When Free Speech/Privacy Advocates Lose Their Mind

As some of you know, I play an online game on a site called Empire Avenue. I’ve written about it a couple of times, and if you know nothing about it check out the link above.

Facebook: The privacy saga continues
opensource.com via Compfight

This post isn’t really about Empire Avenue, but it plays prominently in this tale, a cautionary tale for all of you who want the cake of freedom of speech and the ability to eat your rights to privacy at the same time. How ugly will this tale end? Stick around…

Empire Avenue has a number of communities where people can get together to discuss all kinds of stuff. I joined a few early on in the game, never liked them much because it didn’t seem anyone had anything to say, and never joined one again.

However, a friend of mine sent me a link to one of the general communities of people who are considered leaders on the site because she wanted me to check something out. Seems there was some general fighting going on about some of the processes in the background of the game that she wanted me to see.

In the middle of it all was this guy, whose name (fake or real) I’m not going to mention, nor his blog, links, Twitter page, etc, because I don’t want to get in the middle of it all; you’ll see why as I get through this story.

Anyway, this guy seemed to be completely out of control. He came into this particular discussion with a chip on his shoulder for some reason and began personally attacking people. He actually came to the defense of someone I’m not even sure he really knows because of something that was said in a Facebook group, and on that one and only point I agreed with him on.

However, he went too far and started calling out anyone he could think of who’s a major player in the game (which is why I’m never mentioned lol) in this forum. And if it had stayed there things might have died down.

But you know that’s not how this story goes. Turned out the guy has a blog on WordPress.com and he started ranting and writing these tomes about the evils of Empire Avenue and naming names and quoting people and pasting images of conversations from the community forum that, in essence, was a major violation of people’s privacy, especially since many of those people had nothing to do with the initial conversation and, in his “wisdom”, he decided to call out those who attempted to call for peace; sigh…

If it's on the Internet, it isn't private.
DonkeyHotey via Compfight

One of the reasons this guy thought he could get away with all this abhorrent behavior is because he went behind a fake name; actually, two fake names, one of those being a deceased actor/comedian. So he went nuts, saying all this stuff about everyone he could think of, posting their images and the like, and boosting it all via his Twitter account as well. He became the Empire Avenue troll; there’s a nice business gift.

And he proclaimed his right to free speech when some of those people complained about his putting their names on his blog and posting them on Twitter, and said that anything on Empire Avenue was his to use as he wished.

However, he started to dislike some of the backlash he started getting on Twitter, and at this point he put out a cease and desist… on Twitter? On Twitter, if you don’t want to see something you just block people, but that wasn’t enough for him. He didn’t want them writing anything about him at all, so he put out a cease and desist against everyone who was against him, and he wrote about it on his blog.

And he started sending letters to Empire Avenue, state and federal agencies in the United States and Canada (where EA resides), and in one instance even called the employer of one of the people he had a beef with to say this guy was harassing him online; wow!

But he made some mistakes. See, what most people don’t realize is that if they’ve been on social media for any amount of time they’ve built up a trail that someone with motivation can follow and find out a lot about that person. Who would have more motivation than a guy who had his job threatened by a lunatic? For that matter who would have more motivation because they’d been called out on a lunatic’s blog?

You guessed it; they found out who he was. They got his name, where he went to school, pictures of what he really looked like, his age, pictures of his children (yup, this guy has kids, adult kids, but the folks had some morals and didn’t post pictures of his kids online). And after people talked with each other to confirm that they all had the same information…

They posted it all on Google Plus. Then they put the link out on Facebook and Twitter so anyone who was connected to some of these folks (or in the Facebook group for EA, which I’m a member of) could see it.

Of course I went to read it all. Fascinating stuff, especially the part about being 43 years old and living in the basement of his mother’s house because he has no real job right now. Seems that’s why he has so much time to troll all these EA members.

You know what happened next… part of it anyway. He went off, saying he was going to file a lawsuit against EA for giving out his personal information, and then lawsuits against all these people for violating his privacy. But he also smartened up… slightly. He went back to all those images he’d posted and started blacking out names that weren’t blacked out previously. He also started going back to remove some names from posts he’d written; y’all know it’s too late for that because everyone he named has copies of it all.

This post needed some cute

At this point he hasn’t backed off, and in an amazing move is actually showing EA shutting him down for his bad behavior, which he can’t see, while still complaining about everyone else violating his privacy, and admitting openly that not only is his name fake (folks can use fake names) but that his “business” information is also fake (folks aren’t allowed to do that part, but since he owned up to it he violated the terms of service), and is thus banned for good.

What’s this story about? Consequences. Many times I’ve written on this blog about consequences for actions and how people need to protect themselves online.

There was a recent news story about a guy who visited some Instagram pages of people who lived in his area that he’d never met, and then he went out and found these people in places they said they congregated, talked to them as if he knew them and told them all kinds of stuff that they thought was private, and only after shocking them with what he knew finally telling them how he’d found it all out (it was all recorded on video). They were all both amazed and shocked because it never occurred to them just how much of themselves they were giving out; lesson learned.

