July 16, 2007

Adventures in sock puppetry.

Help me figure something out. I wrote a post this morning about sock puppetry that included a quote from Lee Siegel, the New Republic critic who got suspended for writing under a pseudonym in the magazine's comments section. In the comments to that post, someone wrote under the name "Lee Siegel." To some extent this long comment made sense and seemed to be an interesting explanation of Siegel's predicament, but it also misread what I'd written so badly that I didn't think it could be the real Lee Siegel, whom I would be honored to have participate in the comments.

I deleted the comment and wrote:
I don't accept people posting under someone else's name here. I deleted the post that purported to be Lee Siegel because it's inconceivable to me that Lee Siegel could be dumb enough to write: "Ann Althouse astonishingly writes that she 'condemns' me because 'the truth is I never liked Lee Siegel,' so I guess nothing I say will penetrate her bias."

Obviously, the post and another comment defends Lee Siegel and I only said I was "tempted" to condemn "the practice" of sock puppetry -- not Siegel himself because I don't like him. (I don't like his writing. Find my old posts criticizing his writing if you like.) I'm defending him in spite of the fact that I don't like his writing. Get it? The opposite of bias. Jeez.

If that actually was Lee Siegel, he can email me and convince me it was him, and then I'll restore the post, which I still have.
I received an email:
Yes, that was dumb old me. Please restore my post.
I responded:
I have a strong policy against imitations, so you need to prove it to me. I myself am imitated on a site and I don't like it.
He's all:
Prove it to you? Are you kidding? You want me to Fedex you my passport? What childishness. Then I guess you can't prove that anyone is who he says he is who writes in to your "blog." Hey, it's me. You just don't want to restore my post. So don't. One more tale from the brave new blogosphere.
I retort:
You've given me the proof that you are not Lee Siegel. Thanks.
Am I wrong?

Anyway, with all this explanation, it is not confusing to anyone to reprint the original comment by the person who may or may not be Lee Siegel, so here it is, interspersed with my commentary:
Ann Althouse astonishingly writes that she "condemns" me because "the truth is I never liked Lee Siegel," so I guess nothing I say will penetrate her bias. But let me try.
I just didn't like Siegel's writing -- see this old post -- quite aside from his problem with sock puppetry. I think he got a bum rap on that, so accusing me of bias is backwards. My point is that I'm supporting him even though I didn't like his criticism.
Althouse writes: "Siegel should respect the policies his employer lays down." I'm surprised that an evidence-conscious lawyer like Althouse hasn't bothered to find out what those policies were. This is what they were.
I didn't say one way or the other whether he violated his employer's policy. I was speaking to what I was in a position to talk about: whether it was inherently bad to participate in the comments under a pseudonym. Spare me the "evidence-conscious lawyer" crap. All I did was concede that the policies -- whatever they were -- would bind him. Meanwhile, I was supporting him!
The New Republic's "Rules of Use" for its Talkback section--where I responded to my detractors--are these: They prohibited "posts that are defamatory, libelous, unnecessarily antagonistic... posts that are obscene, abusive, harassing, threatening, off-topic, unintelligible,
or inappropriate."

The problem is that the New Republic never enforced those rules. Anonymous commenters called me a liar, a fraud, and a pedophile. "Siegel wanted to fuck a child" went one post. These are all libelous things to say.

But the New Republic allowed anyone to post whatever they wanted, no matter how "defamatory, libelous or unnecessarily antagonistic." There was no screening, editing, or filtering of comments. And people were allowed to say whatever they wanted to say anonymously.

When I protested, I was told that I had to live with it. Exasperated, I decided to give my anonymous attackers a taste of their own medicine. I did not take on a pseudonym because I was taking advantage of the Web's convention of anonmymity [sic]. I took on a pseudonyn [sic] TO PROTEST THE WEB'S CONVENTION OF ANONYMITY. I had protested malicious anomymity [sic] several times on my blog and in other venues. It was, you see, a matter of principle, and of journalistic ethics. I could not believe that a serious and distinguished magazine was allowing these things to be published, and anonymously. In fact, no other magazine or respectable blog has ever allowed such comments to be made anonymously. Ann Althouse certainly doesn't.

