Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Silencing Scoville: How I beat a corporate-sponsored cyberbully (and what I learned)

This story starts about 16 years ago, when an individual named Richard Morton Scoville came up with an idea. As a man in his fifth decade of life with no stable address, he depended on overlapping businesses of extorting money through libel and distributing spam on the archaic system known as usenet, and that led to many usenet users criticizing him as a spammer, a libeler and extortionist. He figured out (most likely with the help of one or more far more skilled spammers) that he could manipulate search results for anyone’s name by mentioning them in an excessive number of posts on a network of interconnected usenet archives dominated be Google Groups, directly owned by the search engine giant. He further chose to make sexually explicit and abusive comments about his critics (invariably other men) while pretending to accuse them of committing and being convicted of sex crimes against children. These claims promptly dominated search results for their names, with the clear further threat of being seen by prospective employers. Google magnified the abuse by arbitrarily demanding court orders at his victims’ expense and then ignoring them, allowing Scoville to post much of his content with Google/ Gmail accounts set up in his victims’ own names, and increasingly ignoring Google Groups itself as obsolete and unprofitable.

From all evidence at hand, he did this not in the expectation that police would act on his claims, but only to deprive his victims of employment and income, which even actual sex offenders would have a legal right to. In this regard, he had only one actual success. In 2011, he was actually driven out of one of the forums on Google Groups after a user who had previously posted about disability issues made so many posts exposing him as a fraud and a criminal that the “group” was shut down. He promptly singled out the same individual for abuse over a self-disclosed diagnosis of Asperger’s/ Autism Spectrum Disorder, and By the middle of the year, he escalated to harassing a nationally known organization for the disabled that had given services to the victim, solely over a single comment made using their equipment.  The result was that the victim was released from a nominally paid position that had never come close to providing sustainable income, without being given the opportunity to consult with a lawyer or those who had set up the job. This did not stop Scoville from continuing to make abusive posts against the organization along with the original victim, until Google reversed its policies and began removing his content from Google Groups on demand in 2018.

That victim was me, and as of the time of this writing, I have spent five years working for three employers in an industry once considered unsuitable due to my disability. During that time, I have also removed the vast majority of Scoville’s attacks against me, after personally reporting Scoville and his enablers at Google and other companies to multiple law enforcement agencies but without spending anything on legal action. Many people have encouraged me to tell my story, so I have now assembled my “lessons” from beating a cyberstalker.

1          Nobody will EVER ask (unless you mention it).

The most central reality of cyberstalking is that stalkers depend on stigma and prejudice to do the real harm for them, especially in the work force, and Scoville may well be the most egregious case. But judging from my own experience and the accounts of other victims, this was always a largely empty threat. In particular, there has been literally no instance when I or anyone else who has given an account was questioned about Scoville’s claims in the course of an actual job application. I am inclined to attribute this to two things. First, there is already enough robust anti-discrimination legislation in place, including provisions in sex offender registration laws, that it will almost always be a greater risk for an employer to act on an anonymous accusation than to hire the accused party anyway. Second, those using the internet to make accusations without substance have always been in the role of the boy who cried wolf; the louder and more often they make their claims, the more they will be ignored. If anything, returning to the first point, they have made it harder for an employer to identify and act on a substantiated allegation, a fact that should be prominently raised to anyone who might still defend their actions as “free speech”.

The one advantage stalkers do have is that they can stir up paranoia, especially when they are able to identify a current employer- exactly the circumstance reported by every one of Scoville’s victims who faced questions from an employer. The core reality here, particularly for men, is that even “proactive” measures like a prepared debunking are defensive at best, and the accused will always be at a psychological disadvantage. I may never have been asked about Scoville or even being let go from my old job in an interview, but there were plenty of times I went into one more prepared to disprove his claims than to justify myself as a good fit for that job. With this mentality in place, anyone chosen and trained to pick up subtleties of personality and behavior is very likely to pick up “something” off, and the foreseeable outcomes are worse for a victim than if a stalker’s defamatory claims are openly acknowledged.

