Last Wednesday The Southern Dem posted in Tragedy in Three Acts: The Unmasking about the similarity between single drive-by posts by three seemingly different users but all sharing the same IP address and all critical of Beverly Perdue including, one personally critical of BlueNC’s Anglico using very specific insider information.
BlueNC is an open forum with an active but very hands-off management that promotes open discussion and exchange of ideas. In extreme cases discussion is moderated but always in favor of the 1st Amendment. It is usually spammers and obvious trolls posting inflammatory content that get special attention. By themselves the “three posts” don’t rise to the level of actionable moderation but collectively and in the context of recent events they present a disturbing dilemma to BlueNC. The delay in this post is symptomatic of this dilemma as we strive to protect anonymity while dealing with the potential subversion of an open forum by a political campaign.
I now know that all three posts came from a specific location in Raleigh with public access terminals. The location is known to me. We know that one of the posts was made outside the normal operating hours of the public access terminals. I know that a person associated with the Moore campaign had staff level access at this location. I know that use of these terminals requires a unique user identifier for each time limited use. We know that blocking the IP address would block hundreds of public users from accessing and participating in the open forum of BlueNC. That is part of our dilemma.
Since last Wednesday it has been reported to me that the same 1995 Beverly Perdue quote used in the most recent post late Tuesday February 6th was being circulated among the Capital Press Corps earlier that day by Jay Reiff, a campaign consultant to Richard Moore.
The Tuesday post by heel_dem appeared 6.26pm and by 7.46pm Mark Binker of the Greensboro News & Record had not only “noticed” the BlueNC story but also had time to look up the original source and write about it in his blog. The quote also appeared 12.30am early February 7th in an online article in the Raleigh News & Observer by Rob Christensen. Neither Binker not Christensen made reference to Reiff as a purveyor of the quote.
It appeared again February 10th in a Charlotte Observer editorial without any reference to the Moore campaign as a source. February 11th an Associated Press story by Gary Robertson hit the wires about 3.00pm with the following statement without identifying Reiff by name.
After the vote, a Moore adviser pointed out that while a state senator, Perdue said she opposed doing away with the gas chamber because it would lessen capital punishment's deterrent value. "I think we should make it painful and torturous," Perdue said in 1995.
The quote came from an archived copy of the Charlotte Observer which is not available to a public user without subscription. Its posting on BlueNC was not a case of “Here, look what I found while surfing the net in the last 30 minutes”. As has been said elsewhere, BlueNC is an open forum where the truth is welcomed, even when delivered anonymously.
The first post, however, was a direct attack on Anglico. It exhibited a degree of uncivility that was confirmed by the lack of subsequent comments or posts by the user. It was a dump of specific factual information that was not widely known sewn together with conjecture.
Jaron Lanier, internet and technology pioneer, writes in the current issue of Discover Magazine on how the drive-by anonymity of Usenet has evolved/devolved through the Web and now blogs into outbreaks of nasty online behavior as well as creating environments for the beneficial exchange of honest opinions.
Now that most of America, and much of the world, has internet access, it really matters if online design is bringing out mean and irresponsible aspects of people’s personalities.
At the recent NCDP Progressive Blogger Conference the question was raised as to what was preventing a campaign staffer from posting negatively about an opposing candidate under the cover of a pseudonym. The question came, ironically, from one of two persons who had shown up unexpectedly and associated with the Richard Moore campaign. One is a paid campaign consultant to Moore and neither have a visible blogging presence.
As I said in a comment yesterday,
The Capital Press Corps and the Richard Moore Campaign know more about this than they have been letting on.
We ask you all to come clean. We will vigorously defend this public forum and the rights to free speech of even those who disagree with us. We are not a campus lamp-post waiting for another flyer to be stapled up. We expect engagement and we expect a contribution to the progressive debate.
Again quoting from Jaron Lanier:
Computers have an unfortunate tendency to present us with binary choices at every level, not just the lowest one, where bits are switching. It is easy to be anonymous or fully revealed, but hard to be revealed just enough. Still, that does happen, to varying degrees. Sites like eBay and Second Life are more valuable than their stock prices will ever indicate because they give hints about how design can promote the essential middle path – one that balances online privacy with online civility.
As Anglico commented earlier.
All we ask for is honesty, not agreement.