Pseudonymity Feed

Give Peace a Chance: My Return to Blogging

I have decided to come back to blogging. I am returning at a point of happiness and strength with a new book out which is successful in ways I had never imagined an anthology could be. I have been having an amazing time these past few weeks.

I find that I have made my decision to resume just at the moment when Kathy Sierra's blog post Why the Trolls Will Always Win, commemorating ten years of over-the-top harassment, is published in Wired

Continue reading "Give Peace a Chance: My Return to Blogging" »

"Defining Characteristics of the Posthuman & the Emergent Transition to the Transhuman: a Dystopian Scenario" by Kathryn Cramer

Posthumans communicate electronically. Pay no attention to the geek behind the handle.

A posthuman outnumbers a human: their emergent relationship is often predator and prey.

Humans are single, identifiable individuals. Posthumans are legion; they are multi-headed hydra. When fully developed, they contain multitudes, as many identities as they need.

Posthumans are the heroes of their own stories.

Humans may have several social identities, usually dependent on contexts such as work, parenting, gaming. Posthumans have more.

Humans are cursed with continuous lives; posthumans are not. Posthumans can go underground with a keystroke. Bingo, another identity!

Posthumans are lonely, they are looking for love and companionship and attention. Self-love does not ease the ache for another, more satisfying identity. Perhaps even as a superhero.

Posthumans are disinhibited.

Posthumans are thrill-seekers, enjoying the rush of the group demagogic skydive.

Posthumans live in constant fear of exposure as insignificant meat.

Posthumans argue against the unique identification of moral actors.

To protect them from predation, children are taught in elementary school how to become posthuman when going online. As with many top predators, by adolescence, these proto-posthumans with have learned the role of predator. Social networking plays a major and perhaps even Darwinian role in this socialization.

Posthumans hunt in legions. If no one else will hunt, posthumans become the legion.

Posthumans bear no responsibility for the past. For posthumans, electronic life is an organizing principle imposed on the past, which is chaos.

All the truth posthumans need is available online. And if it isn’t there, they can make something up and put it online.

For a human to seek a human's address and phone number, she looks in the phone book. For a human to seek a posthuman's address and phone number is stalking!

Humans privilege relationships formed in and founded on what they call "real life." Posthumans either deny a distinction between “real life” and online relationships, or disparage the idea that "meatspace" relationships have any privileged meaning.

Posthumans like to watch. They especially like to watch humans and other posthumans fighting.

Posthumans find inflicting pain easier than do humans. Posthuman demagogues easily replicate the results of the Milgram experiment again and again, since posthumans are drawn to such experiences.

Posthuman culture changes at a much more rapid pace than human culture, such that the social protocols of online communities less than five years old are often regarded as ancient and venerable traditions. Still, most bad ideas go back a long way.

Truth is the consensus of posthumans today. Tomorrow's truth will be different. There is no fact outside of constantly-shifting consensus truth.

Humans are limited to no more than 3 or 4 romantic entanglements at a time. Posthumans may pursue 15 or 20 simultaneously; those posthumans augmented by bots can pursue hundreds. For some posthumans, this can prove highly profitable, particularly those who specialize in widows and the elderly.

Posthumans can blogswarm from jail!

The posthuman condition is a happy state for registered sex offenders.

Posthumans have solved the problem of professional ethics: The ethics of posthumans are completely undiscussable. How dare you raise the issue of ethics!

Posthumans are becoming the natural prey of Intelligent Agents, currently in the service of humans and adept at parsing social networks and friends lists. Intelligent Agents perform due diligence.

A posthuman’s HR department already has the posthuman’s Charles Manson fanfic on file; is already aware of the disturbing themes in the posthuman’s Shirley Temple Second Life porn; the posthuman’s Flickr account has already been run by legal. Legal has advised management to let him dig himself in a little deeper.

Posthumans are losing security clearances for unexplained reasons.

Posthumans are now being investigated by the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Now posthumans lose their jobs.

Intelligent Agents take over. Truth is the consensus of corporately owned Intelligent Agent systems.

The era of Transhumanity is at hand.

History has ended. Posthumans have no history.

Copyright © 2009 by Kathryn Cramer.

Metafilter moves in mysterious ways

So my name has been taken in vain in a post on Metafilter. I am left wondering exactly how my objections to people using pseudonyms leads anyone to the idea that I think that "The future is all straight, white men?"

Certainly, most of the assholes on the Internet are straight white men, though that does seem to be changing. But whoever wrote that post clearly doesn't read either my blog nor my books, nor know me personally.

Cowards, cowards, cowards.

A man with, um, identity issues

From the BBC: US man 'posed as his dead mother'

Thomas Prusik-Parkin, 49, is accused by prosecutors of regularly dressing up in a wig, dress and make-up in order to fool the authorities.

The alleged scam has been going on ever since Mr Prusik-Parkin's mother, Irene Prusik, died in 2003 at the age of 73.

He faces charges of theft, forgery and conspiracy.

"I held my mother when she was dying and breathed in her last breath, so I am my mother," Mr Prusik-Parkin said when he was arrested, according to police.