And lo and behold, since my little scandal, articles have appeared denouncing malicious anonymity on the Internet, a convention that was taken for granted until I began to speak out against it.

I realize that I am making myself vulnerable to Ms. Althouse's derision -- after all, she "never liked" me. But maybe some readers will want now to see my side of the story.
Well, maybe you -- if you are Lee Siegel -- will cool down and perceive that I was taking your side! And maybe this whole incident will give you some insight into why I didn't like you as a critic: Your perceptions are off.

IN THE COMMENTS: Verso said:
What a Kafkaesque dilemma Siegel faces:

Condemned for sockpuppetry, he now is banned from posting under his real name.

The only way Lee Siegel could get a post past Althouse would be by post it anonymously or pseudonymously.

Irony is not dead.

50 comments:

Simon said...

The simplest way to validate that he is who he says he is would be to email him at the address provided on the TNR website, but that has the drawback of placing the burden of verification on you rather than him.

Internet Ronin said...

Are you wrong? I don't know. As he emailed you, I assume it must have been from a private account not readily identifiable as being his, or you wouldn't ask the question. I don't know where he is employed these days, but if it came from one of his current employer's email accounts, that it came from him could probably be verified.

I think it is reasonable to be cautious about comments purporting to come from public figures. There's nothing wrong with you asking for some sort of verification. Given his reputation, his reaction to your request is not unexpected (if it is, in fact, him). In the end, despite your best intentions, the whole thing has an "Alice in Wonderland" quality about it.

Internet Ronin said...

Meant to add this in closing:

Having donned my official Carnac the Magnificent Turban, I know the real question is:

For what next will Ann Althouse be skewered and ridiculed by certain quarters?

reader_iam said...

Hmmm. I don't get why he, assuming it really was Lee Siegel, would think his initial e-mail, as presented, would "convince" anyone. Presumably, the e-mailer had the name of Lee Siegel, but of course, in and of itself, that wouldn't necessarily mean anything. We maintain our own mail server in our home, and there are multiple e-mail addresses attached to that. As it happens, I use a "real-name" account to contact Althouse and selected other bloggers/blog commenters (for others, I use my readeriam gmail account), but there's nothing **technical** stopping me from using any of the others, or setting up a mailbox with whatever name I choose, at any time.

The real Lee Siegel is a, well, "real" person, with a public face, and Ann Althouse is a "real" person, with a public face. Why get so shirty about this? If this was the real Lee Siegel and it was that important to him, why not write more eloquently and persuasively, and even include a phone number or something? And it's not like he couldn't figure out how to get hold of Althouse, an employee at a public school, and leave a message. I mean, that is, if it was that important to him.

Sounds fishy to me. Alternatively, the guy's a bit arrested and not worth the time to deal with.

Lee: If it was really you, consider doing e-mail better, or even including a phone number. Otherwise, why whine?

Ann Althouse said...

The email address was AOL, which was part of why I was suspicious.

reader_iam said...

Heh. When I started typing this comment (got interrupted), there weren't any other comments. By the time I'd posted, there were others ... by two commenters with whom I've communicated using my "real" name. Wasn't that hard to convince them that it was really "me." And I'm not a "public" face, in the sense that Althouse and Siegel are. Fancy.

Ann Althouse said...

His address was a partial name with the AOL ending. He wrote one more email telling me to email one of two editors at the NYT to vouch for him, which I didn't want to do, because why should I have my name on email bugging someone at the NYT about some blog problem?

Internet Ronin said...

I'm with you all the way up to this point:

why should I have my name on email bugging someone at the NYT about some blog problem?

As I see it, you asked. He provided. I agree it is not something one really wants to do but, by that point, I think one can also understand his frustration.

reader_iam said...

Eh, bug the editors. I suspect they'd get a kick out of it. And why not? What the heck.

And IR's right on this point: You did ask.

Internet Ronin said...

Reader_Iam: I knew it was you because I think you sent me a grammar or spelling correction before I had time to respond to your original email ;-)

reader_iam said...

