Being busy with my self publishing adventure, I’d not been paying much attention to the Internet, so I was surprised when I read Jay Rosen’s tweet about allegations against one of my favorite journalists.

Over the last few years I’ve developed a great deal of respect for Glenn Greenwald’s reporting. While I can imagine detractors calling Greenwald many things, “puppet” just seems… ludicrous. If I had an important controversial news story to break — like the Robert Redford character in the movie “Three Days of the Condor” — Greenwald is the reporter I would seek out. Clearly Edward Snowden agrees, because Greenwald is the man he took his story to.

Even without knowing what allegations were being flung, I added my support of Glenn Greenwald to Jay’s tweet:

— Laurel L. Russwurm (@laurelrusswurm) July 11, 2013

My tweet drew a challenge from a total stranger … someone I do not follow, and who does not follow me.

This stranger, who posts on twitter under the pseudonym A.T., suggested Glenn Greenwald needs to “answer the charges of sock-puppetry that [A.T.] happen[s] to find more than just plausible.”

What an allegation! In web parlance, a “sock puppet” is a fake persona some people use to bolster their own spurious arguments. Accusing Greenwald of being a sock puppet is a bit much, because Greenwald is a real live human being, an internationally well known journalist with a longstanding career and reputation.

an emply sock puppet

The irony in this allegation is that the person spreading this attack on Greenwald is him/herself pseudonymous, and so could easily be a sock puppet. When total strangers insert themselves in your conversation, they may well be trolling, which is to say, spreading misinformation or otherwise seeking to antagonize.

Yet the only way to guarantee free speech is to support citizen anonymity. There are all sorts of good reasons to protect your identity when speaking out. But when speaking anonymously, you must establish credibility, or you may be taken for a sock puppet or a troll.

In order to decide how much credibility this stranger might merit, I looked at his/her twitter profile. On the face of it, it doesn’t read like a troll feed. Perhaps this person is new to the net, and doesn’t have the jargon down; they might still have something valid to impart.

So I asked,

— A.T. (@innerproduct) July 12, 2013

Forgetting for a moment that some of us don’t “google” (we search), the Internet is a very big place.

Web searching is a complicated process. Not all searches are equal. Not even close. Even if I were to use Google to enact a web search, depending on:

  • the search terms I choose,
  • my geographic location,
  • my IP address history
  • the time of day,
  • even the browser I use,

the search results will be different. Google’s justification for collecting and aggregating personal information about us all, whether or not we are signed in, is to tailor the search results to the individual making the search. Since I am more likely to use a privacy respecting search engine like DuckDuckGo, StartPage or IxQuick, the search results I receive will be different than the search results returned to someone who uses “google” as a verb.

When making any allegation or argument online, it is not only reasonable, but essential to be able to back it up with supporting links. If this person read a specific article, or a series of articles that called Glenn Greenwald’s professionalism into question, this is when they need to provide that and any other link supporting their argument.

Telling me to google it is akin to suggesting I sift the haystack for a needle. (And finding the needle would very probably be easier.)

When someone can’t be bothered to back up allegations, or abruptly backs down, it is generally reasonable to assume such allegations are at best misguided, or worse, spurious. Or even malicious.

I’m guessing these particular allegations were inspired by the Washington Post article referenced in this article The journalistic practices of the Washington Post and Walter Pincus.

While I think A.T., my Twitter correspondent here, was merely misguided, allegations like the ones made by the Washington Post against Glenn Greenwald are a symptom of a serious issue. The deeper problem is that mainstream news media has largely ceased funtioning as the ‘watchdog press.’

If a reporter gets something factually wrong, people clamor for correction; but when an unsavory report is undeniably true, ad hominem attacks are often applied — which is why this type of attack must always be taken with a grain of salt, and, if possible, challenged.

We are fortunate that the Internet has allowed for the rise of citizen journalism. When the voices of ordinary and even anonymous people are raised online, by tweeting, blogging or sharing, we can spread the news ourselves, and sometimes even shame the news industry covering an unpopular story. But when ordinary people engage in citizen journalism, it is important to do so in a credible and responsible manner.

Free speech is not the same thing as attacking someone’s real life reputation from behind a screen of anonymity. When people are personally attacked they deserve the right to face their accuser.

When a journalist exposes government malfeasance, the state often fights back, either by attacking the journalist directly, or indirectly, through its shills in a bid to deflect the unwanted scrutiny. Slinging mud at detractors in an attempt to discredit them is a shell game that erodes democracy. The Government of the United States prefers to have its citizens diverted into the consideration of the personalities of journalists or leakers in hopes that concerns about warrantless government surveillance will fade away.

