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Sweaty scenes from the life of an AOL censor

By Kickstart in MLP
Thu Mar 22, 2001 at 02:12:24 AM EST
Tags: Freedom (all tags)
Freedom

In the words of a friend: "I can't really decide which side I'm on with that one. Freedom vs. basic decency shouldn't be a sticky issue but frequently it is."

Rita Ferrandino writes this behind-the-scenes article on being an AOL censor. Really though, it's about being powerless to 'do the right thing' inside a large corporation. The author left the AOL censoring department after being unable to help a mother find her child because of the possible legal repercussions for AOL.


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Sweaty scenes from the life of an AOL censor | 24 comments (14 topical, 10 editorial, 0 hidden)
such is reality (4.71 / 7) (#3)
by rebelcool on Wed Mar 21, 2001 at 12:59:09 PM EST

imagine the horrific abuse of the system that would occur if the "censors" were allowed to give away personal information. It's a compromise. Also consider the fact that the woman could simply have been lying as well. Social engineering..i have a grudge against someone on aol, so I pretend i'm some kid's father who is desperatly looking for him, and i know UserXX has something to do with him, so what is UserXX's phone, address etc. AOL should not have to make up for what the woman should have been doing - paying more attention to her son, if indeed that is the real case.

Further, I can sympathize with AOL. I run a community and have in the past. There have been numerous instances of removing a user's profile, banning from the service and all. Is it because i'm an egotist who wants to press my own morals upon everyone else? Not really. Most people are decent. But occasionally there is a twit who gets on, and pisses off a whole lot of people, who then complain. If I let such behavior run unchecked, then the quality of the site would be for shit. AOL markets their service as family friendly, and so they respond to complaints in the way that most of us would if we received a complaint. Also note that this story is about a division which handled COMPLAINTS.. not quite the same as patrolling and reading everyone's messages which would be all but impossible.

Consider that kuro5hin does this, however instead of having Rusty do the "censoring", the community does it. I'm sure many of you have bitched about congress' "community standards" as a reason for censorship, which is exactly what kuro5hin works by. Messages deemed "bad" by the entire community and voted down are hidden, and thus "censored". Interesting eh?

COG. Build your own community. Free, easy, powerful. Demo site

Freedom? (4.00 / 3) (#7)
by slick willie on Wed Mar 21, 2001 at 01:29:24 PM EST

First of all, I'll bet the !/. crowd gets this out of the queue post-haste. Any takers?

Second, I know that the 1st Amendment is going to get trotted out, but the thing is this: It's Steve Case's sandbox, and it's his rules. If you don't like it, you have the freedom to choose a different service provider.

The stories, especially the final one, are very compelling, but the rules are the rules, and she chose to seek employment somewhere else. Everyone is happy.

The Moral of the Story: Read and UNDERSTAND your TOS, regardless of who you choose.

"...there is no limit to what a man can do or where he can go if he doesn't mind who gets the credit."
--Ronald Reagan, First Inaugural Address

Leave Slashdot out of It (none / 0) (#8)
by Speare on Wed Mar 21, 2001 at 01:32:25 PM EST

People should not vote stories down just because they saw a similar writeup on a different site. K5 is not slashdot. The readership may overlap, but so do the readerships of USA Today and Life Magazine.


[ e d @ h a l l e y . c c ]
[ Parent ]
RE: Leave Slashdot out of It (none / 0) (#9)
by slick willie on Wed Mar 21, 2001 at 01:42:12 PM EST

Personally, I voted a zero, which you could have found out easily enough.

I should have clarified that by "!/.", I meant that rabid faction that votes items down, just becuase they are on slashdot. I vote items according to my interest in them, regardless of where else they appear.