The man had gone so far as to go through a bankruptcy proceeding in court impersonating his dead mother and went to DMV in person and renewed her driver's license.

Reminds me of the famous line:

"Be Yourself; everyone else is already taken." 
— Oscar Wilde

The Daily News has an extremely strange transcript of court testimony by Mr. Prusik-Parkin at a foreclosure hearing:

"How is your mother's health currently?" the lawyer asked.

. . .

"Fair," Parkin replied. "She had taken a stroke a few years ago. ... She can't walk properly. She can't speak."

"How does it affect her speech?"

"'Bleh, bleh, bleh, bleh, bleh,' like that."

"Slurred or unintelligible?"

"To say the least."

"You speak with her, correct? You meet with her?"

"She doesn't reply directly, really."

"How do you communicate with her? How does she respond?"

"It's one-sided."

There are more weird details in The Daily News.

Reading Cioma Schönhaus's The Forger: An Extraordinary Story of Survival in Wartime Berlin

Book-shopping on the way to Balticon, I picked up and advance reading copy of Cioma Schönhaus's The Forger: An Extraordinary Story of Survival in Wartime Berlin. It was first published in German in 2004, and the US edition came out DeCapo Press in 2007. In the first 90 pages, the author has managed to survive the deportations of friends, neighbors, and his family by being a highly skilled worker, eventually working in a munitions plan. Before that, he we an art student, and at page 93, is about to begin his career as a forger of the documents that will allow people to survive:

Go see [Dr. Kaufmann], work with him. But try to spell out for him that careful plotting is just as important a weapon as heroic courage. Otherwise your life as a passport forger will be a short one. Just think about it: anybody caught with an ID card you forged will quizzed by the police about where he got the pass, who swapped over the picture and who copied the stamp. There aren't many who can keep a secret when their fingers are shoved in a door jamb and the door slammed shut on them. Unless they really don't know anything, in which case there is nothing to give away. That's why nobody must know your name and address. The same goes for Dr. Kaufmann.

It's a short book -- 212 pages. The issue of identity and survival in Nazi Germany is central to it. Earlier in the book, Cioma altered Jewish mens' pants to a more Fascist style so that they would look like Nazis from a distance and be less likely to be subject to arrest. And at one of his jobs, he was issued a pseudonym by his boss upon hiring, so he could do a skilled job for which his employer was not allowed to hire Jews. By page 93, he has skirted the edge of lethal situations repeatedly, but now is about to do something much more dangerous.

Finished the book. Our narrator survives the war by escaping to Switzerland. Dr. Kaufmann is exposed in more or less the scenario described above and was executed February 17, 1944 in Sachsenhausen.

Gender, Identity, SF, & the Singularity ( a draft essay written 7/14/07)

The following is an unfinished essay drafted in July of 2007 in response to a panel I was on at Readercon in 2007. I could not lay hands on some crucial resources, such as the essay "Performance" by Don West (byline "D. West"). It appeared in Malcolm Edwards' fanzine TAPPEN, issue 5, 1982. Reprinted in DELIVERANCE, a 1992 collection of West's fanzine writing, in order finish it, and so I never did, though God knows, as we excavate the Hartwell basement archives, it may in time turn up.

I've decided to publish this unfinished draft, since my opinions on pseudonymity have recently attracted so much interest. 

—Kathryn Cramer


I am pretty good at communicating my thoughts to the science fiction field most of the time, both in essays and on panels. But once is a while, I find that I've said something I thought was clear, and that it really didn't communicate. In a number of cases in the past, this has lead to book projects or essays, for example my anthologies The Architecture of Fear and The Ascent of Wonder, or essays such as "Science Fiction and the Adventures of the Spherical Cow."

I seem to have just had such an experience, given comments I've heard or read about the panel at Readercon entitled "The Singularity Needs More Women." Such comments are for the most part not hostile, and it was not a hostile panel. Rather, I gather that some substantial portion of the audience did not get the connections I was trying to make between the science fictional notion of the Singularity and the here and now, specifically in relation to people's online construction of their identity.

I'm not going to try to rehash what was said on the panel, but rather explore what I was getting at from a different angle. —K

In a way, this was an impossible panel: We were invited into the hazardous quicksand of feminist identity politics to indulge in fantasies about what things would be like if this were only cleared away, if only all gender-related constraints on our identities were removed. We mostly didn't go there. And inasmuch as we did go there, it has not made people happy.

One continuing theme I find myself wanting to talk about at Readercon is that we already live in an unrecognizably transformed world; social changes have been worked upon us that we are unable to recognize or articulate. On this panel, I used the example of online identity and pseudonymity; in previous years my example has been how suburbia as it actually exists has become unrecognizable and that its social codes have been transformed in unrecognized ways, transformations that often are not a liberation.

Both the the Singularity and Transhumanity are social concepts. The core issue of the topic of Singularity and its relationship to gender is the extent to which one believes gender can and will be transcended through technology. And a key element in these concepts is our inability to recognize a transformed society and our transformed species: The Singularity is supposed to be an unrecognizable transformation. One thing usually said on panels about the Singularity and science fiction is that if such thing is truly unrecognizable, then one can't really write fiction about it. This panel was no exception.

