03.50 am, Tuesday October 02 2012

Interview: Encyclopedia Dramatica moderator

13:30 AEST Tue Mar 9 2010
By Henri Paget, ninemsn
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UPDATE 21/07/10: In true Encyclopedia Dramatica style, we were trolled. It turns out the person we interviewed was in fact Andrew Auernheimer, a 24-year-old from Arkansas who was behind the recent exposure of a security flaw in Apple's iPad. He revealed this in a recent email to us:

"In pursuit of truth, deceit is honesty. I'm not even a moderator at Encyclopedia Dramatica. Some cat named Infinite on IRC said "this reporter wants to talk to someone at ED", and I stood up to do it. That, I believe, is what being a troll is about. Saying what needs to be said at the right time."

We've decided to leave this interview online because although Auernheimer is not a moderator, he has strong links to the website and brings an interesting point of view to the issue of internet censorship.

Below is the full article:

Encyclopedia Dramatica is Wikipedia's evil twin. It’s a site where almost every article is biased, offensive, unsourced, and without the faintest trace of political correctness. A search through its archives will reveal animated images of people committing suicide, articles glorifying extreme racism and sexism, and a seemingly endless supply of twisted, shocking views on just about every major human tragedy in history.

Among the articles on the website is one lampooning the death of Bundaberg schoolgirl Trinity Bates. Another article, about Australian Aborigines, was deemed so offensive it was removed from Google's search earlier this year.

For people unfamiliar with the site, a common reaction is disgust and outrage. The site also poses a challenge for anyone who espouses a doctrine of completely free speech — the pedophilia jokes and the celebration of cyber-bullying as an almost heroic act are problematic at best.

So who would create these articles? And who would defend them? ninemsn contacted Encyclopedia Dramatica to find out and was put in touch with one of the top moderators on the website.

We asked the moderator — who did not want to be named — why he allows these articles to be published, whether he worries about offending people, and if the site is connected to the recent vandalism on Facebook tribute pages for Trinity and others.

We didn't expect him to be a 42-year-old Bible-quoting industrial engineer with an interest in epistemology.

Here is the full interview:

What can you tell me about yourself?

My home is Switzerland, but my work is in the United States and Canada. I'm 42. I'm an industrial engineer by degree. Sixty-five years ago that would have meant I did great work and made things, but now that our nations are de-industrialized it just makes me a glorified software engineer.

I am a volunteer, and merely a friend of Joseph Evers [Encyclopedia Dramatica's chief executive, who was on vacation in the Yucatan and couldn't be reached]. I am not an official organisational voice of ED.

What motivates you to keep Encyclopedia Dramatica going? What do you like about the website?

I don't personally keep ED going. Mostly it is Joseph's pocketbook that does it, combined with the generous help and support of my fellow users. I like the website because it is the only collaborative publishing platform on the internet that allows completely free speech.

Do you think it's possible for people to go too far with free speech? Is there a line that can be crossed?

Let us talk epistemology for a moment. The minute there is a hidden limit on speech, it is no longer free. Free speech with limits is not free speech under any circumstances. But Matthew 15:11 (what goes into a man's mouth does not make him "unclean", but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him "unclean") certainly applies to some users of ED and virtually any other web community in existence.

How do you defend publishing articles on Encyclopedia Dramatica like "Trinity Bates"?

I didn't write that article and I have no specific comment on it, but my distaste for what some people might say does not outweigh my distaste for censorship.

Do you worry that families of dead people lampooned on the site could be offended? Why or why not?

It isn't a large concern, no. A truly free publishing platform comes with positives and negatives. I have seen the whole spectrum of pros and cons, and the pros outweigh the cons.

What are the pros?

A forum for completely open dialogue about any issue. Many subjects have a state or corporate controlled monologue that is completely shattered by the way ED does things.

I've seen ED used as a platform to sabotage political campaigns, to publish innovative new research in the information security field, to document countless events which would have gone undocumented in the mainstream press, to organise political action, and to publish quality satire.

Earlier this year an article on ED titled Aboriginal was removed from Google after legal action from an individual. One of the main concerns was that there was the potential for a child to stumble across the article. Is that a concern to you?

My kids have seen the article in question. Then again, my kids interact with power tools, controlled demolitions, open flames, spears, knives, smithing equipment and caustic chemicals.

