Saturday, 16 January 2016

Counter-Speech On Trial: When Slanderers Strike

Accusations against Wendy Cockroft On t'Internet
Click to enlarge

Well we all know what I think about speech and counter-speech where freedom of expression and my personal experiences are concerned. Today I've got a perfect example of negative speech and its consequences for individuals and groups: some nutbucket is attacking me online using Twitter to share "reviews" that "he*" has posted on, Pissed** Consumer, Ripoff Report, and Yelp. He's even trying to get me sacked from my job.

I feel a bit nauseous about the situation but it doesn't seem to have resulted in a furious mob breaking down my e-door to tar, feather, and run me off the internet on a virtual rail so far.

Meet my accuser

Everybody has the right to face and cross-examine their accuser in a court of law so the truth of the accusations can be tested against the evidence presented. In an ideal world, evidence would be demanded if someone started mouthing off against an individual or group, but in my personal experience people tend to believe whatever has been stated on the telly, in the newspapers, or repeated on social media, particularly if it has been widely disseminated. My accuser is probably banking on this, hence the multiple "reports."

Who is this person?

I have my suspicions. Basically, I reckon it is either a person who was mentioned in my post, "Do People Who Do Dodgy Things Have A Right To Get Them Forgotten?", or an associate with whom I argued in the comments on Techdirt on this post: "Our Response To The Latest Ridiculous Legal Threat Against Us: Milorad Trkulja Can Go Pound Sand." I stopped responding when the lulz went stale and for the record, if I DID ask Mike Masnick to remove unwanted comments he would no doubt tell me to "Go pound sand" myself and stop being such a thin-skinned baby. And I'd deserve it so no, I didn't and I don't intend to.

Screenshot of "Manuel Diaz" Twitter account
Click to enlarge

Given the thinly veiled references to Techdirt in the accusations I'd be surprised if it turned out to be anyone else.

How much harm can these accusations do?

Well the "reviews" have only just been posted so it's hard to tell. I've posted rebuttals to all of the accusations but I don't know whether or not it will influence readers either way.

"Diaz" should note that if my employers act on any of the accusations made against me they will investigate, which means demanding evidence of my alleged wrongdoing. Since I've never had dealings with anyone of that name, much less charged three grand in cash in any currency for my work, it's unlikely that "he" will be able to provide any. Besides, I'm rarely off sick so I'm sure they'll be asking for the date on which the alleged interactions took place so they can find out when it was that I pretended to be ill so I could moonlight as a web designer. Result: case dismissed, I keep my job.

I don't do much in the way of web design these days, though I do help friends out with graphics, etc., on a voluntary basis from time to time. These "reviews" might cause problems for me if I was to return to it for any reason but then I tend to rely on referral agencies to gain clients. They have their own review system for clients to rate and interact with service providers that link to the actual work carried out so the statements can be verified for accuracy.

Conclusion: these allegations can only do harm if people seek them out and decide to believe them.

What about Wendy Cockcroft Web Design?

As I said already, I don't really do web design these days. I stopped it when I went full time with my current employer because I often work overtime so can't commit to working on projects that demand a lot of energy and attention. I'd have no private life if I did and projects would take a long time. It's why I don't blog every day: writing posts takes time and effort and Twitter is a massive time suck. I'm easily distracted.

How I work

It's important to note that I always post examples of my work on my portfolio on Behance, blog about my commissions, and share links to the work I do on my social media accounts. When I was doing web design for money I would upload screenshots of my work to my portfolios there as well.

Although I have taken cash for work, I've only ever had it in installments and usually in stages after doing some work to protect both parties in the event of a dispute. The last thing any online service provider needs is a ticked-off ex-customer with evidence of their wrongdoing so I usually try to stay on good terms with my clients. Readers should note that cash can only change hands if we meet face to face, otherwise an intermediary such as PayPal would be involved and they can withhold or refund payments in the event of a dispute. For this reason, I recommend the use of intermediaries and advise against paying in full up front.

How I deal with disputes

I've actually been in four disputes with clients. I didn't always come out on top and didn't always blog about it. This is what happened.

Taken on trust #1, #2, and #3

I've been in three situations in which I was effectively working for free, then pushed back. In two of the cases I was helping the client to build a web presence without taking any payment up front. Big mistake. In the first instance I went to arbitration and got paid in the end; in the second I put the website up for sale along with the social media accounts I'd created for it. No buyer came forward and I cancelled the lot when the domain ran out.

I also built a website for free and assisted in the design work on associated social media accounts to help a local cause but one of their admins deleted all the work I did and claimed the work was his own. I flipped out online and in the end they changed the attribution so no individual had the credit.

Sick days

I never take sick days as holiday as I believe it's unethical. Well shortly after beginning work with my current employers but before I went full time, a client invited me to discuss the opportunity to do business with her to promote her writing by making a website and featuring an Amazon widget like the ones I've got here in the widget areas of On t'Internet so people would be able to buy her books from her website. My knee swelled up and when I went to hospital they took me in for a few days, during which I had no access to the internet. Result: ticked-off client dropped me and I never got paid because I hadn't explained to her why I had not provided the work required in the time agreed. I didn't even argue back, I let it go. A week or so later my current job went full time so I didn't need to supplement my income; I stopped doing web design for money.

What Now?

Wendy Cockcroft Web Design has not existed as a business enterprise since my current job went full time, that's why the domains associated with it divert to On t'Internet and I no longer tout for clients online.

These colours don't run

Instead of trying to hide from the possible consequences of negative reviews I have discussed them on my Twitter account, which is linked to my Linked In and Facebook account to see what happens when this negative nonsense is disseminated among people I know. To date, I have had supportive comments from those people I am friendly with and one stranger had this to say:

An investigation might follow

So far, then, I've got little to worry about. I've got enough popularity that people don't automatically believe bad things about me because multiple personalities say so and the people who might take this seriously enough to do something about it will demand an explanation — and evidence. Should an investigation be deemed necessary my work record, in and of itself, will exonerate me because, as I said, I often do overtime and am rarely off sick. If they ask "Diaz" for the dates on which the alleged incidents took place, "he" will be exposed as a liar.

Cash payments would show up against bank records as it's unlikely that "he" keeps all "his" money in his mattress, in a pillow, or in a jar. They would also show up in mine as I don't do that either.

I would also be at risk of being investigated for tax fraud by HMRC as withholding the tax due the state while claiming tax credits is strongly frowned upon.

"Diaz" has apparently refrained from reporting my alleged fraud to the police; three grand is a lot of money to lose so why has Plod not been knocking on my door?

These are serious accusations. If there is any truth in them should I not be thoroughly and properly investigated? First we must establish which country this happened in as I'm being accused of committing crimes in both the USA and in the UK. These are criminal offenses so why have they not been reported to the police? If the accusations are true, they damn well should have been. Believe me, if somebody robbed me of that amount of money I'd be down at the cop shop filing a report faster than you could blink, snitch that I am.

So what now? Other people are probably arriving at the same conclusions as my friends have, to wit, these are bogus reviews with unfounded allegations which, if true, ought to have resulted in my arrest by the authorities. They haven't. Result: they will most likely be ignored for the histrionic nonsense that they are.

I've reported the matter to my employer's Twitter account, Twitter, Pissed Consumer, Ripoff Report, and Yelp via tweets and I'm going to leave it there. Que sera, sera.

*I think this Twitter account is a sockpuppet for a certain female.
**"Pissed" means "angry" in America. I've used its full name because that's what it's called.

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