A couple of works I should have talked about and didn't: Frederick Pohl's story "Day Million,"  a story about social identity in the far future that David Hartwell and I described in an introduction as "a story set in a future so distant and different that we can only glimpse it in mysterious reflections and intriguing images," and Bruce Sterling's Schizmatrix. A "Day Million" moment in Schizmatrix is when a man proposes to his ex-wife and so much has changed in their post-human existence that she accepts his proposal without knowing she's married this man before.

"Day Million" is of course deeply entangled in the subculture of science fiction's Futurians, which had its geographical center in New York City, and later in Milford, Pennsylvania. The post-Futurian sf sub-culture centered around the influential Milford writing workshop, held in Milford.

For a while in the 1980s, I lived in Milford, Pennsylvania and worked for Virginia Kidd, a literary agent and the ex-wife of SF writer James Blish. Before taking the job, I read Damon Knight's The Futurians to catch up on the back gossip. (I discovered later, after many conversations, that there is no one canonical account of the Futurian era: each person has their own -- most are fascinating -- and they mostly don't match.)

One key element of Futurian society was choosing a name. Many of the Futurians changed their names in order to change their lives. Virginia Kidd's first name on her birth certificate was not "Virginia." James Allen, another agent with the Virginia Kidd Agency once told me how Virginia counseled him to change his name when he became a literary agent. Virginia's good friend and client, Judith Merril (who was also Fred Pohl's ex-wife), told me over dinner how she came to change her last name to Merril. (She subsequently wrote this up for her autobiography.)

No one knew who the heck Lester del Rey was until several years after his death. He left behind a substantial estate and after several years of attempts to sort out the inheritance, it was apparently revealed that his name was Leonard Knapp.

Such name changes were partly pragmatic, since many were Jewish and could expect a more successful career under a non-Jewish name. And at least one member of that generation was looking to avoid back child-support. But there was also a substantial element of social fantasy. One thing I tried to understand over many such conversations was exactly why the Futurians perceived changing one's name as such a powerful act. I interpret "Day Million" as a partial expression the fantasy of only apparently real identity, or perhaps of the Modernist idea of a mask identity.

I see the current popularity of the concepts of the Singularity and trans-humanity as closely tied to online experimentation with the fantasy of apparent identity. Examples I used on the panel included Wikipedia admins who insist on the use of a pseudonym and claim that all attempts to decipher it amount to stalking; and Second Life, which requires you to adopt a pseudonym when you register -- you must select your last name from a pull-down menu and may only specify a first name; and the vast social wasteland of online dating, an unfolding disaster in human relations on a huge scale. My strong anti-pseudonymity message is not something people are all that receptive to at the moment.

The science fiction community strongly influenced the early evolution of the Internet because so many techies read sf and are involved in the sf community, and sf's ideas about pseudonymity and the adoption of a fannish name and persona seem to me to have influenced Internet fashion.  Cyberpunk sf was especially influential upon the shape of Internet social space: from William Gibson we have the very name of cyberspace, which as I recall he described in the 80s as that place you are when you're on the telephone — except that now 100 million people might overhear your call,which is recorded and archived.

There is one important difference between Futurian beliefs about only apparently real identities and the current online version of disposable personae or identity: The Futurians chose a name and tended to stick with it for the rest of their lives, whereas online identities are much usually more ephemeral. Also the Futurians used such names in person, whereas online aliases are mostly intended for use in electronic communication in cyberspace.

A significant transitional figure is James Tiptree, Jr. (aka Alice Sheldon aka Racoona Sheldon), a mother of the cyberpunk movement. She was a client of Virginia Kidd's. After her death, I accepted a couple of her posthumous awards on behalf of the Kidd agency. My husband, David Hartwell, was her editor and one of the few people in science fiction who ever met her in person. (Philip K. Dick, another writer who prefigured cyberpunk, is in some ways an opposite figure to Tiptree. He was concerned with distinguishing the authentic from the "only apparently real." )

Alice Sheldon used her real name in her everyday life, but used an alias for her writing and correspondence in the science fiction field. Her true identity and gender were only revealed after the death of her mother, a well-known writer. Her fascination with the power of pseudonymity seems to have its origins not in the Futurian subculture, but in that of the CIA. She was briefly employed by the CIA and was the wife of a high ranking CIA official, Huntington Sheldon. The Sheldons were part of the intelligence subculture that founded the CIA.

(Perhaps the origin of the false identity as it is used in the "intelligence" community is the Romantic spy and criminal fiction of the 19th and early 20th century: in the Robin Hood stories, Richard the Lion-Hearted supposedly sneaked back into England to depose the bad king.)

Tiptree had a tremendously seductive literary voice and persona. But while the science fiction field may have benefited from her adoption of an alias, since it arguably enabled her to write a highly regarded body of fiction, it is not clear that she herself benefited. Her adoption of the Tiptree pseudonym apparently started as a joke, and took on the role in her life of an addictive drug. Her life did not end well: She had chronic problems with depression and ended her life by shooting her husband and then herself. Tiptree is an icon in feminist sf as someone who liberated her writing voice by adopting a male pseudonym. In the context of a discussion of trans-humanity and gender, she perhaps represents feminist hopes for liberation from the constraints of older constructions of female social identity.

