[NOTE: For the TLDR crowd, I have served up a 60 second video summary of this dispute on YouTube.]
On Monday, January 29, 2024, starting at 2:30 PM Eastern Standard Time, an unhinged BlueSky user put up 91 posts about me in a nine hour period. These posts were libelous, untrue, defamatory, and designed to harass and discredit me. They whipped up the collective fury of hundreds of other BlueSky users. (BlueSky has refused to respond to my inquiries or resolve this in any way. The social media company, run by Jay Graber, did not take any steps to mitigate this. It was nothing but radio silence under Graber’s watch.) I am specifically not naming this individual because I have reason to believe that she may be unwell.
But I am going to name somebody else — a person with 17.7K followers in BlueSky and more than half a million followers on The Website Formerly Known as Twitter, a figure who claims on his webpage that he’s “trying to make the technology world more thoughtful, creative, and humane” but who demonstrated nothing in the way of humane qualities in the last twenty-four hours — who was involved in this imbroglio and who seized the moment to amplify this extremely bizarre character assassination campaign against me.
If you’re wondering what I could have done to elicit such an attack on me, here is the “offensive” jokey BlueSky post, with the other party’s name removed:
The post from the original user read as follows:
Social media etiquette reminder: there are precisely zero circumstances under which “jokingly” doing the exact infuriating behavior someone is complaining about is not just as infuriating as the actual underlying behavior.
The point I was trying to make (which I apparently failed at) — and I want to be clear that I did not know who this user was or her disabled status at the time I replied; I am not in the habit of mocking disabled people and her post simply popped into my algorithm — was that satire and parody are rooted in a form of mimicking language and behavior. I did not intend to disparage or belittle the individual. It is clear from the preposterous imagery of having an assistant “gather[ing] tomatoes, pitchforks, and an angry mob” that all this was jocular in tone. But this individual had every intention of smearing me. She has claimed that she has merely quoted my words, but she did a lot more than that, calling me “fuckhead,” making a series of unfounded allegations, and using the dog whistle language of “respecting boundaries” while urging people to block me. Fine, I thought. It’s a free country. I thought nothing of her blocking me, leaving the matter alone. Until a number of people started bombarding me with hateful replies and calls for my death on every social media platform. It didn’t take me very long to find the source.
She carried on with her fusillade all day, even after I had issued a public apology on my Mastodon account for any misunderstanding and even after I had deleted my BlueSky account sometime around 4:00 PM. I am still legitimately unclear what I did to this individual to warrant such a strong vituperative reaction and I reiterate my contrition.
This individual’s crazed fixation on me was bolstered and amplified by Techdirt‘s Mike Masnick and Ken White (the man behind Popehat). And their considerable online sway (Masnick has 50K followers on Twitter and Popehat had 317k followers before they both left that Musk-steered apocalyptic social media ranch) helped to legitimize the character assassination campaign against me. Masnick and White, however, kept their criticisms to legally permissible ones (although White, whom I have never met or interacted with before Monday and who is not a psychiatrist or a psychotherapist, speculated on my mental health).
But the tech figure who stepped over the line (and went well beyond the individual who created this firestorm) and entered into the realm of incessant harassment and death wishes upon me was none other than Fastly’s Anil Dash, who took the opportunity to impute — sans receipts, names, or evidence — that I had “maligned good friends of [his] including one just a few days after he passed.” Dash is perfectly at liberty to call me a “complete scumbag,” but I draw the line at unfounded defamation. (When asked specifically by email about the identities of these “good friends,” Mr. Dash did not produce any names or links to what I had written. I wrote, “Not that I expect you to perceive me as a human being, but, for the record, I’m always happy to clear matters up.” And sure enough he didn’t do either of these two things. I can only conclude that Dash was lying through his teeth about the “good friends” of his that I had “maligned,” given how he lied later about other details in our exchange. I have had no desire to be part of the tech world for more than twenty years and I have stayed away from it. So I cannot imagine what “good friends” he is talking about.)
Now the Fastly Code of Conduct specifies that the company that Dash works for “does not tolerate harassment” and notes that “we operate honestly, ethically, and transparently.” And the BlueSky Community Guidelines likewise states to treat others with respect and specifically prohibits “encouraging self-harm and suicide.”
Dash would proceed to violate both of these codes.
In a post alluding to my suicide attempt in 2014, Mr. Dash also proceeded to wish me dead.
He would be more explicit about this in an email I received from Mr. Dash on January 30, 2024 at 10:21 PM:
I had emailed Mr. Dash on Monday night at 8:20 PM EST, politely requesting that he stop and writing in part:
Anil, I blocked you on all social media. I don’t want to have anything to do with you. I think I’ve made one snarky comment tops in relation to you in twenty years.
