Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Hiltzik accused of sock puppetry

Michael Hiltzik, the Los Angeles Times business columnist, faces another accusation from his nemesis, the blogger Patterico. Hiltzik "regularly leaves nasty comments under assumed names," sez Patterico, the nom de blog for Patrick Frey.

Frey, a prosecutor by trade, wrote that he has evidence "beyond a reasonable doubt" that Hiltzik is doing this.

One piece of evidence is matching IP addresses, but Patterico said there is much more.

In fairness to Hiltzik, let's hear from him on this. Hiltzik can always discuss it on his blog, where his identity will be unquestioned.

The controversy started at independent Sources, where an anonymous comment by "Nofanofcablecos" opened with this pleasantry: "Boy, you guys are stupid."

Nofan's comment was made regarding an Independent Sources posting about high cable company rates. Hiltzik had written about the subject in his latest column.

Later in the comment thread, Hiltzik was identified (correctly or incorrectly) as Nofan.

"He was clearly worked up over his spat with Paterico and took it out on the first blog that came up in his Google blog search on his name (which is how he landed here). I’ll give him credit for working late from the office on a Saturday night, I though most of those guys worked from home and emailed in their stories and maybe he is pissed off about that too. Whatever it is he can’t be too happy about Senior Administration Official’s deconstruction of his Hewitt claims. No doubt our next visit from him will be under the name “nofanofAlexa”."

Nofan replied that by trying to out an anonymous commentator, Independent Sources violated its own privacy policy. (Me speaking: it probably did violate that privacy policy. Hiltzik has a right to be pissed off).

Independent Sources replied that it did not violate the privacy policy.

"Insider discussed how he surmised nofan was Hiltzik, but did not reveal nofan’s IP addresses, ISPs, or any other information that a third party could use for nefarious purposes. As we say in the policy, we will never do that.

Nofan could be a researcher googling “Hiltzik” from the LA Times on a Saturday night. We can’t tell — although the bilious “I’m smart, anyone not on the left is stupid” arrogance is typically Hiltzikian."

It would have been better if Independent Sources simply first announced that its privacy policy does not necessarily apply to people who post under pseudonyms as well as under their real name. The policy could be -- use your real name or a pseudonym, but not both. Then such future postings could be revealed without controversy.

However, give the blog credit for admitted it erred:

"On this one I think we messed up. Nofan wasn’t promoting Hiltzik’s Monday piece on telco video; he didn’t represent himself to be someone he wasn’t; he wasn’t using multiple aliases; and his identity had no intersection with the content of his comments and so was irrelevant. IMO we should have just let the comments stand on their own."

But if Patterico is right, and he can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Hiltzik has repeatedly posted nasty comments under pseudonyms, not just there but on other sites, Hiltzik isn't going to look very good.

Thanks to this educational debacle, I am abandoning my plans to furiously attack a certain Web metering company under the pseudonym: "Alexaisaprivacyinvadingmonstrositythatplanstorobusofourpreciousbodilyfluids."

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