Chapter 1: Fraud, Cocaine and Paedophiles
I have a friend called Andrea. She is a music teacher. The man who taught her music is called Mike Perkins. Mike feels an affinity with her because they both share an interest in music and teaching it to others. One fine Facebook day, Andrea posted a status update asking if she should pursue her university studies or further her music qualifications.
This screencap has been edited, but only to take out posts by other people.
As you can see, I humorously suggested that she should give up music entirely as it was a waste of her time (the joke being that she already makes a successful living from it, and presumably could only do even better if she chose to follow that road). Mike then chose to poke his humourless oar in * and take everything seriously. So seriously that he had to list his material possessions and the precise specifications of his plasma television ("42 inch panasonic 400 Hz").
Now, in my time I've had to deal with a fairly broad cross-section of people who make this world a worse place. Some of them blindly follow religion. Some of them are well-meaning but just misguided in a few very specific areas. Some of them are actively trying to hurt other people. And others are just morons who haven't thought anything through but still insist on developing strong opinions. If this page teaches us nothing more, let it be this: You should never develop strong opinions about things you don't understand.
It's been my experience that each of these categories of people are not open to reason, or any sort of correction. If attempts are made to explain the error, they will incorrectly interpret this as an invitation to a debate, and hence a validation of their stupid opinions (as Richard Dawkings said about refusing to debate Creationists: "It would look very good on their résumé; not so good on mine").
Accordingly, there are two strategies for dealing with these people, and you will see me execute these strategies all over the internet: 1. Assume that the bonkers opinion is true, and take it to its logical conclusion (the hope being that the person will be confronted with the stupidity of his opinion in a more direct fashion). 2. Ironic sarcasm leveraged with hyperbole and ridicule.
As a career in music is a perfectly reasonable option, the former strategy was denied me, and so I was forced into the second option. I first suggested that his hostile, aggressive and excessively materialistic attitude was the result of too much cocaine, which I assumed he would understand as a joke, because I know nothing at all about him - certainly not enough to be able to arrive at such a conclusion with any authority. And yet in his next message ("I have never taken drugs") he handed me that authority! He took it seriously! I had incorrectly assumed that accusing him of being a cocaine fiend would be ridiculous enough. Well, what's worse than being a cocaine fiend? Being a paedophile! So in my next post, I accused him both of being a paedophile (based on something he said about being friends with Andrea when she was 10 years old), and that Mike Perkins wasn't his real name. Surely now he would understand that I'm not actualling accusing him of anything?
That didn't happen. He took my accusations of paedophilia seriously, although he seems to not have noticed the allegation of fraud. What the hell was I supposed to do now? I'd never come across someone that utterly defeated me before. I had signalled that I was joking in as clear a manner as I could (although in retrospect maybe I should have accused him of bombing the World Trade Center), so I gave up. That's right. For the first time ever I actually gave up. I told him I was just fucking with him (post number eight in the linked thread) and that I was sure he's lovely, and also how I thought the accusation of grooming should have been enough to understand what I was doing. This should really have been the end of everything. What happened next is what catapulted Mike Perkins from run-of-the-mill idiot onto a shelf high above all our heads, for which we need a whole new word.
He refused to accept my retraction. Despite the fact that I said in plain English that I was fucking with him, he continued to post as though I were still genuinely accusing him of being a cocaine-addled paedophile. I had completely lost interest in the thread at this point; I honestly thought his answer was going to be something like "Oh. Well, sorry. But you're still an asshole. LOL." or something like that. I didn't consider for a second that the following level of retardation was even possible in another human being.
The rest of the thread is me attempting to underline my retraction and attempting to explain why it was funny. I don't like explaining my jokes, but sometimes the explanation can be funnier than the actual joke. And for the remainder of the thread, he continues to not get it, either wilfully, or because he honestly doesn't understand.
That was a few months ago. Skip ahead to July 2, 2011, when this wonderful exchange occurred:
This screencap has not been edited in any way. This started with him putting the movie Sucker Punch into Andrea's "top 3 films of all time" without consulting her, and by regarding someone rapping over a Queen track as "awesome". I echoed the consensus opinion that it's not very good, but you might like it if you want your movies to look like video games.