"...there is no limit to what a man can do or where he can go if he doesn't mind who gets the credit."
--Ronald Reagan, First Inaugural Address

[ Parent ]

(nothing personal) (none / 0) (#12)
by Speare on Wed Mar 21, 2001 at 02:43:43 PM EST

From your tone, it didn't sound like you were voting it up or down. You're right, people do, though, so I put in my stock rant to see if we can disabuse folks of the notion. :)
[ e d @ h a l l e y . c c ]
[ Parent ]

Thats hilarious (none / 0) (#11)
by retinaburn on Wed Mar 21, 2001 at 02:30:36 PM EST

I didnt know I could get at k5 by that. It will be much easier than saying "I was at Corrosion, only it looks like kuro shin, but is spelled kuro5hin ..thats right with a 5...no its a .org not a .com ..cuz its not commerical ..yeah i know they aren't commercial either they got the wrong domain ...because people SUCK THATS WHY YOU LITTLE <insert screams, choking and sirens>

I think that we are a young species that often fucks with things we don't know how to unfuck. -- Tycho


[ Parent ]
Reality ? (4.66 / 3) (#10)
by Signal 11 on Wed Mar 21, 2001 at 02:23:05 PM EST

It's stories like these that immediately bring to the forefront the problems society is grappling with online. It is a matter of personal freedom, but it's not immediately obvious why. We are an individualist culture insofar as we are encouraged to speak out, tolerate uniqueness and public debate, and accept that there are alternative viewpoints and not be judgemental of them. That's what we're told in school, and it's codified into the golden rule. What they don't tell you in school though is the responsibility and consequences of this kind of personal freedom. It's freedom from persecution by others, but by the same token we're tying our hands and making ourselves powerless when we see something which conflicts with our own moral standards.

I think, for example, that the Klu Klux Clan should be outlawed, and their members uncermoniously dumped in the ocean (to put it mildly). Every fiber of my being tells me that the KKK is wrong. But were I to infringe on their free speech, were I to become active in silencing and removing them from my community I would become them. It would be me then, taking away my own rights. It is a paradoxical arrangement which this story brings out. As voltaire said: "I may disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."

The author did his best to show the conditions and the facts as they were. I can't say for sure he was telling the truth, but it seems true. It seems like it could really have happened... and this isn't the first time the oppressive nature of AOL has been "leaked" to the public. It's not an epic battle between right and wrong - there will be no court case for this person, and likely after a few years even the author will forget about it, but it's small events like these that shape the collective morality of our culture. The battle for personal liberty is fought one small action at a time.


--
Society needs therapy. It's having
trouble accepting itself.

Reality ? (none / 0) (#16)
by mami on Wed Mar 21, 2001 at 05:32:19 PM EST

It is a paradoxical arrangement which this story brings out. As voltaire said: "I may disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."

This argument is the main stumbling stone and I wonder why most don't realize that it says: " I will defend to the death your right to SAY it".

There is this saying in German "Die Gedanken sind frei" (The thoughts are free"). As soon as you SAY (speak) out your thoughts, your responsibility for the consequences for speaking out freely kicks in. Community has a right to demand from its members responsible behaviour to the extent that your personal usage of your freedom can't restrict your neighbor's freedom and safety. There is just no absolute freedom. Actually I don't think there is a lot of freedom at all, just by nature.

Do you have any proof that Voltaire would make the same statement today, if he had to measure the consequences of his statement against our technology ? Saying, writing, printing, distributing and broadcasting are all different things and don't fall just plainly into the category of "free thoughts". At least, I think that's just lazy thinking of our part to believe so.



[ Parent ]

Ahem.... (none / 0) (#17)
by Signal 11 on Wed Mar 21, 2001 at 05:48:50 PM EST

I wonder why most don't realize that it says

Well, I just wrote it, they just read it, it's reasonable to conclude they realized that's what it said.

As soon as you SAY (speak) out your thoughts, your responsibility for the consequences for speaking out freely kicks in.

I believe you to infer that "responsibility" actually means "If you say something I don't like, I can kick the shit out of you." That's not what free speech is about, and it's not what voltaire was talking about. Besides, we have laws against burning people at the stake and clubbing them to death for disagreeing with the majority these days.

Do you have any proof that Voltaire would make the same statement today, if he had to measure the consequences of his statement against our technology?

He's a corpse. I rather doubt he'll be saying anything about modern technology in the near future.