I will mention here one more thing I have noticed. Cyberstalkers of all types have a history of singling out people in the broadly “non-profit” sphere, such as schools, government agencies, charities and the performing arts. Based on my own experiences, I have no doubt this is a matter of tactical reasoning. To begin with, organizations outside the “private” sphere are more likely to continue practices that are outmoded or flatly illegal in current conditions. Since they are directly dependent on public money, they are also genuinely vulnerable to public outcry and scandal. Finally, even groups that are “liberal” in aims and ideology tend to have a conservative internal culture, especially when it comes to sexuality. The implication is that stalkers are already focusing on the most vulnerable elements of the workforce, and even then, they are “winning” barely if at all.

2           All bullying is sexual.

This is as good a point as any to make the usual disclaimer: Women are much more vulnerable to all forms of sexual abuse and harassment. However, many of the same patterns and attitudes can readily be documented between preteen and adolescent boys. Long before encountering Scoville, I saw schoolboys of the 1980s seemingly become obsessed with who was “gay” while it was still a matter of teasing to “like” a girl. While Scoville was by then well into his 40s, what can be known of his thoughts and attitudes are indistinguishable from a ten-year-old of ca 1990. In his puerile repertoire, all women (invariably family of male victims) are diseased “sluts” and “whores” while all men other than himself are ineffectual “fags” first and supposedly threatening “pedophiles” second, because in the pre-adolescent variety of homophobia even orthodox heterosexuality is degraded and dangerous. The only times Scoville rose above preoccupation with other men’s sexuality was singling me out over my disability. However, he did not in any way diminish his de-masculinizing language, always insinuating that my disability proves I am weak and he is strong, because homophobic bullying has never been about sexual orientation but sexualized dominance.

What remains unsaid is that men are vulnerable in ways that women are not, especially in the often male-dominated online world. The bizarre “Pizzagate” rumor cycle (about which I have a vast body of unpublished research) has been a quintessential illustration of this, literally set off by a strangely enthusiastic reference to cheese. The most unfortunate part is that the outwardly liberal will say that being called “gay” does no harm because people like themselves do not see it as an insult, all while ignoring countless strata of stereotypes that outwardly liberal media have canonized. The trap is that victims are made to feel accountable not just for trying to defend themselves but for feeling threatened.  I heard any number of variations of the warning not to respond to Scoville’s abuse because nobody would really ask about his lies, including by representatives of my original employer after they had done just that. There may not be easy answers to how to change perceptions of masculinity and sexual orientation, but acknowledging that a man is not obliged to answer another man’s anonymous and openly biased speculations about his sexual behavior would still be making progress.

3         There is no way to be a “good” victim.

Another issue where men can be at a greater disadvantage than women is the expected response of victim. For all the conflicted and contradictory ideals around female “victimhood”, girls and women are at least taught and expected to follow the minimal guidelines of self-preservation: Avoid a threatening individual, get to a place of safety, and call for help. For men, on the other hand, the expectation remains either to “ignore it” or “fight back”. For Scoville’s victims, this was nothing less than a vicious Catch 22. Scoville never hesitated to continue attacking someone who did nothing to respond, with his most sustained and grotesque campaign being against the family of a man who rarely if ever posted in usenet. At the same time, victims who posted proofs of their innocence and complained about Google’s refusal to act against him were regularly criticized by regular usenet users. And when I actually posted enough content linking to my legitimate material appear ahead of Scoville’s lies, I ended up facing worse repercussions than anyone else.

This is a major reason I have not shared my story much earlier, and I still find it difficult to answer why I took the actions I did. The commonsense answer was always to leave the sites that tolerated Scoville to be discredited and destroyed by his behavior, and come back when I had a job that provided enough money for legal action or at least financial security against his retaliation. What everyone giving this advice ignored was that Scoville had already committed himself to keeping me from that goal with unlimited support from a company with more billions than I had hundreds. Even other victims would not acknowledge the full magnitude of malice in his actions and intent, literally repeating the same lies thousands of times for just a chance to deprive innocent people of the employment, income and physical safety that actual criminals have a legal right to. To me, he was and is like a man who points a gun and pulls the trigger without knowing it is empty. Saying he can be “ignored” because he is supposedly unable to do harm would under any other circumstance be dismissed as wildly irresponsible.

