Sunday, April 22, 2007

General Annoyance & Disgust

So. I am STILL on AOL. Yes, since 1997 when I first
became an online user. And I am here to tell you that
although I PAY for my account vis a vis a $14.95 monthly
piggyback fee that allows me a small break for using my
charter account as my main vehicle for accessing the in-
ternet and then piggybacking my AOL onto it, I should
not be paying for the current level of service provided
by AOL. Which would be, umm... None.

AOL has changed since they began offering their free ac-
counts to anyone and everyone. The service has changed.
It takes forever to resolve issues with them because they
simply no longer have the trained staffing that they used
to have. Or at least, that's my theory on why they are
doing such a terrible job.

Point in case: On April 16th, shortly after the VA TECH
shootings, I was posting on AOL's Message boards. Actually,
I was giving news updates for students who might still be
stuck in their rooms unable to leave. I figured some of
them may not have cable, but they all have computer modems,
and the campus probably has a wifi system.

People were as nasty as the people on AOL boards tend to be,
but pretty soon I noticed that others began to re: my posts
just to make sure students saw them amid the other hate-
filled posts which really weren't contributing very helpfully
to the situation. AOL's own reporting on the situation was
far behind the tv and radio news, so I hoped that students
who might be accessing message boards to get news would bene-
fit from the updates.

Let me just say that whenever I visit AOL message boards, ty-
pically not that often if I can help it, I become ever more
aware that we have become a nation of idiots. People were
griping about not getting the names of the dead fast enough
from the media. I posted in response that particularly as
VA TECH is a TECH SCHOOL, they were likely to have a fair
share of students on VISAS from other countries, making noti-
fication of family members more difficult and time-consuming
and that it would be irresponsible to start naming names only
to have a family find out about their loved one's demise on
the news instead of via proper notification.

Then a particularly nasty phenomenon, which I see often on
the message boards, began to reveal - posts which just basi-
cally slammed other races. There were apparent African-Amer-
icans rejoicing that it was "about time," that white students
became the victims of crime and virtually celebrating the
shooter's actions. Then there were counter bulletin board mes-
sages shouting racist epitaths and extremely hurtful things
against blacks (never-mind the fact that frequently AOL users
make up an "identity" and post under a false identity just to
incite such message board nastiness.) In other words, assuming
from a profile that the poster really is black just because
that poster SAYS he or she is African American is definitely
not a sure way to know what the facts are behind that poster's

We've long heard about men who post pretending to be women (and
possibly vice-versa), but people seldom pause to think that
this is not the ONLY false demographic used online. Race, age
and others frequently figure in, particularly when posters wish
to portray someone of a different race from themselves in a ne-
gative light.

However, many message board posters are far to short-sighted
and basically, well, just too stupid understand that this oc-
curs. Apparently. And they get all torqued up by the posts.

So. What I saw to be a very dangerous situation soon unfolded.
A few posters, claiming to be black, vilified the VA TECH stu-
dents with messages about how happy said posters were that they
had been shot. This incited quite a little online riot, during
which I was alarmed to see that one poster, angered over this,
had gone onto another's poster's profile to get their real name,
which was apparently present on the profile. This poster then
accessed the EXACT PHYSICAL ADDRESS of this poster and published
it ONLINE, on the message board, apparently hoping that someone
would take physical revenge on the poster due to what that per-
son had said.

I was unable to ascertain WHICH of the "purported African Amer-
ican posters" this person was targeting as they did not list
the screenname with their post and several people had made dero-
gatory comments.

But it worried me, to see an actual address posted. Here is
that post:

Title of the post:
ok the address of one of the...
Mark Thread Read

#1 - 4/16/07 07:45 PM (Msg Id: 569889:9518)

by: "membernamedeletedbyme" to protect the moron"

Overall Rating:
by 1 raters

xxx xxx blvd apt x
xxx,la zipcode removed
someone has to be near him... a police car already
sits in the driveway !!!!!

Mark Message Unread | Notify AOL
Reply to Message

end of post

Note that the address was not blinded as I have done
but references an ACTUAL address in Jefferson Parish
Louisiana, down to the apartment number and basically
the post suggested that someone take a little trip
over to the address. I didn't think the poster was
hoping for a tupperware party, but rather that he was
suggesting (yes, I am assuming a "he," so sue me) that
some other AOL user nearby harm the poster he had tar-

So I responded to the post that posting someone's infor-
mation was dangerous and should not be done, etc., and
that anyone acting on said information would be culpable
as well as the original poster giving the info. (Don't
any of these people watch Law & Order!? Geez.)

