The fundamental difficulty of identifying who you are actually dealing with on the Internet can be quite vexing to those who don’t spend most of their waking hours immersed in it. Here’s an example of what I mean. The Tech LawForum comments system notifies me that a comment from “maryjane@yahoo.com” is awaiting moderation. The generic email address makes me suspicious. I examine it. Sure enough, the comment from “maryjane” is only tangentially related to the Net Law Comcast/BitTorrent post to which it is attached. The comment says:

I wonder how this relates in accordance to spam and the international law? There is a website named thesqueakywheel.com which basically rights a possible and unproven wrong with another more definite wrong by relentless spamming. Here is a great article on this website and what they actually do: Thesqueakywheel.com and relentless spamming

It turns out bestbrain.com (the site with the article about thesqueakywheel.com) is affiliated with two other sites, bestskinpeel.com and mdwholesale.com. There are comments under two different names at the bestbrain.com article. Unsurprisingly, one of those names is (wait for it…) “Mary Jane”. Only this time mousing over the link on Mary Jane’s name shows www.maryjane.com, rather than maryjane@yahoo.com. But clicking the link takes me instead to yeah.com, a directory site run by digimedia.com. The other comments in the bestbrain.com article are attributed to “Butch Johnson” and a mouseover of the link on his name points to spamcop.net, the well-known keeper of spam blacklists. “Butch” accuses thesqueakywheel.com of several things, most notably:

One of my coworkers wanted to spite me so they slandered me all over their site and made several complaints about me – all of which were completely untrue and libelous. On top of that I have received over 600 spam emails from them for just one of the bogus complaints. And you can’t even block their email address or domain as they use some kind of illegal stealth method to hide their true address and IP – scumbags.

“Butch” also claims that thesqueakywheel.com has been placed on the spamcop.net spam blacklist. I look up the IP address provided by Butch, but spamcop.net does not report it as being blacklisted. I then go to thesqueakywheel.com and run a search there for “Butch Johnson” figuring that if he was being defamed on the site, his name would come up. Nope. So I ran a search on the site for “bestskinpeel.com”. Bingo. On this page at thesqueakywheel.com, a Sonia Boukelif complains that a product sold at bestskinpeel.com did not perform as advertised. In the course of determining whether to allow one comment on Tech LawForum, I came across two Mary Janes, a Butch Johnson (and not the wide receiver who hauled in a touchdown from Roger Staubach in Super Bowl XII), a braindrain, a bestskinpeel, an mdwholesale, a squeakywheel, a yeah, a digimedia, a spamcop, and a Sonia. I don’t care about the details of the dispute between the two parties, but “maryjane@yahoo.com” does not appear to be a disinterested party either. The use of maryjane@yahoo.com and maryjane.com (which redirects to yeah.com anyway), doesn’t give me a warm fuzzy about the bona fides of the commenter. So I do not approve the comment. Now imagine that I didn’t have the time, curiosity, or Internet fluency to track this all down. Is it any wonder voters want the government to create some means of holding people accountable for their actions on the Internet? Is it any wonder they think all this talk of the need for privacy rights on the Internet might be overblown? Or is it time to start educating people much more thoroughly about how to evaluate the credibility of information they encounter on the Internet? If so, who should do the educating, and what should that education encompass?

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