Why the Trolls Will Always Win


Andrew Auernheimer - mug shot, Fayetteville Police

Andrew Auernheimer – mug shot, Fayetteville Police

Kathy Sierra built an exceptional career in technology developing video games, teaching Java programming for Sun Microsystems Masterclasses and writing books. A female success story in an otherwise male dominated field. That is, up until 2007 when she abruptly left public life, cancelled her career, and even fled her home. She did that because a sustained harassment campaign comprised of death and rape threats, threats against her family, fabricated claims of prostitution, and a false claim that she had issued a DMCA takedown to stifle the free speech of critics. In the face of this organized onslaught she tried to hold on, to take a stand and fight the good fight. But when the harassment culminated in the public release of her private address and Social Security Number, a technique known as Doxxing, she bolted in fear for her and her family’s lives.

It turned out a man named Andrew Auernheimer had been responsible for having harassed Sierra. Known as ‘Weev’ online, he admitted it in a 2008 New York Times story on Internet Trolls. There, he spoke to the lengths at which he and his cohorts went to discredit and destroy Sierra.

Over a candlelit dinner of tuna sashimi, Weev asked if I would attribute his comments to Memphis Two, the handle he used to troll Kathy Sierra, a blogger. Inspired by her touchy response to online commenters, Weev said he “dropped docs” on Sierra, posting a fabricated narrative of her career alongside her real Social Security number and address. This was part of a larger trolling campaign against Sierra, one that culminated in death threats.

Now, seven years later, Kathy Sierra’s returned with a long form essay titled, Why the Trolls Will Always Win. Part explanation for why she’d left and part call-to action against the danger of online harassment against women, she argues decent people must organize. Because the situation has grown much more serious since she went into hiding all those years ago. Trolls have stepped up their game. Beyond the mere threat of Doxxing, which acts by threatening to incite physical violence from random crazies with a screw loose, malicious trolls have taken to SWATting. This is a so-called ‘prank’ where harassers call police and make false accusations to induce a SWAT raid. One prominent example is that of game developer Chris Kootra. Last month, while simply playing a video game, Kootra was surprised by a SWAT raid with officers forcefully entering his business with guns drawn.

For the lulz. SWAT raid Kootra’s office after a false tip.

Kootra had the presence of mind to raise his hands and offer no resistance. But had he made the slightest mistake, say reaching in his pocket unexpectedly, he could have been killed. There is also the troubling trend of trolls developing malicious software intended to harm victims directly. For example, posting images on epilepsy forums which flicker at rates known to induce epileptic seizure. Given that Sierra is epileptic herself, this kind of harmful trolling hits home personally. She writes:

[While not photo-sensitive], I have a deep understanding of the horror of seizures, and the dramatically increased chance of death and brain damage many of us with epilepsy live with, in my case, since the age of 4. FYI, deaths related to epilepsy in the US are roughly equal with deaths from breast cancer. There isn’t a shred of doubt in my mind that if the troll hackers could find a way to increase your risk of breast cancer? They’d do it. Because what’s better than lulz? Lulz with BOOBS. Yeah, they’d do it.

And yet Auernheimer, the man who put her through all this horror, has for entirely different reasons become a kind of ‘Net cause célèbre of Internet freedom. He attracted the attention of federal authorities after having committed a hack against AT&T where he’d obtained the email addresses of tens of thousands of iPad users. Authorities pursued a case and in due course he was convicted, ultimately sentenced to 41 months in federal prison for identity fraud and conspiracy to access a computer without authorization. Many thought this conviction and sentence an egregious of online freedom. Attracting support from the Electronic Frontier Foundation and prominent Georgia University Law Professor Tor Ekeland, the two worked together to craft an appeal and overturn Auernheimer’s conviction. In April 2014, they succeeded and Auernheimer is now free.

Ekeland wasn’t the only one bothered by the government’s case. Even Kathy Sierra disagreed. Yet she’s appalled that somehow she’d been dragged into supporting the very man who’d abused her.

But you all know what happened next. Something something something horrifically unfair government case against him and just like that, he becomes tech’s “hacktivist hero.” He now had A Platform not just in the hacker/troll world but in the broader tech community I was part of. … But hard as I tried to find a ray of hope that the case against him was, somehow, justified and that he deserved, somehow, to be in prison for this, oh god I could not find it. I could not escape my own realization that the cast against him was wrong. So wrong. And not just wrong, but wrong in a way that puts us all at risk.

