Monday, August 24, 2009

'Skank' Blogger v. Google and "The Violence Against Women Act"

More at | Follow me on Twitter! | Get my widget! | Visit YouTube | Visit

YouTube, Metacafe and DailyMotion

Rosemary Port is the blogger (and fashion model student) who for some reason believed it was ok to call fashion model Liskula Cohen a "psychotic, lying, whoring...Skank," under the blog post title, "Skanks of NYC" and from under the cover of a name not her own. On Wednesday August 19th, a U.S. Federal Judge ordered Google to identify the name of the person who we now know as Ms. Port.

Rosemary Port

But for some weird reason I can only attribute to a lawyer with a super large ego, Rosemary Port thinks she can win a lawsuit against Google for $15 million.

No way.

And it's not because she's suing Google; it's because in using her blog to make malicious fun of Cohen, Rosemary Port unknowingly violated a provision of "Violence Against Women and Department of Justice Reauthorization Act" that was passed in 2006.

Liskula Cohen 

The little-talked-about law has three sections that specifically concern cyberstalking Sections 113 (Preventing Cyberstalking), Section 114, and Section 2261 A . This is what is posted at for the purpose of this discussion. The entire bill section reads in summary:

Section 113. Preventing Cyberstalking ... Whoever ... utilizes any device or software that can be used to originate telecommunications or other types of communications that are transmitted, in whole or in part, by the Internet ... without disclosing his identity and with intent to annoy, abuse, threaten, or harass any person ... who receives the communications ... shall be fined under title 18 or imprisoned not more than two years, or both."

The punishment for this is not less than a year in jail and the charges can be brought forth by the Department of Justice. This, then, is the law Ms. Port has ran up against. Given what she was doing against Ms. Cohen, Rosemary Port is in clear violation of this law and could see jail time if Ms. Cohen or the Department of Justice, or for that matter Google, pressed the issue.

I really think Ms. Port's lawyer is giving her some terrible counsel.

Cyberstalking is not free speech

Some are under the impression that the kind of blogging Port was doing is free speech. Nothing could be further from the truth. Classic free speech is standing on a corner and talking about something using your mouth to blast your voice into public airspace.

A blog is not really public to start with: everything from the web page to the internet service provider is privately owned, so they can control the content that gets out there - it's not the place for free expression. I think what's happened is that the relative ease of blogging has seduced some into thinking that they can write whatever they want, whenever they want, thus believing they have the right to free speech.  Not so.

People are jailed for cyberstalking

Something else Ms. Port must consider is the timing of her actions could not have been worse.  They not only come after 2006 and the laws against cyberstalking, but at a time when there's a war against the act and the people who do it.  In England, a teenager by the name of Keeley Houghton is facing three months in the juvenile detention system for harassing and threatening Emily Moore, eventually writing that she was going to kill her.

And law enforcement has been active in America, too.  In Southwest Florida in 2008 a teenager was arrested for the act.  In Louisiana a pastor recently turned himself in after an arrest for cyberstalking.  In that case, he was accused of "sending several anonymous, sexually-explicit e-mail messages" to a 21-year old woman who attended his church. 

And more and more states and cities are installing their own versions of the law, and police departments are adding cyber crime units, so the infrastructure to stop this behavior is being created.  It's about time. 

I'm cyberstalked on a daily basis, as I have several blogs and video channels (10 channels with an average of 200 videos on each one, and over 600 on YouTube)  and am on and the Examiner and CNN's iReport.  I get racist emails, and comments that lie about me, insult me, or threaten me every day. 

To say I'm tired of it is an understatement but I'm not going away.  In 2008 I was twice the subject of a death message (and got such a comment on this year), leading me to make this video:

And vloggers like MelissaJenn (who I referred to in my video) have been treated terribly, with people stalking her and taking photos not just of her but of her dwelling then sending the photo to her writing "I know where you live."  That's sick.  Just plain ill.  She stopped making vlogs for a few months after that, then came back to her normal schedule of vlogging.  But the bottom line is we're tired of this and fighting back. 