I’ve talked about the topic of controversy and, if you decide to go this route, how it can backfire on you if you’re not prepared for it, and how you want to choose your language carefully if you do decide to take on a subject you know some folks aren’t going to react well to.

I’ve also talked often about privacy, the lack thereof, and how if you’re not going to protect your own privacy all that well that you owe something greater, a major responsibility to your family and friends because most of them probably didn’t ask to be brought into the sphere of social media. That these folks found out about this guy’s kids, with pictures and everything, and his mother, his mother’s house, et al… for a guy talking so much about protecting his privacy he didn’t do a good job of it.

Social media isn’t something anyone should be scared of. But everyone needs to know the inherent dangers of what can happen. On my business blog I’ve talked about the dangers of thinking everyone you work with is your friend and how those folks more often than not will throw you under the bus to save their own skin. It’s like that.

Just two weeks ago two high school girls did two videos on YouTube that were racist against people in their school and community. Now they’ve had to leave school and will be home schooled, even after apologizing, because their safely can’t be guaranteed and the school was suspending them anyway.

Let me spell these lessons out:

* Don’t be stupid online

* Don’t think you can have total privacy online

* Don’t call anyone out unless you’re ready to deal with it

* Don’t think your freedom of speech trumps anyone else’s freedom of speech

* Don’t start none, won’t be none

Anyone disagree with anything I’ve said here? By the way, notice I didn’t mention any names, didn’t link to anything, so only a few people on EA, none of whom read this blog, could ever even figure out who I was talking about. So, if this person finds out about this post & has anything to say… it wasn’t me who violated anyone’s privacy… right? 😉

19 thoughts on “When Free Speech/Privacy Advocates Lose Their Mind”

  1. I’ve often wondered why it is that the people who complain about loss of privacy are the same people who go online every five minutes to announce to the world what they’re doing at that moment. And the ones who feel they’re being attacked are the same ones who become aggressive and attack others, usually for no apparent reason. Great post, Mitch.

    1. Thanks Charles. I always wonder the same thing, yet we see it over and over. So many lessons are out there that no one wants to learn from, so I have little sympathy for those who get caught up in the maelstrom. I just hope to always say what I mean and mean what I say, and if I do that and someone doesn’t like it I can live with it.

  2. Good lessons for us all, Mitch.
    I generally avoid drama. I have Netflix for that!
    Seriously, though, there was a time in my life when I felt that it was important for all of us to get along. I know that is a pipe dream, so now I just hope to interact with nice people.



    1. Mitch, Rodney King couldn’t get us to like each other so I figure it’s a lost cause also. lol Heck, I call people out here and there but I’ve never lost my mind to the point where I keep hammering something over and over and… well, this guy just went over the top. I know it can happen though, and it’s an interesting study in how people’s minds can shift in weird directions.

  3. Hi Mitch
    This is first time I visited your blog and I don’t have any second thought to say it is awesome. I just glanced at a few of its contents and they all are not following herd instinct like how-tos and top-10s kind of things. This shows you believe in quality and value to deliver something great.
    You are right it is not so easy to stay at online world where you can’t survive with any fake face or identity. You need to be as real there as you are in your off line life.
    Thanks a lot for sharing this interesting post.

    1. Thanks Mi. The thing is if you want to remain anonymous you need to make sure you don’t make the wrong people mad. All of us are pretty smart but some people are smarter at certain things than you are, and this guy learned it by being a stupid jerk. I actually tracked someone down years ago and, in an open forum, told him some things about himself that were enough to scare him away, and I did it because he was an abusive jerk hiding behind a fake name and I’d had enough of him. Have a point of view, back it up, but don’t go too far and, by all means, be up front about who you are because the truth will set you free!

  4. Oh my word Mitch, I guess people will just never learn. I am not surprised though that this guy felt it was okay for him to post things that others thought were private but then get pissed when they posted his stuff. Okay, so he was hiding behind fake stuff. We all know people can be found out and you just proved it.

    This is one of the reasons I don’t like to be a part of certain discussions. We are all very passionate about our views and at times things can get out of hand and when you’re typing your views out they may not come across the way they were intended.

    That can hurt you if you’re trying to build a certain representation of yourself for business or even personal reasons. I just think that people should be a lot smarter about this before they go shooting off about things that others are going to definitely step up and voice their opinions.

    I sure hope he learned his lesson although it was a very hard one to learn.


    1. Adrienne, I hope he learned his lesson also, but you know how some people are. The thing is that a few of the people he decided to visually chew out were just trying to tell him and others to calm down, and he decided to go after them as well. Once again, it was proof that you just never know who you’re going to irk enough to get them to want to go nuclear in some fashion against you, and the folks had everything, including his address, his mother’s phone number, and some other information that they were willing to divulge to the world, and when you’re someone who’s trying to hide who you are… panic ensued. lol

      I have my moments, but have never lost it like this guy did; whew!