4         Stalkers are lazy.

This is something where a generalization must start with a qualifier: Obviously, stalkers can be terrifyingly persistent and determined, as seen with Scoville. But their behavior is always a matter of “harder, not smarter”, usually exacerbated by a counterintuitive lack of creativity. The conventional stalker is aggressive in outward behavior, but inwardly unwilling or unable to make the step to genuine adaptation. Cyberstalkers take this paradox toward total passivity, posting insults and lies in hopes of tricking or frightening others into penalizing the victim. Search-engine spammers like Scoville are the laziest of all. Rather than try to present his libels directly to an audience, he floods minor forums (where legitimate users are invariably well aware of his identity and intent) just so someone else might happen on them in search results, perhaps years later. In fact, he does the last part so well that I observed posts 7, 8 or even 10 years old on the first page of search results. At that point, anyone who saw them as intended might just as soon wonder if the original target was even still alive, on the whole a backfire rather than a success.

The deeper reality is that it takes a stalker very little effort to do great harm. In Scoville’s case, he has long since descended into a kind of terroristic incompetence, freely mixing the information of victims, their families and unrelated third parties so that the threat of harm extends far beyond the primary “target”. Yet, I have personally seen nearly inexplicable oversights far beyond his usual tactics. Just for example, his most persistent and pointless act of harassment against me has been linking to and reposting a photo of myself placed under copyright by my former publisher that he put on the openly criminal Pirate Bay site with an added abusive and sexual caption. (Of course, he has done the same thing on the same site with images of other victims’ children.) Because of this abuse, I long refused to circulate this or any other image of myself, and I was especially concerned when I was “tagged” in photos on the social media profile of another non-profit group I am involved with. However, years have gone by without the slightest hint that Scoville is aware of any image except the one he had already posted. At this point, of course, his principle motive in using the image he has chosen is undoubtedly that I have long since rightfully and legally prohibited him and Pirate Bay from displaying it in the manner he chose, and he still wants to insinuate that my rights (including the copyright for two books handled by my old publisher) are somehow made invalid by my disability. Even so, his failure to use the opportunity to attack another organization as he did my former employer can only mean that he never cared enough to learn anything  about me.

5           It will always be about money.

For me, being stalked was simply one part of being disabled and chronically unemployed, but in my experience, the two remain inseparable. After being run out of my first job, I spent just short of three and a half years trying to find other work, with so little success I might have made more money staying at home. Weeks, months and years went by with increasingly perfunctory applications and a bare handful of interviews, while the social services bureaucracy shuffled me between coaches and contractors until rumblings began that I might be cut off entirely.  Meanwhile, anytime it crossed my mind to check, Google search results for my name that anyone looking at my resume could easily find shoved Scoville’s lies right in my face. And if I reached out to Google, or other websites hosting Scoville’s content, or even police, I was always met with the same demeaningly impossible demand that I go to court to make them stop Scoville from breaking the law.

The flip side to this is that getting steady work has vastly improved my ability to counter Scoville’s abuse. To begin with, during my nominal first job, my income after expenses was so upside down that I still had more “net” money from book sales than my paychecks, which made the petty infringement of my photo and some other inconsequential material a more “real” threat than anything Scoville said about me. Once I had a job with substantial income, I paid off literally all of my debts in a ludicrously short time, and soon began saving far more money than I had any idea how to spend. At that point, I finally began reaching out to lawyers, except I quickly found that people were no longer hassling me for “court orders” just to obey the law. Even when I have been on the brink of either hiring a lawyer or demanding the police arrest somebody, someone has backed down. Just in the developments leading up to this essay, I told my story to a lawyer while considering legal action over the inclusion of Scoville’s posts in a supposed “sex offender archive” on a site called The Dirty Phonebook, possibly the most flatly immoral of any I have dealt with including Pirate Bay. The lawyer didn’t take my case, but as of the writing of this essay, the only posted attack not taken down was one which jumbled my name and another person’s information so incompetently that the administrators instead publicly denied that it refers to me at all. A week after posting, I am revising this essay because even that is now gone, leaving nothing left by Scoville but an attack on another victim, and after another week, that too has disappeared. Apparently, even scum of this order have no desire to side with Scoville.

