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July 09, 2008

Comments

Brock Meeks

Of course, this whole episode could be called "When Really Smart People Attack." The WELL community pioneered "crowd-sourcing," and it was a world apart from being a "...pre-cursor to the current circle jerk of tech bloggers who constantly affirm each other in their own special enlightened world." Members of the WELL could, at any given moment, tear each other apart, and frequently did.

My own publication, CyberWire Dispatch, which did the award-winning investigative stories on this Time magazine/Marty Rimm fiasco, was born on the WELL and I can tell you, when I got some wrong or slightly wrong, it felt like being hit by a shark attack. No, the WELL was not a cozy, safe-harbor of self-affirming masturbatory geeks.

Long before the Marty Rimm episode, WELL members debuted their "crowd-sourcing" chops when they stepped in to help me thwart a hoax by the infamous prankster Joey Skaggs. Skaggs thought it would be a treat to take his well-honed media humiliation "performance art" routine into Cyberspace. It didn't work. I actually did what any good reporter should do, I checked out the facts and found out they were bogus.

I was reporting step-by-step into a WELL conference (think of it as a forerunner of the Tweeter meme). A couple WELL members suggested the whole escapade sounded like something Skaggs would do. So, I hunted down that lead, using suggestions gleaned from others on the WELL and we busted him.

See a small account here: http://strom.com/pubwork/wireart.html

The point is, there was no glad-handing and backslapping; no incestuous congratulations. Just a bunch of heads up, technologically-savvy people putting their collective heads together.

One final note: Rimm was never heard from again, to my knowledge. None of the facts presented in my stories, nor facts uncovered by WELL members, were ever proven to be false... so much for DeWitt's self-serving, save-my-own-ass, statements about Rimm or the faked study not getting a "fair trial."

You know, I'm just saying...

Sean Garrett

Brock:

Fair enough.

Perhaps it will feel better to know that I secretly envied the coolness and the mystery of The Well, but still clung to my AOL account circa 1993-1995.

Now, I make fun of people on Twitter.

But, mostly, thanks for the added retrospective. The stories you could tell. And should. (Book?)

BTW, I randomly noticed today that DeWitt is now covering Apple.

-Sean

Seth Finkelstein

Hey, I "was there".

I could probably find that retraction somewhere in my archived files.

I also dissent about the "When Communities Attack" - as I recall, that was one of the lines floated to dismiss the debunking of the supposed study.

Philip Elmer-DeWitt did get extensively flamed, but it was all factually grounded. And it never affected him as far as I ever saw.

Ah, memories:

In article ped@well.com (Philip Elmer-DeWitt) writes:
>I know damn well that's why I was targeted. I'll carry the Cyberporn
>albatross around my neck until the day I die. ...

And I had done an hellish thing,
And it would work 'em woe:
For all would bet, I had killed The Net
That made the info blow.
Ah wretch! said they, The Net to slay
That made the info flow!

Ah! well a-day! what evil looks
Had I from old and young!
Instead of the cross, the Marty Rimm dross
About my neck was hung.

Seth Finkestein, _The Rime of the Ancient Time Editor_, with apologies to Samuel Coleridge.

Andrew Feinberg

It's much more challenging to make fun of someone in 140 characters or less.

L Jean

This case does NOT show the dark side of the abusive behaviors we have seen on the network. Rimm's research was found to be flawed and his methods disingenuous. And that is a gracious description. He graduated, got a job, and never spent a night in fear. His home address was not posted. No one was encouraged to torture or assault him.

Compare this with vicious attacks by Malkin on a 12 year old, or the posting of home addresses with encouragement of acts of violence against women bloggers.

Guy forced to defend his flawed research != calls for and threats of violence against with home addresses. This is a dangerous false equivalence.

By comparing these two you trivialize the very real barriers to participation created by targeting of individual voices who do not have access to law schools, CMU or Senatorial staffs looking to push through their anti-sex agendas.

sean garrett

L Jean:

You wrote "you trivialize the very real barriers to participation created by targeting of individual voices who do not have access to law schools, CMU or Senatorial staffs looking to push through their anti-sex agendas."

I apologize if the post came off that way. I don't think most readers of this post or blog would think that I am siding with the "anti-sex" wing or religious right wing nuts, in general.

My point that I was trying to make was that this incident has many, many foreshadowings of future skirmishes. Not all of them are pretty (for all sides). But, I do take the point (made by others) that "the community" certainly had it right in this case. It is how they swarmed and had impact in the early years of the Web that is the seminal example.

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