Is magical disappearing ink also a form of hacking?


This week's Deleted Comments column is unusual in that no comments were actually deleted, although there was far greater drama than in the average deletia, and a commenter did end up getting tapped with the Banhammer of Loving Correction (© and ™ John Scalzi). Also, we're pretty certain it's the very first time anyone's ever attempted to sic the National Security Agency on Yr Wonkette.

Our little fuck-tussle grew out of a small comment in our recent story about a rightwing lady who thought Paul Ryan's beard is a manly signifier announcing Republican wimpiness is a thing of the past. User "Joe" posted a comment that was definitely a no-no under Wonkette's Rules for Commenting Radicals, and which was flagged for moderation:

Let's face it: Ryan is super sexy. I'd do him. But after that, I would have no remorse for killing him instantly. Main reason I don't own a gun.

Yr Humble Comments Moderator jumped in with a warning, which seems awfully generous, and in retrospect, turned out to be far more goddamn trouble than simply deleting the comment would have been:

This is skating on the thin ice of the rules. Please review 'em to ensure a safe and happy Wonkette.

Yr Friendly Neighborhood Comments Moderator.

"Joe" replied with not one, but two comments, one of which attempted to justify the funny joke about wanting to murder Paul Ryan dead, and another which repeated the desire to see him killed to death:

  • Every day in the news some new born again preacher talks about killing all the gay people and/or liberals.
  • Thank you. I'm not a threat to him. I'll just be happy when someone takes care of it

We replied to both, in slightly different ways. To the first, we explained that, just as Your Mom always said, we try not to descend to the level of the bullies, which is why we have the rules in the first place. "Joe" petulantly agreed: "If I decide to post again, I will follow your rules."

Ah, but when we saw the second comment breaking the very same rule "Joe" had been warned about, we rolled our eyes, clicked our Special Comment Moderator Button, and made some amusing edits to the comment, so as to warn that we actually do take our "don't yearn for the deaths of political opponents" rule serious-like:

Hi! I was directed to read the Rules for Commenting Radicals, then came right back and said I wasn't threatening to kill Paul Ryan, but that "I'll just be happy when someone takes care of it." I apparently didn't understand what "No wishing or ideating on physical threats to those with whom you disagree" means, so I turned around and did exactly that. I think now I will go and re-read the rules so that the Moderators do not modify my comments further. I sure would hate to have my commenting privileges revoked over a silly misunderstanding!

[Comment edited by Dok Zoom, yr Friendly Neighborhood Comments Moderator]

"Joe" was displeased. We invite you to head on over to the comment thread to witness the full ugly spectacle as it played out, but for now, we'll simply post a sampling of "Joe's" multiple disgruntlements:

  • Someone posted as me. I did not post this. That is illegal.
  • Posting as me is hacking, and it's illegal.
  • How dare you write that and post it in my name. That is illegal. I'm warning everyone I know on Twitter and Facebook to unsubscribe from Wonkette.
  • I'm going to file a complaint with the FCC. And I've just informed all my 500+ Twitter followers what you did.

Crom knows we tried to explain to "Joe" that editing a comment is not hacking, particularly when the modified comment is clearly labeled as having been edited; we explained that the Disqus commenting system (like most such systems) gives moderators the means to edit comments, and we even went back into the comment to boldface the note about it having been edited by Yr Dok Zoom. For good measure, we added a bolded "edited comment:" note before the modified comment (still later, we even added the text of the original comment). "Joe" was not placated, because we had marred his precious words, stolen his identity, and made him appear to say words that absolutely no one reading them would be likely to think were his, even with the first-person "I was a rule-violating doofus who ignored the rules" stuff. We even linked to Disqus's help site for blog moderators, noting that it explains exactly how moderators can do what we did:

We also pointed out, several times, that "Joe" still had full control over his account: if he wanted to delete the offending comment, he could do so at any time. He could even edit it to read "Doktor Zoom is a poopyhead and a meanie."

This, apparently, was insufficient.

  • I filed the FCC complaint online. If I have the wrong governmental entity, I"m sure they will direct me to the correct one. I don't care what you say. You have no right to add a paragraph of comments to my post, then post it as if they are my comments. Let's see what the government says.
  • If you don't want to post what I write, then don't. It's your web site. But do not ever post something in my name that I did not write. Be careful what you write in "Shitferbrains." Libel comes at a great cost, and it's only defense is truth.

"Joe" also replied to the offending, modified, and clearly-labeled-as-modified comment:

  • I wrote none of this. This is the moderator's personal shit. He posted this using my account without my permission. I've filed a complaint with the FCC for theft of account, use of account without authorization, and invasion of privacy. I'll fix his silly ass.
  • Nobody gets away with using MY personal account to post THEIR personal shit without my permission. Not if I can fight it. He can post whatever he wants from his own fucking account.