Tor Ekeland, in recent commentary at Wired, continues to defend Auernheimer as having been wronged by an overzealous prosecution, the precedent of which would have had significant ramifications for ‘Net freedom:

…the crucial issue here is not weev or his ideas but the future of criminal computer law in the U.S. You may think weev is an asshole. But being an asshole is not a crime, and neither is obtaining unsecured information from publicly facing servers.

Which leaves Sierra lamenting that Auernheimer still hasn’t been charged and convicted for what she considers his real crime of harassment, crimes that harmed her and countless others. Where’s the justice? Inciting violence and dissemination of ‘fighting words’ is not free speech. Yet, as she admits, unless you’re a celebrity you’re “…more likely to win the lottery than get any law enforcement agency to take action.” So there is none. “We are on our own,” she laments. “And if we don’t take care of one another, nobody else will.”

So she came back to push back, to push back against prominent journalists and notable members in Tech who conflate prosecutorial violations of due process with the right to disseminate harassment and cruelty.

I came back because I believe this sent a terrible, devastating message about what was acceptable. … To push back on the twist and spin. I believed the fine-grained distinctions mattered. I pushed back because I believed I was pushing back on the implicit message that women would be punished for speaking out. I pushed back because almost nobody else was, and it seemed like so many people in tech were basically OK with that.

Auernheimer, for his part, remains unapologetic. Responding to Sierra on Livejournal, he writes:

Yesterday Kathy Sierra (a.k.a. seriouspony), a mentally ill woman, continued to accuse me on her blog of leading some sort of harassment campaign against her by dropping her dox (information related to identify and location) on the Internet. … Kathy Sierra has for years acted like a toddler, throwing tantrums and making demands whenever things didn’t go her way. She rejects any presentation of polite criticism or presentation of evidence as some sort of assault on her. She was the blueprint for women like Zoe Quinn and Anita Sarkeesian, who also feign victimhood for financial and social gain. Kathy Sierra is the epitome of what is wrong with my community. She had something coming to her and by the standards set by her own peers in the social justice community, there was nothing wrong with what she got.

Some people never change.


Note: Originally posted at Slashdot.

James Bamford Releases DOJ Report on NSA Warrantless Wiretapping from 1976

Investigative Journalist James Bamford knows a thing or two more than some believe he should about the National Security Agency. Across his more than three-decade long career digging muck out of exactly those places U.S. government intelligence agencies preferred he wouldn’t tread, he’s published five books and over eighty press reports. At times, this made for some tense confrontations with intelligence officials from an organization once so secret even few members of Congress knew of its existence. 

For the last several years public focus on the NSA has been on Bush and Obama era reports of illicit domestic spying. From allegations of warrantless wiretapping reported by James Risen in 2005 to secret documents released to journalists at The Guardian by Edward Snowden a year ago. And smack in the middle, Bamford’s 2012 revelation of the existence of a huge, exabyte-capable data storage facility then under construction in Bluffdale, Utah.

Given all this attention on recent events, it might come as a surprise that almost forty years ago Senator Frank Church convened a congressional committee to investigate reports of unlawful activities by U.S. intelligence agencies, including illegal domestic wiretapping by the NSA. At the time, Church brought an oversight magnifying glass over what was then half-jokingly referred to as “No Such Agency.” And then, like today, James Bamford was in the thick of it, with a Snowden-like cloak-and-dagger game of spy-vs-journalist. It all began by giving testimony before the Church Committee. Writing yesterday in The Intercept, Bamford tells his firsthand historical account of what led him to testify as a direct witness to NSA’s wiretapping of domestic communications decades ago and then details the events that led to the publication of his first book The Puzzle Palace back in 1982.Read on for more.

Bamford writes:

…during the summer of 1975, as reports began leaking out from the Church Committee, I was surprised to learn that the NSA was claiming that it had shut down all of its questionable operations a year and a half earlier. Surprised because I knew the eavesdropping on Americans had continued at least into the prior fall, and may have still been going on. After thinking for a day or so about the potential consequences of blowing the whistle on the NSA—I was still in the Naval Reserve, still attending drills one weekend a month, and still sworn to secrecy with an active NSA clearance—I nevertheless decided to call the Church Committee.

But he didn’t stop at the witness stand. Afterward, he continued researching the matter for a book. And the further he dug, the more waves he made. Until someone slipped him a then recently declassified copy of a 1976 Justice Department memo [PDF] detailing a criminal investigation into illicit domestic spying by the NSA. But when agency officials discovered he had that document they took extraordinary measures attempting to get it back. They threatened to prosecute under the 1917 Espionage Act and retroactively reclassified the memo to squelch its contents.

