re: How to handle a bully
Mon, 1 Apr 1996 00:23:12 +0000

Jon Raskin writes

>recently I have been wondering whether or not telephone
>harassment (i.e. making recurrent intimidating and abusive calls) is free
>speech the same way that mailbase harassment (i.e. sending recurrent
>intimidating and abusive e-mail posts) has been dubbed free speech.
>>Certainly there is a good deal of subjectivity in where free speech ends and
>>harassment begins. I just want to raise the issue, since I think the young
>>internet is currently struggling to define such things more fromally, and
>>ultimately will.

Was it Adlai Stevenson who stated that one judges a society by the way in
which it handles dissidents, cranks, and subversives? While, strictly
speaking, only one of these terms describes the present perpetrator, the
aphorism is thoughtprovoking, and a little careful thought is worthwhile in
the present circumstances if we're to avoid the censorship, myself
excluded, for which some people have called. So here goes.

In fact, the analogy with crank telephone calls isn't exact.
On the Internet, we seem to have at least three levels of possible intrusion:
- the direct e-mail
- the "private" mailing list, on which everyone who subscribes
automatically gets a copy of everything mailed: as with our own pcp list.
- the UUTP newsgroup, from which one pulls down only those items which
interest one.

I can't see how it would be possible to be harassed, (as in a crank
phonecall) via a UUTP newgroup; repeated insulting direct e-mails would
clearly call for the full rigour of the law, exactly as in the case of
crank phonecalls. Bill's behaviour is problematic since it occurs on the
pcp _mailing list_; and it's problematic because the obvious thing to do is
to ignore all mailings from that person: yet people vary in their
implementation of "ignoring".

What I mean is that several people have interpreted "ignoring" by becoming
tired and disillusioned with the futility of the argument, and have ceased
to subscribe, thus losing the opportunity to benefit from the sensible
mailings, and to contribute to other peoples' benefit. That's a great pity.

One's left with the happier alternatives of
- simply ignoring the cranks, unread, and
- if one can be bothered, posting their effusions back to them
which are the alternatives that I've adopted.

Now, we need to be very careful here if we're not to become harrassers in
our own turn. Please take note:

In case it occurs to anyone:

for each person to return _many_ copies to the originator has the drastic
effect of clogging up the originator's incoming mailer and causes
considerable problems of time and expense to that originator. It is _not_
acceptable behaviour, being a form of harassment in its own right, and I
categorically don't, repeat don't, advocate that. According to the usual
rules of "netiquette" (dreadful word!) it's the one thing which would
guarantee that the organiser disconnects the perpetrator.

Kindest regards to all,

Devi Jankowicz