Though Tiptree and Phil Dick are in some ways opposites as literary figures -- Tiptree as icon of the power of pseudonymity, and Dick as an icon of the technological relevance of Kierkegaardian authenticity -- both writers are intensely concerned with alienation, which seems to me one of the core issues of Internet constructions of personal identity.

The argument can be made that the adoption of the alias James Tiptree, Jr. allowed Alice Sheldon a truer expression of her inner voice than society would have allowed for someone named Alice Sheldon, and that the adoption of an alias was a form of authenticity. This argument is rarely used with regard to adoption of aliases today, with one notable exception: The strange case of Laura Albert aka J. T. Leroy. Albert, an author who lost a civil suit claiming fraud brought by a movie company, gave some very interesting testimony:

Ms. Albert herself, in testimony from the stand, suggested that JT LeRoy was far more than a pseudonym in the classic Mark Twain-Samuel Clemens mold. She offered the idea that JT LeRoy was a sort of “respirator” for her inner life: an imaginary, though necessary, survival apparatus that permitted her to breathe.

The portrait of Alice Sheldon in her biography suggests some similarities to Albert. Interestingly, the end of the New York Times article about the ruling against Albert suggests that she is now "liberated" from her pseudonym.

Despite the many arguments that are made about the necessity of Internet pseudonymity for reasons of privacy, alienation is much more important to the core ethical issues of online communities and their strivings toward a trans-humanity, a transcendence of all constraining circumstance. While we are no more intelligent and perhaps no less powerful online than we are in person, we can certainly make ourselves seem  unrecognizable and estrange ourselves from our genders of birth, our ages and educational levels (see the Essjay controversy), our marital status (as is widely practiced on dating sites), etc. While this is not true trans-or post-humanity, it represents at least a kind of fantasy of trans-human existence, easier than a make-over or reinventing yourself under your own name. Much as we would like science fiction to be about the future, it is so often about the present. 

For the most part, writers such as Charles Stross and Cory Doctorow who are concerned with the Singularity subject matter, do not try to conceal the connection of their writing to the here and now.

We did, I think, get at that issue toward the end of the panel: How gendered popular types of Internet communications truly are; how much more flamboyant gender expression sometimes is online than in real life, and on the darker side, how much more overt and nasty online enforcement of gender codes can be.

Backlash is at least as characteristic as liberation of rapid social change generated by technological change. Is the Internet fad for pseudonymity a form of backlash or of liberation? The popular claim that a protected pseudonymity is necessary to protect people from stalking suggests that pseudonymity is a backlash against unwanted transparency. David Brin claims that transparency is "freedom's best defense." I think I agree with him.

Before the panel, I was asked by the convention program chair whether I was pro- or anti- the notion of the Singularity, ostensibly because this was anticipated to be an anti-Singularity panel. I'm not sure whether the above discussion makes me pro- or anti-Singularity. I believe we are already in the midst of rapid transformation that is rendering the world unrecognizable, already in the midst of a rising inadequation of the mind to the world.

There is another word for this: alienation. And perhaps that is what we should be talking about.

Or maybe not. From Charles Stross's Singularity! A Tough Guide to the Rapture of the Nerds, a definition of the Singularity:

The SIingularity is what happens when reality throws a divide-by-zero error or you extrapolate a curve to a straight line. Or something. Maybe it's what an Italian rock star says when you give him a wedgie. Who knows? All I know is that Vernor Vinge invented it -- damn him! (If it wasn't for those meddling computer science professors I could still be writing about PixieDust ...)

Anyway. You don't need to understand all that stuff to write about the SIngularity. What you need to understand is that after the SIngularity things will be cool. We'll all be PostHumans or UpLoading ourselves into our pocket calculators, there'll be lots of ArtificialIntelligence to help fight outbreaks of GreyGoo, and if there are annoying folks you don't want to have around you can just tell them to go TRanscend.

It's the hot new topic for wish-fulfillment adventure and escapism. And there'll be jam for tea every day.

As the Mad Hatter said, "Have more tea."

(to be continued at some point  . . .)

Wiscon program item noted without comment: "Something Is Wrong on the Internet!"

Program Item
NameSomething Is Wrong on the Internet!
Track(s)Feminism and Other Social Change Movements (Reading, Viewing, and Critiquing Science Fiction)
DescriptionWhat keeps you going at 4 a.m. when there's so much fail, and only you and your fellow Internet drama addicts stand against it like stubborn superheroes? Let's talk about why Internet drama is important to us as activists and as fans, why we engage or disengage, and what it all means when ideas and personalities clash in public discussion of sf/f books, tv, fic, and culture.
LocationCapitol B
ScheduleSun 10:00 - 11:15AM
PanelistsM: Vito Excalibur, Piglet, Liz Henry, Julia Sparkymonster
UPDATE: Two accounts of the panel, one from Laura, in the audience, with several unattributed quotes about mobbing:

Hint of a fail is when a person says “There is a mob after me!”

. . . and . . .

If you never shut up about things, then you will continue to be mobbed.

