Legal letter freaks Big News – should the Internet be “Adults Only”?

A week ago I mentioned an interesting little blogwar breaking out in Wellington, now the skirmish has gone nuclear with one protagonist sending a lawyer’s letter to Dave Crampton host of  the Big News blog.

The row started when someone began to spam a Big News post suggesting that the media now back-off in the Tony Veitch case. Whoever the spammer was posted something like  40 comments in less than half-an-hour. The spammer used the names of Tony Veitch, Zoe Halford, Glenda Hughes, TV3 producer Carol Hirschfeld, Sailent editor Jackson Wood, big News host Dave Crampton and TVNZ’s Mark Sainsbury to put offensive and stupid comments into the post thread.

Now it’s come down to a threat of legal action. A threat that could have serious consequences for the blogosphere in Aotearoa/New Zealand.

Big News outed the perp as Salient news editor Michael J Oliver. In one interesting exchange, Big News host Dave put up a response naming “Michael” as the spammer. Here’s the exchange:

Blogger Dave said…
piss ff Michael

April 20, 2009 7:42 PM
Anonymous Tony Veitch said…
I can’t, I’ll be in my car texting the Sunday papers

April 20, 2009 7:43 PM
Anonymous Zoe Halford said…
And I’ll be conference calling Dave Crampton and John Campbell on Big News Live.

Now, it’s not definitive, but is there a little clue here? Dave did some forensics and points out in his post on the spamming that a number of catch phrases that Mr Oliver is known to use in his work for Salient seem to match. A woman’s name also makes several appearances “Janet Sampson”. The same “Janet Sampson” also appears in an article written by Mr Oliver in Salient. Similar amounts of fake comments, posted under obvious pseudonyms also appear all over the Salient site.

[30 April update

The Salient editor has acknowledged that the spamming of Dave's site was done from the Salient offices by a volunteer staff member. It was not Micheal Oliver. Big News statement]

[material deleted by EM 30 April]

So this is now a serious issue. Dave is himself a student and doesn’t have huge amounts of money to defend himself and it would be a shame if he is forced to take down the post because of the cost of defending his case.

The matter has now begun to draw more attention from the New Zealand blogosphere and Russell Brown has posted some very good comments over at Public Address [Hard News]

I sincerely hope that not a cent of students’ money is going towards the absurd legal threats being issued by Michael Oliver, the news editor of Salient, the Victoria University of Wellington student paper. And even if not, perhaps it’s a good time for a grown-up to drop by the office and see what on earth is going on.

If he really is not the author of the many bogus comments, he should have taken up Crampton’s invitation to say so, under his own name.Using someone else’s money, if that is the case, to issue threats against an honours student in no position to pay for a lawyer himself is not really acceptable. It goes beyond the transgressions we accept and expect from student journalists, and does no good to any aspirations Oliver might have to a journalistic career of his own.

On the face of it, Salient and Oliver need saving from themselves. It would be a relief if someone with a little sense were to expedite the process.

I couldn’t agree more. As I wrote in my original post on this topic, there is nothing wrong with a bit of irreverence and satire from student newspapers. In fact, you could say that we expect it. I have been associated with student papers in the past and certainly took some delight in “piss-taking”.

But, whoever is responsible, the deluge of spam coming from the spammers – on the Salient site and other people’s blogs – is no a joke. The humour has no real point and some of it is sexist, racist and offensive. I offer the following exchange as an example.

Chris has a small penis.

Allan

“Kevin’s comment quite simply spells out the objectification inherent in this event.”

Poor Kevin. Maybe he just wanted to see a Harley or two?

chris

somchai has a fat smelly vagina

[edited break...the thread continues the next day]

Somchai Wongsawat

Poor Chris. He just wants to hit ladies with his tiny penis.

chris

as if you know shit all, you fuckin trash. how can you make a call like that when you dont even know who i am. your probably just some worthless jobless trash who’s below me.

chris

and i’ve never hit a girl with anything. but if you want me to i’ll hit you with a rfucking machete you filthy sack of pus. i’m at uni if you wanna find me, cunt

Somchai Wongsawat

Shows how much you know CHRIS. I’m the incumbent prime minister of Thailand you bitch.

chris

end of cotton foyer, you unforsaken piece of shit.

chris

31 Oct, 2008 at 2:09 pm

i’m waiting cunt. i’m gonna slit your throat with a kmnife faggit.
you dont turn up you’ll be the one whos pussy, faggit.

Not very enlightening, but very telling and there’s more here. I wonder if the person(s) doing this were sitting in the same room and having a good laugh. Notice again how thick and fast the comments come in. This is not usual in blogworld, except on exceptional blogs.

Just to be clear on the legals here. I am not saying that Michael J Oliver is responsible for the spamming at Big News, but I think there’s a case to suggest that there’s a link between what’s going on at Salient and the comment thread that Dave objected to.

I also wonder, as Russell B has, whether the executive of the Vic Uni Student Association has authorised Michael Oliver’s legal action and who would foot the bill should Dave decide not to remove the post and to take on the legal challenge.

[30 April update: the legal action was technically initiated by the Vic Uni Students Association, it was withdrawn on 29 April]

This might seem like a junkyard scrap and a pi$$ in the ocean, but there could be some interesting precedents set here if this action goes ahead in some form or another.

The decision to stand his ground, or remove the post is Dave’s alone. But I think he needs to know that other NZ bloggers are taking an interest in this matter.

Is it too far-fetched to suggest some sort of defence fund and collective action here? Perhaps we could “elect” a group to be a kind of executive committee and to solicit donations to be held in a trust account so that we all have a measure of protection from legal threats like this one.

Most of us take our responsibilities as bloggers, commentators and journalists seriously even when we vigorously disagree with each other. A little solidarity would go a long way in this matter.

Our reputation – and the rep of the blogosphere – is not served well by the antics of a few clowns, even if they think they’re just being funny. Some of the commentary is sub-juvenile.

Maybe the blogosphere should be “AO”.

2 Responses to Legal letter freaks Big News – should the Internet be “Adults Only”?

  1. [...] Someone’s lawyer might be interested in this [28 April update Legal letter freaks out Big News] [...]

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