Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Response to the Busta Troll hoax

10390208_231986757010994_3054098547521847130_nIn light of the revelations regarding the hoax of Busta Troll’s alleged outing and retirement, I feel that a few personal comments are necessary to complete the record.

First, the world of Facebook politics, goats and trolls is a shadowy world where many people on both sides protect their anonymity with fake names and “alts,” fictitious accounts. “Busta Troll” is simply one (or possibly several) of many people with a fake identity on Facebook. With such a high premium placed on anonymity, it can be extremely hard to verify who is who and what is true.

This is not to say that I posted the article without fact-checking. Busta suggests that searches for “Christopher Lyman” in Orono, Maine would yield no results. This is not true. I found several results for Christopher Lyman in Maine, some close enough to the Orono area that they could be considered legitimate hits. What I did not find was a phone number that I could use to call and make a direct verification.

Addresses are funny things. Depending on the area, who one is talking to, and what medium is used, a person might give different answers to the question of “Where do you live?” For example, a person from New York City might answer that he lives in Queens, the neighborhood of Astoria, or on 50th Street in addition to saying that he lived in New York. All three different answers could be equally truthful. In smaller towns, the address might be a post office in the larger city nearby, but a small, unincorporated community could legitimately be listed as a hometown on a medium such as Facebook.

Additionally, I attempted to check the legitimacy of Kevin Kopper, another anonymous source. No one seemed to know who Kopper was, but everyone seemed to consider him legitimate. Anyone who has seen the goats harass people online could understand Kopper’s desire for anonymity.

When dealing with anonymous sources, especially on the internet, there is always the chance that they are lying or are not who they claim to be. This is particularly true when dealing with goats who, by definition, base their online personas and actions on deception and dishonesty. That turned out to be the case with both Christopher Lyman and Kevin Kopper. Nevertheless, the information in the article was the best available at the time.

As it turned out, the deception was only half false. Christopher Lyman was Busta Troll. When I submitted a series of questions in good faith to Lyman, it was Busta who answered them as he admits in his video. Busta trumpets the fact that I published his unedited replies, but that was always the point. I submitted the questions to him because I and my readers wanted to know what made a liberal troll tick, why they do what they do. By definition, an interview is an attempt to find out what someone else thinks and to communicate it to others. In that, I was successful. The fact that Busta’s answers were not based in fact is an indictment of him and not me. I chose not to rebut Busta’s answers in the interview piece because that was not its purpose, but I can do so here.

First, I must agree with Busta that it irks me to see “ridiculous rumors that can be easily debunked by five minutes of searching Google.” In fact, I’ve written more than a few “tinfoil hat” articles that debunk conspiracy theories from the right. Some recent examples include the rumors that Barack Obama was planning to run for an unconstitutional third term and that Obamacare would make beheadings legal in the U.S. Where I disagree with Busta and his trolls is their notion that people with “ridiculous” ideas don’t have as much right to share them as anyone else. The best cure for ridiculous and untruthful speech is more speech.

Further, Busta seems to have a partisan view of what is “ridiculous.” I’m not aware of any liberal pages ever being goated in spite of the fact that there are some liberals spout stories just as outlandish as any conservative site. In fact, the idea that Barack Obama is not a “natural born” U.S. citizen is not a right wing idea at all; this conspiracy theory has its roots in a 2007 memo from Mark Penn, Hillary Clinton’s chief strategist, according to Businessweek. Further, as late as 2011, Politico reported that more than half of Democrats subscribed to 9/11 conspiracy theories propagated by liberals such as Michael Moore.

Second, Busta’s claim that page owners “posted pure hate and lies” and “refused to talk about it, listen to reason or even debate in a civil manner” is not true in every case. Some page owners had posted indefensible material such as the infamous “noose” meme. Others were guilty only of operating conservative pages.

I first became aware of the goats when they took my friend Jason Doolin’s “Citizens’Post” Facebook page. Doolin did post the “noose” meme “in an attempt to defend the original poster.” The goats never contacted him with their objections to the meme, however. In fact, Doolin says that he doesn’t think that he realized that they existed prior to their hijacking his page.

As I described in an article in January, a goat purporting to be Patrick Blair contacted Doolin and several others with promises to help them expand their page reach. Blair claimed to be a representative of the Freedom Alliance, a real organization. The goats say that they were given control of the pages and that they have done nothing wrong. In reality, their actions are a textbook example of fraud. In other cases, their actions could be considered slander, harassment, and cyber stalking.

In fact, the trolls seem to be part of a left wing that is focused on shutting down debate through harassment and intimidation. Some of the most famous harassment of conservatives came during and after California’s “Prop 8” definition of marriage campaign in 2008. The blog Tom O’Halloran has compiled a list of incidents against Prop 8 supporters that include harassing emails and phone calls, attempts to jeopardize employment, vandalism, threats and actual acts of violence. Liberals are attempting to use campaign disclosure laws and other means to attempt to intimidate other conservatives as well. The ultimate fulfillment of the liberal intention to stifle debate is the Udall Amendment which would gut the First Amendment and allow Congress to regulate money “that may be spent by, in support of, or in opposition to” candidates.

Third, Busta’s concerns about conservative harassment and endangering children were revealed to be totally false. In fact, it was Busta himself who put an innocent man, the real Christopher Lyman, a firefighter in Maine, in danger of losing his job. By citing his fictitious role as an umpire in a real Little League, Busta also was the one who brought innocent children into a potentially dangerous situation. In essence, Busta did what he accused conservatives of doing. If anyone endangered children, it was Busta himself. The fact that Busta claims to have planned the hoax for more than a year speaks volumes as well.

For what it’s worth, I do have to admit to laughing at a number of goat memes. There are some clever and creative people among the goats and trolls. The problem is how they use their talents as a tool for bullying and conning others. Perhaps they will take to heart the words of President Obama who said, “Bullying can have destructive consequences for our young people. And it's not something we have to accept.” In 2011, Obama pointed out that “bullying is just a harmless rite of passage or an inevitable part of growing up.” It doesn’t make it better when the behavior is that of adults.

No comments: