The hardest game on the internet is one I call "C/S/T", which is short for "Crazy, Stupid, Or Troll?" There are nuances to those categories — sometimes a troll is a performance artist, sometimes someone is not so much stupid as willfully ignorant — but the broad categories suffice.
It's such a hard game because on the internet being crazy can look very much like being stupid, and a troll can look very much like either in a quest for lulz. Occasionally someone is all three.
This week's C/S/T challenge takes us to the world of poetry. Back in the day I visited the world of poetry in an attempt to get into the world of attractive poetry-favoring women who were never in a kajillion years give me the time of day, which I had heard was adjacent.
The poet in question is one "Shaun Shane," a pseudonym. Shane is rumored to be dead, though not, as decorum and four millennia of poetic heritage would militate, of shame. If poetry is emotion recollected in tranquility, Shane's is insipidity recollected in banality. I refer particularly to his fortune-cookie-length poem "Tongues of Glass," which goes something like this:
that bitch in study hall
would shut up
and I might make cheer team
I'm doing the second half from memory but I think I got the gist of it.
[Aside — very short poems can be very evocative or powerful or funny. These aren't. De gustibus pup 'n taco.]
Anyway, somebody is threatening Twitter users who quote "Shane's" poems. This someone uses the name "On Press, Inc.", fraudulently claims that "On Press, Inc." is a division of Knopf Publishing, and uses a bizarre array of duplicate Twitter accounts to spam threats. Tim Cushing at Techdirt has done an admirable piece of investigative work in a two-part story about "On Press, Inc." here and here. It's a long story, but well-told and a good illustration of internet culture.
Whoever is running the internet-threat operation under the name "On Press, Inc." has certain defining characteristics — truculence, functional illiteracy, and a grasp of law cobbled together by listening to 13-year-olds swearing at each other on Xbox Live. (Hint: if you think that anyone will ever be prosecuted for copyright infringement for quoting a poem on Twitter, you are a moron with a comic-book-level grasp of the criminal justice system. Full stop.) "On Press, Inc." insults to the best of its bless-your-heart ability, threatens civil suits and criminal prosecution against people who quote "Tongues of Glass" on Twitter, apparently sends DMCA notices, and generally asses about the internet. As Tim notes, bloggers have also received abusive comments nominally by third people but possibly by the same person running the "On Pres, Inc." account.
But here's the tough part. Is "On Press, Inc." run by a very stupid person? Is it run by a crazy person? Is the user both crazy and stupid? Is the person performing to make a point about legal threats or internet culture? Is the person attempting to publicize "Shane's" work through asshattery? Is the person trying to provoke people for lulz? Now that the bizarre legal threats are being covered, how can you tell "genuine" On Press, Inc. threats from ones that are fabricated by people satirizing On Press, Inc.? For instance, I had a Twitter exchange last night with this Twitter account styled to look like the other On Press, Inc. accounts, which yielded comments like "really we have bigger fish to fry than you. Your more entertainment for us. we get a lot of laughs." (Edited to add: here, courtesy of Tim, is the exchange.) Was it "real," or a troll pretending to be On Press, Inc.? Was it a troll pretending to be a different troll? [Ultimately my instinct was that it was someone pretending — the illiteracy was a little too consistent and on-the-nose.]
This game isn't over. I'm not ready to call C/S/T. In playing the game, I note that (1) this preexisting biography of Shaun Shane displays some of the same illiteracy as the On Press, Inc. threats, (2) the preexisting Shaun Shane Facebook fan page displays some of the same illiteracy, (3) there are "On Press, Inc." corporations registered in five states (CA, MI, IL, OH, NY) with public contact information.
I am intrigued. I'd like to play this game out. Tim Cushing has done excellent work on it already, and others are starting to join into the investigation. Come play, if you like. Let's find out who is actually behind the threats and invective.
Updated: I have communicated with the principal of the California corporation named "On Press, Inc.", who indicates he has nothing to do with this nonsense. Investigating others.
Second Update: The New York "On Press, Inc." is inactive and would therefore not be able to sue anyone.
The game's afoot.
Last 5 posts by Ken White
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- True Threats v. Protected Speech, Post-Election Edition - November 16th, 2016