And one from Liz Henry:

danny: what seems to spark a particularly bad reaction is a bunch of people's reactions being called a "mob" - it is not a mob it is a lot of individuals having their own valid reactions.

The mugshot of Joseph A. Cafasso, Jr. aka "Robert Stormer"

Joseph A. Cafasso, Jr. mug shot, 1/22/09

Here is the mug shot of Joseph A. Cafasso, Jr., who in 2006 -- while using the alias "Gerry Blackwood" -- stole my computer and lived on my Amex card for a month without my knowledge or permission. He's in jail in Porter County Indiana, where he has been since 1/22/09. The alias he was using in Indiana was "Robert Stormer," the name under which he also blogged.

There are two new news stories about Cafasso out this morning, both from the Post-Tribune of Northwest Indiana:

My main page about him is HERE.

Joseph A. Cafasso, Jr. on the front page of the Post-Tribune of Northwest Indiana

Poems about Internet Pseudonymity

I will not try to keep pace with those whose poems I'm blogging, partly because I did something stupid with my car this weekend and am mildly injured and taking not enough Advil. Rhymed couplets are a bit beyond me just now. 

I find these quite charming. They are excerpted below.

Lines on Pseudonymity by Henry Gee

But I digress. Consider: were you to choose
A handle, you might just as easily lose
It. I contend the pain of your exposure
Is worse than had you sworn instant disclosure.


On Anonymity by the Cuttlefish

The right to be a cuttlefish
And hide behind my ink
May not appeal to everyone
Despite what I may think.

New Comments Policy: I will no longer publish pseudonymous comments.

Graham Sleight & Kathryn Cramer

After some thought, I have decided to change my comments policy. When I first began this blog, I ran an open comment section where comments posted immediately. I really hated to have to permanently turn on comment moderation. I liked the spontaneity of an open comments section, but it had been heavily abused both by spammers and by malicious people. So with some regret I began requiring that comments be held for approval.

Today, I go one step further and have the courage of my convictions. I will no longer publish pseudonymous comments. Yes, some of my best friends are pseudonymous, and all kinds of people say they have all kinds of good reasons for not using their real names. And I've had lovely, insightful, valuable comments from people who don't use their real names online. But I've had a lot more abuse and harassment from the pseudonymous, and on occasion my trust and willingness to believe that someone had a good reason for concealing their identity has been horribly abused. Enough is enough.

On average, people behave worse when given the opportunity to conceal their identities. You yourself may well always be on your best behavior when undercover, but you give cover to others' dreadful behavior and to loathsome creeps. I will no longer be offering up web space to pseudonymity, though I will not be purging the site of past comments left under the previous policy.

I am getting incredibly sick of having to use special tools to sort out who is speaking. I don't care if your hundred best friends know you by the name of a Tolkien character or some such, if I don't know who you are and you aren't willing to share that information, I am no longer willing to publish your comments. If you need the witness protection program, you are in the wrong place.

While I do not dispute your right to use an alias on the Internet, cyberspace is large, and if you need to do that, you can do it elsewhere.

Continue reading "New Comments Policy: I will no longer publish pseudonymous comments." »

"Getting Known Through Anonymity"

Via Teresa Nielsen Hayden, I have come across a fascinating meditation on pseudonymity, originally from Suler, J.R. and Phillips, W. (1998). The Bad Boys of Cyberspace: Deviant Behavior in Multimedia Chat Communities. CyberPsychology and Behavior, 1, 275-294, presented here in what I gather is condensed form.

Getting Known Through Anonymity
Much has been said lately about how anonymity on the internet "disinhibits" people. Feeling relatively safe with their real-world identity hidden, they say and do things they otherwise wouldn't normally say or do in "real life." In some cases, that seems to be a good thing. People may be more honest, open, generous, and helpful. In other cases, however, the nasty side of a person gets unleashed. Hence the snert.

I'd like to give a slightly different spin to this "disinhibition through anonymity" concept. My basic premise is this: NO ONE WANTS TO BE COMPLETELY ANONYMOUS. No one wants to be totally invisible, with no name or identity or presence or interpersonal impact at all. Everyone wants and needs to express some aspect of who they are, to have others acknowledge and react to some aspect of their identity. In some cases, it's a benign feature of who you are. In some cases, not. Anonymity on the internet allows people to set aside some aspects of their identity in order to safely express others. Snerts need someone to react to and affirm their offensive behavior. This need is a bit different than simply catharting their frustrated drives, as the "eros-ridden" idea suggests. Snerts are trying to express some unresolved and warded-off feature of their troubled identity in an (often desperate) attempt to have it acknowledged. Unfortunately, they do it in a way that abuses other people. Under ideal conditions, they may be able to accept and work through those inner feelings and self-concepts that torture them. If not, they will continue to vent that ooze through their online snert identities, while safely dissociating it from their "real world" identity.

Does greater anonymity result in greater deviance? It's an interesting question. Because greater anonymity usually is associated with less accountability for one's actions, the answer would seem to be "yes." In the world of Palace, new users must register (pay) for the software before they can permanently acquire the ability to give themselves names and create custom avatars. Until then, their name is a number ("Guest 232") and their avatar a generic smiley face. The greater anonymity for guests does seem to result in their misbehaving more often than members. But members misbehave too. So there are other factors at work.