--
Society needs therapy. It's having
trouble accepting itself.
[ Parent ]

You can never know the truth... (5.00 / 3) (#13)
by jd on Wed Mar 21, 2001 at 05:04:40 PM EST

One of the big problems with on-line societies is that "truth" is often neglected in favour of glamour.

We'll never know if the woman, at the end of the story, was telling the truth. The tech -was- in a moral dilema, true, but interestingly NOT the one of "is the woman even related to this person?" - there are some really disturbed people out there, and phony calls to technical lines is a known way of getting information.

Also interestingly, no mention of handing the matter to the proper authorities (eg: the police) was mentioned. To not do so, if a crime had occured, could make the tech support person guilty of being an accessory. To do so, if everything was fine, would be nothing out of the ordinary.

IMHO, those who go into technical support SHOULD be advised that theirs is one of the most hazardous of all jobs in the computing industry. Their decisions can have big consequences. Poorly-worded policies and "NIMBY" superiors can make this even worse.

This is one reason I would NEVER advise anyone to go into tech support. The pay's not good enough to be worth the dangers.

P.S. Anyone who still believes that people are all sweetness, light and honesty on the Internet should get aquainted with MUD-1's saga of "Sue" the Witch. It's most enlightening.

Off-topic - identity, honesty and Sue the Witch (none / 0) (#18)
by shirobara on Wed Mar 21, 2001 at 05:58:57 PM EST

Identity and honesty in the way people represent themselves online has always been interesting to me, and I can't find anything on "Sue" the Witch or MUD-1. If you have time and wouldn't mind, would you please relate the story or point me to where I can read about it?



[ Parent ]
Ok... (5.00 / 2) (#23)
by jd on Thu Mar 22, 2001 at 10:53:51 AM EST

Ok, a brief summary. "Sue the Witch" was the first known case of "gender bending" (ie: pretending to be the opposite gender) online. She (actually a "he") went to extraordinary lengths to conceal their true identity, even bringing their wife along to MUD events, so that "Sue" would be present.

They were only discovered after they vanished from MUD-1, and players (who knew "her" well) had got very concerned. They mananged to find out where "Sue" lived (though the details there aren't too clear) and drove over to see if she was OK.

After a lengthy discussion with the woman (who really was called Sue, I believe), it turned out that the online Sue was her husband and that he'd been arrested for stealing something like 15,000 GBP (approx $30,000) from his employer to pay for his MUDding habit.

The references I used seem to no longer be on-line, but here are two that are:



[ Parent ]
Thank you! (no text) (none / 0) (#24)
by shirobara on Fri Mar 23, 2001 at 12:17:25 PM EST

(no text)

[ Parent ]
Kid fall off their bike? Free millions from AOL. (4.00 / 2) (#21)
by TuxNugget on Wed Mar 21, 2001 at 11:08:21 PM EST

The next time your son or kid brother skins his knee falling off the bicycle, consider the following scenario:
  1. Fake a log of an innocent AOL chat between the kid and some local prevert (some preverts mention where they live, advertising for a reply) about something ok, model airplanes for instance. Print this out along with the prevert's AOL profile (no need to fake that).
  2. Call AOL as concerned parent and bitch.
  3. AOL will refuse to turn over information.
  4. Take pictures of skinned knee.
  5. Tell story of narrow escape from preversion to local newspaper. Mention how uncooperative AOL was. How you'd like to get a lawyer and sue, but can't afford those big legal fees.
  6. Take your pick of the lawyers that call up on the phone.
  7. Make sure the lawyer gets lots of soccer moms for the jury. Be sure to cry. Bring in other people who have REAL aol stories so that yours sounds more believable.
  8. Retire to the South Pacific on those big AOL dollars. Get the kid those model airplanes he's been wanting.

So what is inplausible about this scenario? After all, most people don't really have an alibi for every moment of the day.

<small>Yeah, I know it is spelled "pervert". I think "Prevert" sounds better..</small>

Sweaty scenes from the life of an AOL censor | 24 comments (14 topical, 10 editorial, 0 hidden)
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