Then I instant messaged the poster hoping he had just
made up the address. Here is THAT IM:

Begin IM - 4/16/2007 07:10 PM
Syd Whoever [7:10 P.M.]: hey
Syd Whoever [7:10 P.M.]: is that really the address
of someone on the board?
Hopelessmoron [7:11 P.M.]: yes it is
Syd Whoever [7:11 P.M.]: hold old are you
Hopelessmoron [7:11 P.M.]: thats what it is
Hopelessmoron [7:11 P.M.]: y
Syd Whoever [7:11 P.M.]: Because I want to give you
Hopelessmoron [7:12 P.M.]: go ahead
Syd Whoever [7:12 P.M.]: and i am hoping that you
are just too young and stupid to think about the pos-
sible eventualities from doing that
Hopelessmoron [7:12 P.M.]: what?
Hopelessmoron [7:12 P.M.]: hopefully what they
Hopelessmoron [7:12 P.M.]: maybe a bullet in their
Syd Whoever [7:13 P.M.]: To be killed for something
they said on a message board?
Syd Whoever [7:13 P.M.]: That's why you posted that?
Hopelessmoron [7:13 P.M.]: fuck off!!!!
Syd Whoever [7:14 P.M.]: See where I'm going with
this. Now I am hoping you were just too young and
stupid to think about that.
Syd Whoever [7:14 P.M.]: Also. What if you really
did think that.
Syd Whoever [7:14 P.M.]: What if a police officer
gets killed responding to it.
Syd Whoever [7:14 P.M.]: Did you think about THAT.
Syd Whoever [7:14 P.M.]: OR a passer by.
Syd Whoever [7:14 P.M.]: Or a neighbor.
Syd Whoever [7:16 P.M.]: As the original poster,
they would put you in jail
Syd Whoever [7:16 P.M.]: as culpable for inciting
the entire thing.
Hopelessmoron signed off at 7:18 P.M.

Ok. so EXPLICITLY NOW this guy is telling me he posted
the address in the hope that this person would "get a
bullet in the head." Nice.

But here's the bad part. Right, you thought that was
the bad part but NOOOOOOOOOOO...

So I contact AOL's Community Action Team online. Wait.
FIRST, I hit the notify AOL button on the post. Because
obviously, they needed to remove that post with the addy
ASAP before some angry poster living nearby really did
decide to dispense what they saw as justice.

Nothing happened. The post was not removed. So THEN I
went online to AOL's community action team. They ASSURED
me they would handle it. I was not assured. I demanded
a phone number for AOL's CAT. Which I received. And I
called it in. Then I said that I wanted to email them
the IM as well as the post just to ensure the safety of
the targeted poster. I was given an email addy for a Sup-
ervisor working for AOL's CAT.

As of today, that supervisor has yet to even open my email.


As far as I know, the address is still up and available.
The user posting it remains an active account with AOL, so
it would appear that no action has been taken to help this
user targeted on AOL boards.

On the night of the 16th, I did call Jefferson Parish, LA
to report this and to request notification of the user that
his or her address was online and to report the safety issue.
The response was less than enthusiastic and I was not, and am
not, at all certain they even notified that individual of the
potential danger. In fact, the dispatcher told me I should
contact the FBI instead of the Sherriff's Department there.
I asked if she really wanted to put the safety of this person
in the hands of an agency who would probably not look at the
report right away? She reluctantly agreed to take a report
and to see about perhaps notifying this individual. You know,
if a deputy had time, and IF the person happened to be home
when they went by. I left my number and have received nothing
by the way of a response. I don't know if they did anything
at all.

Now, one would think that in light of the recent deaths at
VA TECH AOL would be pretty enthused about the possibility
of averting more tragedy. Apparently not.

So this morning, I did the only thing I could think of to
make sure this person is safe. I emailed everything to CNN,
MSNBC and the FBI.

And I'm still not very... optimistic.

1 comment:

the rube said...

you've got more patience and and tenacity than me.