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Moral Equivalence and Censorware Project's hijacked domain

[This was a message written by Censorware Project attorney Jonathan Wallace , which protested an attitude of moral equivalence regarding Michael Sims' domain-hijack of the Censorware Project website . That is, moral equivalence is to treat the hijacker as morally equivalent to the people affected by the hijacking. The context was a request (denied) to remove Michael Sims from an organizational mailing-list, due to his overall behavior . Posted with permission of Jonathan Wallace]

Date: Fri, 3 Aug 2001 12:49:03 -0400 (EDT)
From: [Jonathan Wallace]
To: [list-manager - a distinguished civil-liberties policy advocate/lawyer]
Subject: [about removing Michael Sims from an organizational mailing list]

[Redacted], I wanted to make a couple of observations, off-list, about the following mail and about the question of whether Mike should remain on the IFEA list.

You mentioned that the former colleagues of the Censorware Project perceive things differently and that its not your job to sort things out. However, the facts couldn't be starker. Mike volunteered to act as the webmaster for our group. In a fit of anger, he unilaterally shut down our website, posted a notice that the group had closed (which was not true), and refused to send a copy of the content to the rest of us, or to transfer the domain. We pieced together the content from other sources, bought and went on with our activities. Mike has in the meantime renewed the domain, and continued to maintain a page implying that the group has ceased activities. He has not, as far as I am aware, been involved in any further free speech activism. Nor should someone who performed a private act of censorship by shutting down a site and withholding its content be welcomed in free speech circles.

Add to that the fact that Mike's only recent posts have been to flame other people. He is a disruptive influence, greatly increasing the noise-to-signal ratio. In fact, right now, he is the noise.

If the [redacted] webmaster had performed the exact same acts--destroying your web site and forcing you to reconstruct it from caches and mirrors--would you want him on the list?

As a member of the list, I find Mike's continuing involvement odd, unpleasant, and yes, somewhat deterrent. As a founding member of the Censorware Project, I also find that the continued presence of the guy who maliciously destroyed the site and almost shut down the group to indicate a certain lack of respect for the remaining members. This is not a case of people politely (or vocally) parting company after a policy disagreement. Again, Mike pulled the plug on a healthy, functioning site, wouldn't turn over the content, and bounced mail from journalists and individuals trying to contact us. The damage was very severe, though we have recovered.

Finally, there is an apparent breach of list policy (however informal). When Seth Finkelstein, a former Censorware Project member who left on good terms, asked to join IFEA, he says was told that he couldn't belong because he was not a current member of a group belonging to IFEA. Denying Seth, while allowing Michael to remain, seems unfair and inconsistent.

A word on my credibility: I am 47 years old, an attorney and former industry executive, author of Sex, Laws and Cyberspace , and (I hope you know) far from being a flame warrior. You might also want to check with Jim Tyre, who will verify what I've told you.

[Jonathan Wallace]

[Note from Seth - after that message, I was informed I could join the list if I wished, but Michael Sims would not be removed. The net effect would then be to set up a situation where Michael Sims wouldn't lose by attacking me, but I would lose by defending myself. That is, the moral equivalence outcome would mean that if he told a lie, and I told the truth, these would be accounted as equal parts of a dispute. I felt, similar to the above, I couldn't participate under those circumstances.]

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