Fearing someone might break into his home and steal the manuscript, Bamford arranged to transport and secure a copy outside of U.S. jurisdiction with a colleague at the Sunday Times of London. It was only upon the 1982 publication ofPuzzle Palace that the agency dropped their pursuit of Bamford and his document as a lost cause. That’s at least one stark difference between then and today when it comes to whistleblowers — back then, they merely threatened espionage charges.

Yogi Berra famously once said, “It’s like Deja Vu all over again.” And though the Yankees’ star wasn’t speaking of illicit domestic wiretaps by the national security state, given a comparison of recent revelations to those detailed by Bamford decades earlier the quote certainly fits. In telling his story of how he published details about the last NSA Merry-Go-Round with warrantless wiretapping, Bamford shows us that our recent troubles of lawless surveillance aren’t so unique. It’s deja-vu all over again. But if deja vu is like a waking dream, this seems more a recurring nightmare for a body-politic lured to snoring slumber by a siren-song of political passivity.

That old Justice Department memo isn’t likely to wake the public from their slumber. But within its pages is a stark warning we all should have heeded. As Bamford notes in that Intercept story, the report’s conclusion that NSA lawlessness stems straight from the birth of the agency suggests a constitutional conflict systemic and intentional.

…the NSA’s top-secret “charter” issued by the Executive Branch, exempts the agency from legal restraints placed on the rest of the government. “Orders, directives, policies, or recommendations of any authority of the Executive branch relating to the collection … of intelligence,” the charter reads, “shall not be applicable to Communications Intelligence activities, unless specifically so stated.” This so-called “birth certificate,” the Justice Department report concluded, meant the NSA did not have to follow any restrictions placed on electronic surveillance “unless it was expressly directed to do so.” In short, the report asked, how can you prosecute an agency that is above the law?



This story originally appeared on Slashdot

Fired NY Fed Regulator’s Secret Audio Recordings Inside Goldman Sachs

Carmen Segarra. Image by Nabil Rahman for ProPublica)

Carmen Segarra. Image by Nabil Rahman for ProPublica)

Carmen Segarra used to work as a regulator for the New York Federal Reserve Bank, one of twelve regional banks that make up the US central banking system. In her capacity as regulator, Ms. Segarra was assigned to a team overseeing investment banking giant Goldman Sachs. There, while investigating a case of Goldman having advisied a client about a buyout offer by another company in which the firm held significant investment holdings, she determined that Goldman didn’t even have a conflict of interest policy. Her supervisor initially backed the investigation, until it became clear she meant to file a written report detailing her findings of fact. Then they abruptly fired her.

And all this would have been another unfortunate case of ‘she-said / institution-said’ ineffective whistleblowing were it not for the fact that Ms. Segarra saw what was coming and had bought a keychain audio recorder. With it, she collected 46 hours of internal discussion and meetings, including statements by Goldman Sachs principles admitting the firm didn’t have a conflict of interest policy and that the deal under investigation had been “shady.” Additionally, she collected reams of documents and testimony. She thought her case iron clad.

However, when it came time to reveal her findings in full to superiors, though initially supportive of the investigation, her boss quickly shifted gears and worked to squelch the report. This culminated in a recorded meeting where her boss made clear his supervisors at the Fed insisted she downplay those findings. Then, a week later, before she could formally file the report, they fired her.

While bits of the story have been out in print for about a year, the radio show This American Life just published actual excerpts from those audio recordings. They make for harrowing listening. As the producer says in the introduction, her recordings show: “Repeated examples of pervasive regulatory capture by the industry regulators are meant to oversee.”

In other words, whereas before we could all surmise just how bad banking regulation must be, what with the Financial Crisis having nearly tanked the world economy and all, with this audio we can hear first hand and in minute detail what it’s like for an honest regulator to try to do the job properly: You get fired. Quickly. Then your embarrassing work is buried and reputation smeared. And if she’d just kept her mouth shut, she coulda gotten rich! This, at the very heart of the global financial system.

Is it any wonder why the public has lost faith in our political and economic institutions?

Dear Aggrieved and Beleaguered Old-Sk00l Gamers

She's Purdy. I Should Threaten to Kill Her.

She’s Purdy. I Should Threaten to Kill Her.

For those with lives too busy to bother following mini-scandals in the gaming industry, Chris Plante of Polygon recaps a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad week for the community as a whole. Little ‘ol unknown me will list the events, as did he, because they’re so outrageous they warrant repeating:

1. Old-sk00l gamers, opposed to structural shifts in the industry, used Youtube, Reddit, twitter, 4chan, and an assortment of channels to distribute defamatory and private correspondence about a sexual matter between one purple-haired female indie-developer and her chagrined dirty-laundry-tell-all ex-boyfriend. The ex claimed that of several she’d slept with while they were together, one is a gaming journalist. This got a contingent of the gamer community up in arms over supposed systemic corruption within gaming journalism. Ostensibly because that journalist might have posted positive reviews of her freely available game in a sex-for reviews quid-pro-quo, and thereby promoted not just the game but her feminist values as well.