Sadly, it seems today’s Washington Post is not the kind of news outlet that could bring down a corrupt presidency so long as its policy embraces government “pravda.” I wonder if any news outlet operating within the United States can stand against government pressure? Any news outlet that sells out press freedom isn’t really a news outlet at all.

I believe in the principle declared at Nuremberg in 1945: “Individuals have international duties which transcend the national obligations of obedience. Therefore individual citizens have the duty to violate domestic laws to prevent crimes against peace and humanity from occurring.”

Accordingly, I did what I believed right and began a campaign to correct this wrongdoing. I did not seek to enrich myself. I did not seek to sell US secrets. I did not partner with any foreign government to guarantee my safety. Instead, I took what I knew to the public, so what affects all of us can be discussed by all of us in the light of day, and I asked the world for justice.

That moral decision to tell the public about spying that affects all of us has been costly, but it was the right thing to do and I have no regrets.

The Guardian: Edward Snowden statement: ‘It was the right thing to do and I have no regrets’

glossary via Wikipedia
sock puppet


Uncomplicated: free speech, privacy and law

[In response to TechDirt: Reddit, Trolling, Doxxing, Free Speech & Anonymity: Whoo Boy, Is This Stuff Complicated I posted a comment; which I think this is important enough to repeat a slightly modified version here.]

Free speech is *only* legally protected from government censorship.

Individuals and corporations are legally allowed to censor speech in their own premises, forums, workplaces, homes, or anywhere else.

But what constitutes Free Speech?

The Crime?

The written description of what was posted online:

“…surreptitiously shot photos of others, usually women, usually focused on sexually objectifying the subjects of the shot.”

Photographing private individuals without their consent?
Then publishing the illicit photos on the internet?
I’m sorry, how is this free speech?
If you climb a tree and photograph your neighbor through their window, is that free speech too?

The article goes on to explain that the photographs were “often very young women.”
How young?
The comments mention the existence of a Reddit forum called /r/jailbait ?

And then there is the teacher posting photographs of students. When an authority figure abuses the power they have over over other people, it is an unconscionable breach of trust, possibly liable for criminal charges, certainly and most deservedly, to job loss. This is not free speech.

The Criminals

There have been emphatic arguments in the TechDirt comments about how important it is to protect the privacy of people who take such surrepetious photographs, and moderators who were aware of such content being published on the Internet without the subjects’ knowledge or permission.

You are concerned about the protection of the perpetrator’s anonymity.

Yet precious little thought has been given to the people whose anonymity has been stripped away through the publication of illicit photographs.  What about the victim’s anonymity?

The contention has been made that publishing such photographs is “free speech.”  Poppycock.


Professional photographers only publish photographs of subjects when they have signed release forms, because otherwise they can be held legally liable. Even models that have been paid to pose must sign releases; if they don’t, the photographs are published at the photographer’s peril.

Because one’s image is part of the individual’s private domain.


Although public figures may be “fair game” because they have put themselves in the public eye, private individuals are accorded legal protection of personal privacy.

The face, the likeness, the identifiability of individuals is protected. Any such invasion of the personal privacy of an individual must trump any arguments of free speech.

You can think what you want. You can say what you want. You can troll all the live long day. But taking surreptitious photographs of people and publishing them without express permission is a no-no.

If you post a photo of my daughter without her permission, or mine if she is a minor, you’ll find yourself in a world of trouble.  Because you will have invaded my daughter’s privacy.  You made this decision, you took these actions, and the logical consequence is that you answer for it.

There *should* be laws to address this creepy crap on Reddit. But maybe there aren’t. Or even if there are, the forces of law enforcement may not have a clue how to tackle a Reddit. Or maybe they *nudge*nudge*wink*wink simply don’t do a damn thing about it.

If the law does not answer, the best way to achieve social justice is to shine a light on injustice. If the law can’t or won’t deal with something this reprehensible, doxxing seems to be a perfectly acceptable, moral and ethical recourse.

And as the TechDirt article suggests, this wasn’t even doxxing, it was a case of media reporting.

logical consequences

Personal privacy is a natural right. We all need personal privacy. Our own space.

The creep perpetrators invaded that space.  They chose to commit bad acts.

People who are photographed secretly, and then had the photographs published, have chosen nothing. They have been victimized by the acts of the perpetrators.  Whether or not the law has defined this specific behaviour as assault, that is exactly what it is: an invasion of a human being’s personal space, and an assault on privacy.