Blogs, news outlets and other online information outlets must beware of this war, because it they're not policing their sites, they too could be the focus of a huge lawsuit by someone who's life was threatened or just plain made to suffer emotionally.  It's not right.  

And now we have the legal tools to use, and will do so. 

Rosemark Port should appologize to Liskula Cohen rather than going through a legal path that will only do her more harm than good.   Port's not the victim here; she's her own worst enemy.  She's not going to beat Google and moreover, she's not going to overturn that provision of  "The Violence Against Women Act".   Ironic that a woman would run up against that law, eh?

Still, I think it's time for some healthy and civil talk about where we go from here.  I don't think teenagers should be jailed for these acts, and I do believe that more training is needed to save people, well, from themselves.   Stay tuned.

Message to YouTube's Renetto - less is more

Even though vlogging - video blogging - can be considered a self-indulgent practice, vloggers are fans of others who vlog. In my case, I'm a fan of several - Paul Robinett, or "Renetto" is one of them. Renetto's YouTube's first big vlog star just from the simple practice of posting videos consistently of him talking into a camcorder about something. But after developing a great following - 41,000 subscribers on YouTube - and a "name", Renetto's concerned that he's not serving his fan base, so my idea is that he shorten his video time.

What makes Renetto popular is he talks to you through the camera. It's not so much lifecasting as leaving a message for the World. But they tend to go on for seven or eight minutes, where I've found that people tend to drop out of a video after about 2.15 minutes. I don't always like making such short videos, but I've slowly adopted this rule: me talking should be up to four minutes or so, me interviewing a person can be as long as 20 minutes for my video and TV show, me filming an event can be up to an hour. (My TechCrunch video at the 2008 August Capital Party was over 40 minutes.)

But for me, I try to say it in two to four minutes. Lately, I've clocked in around just a hair over 3 minutes or so average. I can't say I've seen such a short video from Renetto, but I'll check back with him.

Some of Renetto's fans like the long conversational format he brings; I do too. But he started the whole thing by complaining so I thought I'd help out.

We do get paid for vlogging

Some people think we vlog for free - in other words we don't get paid for our vlogging. Every time I hear that or see it written I wonder why some people insist on being so blind. I tell everyone I know about the YouTube Partner program and generally if I talk to 30 people, I'll get one person who's really interested and then it's a coin flp probability that they'll do anything. For example, at the recent blogger meetup at the Berkeley J School, I was the only one of two vloggers in the room.

And while there may be 175 bloggers in Oakland, I can think of one other vlogger than myself and that person's not consistently at it. Terrible. In San Francisco, I know of five - Irina Slutsky, Sarah Austin (back from New York), Tracy Swedlow, Josh Wolf (who just moved to Berkeley), Schlomo Rabinowitz, Justin Kan (who's not as visible of late). (If I've left someone out, sorry. But also I'm thinking of consistent vloggers, not one and done vloggers.)

You can make money creating videos and having an audience - living wage level revenue that doesn't take all of your day to earn. It's all eyeballs folks. I'm up to 7.7 million total viewers on my YouTube channel Zennie62 since 2006 and of that, drew 5 million viewers in the last year, and over 2 million of them in the last five months. That's not a lot compared to vloggers like Renetto or Phil DeFranco, but I'm headed in the right direction: up.

Vlogging is the future of marketing and communications and is at the heart of New Media, and is a powerful tool for social change, but let's face it: it's a test of your self-esteem. The more comfortable you are with who you are the easier it is to get a camcorder, make a video, and post it, and not give a care what people think about your looks. (Well, except the racism and cyberharassment part; that's sick, I have zero tolerance for it, and fortunately a number of people do too. People who do it get cut from my channels or in a few cases reported to the authorities. Period.)

There are only about 600 YouTube Partners out of the thousands of people who upload something daily worldwide. That means we're out there doing this as a business where I have no idea what anyone else is doing.

Hmm. Just 600 YouTube Partners? On second thought, maybe I should stop telling the rest of you about the program! More money for Renetto and me!