The higher prevalence of misbehavior among anonymous users may be more than just a "disinhibiting" effect. Rather than the anonymity simply "releasing" the nasty side of a person, the person may experience the anonymity - the lack of an identity - as toxic. Feeling frustrated about not being known or having a place in the group, the new user acts out that frustration in an antisocial manner. They need to feel that they have SOME kind of impact on others. It's not unlike the ignored child who starts acting "bad" in order to acquire attention from the parent, even if it's scolding and punishment. The squeakiest wheel. Humans, being humans, will almost always choose a connection to others over no connection at all, even if that connection is a negative one. Some snert guests may think (perhaps unconsciously) that their misbehavior is a justified retaliation against a community that they feel has stripped away their identity and alienated them. They reject because they feel rejected.

. . . and an Internet Risk for Adults

From the Christian Science Monitor: On the Internet, everyone may find you're a dog: Anonymity on the Web may seem attractive, but how you use it raises interesting ethical dilemmas.

Avoiding the use of pseudonyms online is not just good advice for public figures, it works for everyone. The freedom of the Internet doesn't mean you can do whatever you want without consequence. Many ways exist to trace "anonymous" posts. The Los Angeles Times, for example, used Internet addresses to trace Hiltzik's postings back to his work computer.

When speaking about the Internet at conferences or seminars, I give this advice about e-mail, posting comments in a forum, or sending instant messages: Don't write anything online that you would not like to see on the front page of The New York Times. Ask Bill Gates: That's where his e-mails ended up during the Microsoft antitrust case in the late 1990s.

On the Internet nobody may know you're a dog. But don't count on the fact that someone won't be able to find out where that dog lives.

Kids and Internet Risk Factors

A couple of unexpected but key paragraphs from an Internet scare story: Study: Sexually explicit photos sought from 1 in 25 online youths

Earlier, the same researchers suggested that warning children against posting their personal information online doesn't necessarily make them safer from predators and related threats. The researchers found no evidence that sharing personal information increases the chances of online victimization, such as unwanted sexual solicitation and harassment.

In the latest study, the researchers identified certain traits as making a youth prone to receive a request for a sexual picture. They include having a close relationship with someone known only online; talking with someone online about sex or having a sexually suggestive screen name; and experiencing physical or sexual abuse offline.

Researchers also found that requests were more likely to occur when youths were with their friends.

"A lot of kids are using the Internet in groups," Mitchell said. "When they are with friends, maybe they are egging each other on to do something they wouldn't normally do."

My suspicion is that kids and teenagers, like adults, are more likely to engage in actually risky Internet behavior when following the conventional advice about not giving out "personal information."

Frank Abagnale, the 'Catch Me' con man on the Technology of Fraud

Abagnale_photo From the Miami Herald, a lecture from the Catch Me if You Can con man:

When [Frank] Abagnale, 58, did it more than 30 years ago, the process of stealing someone's identity was simple, if a bit time-consuming. It required going to the county clerk's office, finding the name and Social Security number of a dead child, asking for a copy of the birth certificate and using that certificate to obtain a driver's license. With the Social Security number and driver's license, the financial world was his oyster -- and still is for today's crooks.


''It was all on paper,'' he said. "Now it's all done online. Electronic records just make it easier.''

To illustrate, he pulled up a copy of a mortgage document he obtained electronically about Porter Goss, the former director of the Central Intelligence Agency and U.S. representative from Florida. The Social Security numbers of Goss and his wife were part of the document, though they were crossed out on the PowerPoint screen onstage.

''Technology breeds crime,'' said Abagnale, who designed the birth certificate form now used in Florida. There are ''no con men anymore because the victim will never see them. They can be a thousand miles away.'' While banks and companies lose laptops and other records containing sensitive personal information, kids with cellphones secretly shoot pictures of checks being written in checkout lines of grocery stores. They can blow up the images on a computer and get all the information they need to commit bank fraud.

''Fraud has just gotten easier,'' he said. "I never in my life saw a simpler crime.''

It's interesting that he thinks there are no more con men to be met in person. Obviously he hasn't had much exposure to the subject of Internet dating sites where fraud is rampant and the whole purpose of it is to meeting someone under false pretenses, sometimes just for sex, and sometimes for financial gain. (Dating sites are not my thing, but I've been told Tales of Terror by older single women with experience in that area.)

Further, though, the culture of the Internet promotes the idea of assuming an alias with the idea that this gives the Netizen more personal freedom. But freedom to do what? Yes, it affords the possibility of expressing political and sexual opinions while keeping one's job in an oppressive corporate environment. But as I have argued before, this is a very slippery slope. Teaching people to assume aliases teaches them a way to avoid responsibility for their own actions.

It will be interesting to see how much this carries over into daily life: Will there be a broadening of the use of aliases, not just by, as it were, the usual suspects, but by people who would not otherwise have felt the need of additional personae in real life. And how far will this extend?