This screencap has not been altered in any way - and thank fuck I took this when I did, because the whole thread went into weird mode straight afterwards. You can see there are differences. My first thought was that he deleted his message to make things worse for me. But then I looked at it again, and one of my messages is gone too (the one with the fantastic line about One Tree Hill)! And I know I sure as hell didn't delete that slice of comedy gold. As Andrea was clearly not online at the time, a more reasonable explanation would be that whatever Facebook glitch caused my post to disappear probably also caused Mike's post to disappear. Sadly, this logic escaped Mike Perkins, who soon after threatening me with legal action and all sorts of racist whiny gibberish, sent this seemingly triumphalist message to me as a personal Facebook message:
"It hasn't gone. It's right here right now." He is clearly under the impression that I deleted my message. He hasn't noticed that his own message is missing too! I should probably take it as a compliment that he's paying attention to everything I say to the exclusion of everything else around him, including his own contributions. And although he says with a hilarious attempt at menace that it's "off to a few other people as well", he actually sent me the same message five times, so I was seriously entertaining the possibility that he had made some sort of mistake. Then this appeared on my Facebook home page:
I'm imagining Mike typing his sternly-worded email of complaint to Facebook HQ in his dimly-lit Dickensian flat in inner city London, fingerless mittens turning down parrafin lamps as the evening draws to a close, the yellow-green fog creeping its way around the cobblestones and horse-drawn carriages, conveying men at midnight to those who would indulge their dark complusions. I'm also imagining the poor bastard at Facebook HQ who probably had too much will to live to actually read any of the messages, and just hit a Send Warning button somewhere to shut Mike Perkins up. Maybe this will work, thinks my imaginary Facebook employee, maybe now Mike Perkins will quit whining. I never did check that box, and it just disappeared after a week; I acknowledge nothing!
Chapter 2: Defamation 101
Before we get into the legal morass of jurisdiction and how it's more or less impossible to nail anything down online, "defamation" is a legal term for something very specific: spreading lies about someone which causes them measurable harm. Obviously, making stupid jokes isn't covered. Sometimes even saying obviously hurful and nasty things without humour isn't covered, and in fact, not a single case ever taken against Facebook or any Facebook account for defamation has been successfully prosecuted (although that won't stop some people from taking money from people dumb enough or angry enough to think they have a case). Not a single one. In this particular case, for instance, the judge threw out the case because the people had set an earlier precedent of making obviously outlandish statements for the purposes of mockery, but you could throw that case out for a number of reasons. Facebook is, as are all social networks, full of uptight assholes getting offended and expecting someone else to be responsible for it. So good luck with that, Mike Perkins.
But let's say that the comedy exception doesn't exist (which it does). Even in that case, he'd have to demonstrate that it caused him measurable damage (defamation doesn't give a shit about "emotional distress" - in other words, the fact that you got upset is your own fault, legally (and common sensically too)). He would be unable to do so, because the only people who saw that were on Facebook, where he's the only person (apart from his poor wife, to whom my heart goes out) who didn't think it was funny. Ironically, claiming that my business failed could be seen as defamation because, firstly, it's false, secondly, he clearly takes it seriously and expects others to believe it as a fact, and thirdly, it could be damaging to my future employment prospects (although being a business failure didn't do George Bush any harm).
He's made the mistake of assuming that becasue he finds something offensive, everyone else has to also. This is a fundamental disorder of humanity. When the divorce referendum was passed in Ireland, it only passed by 0.3 %. what this means is effectively half the country showed up to say not only do I personally disagree with divorce, but no one else can have one either! As you can see, at least in my country, this sort of disordered thinking is quite common. In reality, that fact that Mike Perkins got offended by something I said means fuck-all legally, and if he wanted to get into a legal thing, he'd have his ass handed to him, not by me, but his own lawyer.
Incidentally, after the little box went away, I read the Facebook Community Standards for the first time while researching this page, and the good news is that mockingly referring to someone as a pseudonymous, cocaine-taking paedophile does not violate ANY of the ten sections! Go click on the link; have a look. It's instructive.
Chapter 3: The 9/11 Controversy
Soon after 9/11, paranoid mutterings were made about one "M. Perkins" in relation to the World Trade Centre bombings. Although conveniently out of the country at the time of these terrorist acts, the FBI seems clear on the connection. Evidence gleaned from aggressive interrogation techniques in Guantanamo Bay was confused. Some miltants placed him in the airplanes on the day (which, as I've said, is impossible), some claimed he was one of the masterminds of the entire operation (with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Mohammed Atef), while still others said he was coincidentally in the background of a number of high-level meetings, but didn't know where he was or what was going on.
Initially reluctant to present himself to the authorities due in part to his paedophile past, and a cocaine habit which, in the words of a source close to Mike Perkins, "made David Bowie look like a Christian", eventually his legal counsel convinced him that offering testimony was preferable to the feds kicking his door down and dragging him away in a sack.
What happened during the following three days (the maximum allowable interrogation time before charging becomes legally necessary) is a matter of debate. All four people present differ in their accounts, but they all agree that his written evidence was confused, frequently contradicted itself, and seemed to imply a massive conspiracy of terrorists which including a network of fundamentalist Muslims who manned the major ports of Europe specifically to smuggle paedophiles into and out of various countries (mainly Italy, France and Germany). This conspiracy went "all the way to the top", although when challenged, he was unable to name anyone at the top, or the prime ministers of the United States or England. He then attempted to use his inside knowledge of this conspiracy to leverage leniency from "the judge", even though it was repeatedly explained that he wasn't being charged with anything.
Ultimately, the role of Mike Perkins in the World Trade Center bombing may never be known, but it behooves all right thinking people to ask the question: how many lives would have been saved if his threat to the community had been identified by law enforcement earlier? Probably at least three or four, I'd think. Maybe even five.
* Seriously. I have never seen a boat propelling mechanism that had such a low appreciation for the subtle art of ironic sarcasm.