Child-Proofing the Internet


There’s been an interesting story developing over the past month at Digg. Apparently it all started with this Digg posting: My $2000 camcorder was stolen and I know who took it. Help get it back! The posting was made by a man named Phil who is claiming that his camcorder was stolen by a woman named Amanda, who was apparently his former roommate. Apparently, after Phil lost his camcorder he found it being sold on a couple of auction sites by users whose names mysteriously matched Amanda’s screen name(s).

The Good and the Bad: In a lot of ways I think what Phil did was the best course of action to him. I am really in favor of public shaming for thieves, cheats, and other sorts of scumbags. On the other hand, Phil decided to post up Amanda’s email address and home phone number with his post. The email address isn’t a big deal, but the phone number is. My attitude is basically, the Internet is Vegas: “What happens in Internet stays in Internet.” Taking things from the Internet to real life without mutual agreement is about as close as it comes to a cardinal sin of internet etiquette.

So a few days ago I saw this post: Warning! Felony for submitting a Digg story. As it turns out, the guy has apparently been charged with violating some podunk law in Michigan. A followup story was posted today on the website of some sensationalist local TV station: Man faces cyber-bullying felonies. You can’t make this stuff up.

Amanda Brunzell, 23, said she is living in fear because of the actions of a man.

It is not his threats that got him in trouble, but the fact that he got others to do the harassing and the high-tech way he accomplished it.

It is a case that shows the power of the Internet and tests the waters of a relatively new law.

The former roommate Phillip Hullquist, who lived with Brunzell while she was working in Texas, claimed she stole his video camera.

It was not until after Brunzell moved back to Michigan that the former roommate, named Phillip, claimed she stole the camcorder.

He was so upset he put a video on YouTube and a post on another site, inciting supporters to get his camera back. The response was massive cyber-bullying.

The man now faces two felonies and Brunzell is afraid to sleep. The World Wide Web has become her personal prison.

Hullquist splashed his claims online and riled up users to get his camera back. He gave out Brunzell’s home phone number and e-mail addresses.

She has received dozens of chat requests and hundreds of e-mails, some threatening her life.

Kentwood Chief of Police Richard Mattice and his detectives are investigating the case.

The World Wide Web has become her personal prison. Boo-Hoo! She got instant messaged by a few of the trolls over at Digg and then immediately a plan hatched in her head: Instead of instantly blocking them, and preventing further messages by blocking unknown users and sending mail from unknown people into her spambox, she’d decide to wreak vengeance on this guy, trying to ruin his life by going to the police and playing up the victimized woman angle. Even more absurdly, the Michigan police seem to be playing along with her, having charged the original poster with two felonies for merely posting the woman’s phone number and email address.

Let’s be clear, Phil was in clear violation of Article 1, Section 1 of the Internet Conventions Convention of .COM, but this manipulative hag took things beyond the next level by turning a simple situation of internet asshattery into a legal one that could lead to jail time for the guy. Michigan, too, is to blame, for having on books a completely asinine and unenforceable law which basically states, “If you do anything online that causes someone else to possibly behave in a way that could be construed as harassing, you can be held responsible for their actions.”

The thing that worries me with this whole story is the possibility that Amanda might win. I have very little interest in this spat, but I see a victory for Amanda in this case as a blow against the heart of the Internet. There is no way the Internet could exist if every thin-skinned, vengeful harridan could bring lawyers around and sue anyone who might be responsible when some internet troll makes a death threat. Grow a pair and realize that the rhetorical style of the whole damn Internet is inflated to extremes. Telling someone to go die is a casual hello. If one person can be held responsible for the actions of other people, why stop with Phil? Why not sue Kevin Rose and the rest of the people behind Digg for publishing Phil’s story with Amanda’s contact information? Heck, why not sue AOL for delivering the harassing messages to her, and every company running a wire between her and Phil? Go for the big fish, Amanda, Phil is small fries.

It’s not like Phil is some Charles Manson authoritarian pseudo-cult leader personality manipulating a bunch of drugged up women. Digg users may be drugged up, but the ones who were stupid enough to go about harassing Amanda were acting under their own free will. In the past I’ve had to deal with imbeciles who aren’t capable of making this sort of distinction, that Person A isn’t Person B and doesn’t send out mind control rays to Person B … Unfortunately, the lawmakers in Michigan seem to be the same sort of dolts.

In conclusion, both of these nitwits need to have their internet privileges permanently revoked. Amanda needs to die, and the state of Michigan needs to fall off the face of the earth.

4 Responses

  1. Dr. Strangelove

    The current generation of law makers and enforcers didn’t have the Internet as a strong feature in their childhood, and this certainly shows in how they react to things like this. It’s pretty clear that no one really thought about the Internet when drafting that bill, and now it’s going to royally screw at least one person.

