News & Politics

Google and Twitter Slow To Take Down Slanderous Impersonation of a Scientology Critic

by

Last week, Mark Bunker reminded us that over the summer, some scumbag had hijacked his identity and in his name was spewing anti-Islamic hate over a Twitter account and a Blogger website.

We were shocked to hear that the identity theft was still going on. Back when he’d first told us about it in July, we figured it would only take a few e-mails from Bunker to Twitter and Blogger (which is owned by Google) to take down the offending accounts.

But no. Months later, some coward was still operating both accounts, trying to make it look like Bunker was an anti-Islamic hatemonger. Bunker’s attempts to get Twitter and Blogger’s attention had gone nowhere.

We’ve known and written about Mark Bunker for years and years. Early in 2008, the anti-Scientology Anonymous movement dubbed Bunker “Wise Beard Man” when he posted a video counseling the reckless channers to stop punking Scientology and adopt classic non-violent protest to help publicize Scientology’s unethical ways.

Bunker’s words had a surprisingly strong (if temporary) effect, and he continues to be the model of a calm, ethical critic of L. Ron Hubbard’s wacky cabal.

But someone doesn’t see it that way. In July, a Twitter account (@MarkBunker) and website (markbunker.blogspot.com) both showed up, and each began spewing hate against Islam.

Clearly, someone who doesn’t like Mark Bunker decided to smear him with the amateurish, hate-filled accounts.

Bunker immediately notified both Blogger and Twitter that he was being impersonated. From Twitter, he received a couple of automated responses telling him that the matter was being looked into. From Blogger, he heard nothing — even though he’d carefully followed Blogger’s own detailed instructions about how to report such an incident, which included sending in an image of his drivers license to prove that he was the real Mark Bunker.

Months later, the anti-Islamic hate was still showing up under Bunker’s name.

On Thursday afternoon, we sent e-mails to the public relations departments of both Google — which owns Blogger — and Twitter.

The next morning, Google called.

The offending website had been taken down overnight.

“We took it down because it violated our terms of use,” said Google spokeswoman Victoria Katsarou. “Blogger believes in freedom of speech, but we don’t allow material that promotes hatred,” she said.

Katsarou explained that Blogger/Google has a flagging system that allows users to report inappropriate material. A Google team then reviews those flags and closes accounts when it’s appropriate. “This system of community flagging works surprisingly well,” Katsarou added.

That’s all well and good (if a bit Orwellian), but this wasn’t simply a case of hate speech. This was a case of impersonation.

Katsarou said that the site was taken down for its content, not for its impersonation of Bunker because, according to Google’s records, Bunker never submitted the proper forms.

Bunker sent us records to indicate he did submit the proper forms, and in a timely fashion, but all’s well that ends well, we suppose.

Google can claim that its flagging system worked, but we wonder if the Voice‘s e-mail on Thursday night didn’t, um, speed things up a bit.

Twitter, on the other hand, hasn’t so much as acknowledged the Voice‘s inquiry, let alone respond with a call.

On Friday, however, it also took action by suspending the fake @MarkBunker account. There was no explanation to us, but a brief e-mail to Bunker, acknowledging that his complaints had resulted in action.

Bunker responded by asking if Twitter would help him figure out who had impersonated him, but Twitter wrote him back that it would be impossible.

Google told us the same thing. “For privacy reasons, I don’t think that’s possible,” Katsarou told us when we asked if Google would give us information about who had hijacked Bunker’s identity and used it spew hate speech.

Anonymous geeks think they’ve ID’d the culprit as a second-generation Scientologist in New Mexico. But until we see more evidence, we’ll remain skeptical. (Bunker has his own doubts, as well.)

Despite several months of impersonation, Bunker says his good reputation as a Hubbard critic is still intact. “He just wanted to make it look like I hated all religions, and that I was an extremist with a lot of hate,” Bunker says. Instead, many people immediately pointed out to Bunker that he was being impersonated — people who know him and realized that he’d never be behind such a hate-filled enterprise. “There were a few people caught by surprise by the tweets,” he admits. But overall, the attempt to smear him was a total bust.

Bunker is mostly surprised that Twitter responded so slowly when they’ve been trying to get publicity recently for their supposed beefing up of policing impersonators. When it came to an actual case, however, the company was slow to react.

UPDATE: We noticed this morning that Bunker’s main site, Xenu TV (xenutv.com) is also down. Another case of sabotage?

No, Bunker assures us. His provider went out of town, and assured Wise Beard Man that his servers would be fine. But if anything did go wrong, there would be no one to do anything about it.

Sure enough, as soon as the guy left, the server went on the blink.

In the meantime, you can keep up on Bunker’s latest thoughts at his (real) Twitter account (@XENUTV).

Most Popular