2. A friend of this purple-haired indie-game-dev chick, Phil Fish, an indie-dev himself, tweeted a note of support for her. In response, someone hacked his twitter account and web site. He wasn’t pleased about that.

3. In a separate matter, feminist vlogger Anita Sarkeesian released another of her videos on Tropes Versus Women in Videogames on Youtube. There’s been a history of vehement opposition to her work, with death and rape threats, harassment, and general trolling. And this week, it happened again.

 Screen shot 2014-08-29 at 10.46.54 AM

Someone messaged her with death threats against her and her family, including her home address to make it clear they were serious. She and her family left home in fear for their lives. The story’s all over the news. Real classy.

4. It seems old-Sk00l kids don’t like Sony either. A bomb threat diverted a flight carrying Sony Online Entertainment President John Smedley. And someone engaged in a denial of service attack that shut down the Sony Playstation Network.

5. And yesterday, someone called the police and made a false report about game developer Chris Kootra. As a result, a SWAT team invaded his company offices with guns drawn. One false move and he could have been killed.

swatted’. Authorities call it a felony.

After Plante finished summarizing these sorry events he concluded:


This week, it should be clear to this community that games are at a cultural turning point. No longer are games designed, marketed and sold to a niche group of young men. … More games are being created by more people for more people than ever before.

Which is right. But I wish Plante had also focused on the business side of this cultural transition in gaming. It’s more than just a cause of social righteousness. Because, as the PBS NewsHour reported, women now outnumber teenage boys as a market demographic buying games.

Adolescent boys are widely considered to be one of, if not the most, sought-after demographic by game development studios, but the uptick of female gamers could be a signal of changes to come. Mobile ad firm Flurry Analytics found that on on the whole, women presented a much larger value proposition to game developers in terms of revenue and brand engagement. [link in original]

That’s a fact seemingly ignored by just about everyone, journalists and both pro and anti feminist gaming activists alike. Instead, the focus is on media personalities.

Anita Sarkeesian versus Thunderf00t. Or, InternetAristocrat versus [unnamed female indie-dev-chick with purple hair]. This personalized conflict mobilizes the masses on each side, drawing viewership, building audience, fanning comment flame wars. Anti-social-justice-warriors claim Sarkeesian incites trolls to attack her and thus build a sympathetic audience, all while disseminating salacious and sometimes defamatory material about their opponents to do just the same. Both sides get more views as the controversy escalates. Wash, rinse, repeat.

But lately, the anti-social-justice warriors have used the scandal with this purple-haired-indie-dev chick, and revelations about her private life, to elevate the matter to one of supposed journalistic ethics. Taking reports from the ex-BF detailing her relationship with this other journalist and concluding that an alleged sex-for-game-review quid-pro-quo had occurred. Thus, to them, here was proof of widespread ‘journalistic corruption’ in the gaming press.

Are you fucking kidding me?

You needed to reveal details of some purple-haired-chick’s private sex life to make the case that for-profit media companies print public relations and help their advertising customers maximize sales? You conclude ‘journalistic corruption’ because one journalist might have released a bogus positive review of a game that’s given away for free?

And this is your case for corrupt journalism?

Rob Simple’s blog presents a well written argument for that position (I like Rob’s blog). He also includes a hoard of down the rabbit-hole crazy-facts-that-don’t-matter about that female developer whom I shan’t name, so go there for the digs. But, getting to the core issue of this so-called journalistic ethics debate, and what to do to save gaming journalism, he concludes:

Honestly, I don’t think it needs saving. It needs [to be] euthanised.

I’m sorry, euthanizing the gaming press is your solution? Never mind that it’s no solution, just how do you implement it? Are you going to take out the entire gaming press with a carefully aimed BFG shot? I’m sure the industry is – ahem – quaking in their boots.

Look, gaming journalism isn’t a morass of industry collusion because some unknown green-haired indie-game-dev-chick may have gotten one or more unfair positive reviews for a free game. As Totalbiscuit eloquently points out, the real issue is a gaming public being repeatedly snookered by misleading public relations campaigns for shitty commercial products. With supposedly objective reviewers trading inside access to promote a hype machine about an ever present unbearably desirable new. And those gaming media outlets thus raking in ad revenue cash in the process. All that to hawk $60 pieces of unfinished garbage. And you facilitate all this. Feminists gaming press is a side issue.

