Over the weekend I stumbled on a blog post entitled Sex Baiting Prank on Craigslist Affects Hundreds which contains the following excerpt

On Monday, a Seattle web developer named Jason Fortuny started his own Craigslist experiment. The goal: "Posing as a submissive woman looking for an aggressive dom, how many responses can we get in 24 hours?"

He took the text and photo from a sexually explicit ad (warning: not safe for work) in another area, reposted it to Craigslist Seattle, and waited for the responses to roll in. Like Simon's experiment, the response was immediate. He wrote, "178 responses, with 145 photos of men in various states of undress. Responses include full e-mail addresses (both personal and business addresses), names, and in some cases IM screen names and telephone numbers."

In a staggering move, he then published every single response, unedited and uncensored, with all photos and personal information to Encyclopedia Dramatica (kinda like Wikipedia for web fads and Internet drama). Read the responses (warning: sexually explicit material).

Instantly, commenters on the LiveJournal thread started identifying the men. Dissenters emailed the guys to let them know they were scammed. Several of them were married, which has led to what will likely be the first of many separations. One couple in an open marriage begged that their information be removed, as their religious family and friends weren't aware of their lifestyle. Another spotted a fellow Microsoft employee, based on their e-mail address. And it's really just the beginning, since the major search engines haven't indexed these pages yet. After that, who knows? Divorces, firings, lawsuits, and the assorted hell that come from having your personal sex life listed as the first search result for your name.

The question I've been asking myself from the first moment I saw this story is "What is CraigsList's response going to be?". The blog post indicates that there is a growing trend of people posting requests for romantic liasons on CraigsList only to turn around and embarass all the people who responded by posting their responses on the Web. If this trend continues, it will likely lead to a chilling effect towards using CraigsList as a dating service. The folks at CraigsList must realize this yet I haven't found any official response from them on this issue available online. 

This highlights one of the key problems with social software. When you build software that enables people to interact with strangers, you run the risk of people interacting with strangers who aren't so nice. The practice of griefing in multiplayer games is an example of when human interaction in social software goes awry. Other examples include fraud in eBay transactions, stalkers on social networking sites, con artists on dating sites and spammers in all their various forms. All of these problems make people less likely to use certain online services and may be the death knell of certain websites if they don't figure out how to handle malicious users of the service. 

Different services resort to different mechanisms to prevent griefers, however most of them are preventive. There is little that is or can be done once the malicious act has been committed by the 'griefer'. Given that I work with the teams that produce services that can be harmed by griefers as part of my day job (e.g. Windows Live Spaces and Windows Live Expo) this worries me. What can sites like CraigsList do to prevent people like Jason Fortuny from turning people away from their service because they fear having a negative experience? My gut feel is that Craig Newmark would go a long way in reassuring users of the service if they stepped in and took [legal] action against "griefers". Users feel a lot safer about using the service if they know that someone is looking out for their well-being if something bad happens. Consider it the social software equivalent of a "money back guarantee". 

What do you think?


Categories: Social Software
Tracked by:
http://bbgun.burningbird.net/fooflah/on-dealing-with-griefers/ [Pingback]
http://www.netcrucible.com/blog/2006/09/11/everybody-knows-without-your-clothes/ [Pingback]
http://www.pinkjoint.com/index.php/archives/software/social/is-privacy-legislati... [Pingback]
"Beware of Internet dating and duping..." (Eileen Brown's WebLog) [Trackback]
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Monday, September 11, 2006 6:35:35 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
IANAL, of course, but if any of the "victims" of this happen to live in California they actually might be protected by the relatively new laws that protect against the misuse of their images/likenesses without their permission. That is, they sent their photos/email to this idiot with a reasonable expectation of privacy. The guy then goes and violates that expectation in a way that could cause material damage to an individuals reputation, job, relationships, etc. Could be grounds for a good lawsuit.
Monday, September 11, 2006 6:42:06 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
What if you made the replies anonymous; ie. Craigslist could shield the "buyers" much the same way it does the "sellers" right now. Eventually you would need to give out personal information for physical goods or services to be exchanged, but that would require "sellers" (and spammers, etc) to work harder for their goals.
Monday, September 11, 2006 11:44:26 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
> When you build software that enables people to interact with strangers, you run the risk of people interacting with strangers who aren't so nice.

Actually such software exists for years and so do the risks. I just saw "The Scene" (http://www.welcometothescene.com/) a made-up story about a DVD ripper group, where the members actually don't know each other IRL and just communicate through IM and IRC. When problems arise they are talking albout "trust" and "proof", although there's going on a lot behind the scenes in the chatrooms. The series showed me that it's a not-so-good idea to trust total strangers on the net (i.e. sending phone numbers), especially when you're dealing with delicate issues.

Monday, September 11, 2006 1:00:24 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Jason Fortuny seems to be an online sociopath. What company does he work for? Never hire them. Never hire him. Do not reward such disgusting behaviour.

it's one thing to mess with people's anonymous online identities. it's quite another to cause pain and humiliation to them and their families and shrug it off with a "not my fault".
Monday, September 11, 2006 4:47:55 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Maybe CL should do nothing, maybe the individuals replying shouldn't have such a ridiculous presumption of trust that it seems okay to send a complete stranger their fondest wang shots?

