Saturday, May 9, 2015

Forum Trolls with Their Own Agenda

Ah yes, anyone who has written online for over six months can probably relate to this. 

You ask a reasonable, innocent question in a forum and find yourself on the receiving end of a huge backlash.

As annoying as forum spam is, (I think) trolls and shills are much more detrimental to online community at large.

And for one simple reason: they are highly effective at quieting people who have similar concerns.

No one wants to get bullied or bashed online, right? People will do anything to avoid confrontation - especially online, where if you aren't seen as overwhelmingly nice you might lose a follower or someone who might purchase something from your website or business.

But guess what just happened to me in the Blogger forum?

I searched for any info (already posted) about "bloggers with the same pen name" and nothing came up. So, I decided to ask my question in the forum and here is what happened:

ME: "A few days ago, I created my own blog. At first I tried to use my pen name RoseWrites, but I received the prompt it was "already taken." Naturally, I was curious. So, I tried to view it at rosewrites (dot) blogspot (dot) com but I received the prompt:

"This blog is open to invited readers only. It doesn't look like you have been invited to read this blog. If you think this is a mistake, you might want to contact the blog author and request an invitation."  

I am a wee bit concerned about someone impersonating me online. I'm pretty sure it's rare, but I know it does happen. My newly created blogger blog is (and I'm happy with it). I'd just like some reassurance that I'm not being impersonated on the aforementioned blog.

Thank you in advance."

A couple of forum people chimed in stating the obvious. That someone (likely named Rose) who likes to write just happened to pick that blog name.

I totally "get" that and so I responded. 

ME: "Oh, I'm 99.999% convinced that this person is probably called Rose and likes to write too. It's just that I've had problems with stalkers, content scrapers, and someone impersonating me in the past. I was hoping someone at Google could simply "reassure" me that I'm not being impersonated. 

Could someone please tell me how to "contact the blog author" or verify that this person is not using a photo of me (or scraped versions of my content, etc)?

I'm sure it's rare, but I seem to be a magnet for these types. Just want some reassurance, that's all. I only have one gmail account (if that helps to know)."

Then things got ugly and someone I'd rather not identify kept poking me (I'll refer to him or her as "AGENDA T"):

AGENDA T: "Rose,  If "rosewrites" is private, it's unlikely that anybody here can help you by reading blog content.  A private blog is readable only by the members, that is the purpose of private blogs.

And I can understand your concern  about impersonation - but how would one "impersonate" somebody, in a blog that is not visible?  Impersonation, to have any meaning, has to be visible to people who supposedly know the victim.  If I impersonate somebody who I will never meet - and I will never meet anybody who might know the victim - is that really impersonation?

Also, if the blog were to impersonate you, what would you do about it?  How would you prove impersonation, to a judge or jury, if nobody can read the blog?"

ME: "Dear  Agenda T,

Respectfully, I have reported profiles myself to Google that were impersonating people, Sir David Attenborough (to name just one). There ARE ways to report such cases on Google Plus.

So no, to impersonate someone does NOT "have to be visible to people who know the victim" at all.

In case you've been living under a rock, content theft, spun content, etc. is rampant online. It's extremely easy to steal someone's photo, spin their content, and post it on a "private" blog with Google's AdSense ads etc. and make money solely from their identity and content.

I have not (yet) monetized my blog (since I just started it). But, if someone were to have a blog begun called "Agenda T(dot)blogspot (dot) com" when YOU first started out (and you had used that name online for years), I think you might be equally as curious.

To answer your questions: "if the blog were to impersonate you, what would you do about it?  How would you prove impersonation, to a judge or jury, if nobody can read the blog?"

I would report it to Google, who knows my gmail address has been unchanged for several years, along with my Google Analytics information.

All I'm asking is for someone from Google to "check" it.

The prompt I received also included this quote "you might want to contact the blog author." Sooo, to make a short story long, perhaps someone can point me to how I can "contact the blog author" then?

Thanks in advance to Google or anyone who can help me,


AGENDA T: "If you want to "contact the author", you have to find their contact.

Blogger supports anonymity, and they won't violate that right that the owner has.  Try research.  If you're truly determined, you may find a contact point.

Agenda T put 3 links to his content here (which I won't show).

I really don't think someone from Google is just going to "check" it, if it is private.  Have you ever heard of the term "bootstrapping"?

You: Your honor, I need a court order for Google to "check" this private blog, and see if they are impersonating me.

Judge: Can you prove that they are impersonating you, to justify the order?

You: No, that's why I need the court order.

That is "bootstrapping".  You can't prove that they are impersonating you, so the judge isn't going to give you a court order to violate their right to privacy.  And Google isn't going to violate their right, either.

And what are you going to do, about the impersonators, who are using private hosting services in Cayman Islands, Germany, or Switzerland?  Are you curious about this one blog, because you really think that it's impersonating you - or because it is hosted on Blogger, where you happen to publish?  Or maybe you hope - against all odds - that the current owner might be willing to give you the blog, so you can use your "pen name"?"