  5. Doubled-edged sword Mitch 😉 Good points both ways. I share, to inspire, but remove specifics to maintain some privacy. Thanks!

    1. Thanks for your comment Ryan. I only add what’s needed and leave the “innocent” alone. Still, if I call someone out & they retaliate, I’m the only one to blame.

  6. More people should read this post of yours, Mitch! This freedom of speech thing gets out of hand sometimes. Yes, we are free to speak whatever we like, but that freedom comes with consequences. If only you see the things I see on my Facebook page, people taking their fights to Facebook. Later on, the same people will get mad if rumors spread about their fight. It’s crazy! Anyway, great post, man. Keep up the good work. The public needs to be educated.

    1. Thanks Dylann. I share this link with you, and anyone else who sees my response to you, because it offers a way to block lots of stuff that you don’t want to see on Facebook: http://www.imjustsharing.com/f-b-purity-for-facebook/. Facebook can be a lot of fun but there’s a lot of opinion and dirty laundry that I’d rather skip if I can. And the freedom of speech thing… well, I guess it is what it is, but some folks lose their mind here and there.

  7. This guy sounds unstable. He started out on the attack and said no one’s privacy was safe and then, when the roles were reversed, privacy became a priority. I don’t want to know a person like this but it makes for a great story. 🙂

    I haven’t logged into Empire Avenue in so long I’m afraid I’m in the negative figures. You said this guy was like EA’s troll and that’s a shame. Just like spammers, it’s tough to understand the reasoning behind such a waste of time. That’s why I think of people like that as unstable, because they defy common sense and that just seems dangerous.

    Privacy is impossible online but I guess the lesson here is that that private information becomes highlighted, perhaps even targeted, when people go out of their way to stir up trouble. That’s like speeding through town right after robbing a back; it’s better to relax and go with the flow if you don’t want to be noticed.

    Not that we should be hiding in the shadows, we’re meant to shine. 🙂

    1. We are meant to shine Brian, but how we shine is probably very important as well. I’m sure this guy has some supporters who love his style because anarchy loves company, but for the rest of the world it just doesn’t work for long, and when the backlash hits… well, then it’s on! There is this thing about calling out bad behavior that I understand; but when it becomes an obsession… well, this guy saw what his actions wrought.

  8. Hey Mitch, it sort of makes you wonder where these people come from doesn’t it. All I can say is I hope, seeing as how he lives over there in the States, this guy doesn’t have any access to military hardware. He seems slightly unstable, to say the least.

    Then again he doesn’t seem to have the smarts to operate anything more complicated than a keyboard. To think that he thought changing names after the fact would resolve anything. Way too little way, way too late!

    1. Peter, actually in today’s world I’m not all that surprised anymore. We have more shootings, more people who are more vociferous in expressing their hate because of their religion or their politics, and more people willing to act out or say things they know they shouldn’t say and then claim they have a right to do or say so, yet feel persecuted when they get called on it. So now, I’m not surprised, but I always hope to caution others who might not have thought much about it on the dangers of being “that person”.

  9. Hi Mitch,

    Thanks for sharing this story that illustrates what goes online stays online. As for privacy, noting is private on line. There will always be trolls like this guy out there. He does sound mentally unstable, but can cause disturbance.

    My gosh, what people do is quite insane. There are all kinds of people out there, from youngsters bulling, to others that try to rip us down.

    We have to be ready for them. We need the mindset to be prepared to handle this. I’m so glad this guy was caught.

    Goes to show you reap what you sow.


    1. Absolutely Donna. I’m pretty insulated, not because my stuff is private but because it’s fairly easily found. I work for myself so my phone number and email addresses are in many places. However, my personal email address isn’t known, my wife’s information is minimal and Mom, other than a picture here and there, is totally hidden also. Still, I wouldn’t be as stupid as this guy, who really does seem to be unstable. Even now, about a year later, he’s still writing about EA; of all things! lol

  10. I’m all for fair consequences and poetic justice. Internet revenge and vigilante-ism goes too far, much of the time. No one deserves to have their family – particularly their children – dragged on social media. No one deserves death threats or letter bombs. A taste of their own medicine, sure – but all too often, the mob gets so far out of control as to engender sympathy for the original miscreant. (Imagine ME, feeling sorry for an unrepentant plagiarist! It’s happened.) Sometimes, people lash out when they’re hurting (like a drunk picking a fight in a biker bar). Sometimes, they need someone to show compassion. The guy you’re describing? He showed none. He doubled down on his bad behavior. He went out of his way to hurt people. None of that, though, would justify terrorizing his family. There’s a time to call up the guy at work, and then there’s a time to call law enforcement (or a lawyer). There is a time to stop playing – to stop poking the tiger with a pointy stick and get a zookeeper to put it in a cage.

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