There’s an argument I’ll buy. Totalbiscuit, I salute you.

You want to talk real corruption in journalism? The field is a mess everywhere these days. Some examples that dwarf little things like video games: Stephen Glass, Jayson Blair, Margaret Wente, Jonah Lehrer, Gerald Posner, and more – all disgraced for publishing false quotes and/or printing plagiarism. A Poyntr study reported that in 2012 alone, a total of thirty-one known instances of reporters fabricating quotes or plagiarizing sources had been revealed.

Here’s some more: In the lead up to the Iraq War, Judith Miller, of The New York Times, wrote numerous hard news articles using anonymous quotes by Bush administration officials that turned out to be false. The Times’ editors squelched James Risen’s report on Warrantless Wiretapping at the request of Bush Administration officials during the ’04 election cycle, thus impacting the election itself. Scott Shane’s NY Times reports in 2010-11 that cited unnamed CIA sources who smeared the London Bureau of Investigative Reporting’s work documenting Afghan civilian casualties, falsely calling it a Pakistani Intelligence operation. And let’s not forget Dan Rather’s report that used a falsified document purporting to supposedly prove George Bush’s draft dodging. Or Lara Logan’s CBS News 60 Minutes flawed report on Benghazi citing an anonymous source that turned out to have lied about his background and uttered false claims on camera.

I could go on and on with more examples, but those were stories of national and international import. More than just disseminating false public relations and corporate propaganda to sell newly released or pre-release commercial games, but shit nations go to war over.

OK, so agreed – ethics in journalism is seriously fucked up. But then so is this idiotic example of a random purple-haired-chick used as some grand cause célèbre for ferreting out ‘systemic journalistic corruption.’

You gotta be fucking kidding me.

Totalbiscuit’s discussion of big gaming companies wresting bogus reviews for pre-orders and shitty games seems a more viable target. That is, if you want to hit upon the core of bad journalistic and commercial media practices. Because no for-profit media company would put their reputation on the line and disseminate false reviews of certain free games merely to promote a social agenda. That’s nuts. No, they’d want more. A big advertising contract. Insider access for a juicy story sure to draw audience. SHOW ME THE MONEY.

These are the things that move media business. So I’ll put it in stark terms:

No mere social movement alone has EVER shifted the media landscape in a multi-billion dollar industry.

  • Though green-warriors have sat in trees, though they spiked trunks and marched on logging companies, splendid forests are still felled.
  • Though anti-fracking activists have showed their sink faucets spewing fire before cameras, though they march on fracking sites and organized countless anti-fracking campaigns, those big-bad energy companies still squirt chemicals into the ground and bottle up natural gas for sale.
  • Though whales are magnificent creatures with large brains who sing beautiful songs, and though a cheesy Star Trek movie sympathetic to their plight might have tugged at nerd hearts if nerds had one, and even after a Save the Whales bumper sticker craze lit up the ’70s like an old roach, the damn things are still stuck with harpoons, dragged onto whaling ships and taken to market to be eaten by hungry Japanese.
  • And the civil rights movement? Really? #ferguson

You anti-social-justice-activists plain have it wrong. Journalists aren’t colluding with game developers to force social justice themes on buyers of games. No business has ever cared about social justice. They collude with big players to sell shitty products and attract advertising revenue.

Got that? It’s about MONEY.

As told in that PBS article on women gamers having overtaken teenage boys as buyers, this tells the tale of a demographic shift affecting product and press. So does Anita Sarkeesian and the +200,000 followers on her Youtube channel. These are leading indicators of a potential lucrative market the gaming industry wants to tap. Let’s be honest, these companies are more interested in exploiting new markets than furthering the cause of the exploitation of women. All this hoopla about chick-games is an industry tailoring new product to suit new buyers. Not some great awakening of social conscience by a once misogynistic now reformed industry.

They do it because it will make them richer.

And all ya’ll old-Sk00l gamers are a tapped out and maximized market. How much more growth opportunity do you present?

Ya’ll won’t change this market transformation by loudly complaining on Youtube, Reddit, /v/ and elsewhere. Or engaging in illegal guerrilla tactics like threatening the life of a feminist culture critic, smearing a purple-haired indie-dev-chick by disseminating details of her private life, hacking a corporate gaming network and making bomb threats at an airport to piss off one of their executives, and certainly not by calling in a SWAT team on some random game developer. That shit will simply destroy your credibility and attract notice of very pissed off authorities with real guns and a long memory.

You’re doing it wrong, kids.


NOTE: This entry was originally posted at WordPress.com.