I reference this TED talk on dangerous things you should let your kid do: http://www.ted.com/talks/gever_tulley_on_5_dangerous_things_for_kids.html

Largely the problem with the younger generation is that they've grown up in a bubble of Fisher Price rounded corners and bright colors where costumed animals never tell them anything that could hurt anyone's feelings. It is no wonder that they've grown up stunted and are unable to survive in the workplace. Preventing children from viewing political speech is doing them a massive disservice.

Do you think that the authors of the article "Aboriginal" were defending free speech or just being racist bullies?

Bullying is when someone gets beaten. Satire is when an article gets written on an Internet comedy website.

Do you think Google was right to remove the article from its search?

Google didn't remove it, Australian law did. Very few companies will defy a legal order in compliance with national law. It differs naught from the censorship used by the PRC or the Soviets. It is a sure sign of decline when a nation facing great social and economic problems that threaten to sink it has little more to do than squabble over things people say.

Does Encyclopedia Dramatica or its users contribute to the vandalism of Facebook tribute pages?

Absolutely not.

The Trinity Bates article references joining Facebook tribute pages for her. Don't you think this could lead people with the wrong motives to visit her tribute pages and interfere with her family's grieving?

ED is a platform to document things that happened on the internet. Any member of our community would view that as a tongue-in-cheek acknowledgment of an event that actually happened and not a suggestion to go do anything.

Do you think people are vandalising these Facebook pages more often than usual lately?

No, this is nothing new. Over a decade ago when I was a kid dialing into regional BBSs with my first modem, people would break into other people's accounts and use them to post obnoxious things. Moderation systems have actually made this problem better and not worse. Back when the internet was young everything was far more insecure and stuff like this happened on a far larger scale.

The issue is that largely new classes of people who previously were excluded from this medium of communication are finally getting connected and they're shocked by what they see. People acting obnoxiously on the Internet to garner reactions is not a startling revelation to anyone that has been using any sort of social media in the past three decades.

Last week a spokesperson for Facebook said that she had "never seen anything like this" while speaking about the tribute page attacks. Do you think she's telling the truth? Haven't there been attacks from [internet prankster group] Anonymous on similar Facebook pages for years?

I'm pretty sure I've heard of Facebook memorial attacks before this. I can't recall a specific one off the top of my head but I know they've been done before. This type of problem is old on Facebook, and older than Facebook.

Does the Australian government reaction — and police investigations — make vandalising tribute pages even more attractive for Anonymous?

Reaction in general probably makes it more attractive. Police investigations probably don't figure into their logic anywhere.

Do you think police will be able to catch those responsible for the vandalism of the tribute pages?

Doubtful. The IT muscle of Australia leaves a lot to be desired. This is a country that took $80 million to develop a filtering proxy, something which has already been done more effectively (http://www.squid-cache.org/) for free. Literally, squid did regex-based filtering, and not list-based filtering a decade ago. In addition, it can speed up web traffic instead of slow it down like the Australian filter. ISPs that push more traffic than the entirety of Australia's internet usage have already implemented squid at cost in the hundred thousand range (which includes all hardware and development costs).

The conspiracy theorist in me thinks this whole deal is an engineered campaign of feigned outrage to push a very expensive public works project that is largely against public interests. However, applying Hanlon's razor makes me think this is just people new to the Internet just beginning to discover Internet users.

People should remember that reacting like this after putting something public on the Internet is akin to running down to the local homeless shelters and methadone clinics and inviting all comers to your grandma's memorial service. You can't then go and act shocked while finding a junkie passed out with some needles and used condoms in the bathroom.

Allowing such material to be published doesn't seem to me like something most Christians would be comfortable with. How do you justify this to yourself? Are there any other particularly relevant Bible passages you turn to?

All the things Christ said and did would make most "Christians" uncomfortable. He called the leaders of a specific ethnic group murderers and liars (John 8:44), demanded hatred (Luke 14:26) and flogged bankers and flipped over their tables. John 8 is an extremely condemning document — at the time it would have been considered worse than anything on ED. Many people were brutally murdered by the Pharisitic establishment over it. The synoptic gospels and the gospel according to John were so revolutionary that no publishing platform would take them.

These days most Christians focus on Paul and completely ignore the life and actions of Christ. If Christ were here again today he'd probably start a website and people would be crying for its censorship.

 

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