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Friday, 18 July 2008

PZ vs The Catholic League, Part Deux

Simon over at Bloggasm has a good summary of the whole Crackergate affair. To summarize briefly, PZ was receiving death threats from someone at 1-800-Flowers.com, he posted the email with the originating headers, readers dissected the headers and identified one Melanie Kroll, employed at 1-800-Flowers.com. She was then fired, and her husband posted his confession which can be seen at Greg Laden's blog. Simon's article has all of the relevant links,so I won't post them over here.

Newsvine.com also has the story as well. That is where the picture is from.

Simon's article raised a few interesting points as well.

I asked Laden what his philosophy was on reposting hate mail and whether he believed that Melanie should be fired for sending Myers a death threat. He replied that while he considered it fine for the professor to publish the message he also didn’t think she should have been terminated. Laden argued that if it was true that her husband had sent it from her address without knowing, then the IT department for 1-800 Flowers was as much to blame as anyone else. They should have provided safeguards for this sort of situation, he said, and done more to educate employees on how to avoid it.

But as for his own policy on hate mail, he decided at some point that he would refrain from posting it.

“If you have a disclaimer on your site then you’re free to do whatever you want with an email,” he said. “With my own policy, I decided not to do it. I don’t want to scare people away from sending me email. I have not received any death threats, but in the chance I would, I report them to the IP abuse number or contact the appropriate police authorities. Then it’s up to them to decide whether anything should be done.”

I don't agree with Greg Laden on Melanie Kroll's firing. She knew that abusing her mail or letting someone abuse it would get her fired. Especially, a death threat, which is a felony punishable by up to 5 years in prison. A company is not going to let themselves be liable for that. I may surf the web during lunch, but I never post or email personal things from work. It would be too easy to say something that someone in security at work would not like. Our company computer security people can concentrate on those who are down loading porn or emailing racist jokes and not get upset about my atheistic posting.

But this is making me think about my own blog and how I would handle getting a death threat. Blogging is much more independent than posting on a forum. Forums handle their own security and the users have a level of protection built in. Blogs are more independent, though I host on Google and there is some slight risk of someone at Google taking a dislike to my blog and threatening me or removing my blog. But since Google is a public corporation, there is some protection and recourse for threats.

If I receive a threatening email, I plant to contact Google since I use Gmail. I would also investigate the originating headers myself. In a previous job, I did a bit of hacking, testing our systems for my customer. It was one of my favorite and most challenging jobs. If Google were to do nothing, then I would contact law enforcement my self. Once, that was done, I would post the contents of the email for all to see. But I would not post the headers. If I needed help with tracking the email,I would forward it to friends.

I've been threatened with death myself, but not via email, but in person. It's not a pleasant experience, but you have to trust your instincts for what to do. Each situation is different. In my case, directly confronting the person immediately after he made the threat was the best choice for me. He did not expect this and backed down instantly. I let myself get pissed and he saw that. It helped that I had trained in Aikido for several years and he had seen me give a few self defense demonstrations at work. Each case is different, one must be aware of that.

Update:

PZ finally has done what he has threatened to do on his blog. He threw out the wafer in the trash. Check it out.

I love PZ's concluding paragraph:
"By the way, I didn't want to single out just the cracker, so I nailed it to a few ripped-out pages from the Qur'an and The God Delusion. They are just paper. Nothing must be held sacred. Question everything. God is not great, Jesus is not your lord, you are not disciples of any charismatic prophet. You are all human beings who must make your way through your life by thinking and learning, and you have the job of advancing humanity's knowledge by winnowing out the errors of past generations and finding deeper understanding of reality. You will not find wisdom in rituals and sacraments and dogma, which build only self-satisfied ignorance, but you can find truth by looking at your world with fresh eyes and a questioning mind."

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