And indeed, in examining my records, there was one email exchange between Mr. Dash and me on November 18, 2008, which I admittedly replied to in an uncharitable manner at the time. In a 10:20 email to Mr. Dash on Tuesday morning, I wrote, “You reached out to me decades ago by email (November 18, 2008, to be precise) and I responded in a churlish and uncharitable way that I wouldn’t do now. (Since that is the only tangible evidence of what a “bad boy” I’ve been to you, I hereby apologize for a dispatch from sixteen years ago, when you and I were totally different people.) Aside from one Mastodon post lightly ribbing you, I haven’t said anything about you until you started smearing me.”
Dash’s initial response to my Monday night email was:
In other words, Dash categorized all of his BlueSky posts about me as “satire posts” [sic]. When, in fact, the post he had made about me on January 29, 2024 at 5:41 PM — again, without receipts and without names — led a number of people to believe in his unsupported and unfounded claims. And when people believe in a false claim, this cannot be categorized as satire. It skirts into the more baleful terrain of libel and defamation. It is also deeply inappropriate to call for violence or self-harm against someone, which Dash has now done twice against me — even demanding that I “quote” him.
In my reply to Dash’s Tuesday morning email, I pointed this out:
So, just to be clear, if I wrote a “satirical” story (not that I would) in which deranged maniacs chopped up your son Malcolm into tiny little bits shortly after raping your wife Alaina, you’d be fine with this, eh, Anil?
and I further went onto say
There’s a difference between the ridiculous suggestion of me having an assistant who will rustle up tomatoes, pitchforks, and an angry mob (who would believe that?) and you making an unfounded claim where you invoke friends. The first image is predicated in ridiculous imagery and obvious satire. The second (yours) is not satire at all. The reactions from your post were BELIEVED. You caused people to believe in your false statements. Your false statements were understood by your audience to be referring to me and to be true. That’s what’s going to count in a court of law. That’s libel and defamation, sir. Please familiarize yourself.
In a post on January 29, 2024, at 9:12 PM, Dash claimed that he would never make light of my suicide attempt or express a desire for me to kill myself. But as I have abundantly demonstrated, this is exactly what he did. Presumably, this post was a postmodern riff on the so-called “”satire defense” often employed by trolls. The fact that Dash thinks so lightly and dismissively of the impact of his own public expressed wishes for me to kill myself further reveals his intentional malice and his eagerness to inflict emotional distress on me.
The correspondence between Dash and me was conveniently and dishonestly twisted into a series of lies in which Dash falsely insinuated that I desired to “[chop] up [his] child and sexually [assault] his wife” when I had specifically stated that I was opposed to such violence and any depiction of this on the Internet:
In short, Anil Dash deliberately and dishonestly distorted the dispute between us. He continued to wish me self-harm and suicide. And there will be no repercussions for his abusive and harassing behavior because he is tightly connected within the tech world.
To reiterate, BlueSky did not shut down this harassment, despite my efforts to report these abusive posts on multiple burner accounts. This was “trial by social media” and Mr. Dash refused to provide receipts.
This also demonstrates that BlueSky is little more than a Twitter clone, with all of its attendant abuse. And the abusers on BlueSky aren’t MAGA trolls, but people like Anil Dash, who have influence in creating narratives and false impressions. But they traffic in the same casual hate, libel, and discrediting of individuals that is found on what is now known as X. The only difference is that the cyberbullies are the ones who falsely boast about how “humane” and “ethical” they are when they are anything but this.
1/31/24 UPDATE: In 2013, Dash posted an article on Medium, in which he outlined the principles behind online harassment that he practiced this week to a tee: “Once a web community has decided to dislike a person, topic, or idea, the conversation will shift from criticizing the idea to become a competition about who can be most scathing in their condemnation.” Dash willfully escalated the situation in this manner and then proceed to send along repeated messages to me, hoping that I would commit self-harm. As someone who lives with the disability of depression, this, incidentally, is precisely the kind of nasty disability harassment that Dash purports to stand against. And there’s more hypocrisy from Dash in this December 28, 2021 tweet. Keep in mind that I received death wishes and harassment from Dash in a deeply invasive way. Dash is not a poster boy for a “decent” person.
Here is more folderol from Dash in 2019: “If we’re going to build a new web, and a new internet, that respects our privacy and security, that doesn’t amplify abuse and harassment and misinformation, we’re going to need to imagine models of experiences and communities that could provide a better alternative.” As I have abundantly demonstrated, Dash amplified abuse, harassment, and misinformation against me. He still has not produced the “receipts” that he allegedly has against me.
In this Time article from 2016, Dash is quoted in a manner, showing that he is fully aware of the impact of abuse and harassment on depressives, which he deliberately amplified against me: ““I’m just some dude on the Internet, and somebody will tell me probably once or twice a day to kill myself. I think if I look back to my late teens, early twenties when I was struggling with depression—if I had endured somebody telling me once or twice a day to kill myself, as happens now—it would have worked.”
2/2/24 UPDATE: This article has been slightly altered to include one additional example of Mr. Dash’s campaign to harass me and inflict emotional distress on me.