Regarding Abagnale, his website bio explains:

Mr. Abagnale was the subject of a major motion picture entitled "Catch Me If You Can", directed by Steven Spielberg with Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks. "Catch Me If You Can" is currently in development for a television series. The series will be produced by DreamWorks Television.

Joseph A. Cafasso: A Call for Information

Cafasso in Outfoxed (2004)

Cafasso in Outfoxed (2004) about 34 minutes in.

I am interested in receiving information concerning the life and activities of former Fox News Military & Counterterrorism Editor Joseph A. Cafasso aka Joe Cafasso, Jay Cafasso, Gerry Blackwood, Gerard Pal Blackwood, Jay Mosca, J. Mosca, James Mosca, Joseph Mosca, Jay Anthony, Tom Adams, Jake Adams, Robert Stormer, Robin Storm, Rob Stormer, Bob Stormer.

He stole my computer and owes me about twenty grand.

Of particular interest are:

  • other known aliases
  • information concerning debts & unpaid financial obligations
  • incidents involving computer equipment or credit cards
  • medical conditions
  • employment history
  • documentation such as photographs, videotapes, audiotapes
  • transcripts or other documentation concerning public events he attended
  • documents he presented

Information can be provided to me via the comment section below, or via email to

UPDATE: Many thanks to those of you who have written to me already. Your help is much appreciated.

Cafasso as Jay Mosca

Cafasso as Jay Mosca

Good News! Let's send the reporter flowers!

UPDATE, September 2008: Cafasso's latest known aliases are Robin Storm aka Robert Stormer; he's also on dating sights as Shipdude -- "Sailing into your arms... or is it went aground on your front lawn?" -- and probably another 15 aliases on 10 other sites.

UPDATE, Feburary 1, 2009: I have confirmed reports that Joseph A. Cafasso is in jail in Indiana after failing to show up for a court appearance. There are a number of mostly minor charges against him. The most significant of them is "giving false information" to a cop: My understanding is that it took a while, after Cafasso was pulled over for allegedly speeding, for him to admit to law enforcement that his name was Jospeh Cafasso and not Robert Stormer.

I have some hopes that the various charges will stick and that this information shows up on any future criminal background checks on the man. As far as I know, none of the charges against carry enough heft to put him away for any significant period of time. But one can hope.

UPDATE, Feburary 2, 2009: The Northwest Indiana & Illinois Times' police blotter reports that Cafasso was arrested on Thursday, January 22, 2009. It lists the reason for his arrest as "Failure to appear, theft," but I am so far unable to confirm that a theft charge exists, though I would be delighted if that were the case.

Meanwhile, HERE (via Picasa) is his spiffy logo for his fake corporation "Subsea Marine." (Gotta love the use of clip art!)

For independent visual confimation of Cafasso's appearance, consult Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism, available from Amazon: book or DVD.

UPDATE, Feburary 3, 2009: I am please to report that Cafasso is still in jail! (I checked.) After several years of wanting to see him go to jail, I am finding this very uplifting.

UPDATE, Feburary 4, 2009: Cafasso in the news!  The Northwest Indiana & Illinois Newspaper, February 4, 2009.

Woman learns beau is apparent con artist

CHESTERTON | A 63-year-old Tefft, Ind. woman, whose son lives in Chesterton, told Chesterton police on Monday a man she met through an online dating service claimed to be Robert Stormer, but really was Joe Cafasso, a con artist of such renown he is mentioned on a Wikipedia Web page.

Chesterton police are involved in the case because they took possession of a computer the woman and her son wanted to get rid of because one of Cafasso's enemies apparently wants it.

Police reports state Cafasso took over some of the woman's finances. The investigation into Cafasso continues.

And meanwhile -- oh, joy! -- Cafasso is still in jail!

UPDATE, Feburary 7, 2009: The Post-Tribune of Northwest Indiana has a new article out on Cafasso's arrest, this one mentioning his rival Jack Idema.

The woman, who resides in Tefft, in northeastern Jasper County, met "Stormer" about a year ago through an online dating service. They later moved in together. According to the police report, he took control over some of the woman's finances before she learned he was a fraud.

According to the Chesterton police report, the woman and her son believe that Cafasso built a case against a man named Jack Idema, who also has a Wikipedia page.

The police report continues: "Idema is allegedly a Special Forces soldier who went rogue and tortured people in Afghanistan without approval from his superiors. He was jailed in a military prison for this and he blames Cafasso for his troubles."

Police say Idema knew about Cafasso's laptop. Idema contacted the Chesterton man through a phone search and told him he wanted the computer.

So he and his mother brought it to Chesterton Police.

(See note on Jack Idema and his cult followers below.)

Meanwhile, I am pleased to report that Cafasso remains in jail.

UPDATE, February 19, 2009: The Chesterton Tribune, in Chesterton, Indiana, has run an article on Cafasso's arrest.

The subject, who identified himself as Robert Stormer, 58, advised Cauffman that he did not have his Rhode Island-issued driver's license with him. Cauffman stated that when he ran the name Robert Stormer, it “came back not on file” in both Indiana and Rhode Island. Cauffman further stated that when he ran the Social Security number provided by Stormer, it returned to a 13-year-old Rhode Island girl.