Which, of course, begs the obvious question: Why would Lee Siegel be using an AOL address? Quaint, almost.

reader_iam said...

I did not!!

Did I?

Oh, surely not. I don't generally do that sort of thing unless I'm paid; in fact, I generally avoid it, unless highly provoked.

You messin' with my mind, IR? Harrumph.

reader_iam said...

Oh, wait--you meant I sent a follow-up e-mail correcting MY OWN typos.

Yep, that DOES sound like me. Dead giveaway.

Seven Machos said...

The onus is on him. It's easily provable that he is who he says he is. He could attach drafts of articles, receipts, personal photos, any number of things.

The wording of the responses add a hint of plausibility, but you can't take that chance because your credibility is on the line, too.

Internet Ronin said...

No, you didn't, really. But I couldn't resist the opportunity after something about Palmetto bugs on the other thread.

reader_iam said...

Damn, man. You had me questioning my own recollections there, for a minute. A good thing, doubtless.

If Simon's still around, though, I'll bet he's having a gooooood chuckle.

rcocean said...

Althouse, you're completely correct.

The real Lee S. could prove himself with the slightest of effort.

And if he felt his post was important, he'd provide proof instead of bluster.

LoafingOaf said...

The email address was AOL, which was part of why I was suspicious.

Yes, those of us who like to "play" online like AOL. :)

I don't understand why all these sock puppets didn't know that AOL keeps you anonymous.

reader_iam said...

Interesting.

reader_iam said...

Did I ever mention that I enjoy picturing blog-commenting in terms of chess or bridge?

Move it!

reader_iam said...

That should be "blog-commenting/blog commenters."

Heh!

dave™© said...

Wow, two of the most pathetic figures on the internet battling it out. Does it get any better than this?

Seven Machos said...

Three if you add you, Dave.

Verso said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Verso said...

What a Kafkaesque dilemma Siegel faces:

Condemned for sockpuppetry, he now is banned from posting under his real name.

The only way Lee Siegel could get a post past Althouse would be by post it anonymously or pseudonymously.

Irony is not dead.

halojones-fan said...

I have a confession to make: I am actually the real Lee Seigel.

Fen said...

And I'm actually the real halojones-fan.

Gary Carson said...

Ann, Yes, you were wrong.

All you had to do was call the New Republic and get a contact number for him then call him.

It's really just so much easier for you to verify who he is than for him to "prove" it to you.

If I was him I'd laugh at you, there's no way in hell I'd jump through some silly undefined hoop to address your concerns.

And, yes, I'm really Gary Carson and it's not hard at all to discover contact information for me.

Mr.Murder said...

He sounds overqualified to work on the McCain staff, or for Tom Keane from the vaunted 9-11 Commission and New Jersey political scene...

Paco Wové said...

"The real Lee S. could prove himself with the slightest of effort."

And he would make it look effortless.

MarkW said...

My guess is that really was from Lee Siegel -- citing the New Republic commenting policy strikes me as something he would do but an impostor wouldn't.

However, before asking for proof, I think Ann needs to decide and specify what she'd accept as proof.

Irene Done said...

I tend to believe it was the real Lee Siegel. Rob Walker recently mentioned Siegel in a post on his Murketing blog (here) and Siegel commented using the same points, same examples. If it's the fake Siegel, he's vigilant and consistant.

Maxine Weiss said...

At what point does the Althouse Blog become all about administration, and less about writing?

That's exactly what this feels like.

Silly me, I thought people-anyone could come on here, and simply write write write.

Who knew you had to jump through so many hoops?, in order to engage in the lofty task of commenting, on the heavily rules & regulations-laden Althouse Blog.

NSC said...

No opinion on whether he is the real thing or not, but as to AOL, I use an AOL address and I am real. (I started using it years ago for my kids because of the kid-friendly safety settings and I'm just too lazy to change it since it is now free.)

I also know a few legitimate political magazine writers/bloggers who use AOL addresses for personal email.

He sounds fake, but he could be fake with or without an AOL address.

Peter Palladas said...

