Bad behavior online

I just sat in on a Web conference hosted by the National School Boards Association on the topic “Postings, Protection, and Policies: What School Leaders Need to Know About Online Teen Hangouts.”

The big concerns of the NSBA are the effects of bad online student behavior, which can disrupt the discipline and management of schools. The rise of inflammatory and offensive postings on MySpace and Facebook are considered serious problems, and schools find it a challenge to respond rationally and appropriately.

The problem is that just a few years ago there were no public platforms on which the immature as well as the sociopaths, the exhibitionists and the otherwise maladjusted could get broad exposure for next to nothing.

People who readily admit to bad behaviour on and offline, such as Tucker Max (site not safe for work), become role models (The New York Times, displaying a huge lapse in good taste, called Max “highly entertaining and thoroughly reprehensible.”

Another example is Michael Crook, who has managed to rile up lots of people. Crook (a law student in New York) achieved this notoriety with a Web site last year (now offline) named — note that isn’t “for-the-sake-of”. Crook’s opinions about U.S. forces are on his current Web site. Be warned; they are very offensive.

This stunt got Crook invited to appear on Hannity and Colmes on the Fox Network in March this year. Of course, the hosts enjoyed themselves immensely by doing the TV interview equivalent of shooting fish in a barrel. The effect was to reward him for behaving badly.

The second way Crook gained visibility was through an expose site called (don’t bother, it no longer exists). In September Crook started posting ads on Craigslist pretending to be a young woman looking for no-strings-attached encounters of the slutty kind. Crook then outed the men, who responded by publishing their details on his Web site (many sent Crook revealing photos of themselves), and in several cases Crook, for no apparent reason other than maliciousness, contacted their wives and employers and ratted them out.

What is interesting is that what Crook did isn’t illegal; it is simply more bad behaviour.

A more serious issue arose when blogger Jeff Diehl of 10 Zen Monkeys ( wrote about Crook’s bad behaviour and included a photograph of the cadaverous-looking Crook taken from the Hannity and Colmes show. Crook responded by sending Diehl’s now-ex-ISP a Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) takedown notice regarding the image.

The ISP rolled over without a murmur and demanded that Diehl remove the photo so 10 Zen Monkeys relocated to another ISP. Crook sent another DMCA takedown notice to the new ISP’s upstream provider. Diehl and the new ISP then got the Electronic Frontier Foundation involved, and they are suing Crook for the bogus DMCA claims.

While bad behaviour such as Crook’s has to be dealt with, if he had been ignored the legal issues would never have arisen.

It would be far wiser to ignore much of this online bad behaviour. It would become trivialized if we didn’t pay attention to it. Developing thicker skins and treating these people as the silly children they are would save everyone a lot of trouble.

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