I have some long-running internet grudges, and I’ve hinted around about them here and, frankly, I’m tired of dancing around the subject. Today I’m going to name one of the “villains.” Please don’t think that I’ve just lost my mind and am going to start foaming at the mouth over a Facebook “troll” or a Youtube comment. This goes deeper than that. It’s time to clear the air. If you read this blog, you’re in for a treat. Full-scale online hostility usually doesn’t result in this type of full-blown analysis. Usually, people engage in name-calling and then go off and sulk. Not this time.
Around 2003 a group of people started to disrupt online forums discussing PC flight sims at a site called SimHQ.com. They used every dirty trick in the book. They bullied people, and accused other people of plagiarism if that suited their purpose, and, in general, encouraged everyone to act badly and fight as much as possible. One of the group, Dave Slavens (claiming to be USAF), became the moderator of one of the forums and from this position he worked tirelessly to demolish the forum. Eventually he and his gang succeeded in destroying it. Then he founded his own site, combatace.com and the “disruptions” magically went away at this new site. A second “problem” forum at Sim-Outhouse.com was destroyed by these professional trolls, and then a similar forum magically reappeared over at combatace.com.
In this way, two of the primary sites for hobbyists modifying flight simulations had been hijacked by a mysterious group and taken under their “control.” Until that happened, I had been happily learning to create model airplanes on the computer, and had replaced plastic model kits with the virtual kind. After the experience of being blindsided by this group of cyber-terrorists, I gave up cyber model building and went back to the plastic kits. This experience had an effect on me. It wasn’t just an “emotional” event having no “material” weight. It mattered–to me. It affected other people, too, but they aren’t talking. Yet.
But here’s another question: Just WHY would anybody want to do something like that?
Theory One. It just happened. Hey–crazy stuff happens on the internet!
Theory Two. Dave Slavens is a genius at organizing online bullying and using it to his advantage. He created a site from nothing using simple methods to drive traffic to his own site and destroy his competition. He did this for monetary gain or just the thrill of being “top dog.” It’s difficult to imagine anyone having that kind of determination and skill, but you never know.
Theory Three. “Dave Slavens” is a part of a USAF covert operation to train Air Force personnel in cyber warfare. Teams of specialists are trained to occupy a forum, disrupt it, and then drive the “orphaned” traffic to new site where they can be “managed.” This type of training would prepare U.S. forces to occupy, destroy and re-assign enemy personnel from terrorist websites and forums into sites and forums clandestinely under the control of U.S. intelligence, so that their activities can be monitored closely.
You see my problem. I saw what happened. I witnessed the shameless bullying and the outright destruction of these forums by people I thought were just “bad people.” But were they? Maybe they were making America safer by engaging in covert operations aimed at Americans (and some non-Americans) in order to fight real, bomb-throwing terrorists. Maybe.
I don’t know. But if there is one tiny shred of truth in Theory Three then I’m pretty upset about that, anyway. I don’t like this “Dave Slavens” character, and if Theory One or Theory Two are correct then he’s still a creep but that’s life. But if the U.S. Government is messing with innocent citizens in the name of “fighting terror” then I should be outraged, but usually, I don’t let it get me down. I just let it go. It’s not worth it.
But today I found something I just can’t stand. The unmitigated gall. I’m talking about this:
I can hardly believe it. A site FOUNDED on bullying starts a campaign to fight bullying! It boggles the mind. Of course, all the evidence is neatly lost in the void of internet history. No evidence. No witnesses. Gone forever. There’s no way I’d ever “prove” anything anyway. It’s all my word against “theirs.”
I hate a liar, and the idea that crime can pay really burns me. That’s the origin of my “grudge.” I know it won’t do me any good in the long run, and this business raises my blood pressure to unhealthy levels. But, dammit, somebody has to say something. Remember that guy at the end of Invasion of the Body Snatchers?
“Listen to me! Please listen! If you don’t, if you won’t, if you fail to understand, then the same incredible terror that’s menacing me WILL STRIKE AT YOU!”
Something like that.
So now you know all about it. I freely admit to being the kind of nut who harbors a grudge over something like this, trivial as it may appear to be. As online living becomes less the exception and more “the rule”–we should all stop and ask ourselves if what we see online is really what we think we see–and act accordingly.