant he didn’t want them to know he was dating Evan…or he didn’t feel the need to admit it.

Evan had been sitting on a small chair in the corner of the room watching them prep him for the fight. Although he didn’t have a clue as to what they were doing or what was happening, he smiled and pretended he’d been watching men get ready to fight all his life.

The moment they were alone Carson hopped off the metal table and said, “Can I give you a hug for good luck?”

“Is it safe?”

“Most of the guys know I’m gay,” Carson said. “And I don’t give a damn anyway at this point in my life.”

Evan stood up and crossed to where he was standing. He glanced over his shoulder to make sure no one was watching. Then he put his arms around Carson’s shoulders, kissed him on the lips, and said, “This is more exciting than I thought it would be. I’m glad I came.” Carson had put his arms around Evan and he could feel the red boxing gloves pressed against his back.

“I’m glad you came,” Carson said. “I reserved a ringside seat for you.”

Evan almost laughed. He never would have guessed anyone would have reserved a ringside seat for him in a place like this. But he knew they couldn’t remain embraced this way for a long time, so he stepped back and said, “I’ve always been curious about one thing.”

“What’s that?”

“What do you guys wear under your shorts?”

Carson sent him a seductive smile. “Why don’t you see for yourself?” He moved his hips forward and said, “Take a look.”

Evan hesitated for a second, and then he reached out and pulled the waistband on Carson’s boxing shorts. When he glanced down into Carson’s shorts, he saw something that looked like a black jock strap, but it was thicker and padded. “I’ve never seen one of those before.” He reached into his shorts and grabbed it to see if it felt as soft as it looked.

“It’s a groin protector,” Carson said.

Evan gently released Carson’s waistband and patted his crotch. “I’m glad you’re wearing it, because I wouldn’t want anything bad to happen to such a nice groin.”

 After that, Carson asked his trainer to take Evan out to his seat where he could wait for the match to begin. The room had filled up by then and he found himself in a crowd of people murmuring their expectations. Some were cheering for “The Dog,” which was Carson. Others were cheering for someone they referred to as “Ice Man.” Though Evan had no idea what any of them were talking about, he picked up a few things that were helpful. He learned that the man they called the referee seemed to be the judge and he decided what worked and what didn’t while The Dog and Ice Man were fighting. And they fought in rounds, which he figured were intervals between fighting sessions. In his mind, with his limited knowledge of boxing, it all seemed so uncomplicated he sat back, crossed is legs, and waited for the fight to begin. He wished he’d thought ahead to bring a snack. He hadn’t eaten anything all day.  

But when the match started and he saw how hard Carson had to fight to compete against the guy they called Ice Man, he started shouting and screaming along with everyone else. This Ice guy was huge and mean looking, with a big round bald head, massive feet stuffed into blue ankle high athletic shoes, and a long hook nose. His eyebrows pointed down in a natural way that made Evan wonder if they ever went up, and his small beady eyes were set closely together. Every time he threw a punch at Carson, Evan’s heart stopped beating and he felt a pull between his legs.

By the twelfth round, Carson’s lip was bleeding, his body drenched in sweat, and he wasn’t hopping around with the same energy with which he’d started the match. He was swaggering now, as if forcing himself to remain on his feet. In the same respect, Carson had thrown a few good punches of his own and the big ugly Ice Man wasn’t bouncing around as much anymore either. At that point, Evan just wanted it to be over. He didn’t care who won. He felt like running up to the ring, jumping over the ropes, and kicking the Ice Man in the nuts.

He almost got into a fist fight himself during the last round. Carson made a move and the referee made each fighter go back to his corner for a moment. Evan had no idea what had happened or why the referee had done this. But he overheard the woman next to him turn to the man next to her say, “That fucking Dog is a fucking waste. Ice Man’s gonna kill him.” She dropped her g’s. She was a big one, too, with bleached frizzy mullet and a hot pink sweat suit. She also looked as if she’d seen the inside of one too many tanning beds.

Evan gave her a good shove with his elbow that almost knocked her off her army boots.

She grabbed him by the collar and said, “What the fuck?”

He pushed her back and said, “It was an accident. Calm down, asshole.”

“Who you callin asshole, asshole,” she shouted.

 He wanted to grab her by the back of the head and drag her into the ring, but Carson and the Ice Man started fighting again and Evan and the woman both forgot why they were arguing. This time it didn’t last long. When Carson started to sway back and forth, Evan had a bad feeling. The Ice Man had thrown the last punch and it seemed to have knocked poor Carson senseless. The woman next to Evan screamed, “Kill’em Ice man,” and Evan flung her a look. Then the Ice man lifted his arm again and tried to swing. But at the final moment, when no one expected it, Carson dodged the punch, turned around, and threw his own punch. He hit the Ice Man square on the jaw and knocked him down for the count.

When the fight was over and Carson was declared the winner, Carson’s trainer came over to Evan and said, “He told me to tell you to wait out here for him. He said he wouldn’t be long.”

Evan had been biting the inside of his mouth the entire time. He wanted to see how Carson was after such a brutal match. But he didn’t want to overstep. He nodded and said, “Tell him I’ll be out front waiting near the door.”

An hour later, Evan glanced up from a game he’d been playing on his phone and he saw Carson coming toward him. Evan had been in the front room of the gym, in a section that looked like a waiting area with a couple of folding chairs, a metal desk, and more grey cinder block walls. Carson was alone, carrying a gym bag, and his face was swollen. They’d put a small band aid at the corner of his lip and he wasn’t bleeding anymore. Evan stood up and met him halfway.

“Are you okay?” Evan asked. He actually looked better than Evan had thought he would look after that brutal display. If Evan had been up there in the ring with that Ice Man he would have been in the emergency room now begging for pain killers.

Carson tried to smile, but he couldn’t because of the band aid. “I’m good. Thanks for waiting so long. They had to patch a few things up back there.” He laughed and made a joke out of it.

At a closer glance, Evan could see his swollen eye. “You poor thing.”

“I won,” Carson said. He didn’t seem concerned about his eye.

“I know, but look at you.”

Carson waved him off. “This is nothing. I’ve been in worse shape. I actually feel good. Let’s go out and do something. You probably didn’t eat yet.”

Evan took his arm and said, “Oh no. I’m taking you back home right now. You need to soak in a hot tub and put some ice on that eye to get the swelling down.” He thought it was nice that Carson wanted to go out, but there was no way he’d take him out in that condition. The man needed rest.

As Evan led him out the front door, Carson didn’t object and he didn’t pursue going out. This time Carson let Evan escort him to the corner, hail a cab, and help him into the backseat. When the driver pulled away from the curb, Evan’s phone rang. It was Kenny. He’d called to tell him he was at Zack’s house for the night and he would be home around noon the next day. When he asked how Evan’s evening at the fights had been, Evan smiled and said, “It was amazing. He won. You should have seen the big guy he beat up, too. I’ve never seen anything like it before.”

Kenny didn’t sound all that impressed; he didn’t ask Evan where he was either. He hesitated for a moment, sighed aloud, and said, “I’ll see you in the morning, dad. Love you.”