6     Things will never be the same.

All of this brings things back to where I am now, and I still have trouble really answering how I got here and what I have learned. Most of what I could say are anecdotes. I finished a master’s degree a year and a half before I got a job. I and my counselors spent years trying to find a job that wouldn’t require a lot of social interaction because of my autism diagnosis, and now I have spent five years in jobs where I literally talk to people full time. I spent almost two years in my first real job traveling hours each way without trying to apply elsewhere, then left my second job after I was offered another. But if there is a “turning point”’ I could point out then or now, it’s this: In my third year out of work when I finally took full control of writing my own (still pitiful) resume, and as a minor part of that process, I cut out the one and only thing that could lead someone to Scoville’s garbage. The easy moral is that it was all like Dumbo’s feather. Scoville’s attacks were never a threat, but only a worthless trick nobody else would have noticed on their own; taking charge of my own life was all that ever really mattered; and the completely stupid part is, I really did get the job. 

What I still can’t convey is just how terrible it was to go through this. My most coherent memories of the time between when I rewrote my resume and when I got my real first job are watching Pacific Rim, listening to “2 AM”, and knowing that I would very shortly be kicked off social services and out of any running for the workforce. It was also about that time that I stopped writing, not because I didn’t want to but because everything I tried writing ended at a few endlessly revised pages. One of the last things I finished before this personal dark age was a Hunger Games “fan fiction” about one Schuyler Grey that I conceived simply to portray disorganized psychosis. I thought about it often enough in the time that followed to recognize that I have a lot more issues on that vein than I or anyone else had admitted, and there were plenty of times when I expected Schuyler’s parting words to be my tombstone. One other thing that stays in my mind thinking of that time is Reese’s story/ monologue from The Terminator: “We were that close to going out forever…”

I am sure plenty of people reading this will be questioning why I have gone to the trouble of dealing with Scoville at all. The fact is, I have never had any desire to take action against him, in no small part because the only ones who ever said I should were representatives of Google and other entities that hosted and promoted in first place.  It would be easy to say I have continued the fight to change the culture that would let him even pretend to have power over others. I could give all the rational and inspiring high notes about never being threatened by Scoville's lies, which are for the most part verbatim what I heard from the beginning from people who mostly told me not to respond to him at all. The reality is that even with a stable career, I still find Scoville a threat and a source of stress simply because at least one site opposed to silencing him still exists, and he is still trying to make his lies appear under my name. Just in the time I have spent writing this essay and now revising it, a series of attacks (complete with the photo) made over a period of a month have been removed, from a Google-hosted blog that still has not been taken from him, and Google is refusing to remove several. At this point, my strongest reaction is anger that I ever felt a need to do anything about Scoville, while the line I think of is from the (terrible) movie From Dusk Til Dawn: “Are you such a loser you don’t know when you’ve won?” Maybe this will pay for all, maybe someone else will finally back down, maybe Scoville himself will finally realize, at a minimum, just how little of his life he has left to waste.

If anything good comes out of writing this, it will be taking one more area of my life back. I have been trying to write again, more often, and not too long ago finished the first entirely complete adventure of a character I created twenty years ago. As for the present work, I hope to get it where it will be seen by those who need it, and anyone who intends to use it for good purpose is welcome to pass it on. As for those who still are where I started, maybe my story won’t help you get where you want to be, but you can at least take heart in this: If you can make it, things will get easier, and nobody else can stop you.

1 comment:

  1. I note Scoville has never posted as himself, his first fake persona was created in 1995 when he assumed the identity of Ms. Margaret A. Morice a spinster former neighbor of Ricky's parents.

    Now he thinks he's Samuel Jackson. Finally Blogger removed his followunclericky.blogspot, it was amusing everytime he posted libel the posts were removed he went on a racist tirade about abuse desk employees in India violated his Freedom of Speech. Ricky is unclear on Commercial Speech, as Google owned the platform, they removed the libel under their Terms of Service.

    Now a month later he created another blog, currently his content is kissing Trump's huge white ass. But give him a few days nad he'll will post about you. LOL his hit counter started at 78,460 to make it appear he had hundreds of daily followers to his lame blog.

    Of note he loves that 35 year old photo of him semi-naked in a gay steam room.