11 Beyond the Borderline

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inaccurate diatribes about genocide against the Turks. Computers being what they are, his messages were as likely to follow up articles detailing Thanksgiving menus as they were postings to soc.culture.turkey. Since the system administrator at the site Argic used, anatolia.org, was, as the "Net.Legends FAQ" puts it, "*not* cooperative in the least with the wishes of the rest of UseNet that Serdar get a real life," a petition began circulating around Usenet in the spring of 1994 addressed to the administrators at UUNet, the upstream provider for anatolia.org. The request that they put the pressure on Argic to stop flooding Usenet with these rants missed its target: anatolia.org apparently disappeared in April 1994.

Usenet has gotten a lot of entertainment making fun of its loons. A less polite example is the alt.usenet.kooks newsgroup, which exists specifically to make fun of people whose behavior seems to merit it. The alt.usenet.kooks FAQ defines a net.kook as "Anyone who posts uniquely strange, perfectly incomprehensible articles, or who manifests a persistent, extreme, and somewhat bizarre obsession."[4] The FAQ goes on to say, "It is important to note the subtle distinction between a net.kook, a net.cretin, and a clueless newbie. The newbie, one hopes, can acquire a clue on the installment plan even if he can't afford to buy one for cash; the cretin is merely stupid and/or irritating; but a true net.kook has a special fascination derived from his or her utter ineffability. Their behavior is irrational, if not downright weird, but they are seldom merely boring." And finally, "A net.kook may or may not be clinically insane."

Since April 1994 the newsgroup has voted monthly on the Kook of the Month award, which has gone to folks such as Earle Gordon Curley (October 1995), a self-styled psychic posting regularly to sci.skeptic (getting himself sued by paranormal investigator James Randi in late 1996), and Dr. Dmitri Vulis (May 1996), who campaigned so vigorously for a candidate he had chosen for the award that he wound up being nominated himself. According to the awards page, after some unsavory incidents involving forged votes and postings to soc.culture.pakistani, more than 800 votes came in for "this rather unimportant award," and Vulis won by a margin of 30. In late 1996, Vulis achieved what many would have thought impossible: he got himself thrown off the anarchy-loving, 1,200- member cypherpunks emailing list by its owner, ultimate anti-censor John Gilmore, for persistently and egregiously attacking everyone in sight.

Three Kook of the Month awards have been won by notable figures on alt.religion.scientology: Koos Nolste Trenite (February 1995), the Dutch channeler of L. Ron Hubbard; Peter Nathan Haas (December 1995), who made a name for himself by attempting to insist that everyone on the newsgroup be polite; and Scientology attorney Helena Kobrin (August 1995). Kobrin is also immortalized on the "Helena Kobrin Love Page," maintained by British poster Martin Poulter. Satirical and offensive, it also includes a note on how to complain to the California bar about Kobrin.[5]

What can you do with people who are unfit for cyberspace and take everyone else along with them? Making fun of them blows off steam but is not in any way a satisfying solution if what you hope to achieve is a Net on which everyone can find a spiritual home. Holding them up to ridicule, if anything, alienates them further from the social norms. In a moderated forum, it's up to the sysop to retain enough impartiality to settle the inevitable fights and put brakes on what sadly seems to be a normal, human tendency to nominate the person who stands out as a whipping boy. Anyone who was ever stuck on the receiving end of malicious treatment in school or camp should be sympathetic enough not to inflict similar behavior on other people; unfortunately, in my experience it doesn't work that way online.

Keeping that balance is desperately difficult. It's hard to convey how disruptive these people can be, or how little they seem to register the provocative effect they have on other people. They are always sure you're picking on them unfairly; after all, didn't that other guy just tell them to FOAD? And the answer is, Well, yes, he did--but only after you'd called him names for two weeks and needled him maliciously every time he said anything. You can say that, but they just won't see it that way.

One standard suggestion is to give these attention-seekers their own area to


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