However, before asking for proof, I think Ann needs to decide and specify what she'd accept as proof.


She's clearly an innocent abroad - as she should be - with this whole "Is that really you?" internet thing.

Whenever I get an email purporting to be from a female Hollywood luminary intend on climbing into my trousers - as happens of course - I instantly respond could the person please re-email me with a photograph of her good self holding today's newspaper?

You'd be amazed how difficult some of these stars find it to simply go out and buy a paper all by their little selves.

Maxine Weiss said...

Well, you can forget about celebrities and other famous ever posting on here.

You think they're going to go to all that trouble just to write two sentences?

Not very hospitable to the rich and famous.

Toby said...

He could just have someone with a TNR email address shoot you a quick email confirming his identity.

And he shouldn't be so pissy about this. These are steps you're taking to protect his reputation. Asking a colleague to spend 20 seconds to confirm his identy is a small payment for such protection.

dbp said...

"Lee Siegel" Said in his response, something about FEDEXing his passport.

Why not just scan it or take a picture of it and send it along as an email attachment?

Either he doesn't know how: Pathetic.

or

He isn't Lee Siegel: Doesn't have it to scan.

or

He thinks Ann Althouse will steal his identity and purchase a lifetime supply of wine with Lee Siegel's credit cards.

or

He is just lazy. Although his response emails probably took more effort than just scanning a document and sending it along...

dbp

Jennifer said...

Were it really him, you'd think he appreciate the efforts to prevent someone from appropriating his name. But, I guess there are those folks who get annoyed when the cashier wants to verify their credit card...

Tom Hilton said...

I don't see how there could be any doubt that it was him. The comment was defensive, patronizing, self-pitying, mean-spirited, and ostentatiously self-important. Nobody could possibly impersonate Siegel that precisely.

Gary Carson said...

Ann said he just needed to email her.

He did.

Ann said that's not enough.

He gave up.

He did what she asked and it wasn't enough. Why would he continue down that road? It doesn't go anywhere.

Simon said...

Gary -
"Ann said he just needed to email her. He did."

After a person claiming to be Siegel posted a comment, she said that Siegel should email her. A person claiming to be Siegel emailed her, using an anonymous email address. Why would one conclude that the latter was any more determinative than the former? The point is that Siegel needed to email her; in criticizing skepticism that the emailer was in fact Siegel, you're assuming the answer

Maxine Weiss said...

What if GWB would like to fire off a line or two?

I can only imagine what you'd put him through.

Althouse is simply throwing barriers in front of the wealthy, the famous....because it makes her feel important, like she's one of them.

Simon said...

Maxine Weiss said...
"What if GWB would like to fire off a line or two?

The White House has its own reserved IP delegation, as does Congress. At a minimum, therefore, you can establish whether the comment actually originated in the White House (and in fact, even more specifically than that, the EOP).

Seven Machos said...

Obviously, Gary Carson is Lee Siegel.

Revenant said...

All you had to do was call the New Republic and get a contact number for him then call him. It's really just so much easier for you to verify who he is than for him to "prove" it to you.

The problem with your argument, Gary, is that "Lee" is the one who wants something done. Specifically, he wants to be allowed to post here as "Lee Siegel".

I don't know for sure, but I suspect that Ann doesn't give a rat's ass if the real Lee Siegel posts here or not. So why should she go through even the slightest inconvenience to help him prove who he is, especially when she suspects he isn't who he claims to be? Let *him* do the work, whoever he is. It could be as simple as putting up a post on The Plank.

Ann Althouse said...

Gary: "Ann said he just needed to email her."

No I didn't! I said "he can email me and convince me it was him." Merely sending email isn't enough to convince me! What would that prove?

Ann Althouse said...

Jennifer: "Were it really him, you'd think he appreciate the efforts to prevent someone from appropriating his name."

Exactly! That is why, in my view, the email constituted proof that it wasn't him.

rcocean said...

When it comes to Lee S.:

Trust, but verify.

wufnik said...

Actually, none of you really exist, and this occasionally diverting but ultimately pointless waste of time isn't really happening...