Seriously. Let's assume for a sec that women actually post wanting a dude like right now, no strings attached. Let's assume that there is such a dating scene. Maybe you wait for the presumed lady to ask for the cock shot, maybe you wade into the hot-and-heavy-talking pool instead of diving in head first without a depth check.

Do you reply to a conventional CL listing with your credit card details and permission to use them? Or do you establish a level of reasonable trust directly before sending them sensitive details? Or do you even wait until you're face-to-face before handing over the ducats?

I think the incident points to a potential issue, but it isn't one itself. To me, these morons are the more comical equivalent of people replying to a 419. Doesn't mean the perpetrators aren't their own pieces of shit in either case, but, at the same time, I can't ignore the fact there seems to be a certain amount of social software Darwinism at work here.

If I send someone a wang shot (and, believe you me, I have a template for this, I'm looking into a text expansion macro), I think I deserve whatever happens if I'm not directly establishing a discrete level of trust beforehand.

I'm just disappointed at how very un-2.0 all these morons were--no flickr or zoomr with some dick tags, what gives?!

Nice v- address too! Wheee
Monday, September 11, 2006 5:33:23 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
deception? online? who knew?

still, it's up to the community to police this kind of thing. it's up to the people affected to sue him. it's up to the rest of us to make sure this guy is black-balled. he's obviously not trustworthy/doesn't have sufficient value for other human beings/can't differentiate between emoticons and real people.

Mike Padula
Tuesday, September 12, 2006 4:43:02 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Anti: yeah; half of these guys never expect a response; they're just looking for an excuse to send around pix. It's like flashing/groping chicks on the subway -- the risk is half the excitement.

Mike: these things have been operating for thousands of years. Online self-policing is useless, unless the online "police" are criminals with real muscle. If people are going to seek extralegal entertainment outside the protection of an established criminal enterprise (regardless of how small) with a reputation to keep, you have to question the motives of both sides -- maybe they're hoping to do something that even typical crimanal's wouldn't approve. and protection involves a lot more than just "shunning on a BBS"; there are really shady people out there.
Tuesday, September 12, 2006 3:35:26 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Trust is the key issue here. Where/at what point, does the person get the "warm fuzzy" that trust has been established. C.L. will need to deal with this in a direct and unequivical way. How precisly? Don't know. Black list the guy in as many places as possible?
While I don't do the CL; I can understand that there are folks out there who do. But what I find interesting is that this Fortuny dude pulled this, and at the same time he has ads and his resume up looking for work (now pulled).
It comes down to a matter of ethics. The folks who responded to his scam may have stepped on it with the old golf shoes; But I think J. Fortuny may have just cut it off. How does a web designer/ administrator think that he will be allowed to handle a companies sensitive data, when he can not show some form of basic ethics?
I think that his actions are going to (depends on media/net coverage) put a real dent in the internets ability to conduct commerce.
Loosing situation for all. Problem is, don't think Fortuny realizes it.
Fred Franklin
Tuesday, September 12, 2006 7:30:19 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)

I understand ppl have been deceiving eachother for...well, forever right? I didn't read the online ad. I'm not getting the impression there was anything illegal about the proposition. Correct me if I'm wrong. Assuming I'm not, just because it's 'shady' and you don't approve doesn't make it illegal. Perhaps immoral, likely unethical, certainly not mainstream but, not necessarily illegal.

No doubt MOST ppl in the section of CL in question are not 100% honest (gasp in shock). Hence, "decption? online? who knew?". It's a question of how far is too far. Embelishing about your body type is one thing. Publishing private email online in a public form, without consent, is another. There's nothing wrong with what he did from a technological perspective. Therefore, technology can't solve the problem. However, from a social persepective (online or off), his actions have VERY real consequences re:trust...as I'm sure he'll learn. The solution must come from within the [online and offline] society.
Mike Padula
Tuesday, May 29, 2007 8:51:19 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Online sexbaiting is not all this psycho freak Jason Fortuny is involved in.

I would like to contact the owner of this blog site directly to add my own commentary and experiences to your knowledge base, but could not locate a contact email for you.

I think you might be interested in my story.
Medeia Payne
Tuesday, May 29, 2007 8:52:03 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Online sexbaiting is not all this psycho freak Jason Fortuny is involved in.

I would like to contact the owner of this blog site directly to add my own commentary and experiences to your knowledge base, but could not locate a contact email for you.

I think you might be interested in my story.
Medeia Payne
Tuesday, May 29, 2007 8:52:15 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Online sexbaiting is not all this psycho freak Jason Fortuny is involved in.

I would like to contact the owner of this blog site directly to add my own commentary and experiences to your knowledge base, but could not locate a contact email for you.

I think you might be interested in my story.
Medeia Payne
Comments are closed.