Although the subject repeatedly insisted that his name is Robert Stormer and that there must be a problem with the computers, he eventually admitted to being Joseph Cafasso, 52, Cauffman stated. A second computer check listed his driver’s license in Rhode Island as suspended.

“During this conversation he stated he was hiding from members of the CIA and FBI along with several other stories,” Cauffman stated.

Always, always tell the cop who has pulled you over that you are hiding from the FBI! Cafasso deserves some kind of prize for that one.

UPDATE, February 20, 2009: New article -- FBI now investigating 'spy' arrested at Dunes, Post-Tribune of Northwest Indiana, February 20, 2009.

UPDATE, February 24, 2009: Cafasso is still in jail! They've had him for more than a month now! Yay!

UPDATE, February 27, 2009: Cafasso is still in jail.

UPDATE, March 1, 2009: There are two new news stories out, both from the Post-Tribune of Northwest Indiana:

The second one has Cafasso's Indiana mug shot. Enjoy!

Joseph A. Cafasso, Jr. mug shot, 1/22/09

What I found most interesting in the text of the articles is the interview with Cafasso's sometime side-kick, the minister John Johnson:

Cafasso has declined requests for an interview by the Post-Tribune, but he reportedly has talked to Ello, and to John Johnson, a Tucson, Ariz., minister who said he met Cafasso in the early 1990s when [Johnson] was selling marine equipment and Cafasso was working for a marine salvage company in New York.

The two stayed in touch over the years, with Johnson gathering that Cafasso had an engineering degree and may have been in the Delta Force, an elite military unit. Johnson said he never thought to question Cafasso, who attended Johnson's wife's funeral in 1999 and has remained in occasional contact. That year, Johnson had dinner at a Washington, D.C., restaurant, with Cafasso and a man who was a retired CIA officer.

"I don't know anything about his military experience, I don't know how you confirm that," Johnson said. "But it's pretty hard to fool the CIA."

In 2006, [Johnson] said Cafasso was using the name "Jay" and occasionally a last name of "Black or Black-something," to avoid followers of Jonathan Idema. Idema was accused of operating an illegal prison in Afghanistan who also had apparently wildly overstated his military experience, and reportedly believes he was wronged by Cafasso. . . .

Johnson put Cafasso in touch with a church in Mendenhall, Miss., where Cafasso would spend several weeks working with the congregation and even helping the church secure a $250,000 grant.

"He didn't make a dime," said Johnson. "He got roof over his head and what passed for food. And he worked incredibly hard."

But Cafasso clashed with church leaders, who eventually found the Times article and the many anti-Cafasso sites on the Internet. Cafasso left town soon after. Church leaders and Mendenhall Police Chief Bruce Barlow did not return calls from the Post-Tribune.

Johnson said he would not hesitate to recommend Cafasso to another church, and he worries about why DNR officers seemed intent on investigating Cafasso. "Knowing the guy, I just don't want to see him get the shaft," Johnson said.

Just how many of Cafasso's victims does Johnson have to hear from and about before he wouldn't provide Cafasso with a reference? When I tried to talk to him about the man, he hung up on me. 

I certainly hope the FBI is evaluating the finances of Mendenhall Ministries during Cafasso's tenure as Director of Development. As I recall, there were allegations that money had disappeared, and Johnson has done nothing about Cafasso except cover for him. From my brief correspondence with Johnson some time ago, it was my impression that Cafasso borrowed $4,000 $2,000 from him and never paid it back, but Johnson doesn't get that he was ripped off, apparently. I just hope that Johnson doesn't bail him out.

And the Reverend would still recommend even now

UPDATE, March 25, 2009: Cafasso is still in jail.

UPDATE, April 14, 2009: Cafasso is still in jail.

NOTE: For the record, I have no connection with the various Jack Idema-connected attack blogs devoted to the subject of Cafasso. They display an alarming lack of empathy for both Cafasso's targets and his family and have a history of harassment of both. These sites are, to the best of my knowledge, administered and primarily authored by a strange woman named Lynn Thomas aka "Cao" aka "Caoilfhionn" who, by day, works as a Process Re-Engineering Analyst for Allstate Insurance in Northbrook, Illinois, and by night is a far-rightwing blogger & conspiracy theorist. She has harassed me over the Internet for a number of years, including writing endless harassing nonsense about Terry Bisson, an author my husband publishes, because she spotted a photo of him standing next to me. While some of the information on her many interconnected sites is true, I cannot recommend them. 

Real Names

Those who've spent much time here probably know that I am a strong advocate of people using their real names online. So I was pleased to note, while doing research for anthology story notes this afternoon, that Amazon now has a way of indicating that a reader reviewer is posting under his or her own name. (They verify that the name you're using is the one on your credit card, or some such.) The label itself is pretty funny: (REAL NAME)  I am really surprised that they were able to trademark that phrase. I wonder how they'll enforce their trademark.

Meanwhile, while Amazon is busy trademarking this novel concept, others doubt the existence of real names. Willfully obtuse was the label that came to mind when I encountered this passage from the conclusion of a Meatball Wiki entry on Real Names:

From all this it may seem very hard to claim there is such a thing as a RealName . . .

Or should that be Willfully Obtuse™?