    However, no one can claim that the Internet passively enforces its rules. Unlike society, it’s anonymous, so there’s no emotional blackmail to keep you on the straight and narrow. But regulation is an impossible solution, considering the questions of jurisdiction and enforceability. In the end, the only solution is common sense and manners.

  2. Amanda Le'Anne Brunzell

    To whomever wrote this:
    I have some things to say about this article.
    That “podunk law” yeah just made a few years ago after an ex husband posted his ex-wives information on a fourm stating that she was available to preform sexual acts to anyone who wanted it. That “podunk law” almost every state has it. Also, it is the State of Michigan who is charging Phil not Myself, I agreed to not press charges if the post were taken down. We are still working with to remove those posts.

    That 3rd post, was someone elses doing. The news stations the local press and the local radio stations all contacted me. I did not want more media, though in the end it did help me to get the support I needed.

    To accuse me of not doing the steps of instantly blocking them, and preventing further messages by blocking unknown users and sending mail from unknown people into my spambox. very untrue. I did, and yet there were people who were able to get around the security that I had done. The phone calls, well that was a whole nother issue, actually in the beginning Phil did not post my phone number or address, he posted that of some friends of mine. That was what Phil was also charged for. When people finally realized that I did not live there, they found my PARENTS phone number and address. Mind you for people to say they looked up my name in the phone book and got that information, not possible, I have never had my name in a Michigan phonebook, or for that matter any phonebook. My parents had that phone number for over 20 years, people asked me why didnt you change it? my answer, Its not my number, and why should my family have to make changes in THEIR LIFE just because of an unwise action of someone hundreds of miles away?

    To call me what was it? a Manipulative Hag now have you ever met me? No, what do you know of me except from a pretty much one sided story. Nothing. What changes alot of this is I am bi-polar, and even some slight changes in my life can be huge things for me, recieveing phone calls at all hours of the day? Having people outside of my house? Now really if you had someone outside of your house whom you did not know what would you do? Mr. or Ms. writer do you have children? I don’t but my 10 month old neice lives at that house. She happends to sleep in the living room area. If someone were to break into that house she would be the first one affected. I love my family, and when my neibors are telling me people are outside watching my house! Your damn right I am going to call the police. It is at THAT point where it crosses the virtual line and becomes REALITY.

    You are right Phil is not some Charles Manson authoritarian. Phill is a great guy, Yes I do hold some anger at him for what he had started, but one should be held accountable for their actions or what may come of their actions. For example, say a bartender serves a minor in the bar or club, and later that night that minor gets into a car accident and kills someone. That minor will be charged with the crime but the bartender will also be charged because of their actions which led to a person dying. There is no difference between those laws and this relitively new law. Phil, as of Aug 31st 2007 has not come to Michigan to face his crimes, and honestly I don’t know if he ever will. When and if he ever does, I will gladly speak at his trial and sentencing. Phil is a kind a wonderful person, I personally believe that he should not see jail time. The only things I will request is to pay my friends the amount of money that it took to change there phone number and to pay my co-payments for care that I recieved due to my mental health.

    Oh and to say I should die? What for? Protecting my family? OK, whatever…

    Have a great day, and keep going on with what you do! Making statements to which you are not totally knowledgable about, or at least next time… Ask the people involved!

  3. Yawn.

    The Federal Communications Decency Act Sect. 120 establishes that internet service providers shouldn’t be held responsible for the behavior of its users. This is a fundamental tenet of the internet as we know it today, else we would have no ISPs in this country at all.

    Of course, who constitutes a “service provider”? It’s legitimately arguable that anyone who participates on the internet could be argued to be a service provider. For example – Social news websites are dependent on users for content, therefore contributors to said site are also service providers. In the broadest sense then, FCDA S.120 establishes that an individual cannot be held responsible for the activities of another individual.

    What it comes down to is that it’s unbelievable you didn’t have a hand in getting criminal charges pressed against this guy, and that’s pretty much all that matters. Doing so is just pure maliciousness, as even under a Hammurabian eye for an eye philosophy a few days of inconvenience do not compare to the months or years, and costs, of a trial.

    There is a saying, though who said it or what its exact words are I cannot remember, that is applicable in situations like this: On things closest to use, we have no perspective. Just because you’ve made this whole thing out into a pity party for yourself, don’t expect others with a broader view of the situation to join in on it.

  4. Phillip Hullquist

    If Amanda was simply looking for a reasonable financial compensation for the damages caused by my alleged involvement in posting the story of this theft on the internet, I would consider making some kind of deal with her. I suggest that she just sells my stolen camcorder and that should cover plenty for whatever costs she claims to have incurred.

    I do intend to come to Michigan at some point and deal with the charges Amanda has made. Unfortunately, I can’t afford too at this point. An attorney that I consulted with suggests legal fees to reach as much as 10 thousand dollars. That’s most of my annual income! Amanda will have managed to ruin me financially. What more does she want?

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