Mind you, we're also very well aware that we might have nipped this in the bud by deleting the modified comment ourselves the first time "Joe" complained; we're not certain, however, since he also copied it down and later said he wanted the comment to remain as "evidence" for the Feds to examine. As "Joe" escalated, however, we'll admit we decided to simply keep watching in horrified fascination at just how far he'd take the matter, and yes, we poked him a few times, like saying that we were simply on tenterhooks waiting to hear from the FCC. We also weren't especially concerned that our silly ass would get fixed, seeing as how, in the expert opinion of Our Editrix, "it's our blog, and you labeled it and SHUT THE FUCK UP JESUS CHRIST."

In some of his final blurtings on Wonkette, "Joe," who said that he's a former lawyer, laid out his case against us:

  • I know exactly what you did. You inserted your own comments into a post I trusted you with. Then you posted it. The effect is exactly the same as if you hacked into my account. My pic and my name indicate the words are mine, albeit with some unspecified editing. This is exactly what the post would had looked like if you used my username and password. It makes no difference how you did it. You used my account to post your own shit without my permission. Adding a paragraph of your own comments is not editing for incompatible content. You abused your authority and my trust. And I will make you regret betraying my trust.
  • Through my submission of a post, you had access and ability to post in my name without my permission. By submitting a post, I gave you the right to edit. I did not give you the right to insert a paragraph of YOUR shit and post it as my comments. Every poster to the web site gives you the ability to to add whatever you want and post it. You can write any damn thing you want into someone else's post. You can write ISIS terrorist conversation into someone's post, that will bring the NSA to someone's front door. You can tell any lie you want and post it in the poster's name. That is abuse of your authority, and in effect is unauthorized use of and/or theft of my personal property-my account is my personal intangible property. You abused my trust, and your authority. Your problem is you start typing before you start thinking. Not everyone on this web site thinks you are fucking funny all the time.
  • Every single poster here gives you extraordinary access to their personal account when they submit a post, as you have so adequately demonstrated. People do this because they trust Wonkette and its moderators to act responsibly and ethically. You abused that trust today when you posted that rant using access to my account. Then when I complained to you, you refused to admit your abusive action, you blamed me for not deleting the post, and you posted comments demeaning my concerns to humiliate me in front of all the readers. Now NOT ONE READER can reasonably trust you to act ethically when they submit a post. You are not qualified to hold your job. You have sullied the reputation of Wonkette. The next time you are not in the mood to think, you should just shut the fuck up.

"Joe" actually makes a pretty useful point in there: It would indeed be abusive of a comment moderator to change people's comments to make them appear to say something illegal (such as libeling a private citizen). Thing is, we made it quite clear that the words appearing under his name were our own, what with the disclaimer and all. Also, "Joe" kind of shaded the truth there when he said that we "refused to admit your abusive action," and "blamed me for not deleting the post" -- we readily acknowledged, multiple times, that we'd modified his comment (although it's true we reject the notion that it was abusive), and our reminders that he had the ability to remove his comment weren't meant to "blame" him for anything; we simply explained that, unlike someone who's actually had their account hacked or their identity stolen, he still had full control over the account.

In the meantime, "Joe" had also mounted a multi-platform campaign to "warn" people that Wonkette is not a safe space. He added this grave advisory to almost every single one of our Facebook posts Thursday, even hijacking a post on the hung jury in Freddie Gray's murder:

People, do NOT post anything on Wonkette web stie. One of their editors just rewrote a posting of mine, put in anything he wanted to say, and posted it as if I had written it. Be careful. They can post with your account things you never said.

He also took to the Twitter machine; we've Storified the whole silly mess if you want to see how that played out. Here are a few nibbles:

He remained angry Friday, and decided he needed to take his complaint somewhere it would get the attention it deserved: The National Security Agency. As another Twitter reader noted, that probably made their day.

We should note that, as of now, nobody at Wonkette has threatened anything or broken any laws, but "Joe" has threatened a lawsuit and also to fix our ass, which is actually not out of order. Happily, he hasn't done anything illegal either. Eventually, Yr Editrix jumped in and suggested that maybe "Joe" might want to give it a rest, and that we really do not allow people to ideate about how cool it would be if people died. There was more back and forth, and finally, Rebecca said, "Dok, kindly escort Joe from the Wonkette comment premises," which was fine, because as everyone knows, Wonkette does not allow comments. "Joe" then explained Yr Dok Zoom's crimes against him:

At long last, after Rebecca fired herself, "Joe" actually heard back from the NSA and FCC, both of which let him know that the Federal Trade Commission handles complaints of identity theft. Which this wasn't, but he's filed his complaint, and sent us a copy of the complaint number, so if you wake some morning to find that this blog has a new owner, you'll know what happened.

We should note that while we've made every effort to obscure "Joe's" identity in this post, he uses what appears to be a real name in his Disqus and Twitter accounts, and while we've had fun making light of his obsession with fixing our asses, we also want to make it absolutely clear that if we find out any Wonkette readers harass or threaten "Joe," we will permanently ban them from the site. The Rules apply to everyone, which is kind of what our point was in the first place.

Also, if you tick us off, we'll change your comment to read "Twilight Sparkle is Best Pony."

Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.

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