ME: "Hey  Agenda T,

Your anger towards me is unwarranted.

If someone is profiting from my identity and content, I believe that is against the law.

If this blogger has nothing to hide, then why not (at least) allow me to introduce myself (not to join his or her blog) but just to be assured that s/he is not using my likeness, identity, or content. And vice-versa.

Perhaps this person would ALSO appreciate knowing that I have no intention of impersonating him or her online?

I once had mail sent to me that belonged to another person with my name (and she had my mail). After we finally connected, we laughed and gave each other our mail back.

Miraculously, neither of us opened each others' mail. (Snail mail, as in letters). Something like that is unheard of in the online world, I know.

I will hold out for more helpful responses, thanks for trying.


AGENDA T: "I'm not angry at you.

I am pointing out though that the person who owns the blog has a private blog - and the only mistake that person made was to pick a blog name which corresponds with your chosen pen name.

Now, Blogger has a privacy policy - and the owner of the blog is entitled to privacy.

Agenda T put another link to his work here.

I can understand your alarm, at possible impersonation.
  • I don't think that the fact that the blog uses your chosen pen name entitles you to claim impersonation - or, seriously, that it suggests impersonation.
  • I don't think that Blogger Policy Review, or Google Security, personnel are likely to just "check" the blog - nor if they do, they would be unlikely to identify anything that concerns you, and would also be within their scope of authority to take action - even if there is anything in there that concerns you.
  • With the blog being private, I don't see how anything other than search engines would be involved, in creating an impersonation threat.
  • I checked Google, Internet Archive (aka Wayback Machine), and Yahoo - and I'm not seeing any hits on "rosewrites (dot) blogspot (dot) com".  I don't think the blog has been indexed.
Now I've been chasing hackers, impersonators, porn, and spammers, for a few years.  I do have experience with all of this.  Unfortunately, the details that I would share with you exceed the scope of this forum.  I do not believe that "blogspot (dot) com" should be the limit of your concern - if impersonation is a concern.

I would like to discuss this with you - just not in this forum.  I'll point out a post which I recently published.

Agenda T put another link to his work here.

That was one very interesting episode which I experienced, in a supra Blogger investigation.  If that interests you, my contact point is indicated in there.

I look forward to hearing from you - just not here."

Then someone else chimed in with this: "Hi Rose, You can visit Someone is impersonating me on Blogger for more details."

ME: "Hi Agenda T, 

See here's the thing: You are making assumptions that simply don't exist. For example, "this person's only mistake" and in your previous response you almost accused me of "hoping the current owner would give me their blog so I could use my pen name."

My question was simply to ascertain that this person was not impersonating me (and making a profit from my identity and/or content). That's all. 

Furthermore, you fail to realize that there is no "evil" intent on my part (and most likely) on this private blog owner's part. 

But the "private" thing, naturally, bothers me a bit. And your defensive reaction with a bunch of links to YOUR content, well, doesn't sit well with me. And then, for some reason, you launched into a court room battle? Extremely odd.

Just to clarify:

a) Nowhere did I make an "accusation" of impersonation (in fact, that is precisely why my forum question is worded "Blogger With Same Pen Name" and not "Someone is impersonating me on Blogger" (which is probably the best answer, so far). 

So your statement: "I don't think that the fact that the blog uses your chosen pen name entitles you to claim impersonation - or, seriously, that it suggests impersonation" is anything but alarmist and accusatory.

b) In my world, if people have the same name, they CAN help each other by directing queries to the proper source. 

In the hospitals I worked in, two doctors shared the same name and we often had patients call the "wrong" doctor. Finally, we figured out a way to give them an option on our phone service to connect with the right doctor (and s/he did the same thing). 

Confusion solved. Everyone happy.

c) Lastly, I thanked you for your effort to help me, yet you continued to link spam this forum. The purpose of a forum is so that others (not just me) can benefit from any answers provided. 

It bothers me (and perhaps others) that you "would like to discuss this with me - just not in this forum" and you continue to "point out a post which you recently published" etc. 

Why the secrecy? I'm not special. 

Every blogger with this valid concern might like to hear your answer. So, instead of spamming this forum, why not just state your case to help us all?

I have no intention of reading any of your posts or "connecting with you privately" - I've been in the online world long enough to know better.

As for TBwiz, for now, I have chosen your response the "best answer" yet I'm not accusing anyone of impersonation - just would like a little reassurance. 

My guess is this: 

If enough people come forward with similar worries about "private" blogs, Blogger admins will eventually look into some form of verification (perhaps email addresses, ISP, photo, and/or content) should be proof enough (without a "court battle"). 

I don't want others with the same concern to be "put off" by what Agenda T has said (which is, in my mind, a form of bullying and forum spamming).

Thank you everyone for reading my forum post, intended to help others too (not just me),


1 comment:

  1. If someone were to start a private blog on blogger with the pen names MattCutts or LarryPage, I'm sure someone would ensure there was no impersonation and/or content theft happening.