Monday, 12 September 2011

The Wrong Man.

A Ben Melchiors has left a comment on the Jocko Homo post. Those who were tracking the idiots in the video have apparently found the wrong man. This is certainly possible - my name is so common that if you Google me, you'll find me all over the world, from a trucking office in Nova Scotia to a golf pro in Australia. There's even a famous namesake in the UK. In fact, I seem to be the poorest person in the world with my name which is probably some kind of record.

This Ben Melchiors has been getting threats. Whether he's the wrong man or not, threats aren't a good idea. In the days before Internet they were called 'poison pen letters' and were illegal - and the new electronic version is just as illegal because it's the same thing.

There's really no point to these threats. Those making them aren't going to do anything and are open to prosecution, so threatening people just gets the threatener into trouble. They are taken seriously by police. People get prosecuted for causing someone to be offended by a doll in a window these days, so causing someone to feel threatened is more serious than that.

I hope none of the senders call themselves Libertarian, since the central creed of that philosophy is 'not to initiate force or fraud against another' - including the threat of force.

The internet makes those poison pen letters faster and easier but they are poison pen letters just the same. Same rules apply. The sender is committing an offence. In theory, putting threats on newspaper articles or any other site such as 'Kill all these people' whether referring to EDL, BNP, UAF, smokers, fat people, anyone, all count as the same poison-pen threats but we'd need a much bigger police force to track them all down so they get away with it. Actually, I recall one newspaper columnist suggesting that the long-ago-leaked BNP membership list might be useful to what he called 'black power' groups. I don't recall him being prosecuted. He certainly should have been.

Sending a specific Email to a specific person is much easier to track than a newspaper comment and those Emails can be every bit as swivel-eyed and vitriolic as the worst of the newspaper loons. I've seen them.

A few years back, one of my Email addresses was used by a spammer as a fake return address. The first I knew of it was when the failed-delivery messages started pouring in at a rate of around three hundred a minute. I had to shut the Email down quickly while I arranged for that account to delete all failed-delivery messages without forwarding them to me.

Once in a while I'd get an Email from some furious spam recipient threatening me with all kinds of violence. The first time, I responded and explained that the spam was nothing to do with me, that spammers use other people's Emails for return addresses, that I had no idea what was happening or who was doing it. Well, I soon learned just how deranged some people can get, because that just set off more threats, then they'd get their friends involved... in the end I deleted the account and let them shout into darkness. The account had been rendered useless anyway because it was being blocked by spam filters.

In real life, face to face, threats are rarely serious. Most are just bluster from someone who hopes you'll back down before they have to put their threats to the test. That's ten times as true on the Internet where the threatener might be on the other side of the planet and isn't going to be anywhere near you, ever. The trouble is, unlike those old poison pen letters there is no postmark on an Email, so you can't be sure if the threat came from a hundred miles away or next door. So it's understandable that those being threatened will often take it seriously - and so will the police.

I can't delete any references to this Ben Melchiors from here because as far as I am aware, there aren't any. Certainly none posted by me, in fact the comment he left is the first time his name's appeared here. The only contact referenced here is the Email he put up himself.

Even if someone does track down the idiots in the video, sending threats is not going to do anything other than get the threatener arrested. Even if you send a threat from five hundred miles away and have no intention of carrying it out, the threat itself is the offence and you can be prosecuted.

Even if the target of the threat is one or both of the two actual idiots in the video, seen and heard laughing about a real, physical attack on a real woman. And no, her having a tattoo, being a member of the 'other side', none of those justify laughing about an attack on a woman by a gang of thugs. Yet even if the target of the threats is one of those two, as soon as you send the threat, you become the bad guy. The threatener is open to prosecution by the threatened, even if what the threatened did was disgusting.

If you threaten the wrong person, you can end up in a lot of trouble for no sensible reason.

So think before you send that threat. Poison pen letters are still illegal, even if they are electronic and even if you don't intend to follow it through. The crime is in the threat.


JuliaM said...

"There's even a famous namesake in the UK. "

Me too!

Sue said...

Whatever happened to "Netiquette?"

It was not bound up in government regulations and laws but was simply a "decent" way to conduct yourself on the WWW. I always thought of it as a "gentleman's agreement" type of thing.... went the same way as "honour, respect and truth" I expect.

The left hijacked decency, tolerance and good old fashioned manners.

Angry Exile said...

To be fair I've never had any decency, tolerance (of illiberal folk) or manners, but I tend to wish vile misfortune on people rather than threaten to inflict it personally.

Leg-iron, congrats on being #3 non-aligned blogger (in your case does that mean too pissed to be aligned any particular way?). And on the subject of credit for your writing, I just read Jessica's Trap and thoroughly enjoyed it. Hat doffed for both.

Anonymous said...

Please tell me ASH are exempted from this, though!

If not I'll have to put Fido's daily bowel production into a pooper bin instead of sending it to:

Action on Smoking and Health,
First Floor
144-145 Shoreditch High Street
London E1 6JE

I know Fido gets a kick out of it. I certainly do.

Leg-iron said...

JuliaM - I suspect we all have a rich doppelganger. I'm thinking about contacting all those richer versions of me and asking if they'd pay me to change my name so I don't embarass them.

Sue - the left love to play 'victim' after they've goaded someone into blowing their top at them. I'm sure this isn't the case with this guy but I did have to think about it.

Leg-iron said...

Angry Exile - there's a world of difference between 'I hope you die' and 'I'm going to kill you' in my book. Not sure how different it is in law.

Glad you enjoyed the book. next up is a series of short stories, many with people rather than monsters so it's nastier.

Anon - the law you'll fall foul of there is sending noxious substances by post. You need proper containment packaging for that. Like this.

Anonymous said...

It doesn't seem to be a crime if your threat takes the form 'Behead those who insult Islam.'

Ben Melchiors said...


I'm Ben Melchiors. Cheers for posting this. I didn't expect it, but it's really cool to see and finally be able to move on.

I can confirm my full name wasn't here, but links and connections to me were in the comments. I just put statements wherever I could really to try to do something.

The past week has been a bit intense after receiving dozens of email, YouTube and Facebook messages threatening everything from demanding an apology, to finding me at my published work place, to involving a boat and a body bag--and I only found the real events from receiving these first. I haven't been at work, at home, or outside for four days.

I've told the police I'm not interested in a court case, pressing charges or an investigation. I'd rather have my own life back and walk away.

The debate about all political issues can rage on, through free speech as it should, without someone's life turned upside down. Thank you to you, Max Farquar and a number of others in the background who helped spread the word.

I don't need an apology from anyone or even any further attention really. Identities can be mistaken especially when angry. But it is cool to see someone wisely point out how slippery, far and fast online threatening can spread. And how real it is.

Signing off to let others continue the debate.


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