A skank discussion: Privacy, anonymity, and misogyny

Have a supermodel and a bitchy blogger just killed anonymity on the Internet? Is Google partly to blame? And does Cringely really hate women? Readers share their thoughts

In response to last week's post about former supermodel Liskula Cohen forcing Google to give up the identity of an anonymous blogger ("Skanks for nothing: Google must identify anonymous blogger"), I got a couple of e-mails that are worth exploring in a little more depth. So here goes.

[ See where it started for Cringely: "Skanks for nothing: Google must identify anonymous blogger" | Stay up to date on Robert X. Cringely's musings and observations with InfoWorld's Notes from the Underground newsletter. ]

The first comes from Cringester S. P. about the differences between privacy, anonymity, and responsibility:

It's not really about privacy I think. If you loan a stranger your car after requiring certain info about the driver, and he drives it, say, for the purpose of displaying a political message, but he hits someone with it and then runs, the victim would want you to disclose what you know about the driver. Should you be permitted to withhold that info just because the driver was going to use the car to display political messages?

I'm not arguing that anonymous bloggers should be allowed to say whatever they please about whomever they please. Journalists certainly can't, not without the threat of a defamation suit. Why should bloggers be different?

At the same time, I'm a little hinky about giving up all possibility of anonymity on the Net. There are times when shielding your identity is literally a matter of life and death (though not in the case of the author of the Skanks in NYC blog). It's the old slippery slope argument: How do you protect anonymity for some but not all?

S. P. adds this point about Google's role in the whole affair:

If Google really wants to give bloggers anonymity, then they don't have to capture bloggers' IP addresses and require email addresses as a condition of using the blog creation service. BUT, Google voluntarily makes itself a prospective witness and a holder of information that others (who are not suing Google for damages) might need for separate litigation.

It's a fair point, and one that's been raised by others in the past. Why does Google hang on to users' personal information for months on end? If it has the power to simply wipe a blog out of existence (and it does), does it really need to record the blogger's IP address and e-mail?

The second response comes from B. R., who has quite a bone to pick regarding my "callousness" in reporting on this case. If I understand it correctly, in the following excerpt I am both "Mr. Anonymous" and "Mr. Whatever his name is."

Not withstanding Mr. Anonymous missed the point; the victim lost bookings, the callousness displayed by Mr. Whatever his name is, likewise failed to mention the misogynistic tone of the attack. Worse, Mr. Anonymous' callous disregard of the victim was displayed in what I suspect he imagined to be "lighthearted" or "cheeky" reporting, was just icing on the cake.

Apparently my major crimes are a) not directly labeling the blogger who called Liskula Cohen a "skank," a "ho," and an "old hag" as a misogynist; and b) being callous, lighthearted, and cheeky in my treatment of the story.

Actually, it turns out that the author of Skanks in NYC is a 29-year-old hostess who has met her target on a few occasions. Per TG Daily:

The woman behind the 'Skanks of New York' catfight has been outed as Rosemary Port, an unemployed 29 year old night club hostess.

But far from being apologetic for describing Canadian model Liskula Cohen as a ho, hag and skank, Port said she didn't regret penning the blog, but she did regret the court's decision to name her.

So we know she's a potty mouth. But does creating that nasty blog make her a misogynist? We don't really know. Hating one woman isn't the same as hating all women.

If Ms. Cohen did indeed lose bookings as a result of all this (I'm dubious), it probably wasn't due to the blog. It was more likely due to being hit with a vodka bottle by an angry club-hopper in January 2007, scaring her once-flawless face. Or maybe it was her complete over-the-top reaction to that blog and the resulting publicity. As boneheaded moves go, that was pure numbskull.

(Unless her aim was to get a lot of publicity -- in which case, it was sheer brilliance.)

B. R. also implies that, because I was writing about a woman who was wronged and wasn't wringing my hands and saying "poor thing," I too am a misogynist. Later in the letter she likens me to some attorney who apparently defamed her and later was found to be practicing law online without a license. Say what?

Turning Mr. Anonymous's column to a better ending - what about educating your readers as how government usually allows these fake attorneys to roam the world freely?

Full disclosure: I practice snarky commentary online without a license. But my dog has one. Does that count?

I like to think of this blog as an equal-opportunity snarkfest. Everybody gets roasted, though some (like Microsoft) spend more time on the burner than others (because there's so much more to make fun of).

I think it would be an enormous insult to women if I treated, say, Carly Fiorina or Carol Bartz differently than I treated Steve Ballmer and Steve Jobs. So I'm not taking B. R.'s advice that I "reconsider [my] tongue-in-cheek style." Ain't gonna happen, sweetheart. If you don't like it, well, you can always sue me.

If you were going to sue someone, who would you sue and what for? Post your complaints (and/or bail) below or e-mail me: cringe@infoworld.com. Note: I've been having some e-mail problems lately, so please try again if you get a bounce notice.

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