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The Lurkers Support Me in Email: Citing nonexistent support

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The lurkers support me in e-mail.

A war cry from the heyday of Usenet. Necessary background info: the standard ratio for "people who were taking part in the conversation on a Usenet newsgroup" to "people who were reading it without saying anything" was consistently about 1:10. The silent readers were known as lurkers.

Sometimes a person who was losing an argument, and was getting neither support nor agreement from other newsgroup members, would protest that he'd been getting heaps of supportive e-mail from the lurkers, who all agreed with him but were too intimidated by his wicked opponents to post about it on the newsgroup. This is why there are at least two filk songs titled The Lurkers Support Me In Email.

They glory days of Usenet have passed, but "the lurkers support me in email" lives on as a shorthand term for claiming that one's argument is backed up by invisible supporters or data.

  • There are people out there who'd find that really offensive

This is the anonymized subjunctive version of "The Lurkers Support Me in Email." The speaker asserts that Unnamed Persons Out There would find his opponent's position incredibly off-putting, offensive, or hurtful, and therefore it behooves him to reconsider it.

An elderly relative of mine was fond of invoking "what the neighbors have all been saying" as her trump card in arguments the neighbors couldn't possibly have known or cared about; viz., "The neighbors have all been saying how selfish you are for not going to church with me this morning."

  • I'm just saying what everyone really thinks.

Everyone = the lurkers.

  • They said Galileo was crazy, too.

The lurkers in this case are hypothetical people in the future, who will appreciate the visionary genius it took to invent an engine that runs on tap water.

* I know a hacker -- you'll be sorry!

While you may live to regret leaving your ports open if Anonymous decides you're a bad guy, or 4chan decides you're fun to play with, people who threaten you with "a hacker they know" learned everything they know about hacking from the movies.


  • I'm not going to do your research for you.

A less obvious ploy. The lurkers are the books, articles, websites, databases, polls, etc., which the speaker has never consulted, but which he claims will infallibly support his argument.

* I'll sue.

Meaningless legal threats are a staple of bad internet argumentation. "My lawyer," "any jury," and "the full weight and majesty of Western jurisprudence" live at the same address as my relative's censorious neighbors. Some variants:

* I’ve been in contact with my lawyer.

= "I said 'Hi!' to him at a Christmas party three years ago."

* I’ve been in contact with my lawyer, and he says --

= "I am about to emit some nonsense I just made up."

* Our legal team are looking at the libellous quotes coming from this site.

= "I have more imagination than the previous two guys, but I'm still blowing hot air."

If a batch of corporate lawyers had determined that your statements were libellous (which is very unlikely), they wouldn't just be "looking at it," they wouldn't convey their opinions via word of mouth from some civilian, and the gist of their remarks wouldn't be "So you'd better be nice to me, or else."

This same sort of reasoning should be applied to fake-legal threatening letters. If you get one that seems genuinely alarming, consult a lawyer.

  • You have transcended the barrier separating protected commentary from libel. I urge you to retract.

Vide supra, passim. (That's Latin for "Everything I said above, but all of it at once.")


The lurkers support me on a larger scale:

One occasionally sees these interactions writ large. A few years back, not long before they sold out to the Russians, Live Journal allowed themselves to be stampeded by a doofy, self-aggrandizing, yet somehow sinister group that called themselves Warriors for Innocence. They said that if LJ didn't shut down a long hit list of communities and personal accounts they'd drawn up, they would tell the world that LJ's site contained explicit sexual material involving children. Furthermore, the WfI claimed that the presence of such material had already driven away some of their advertisers.

Four responses would have been appropriate. First, LJ could have remembered before taking action that they were not and never had been responsible for content their users posted. It's right there in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.


Second, they could have told WfI that as a matter of policy, LJ didn't screen their users' content, and weren't responsible for screening it; but if WfI had actual evidence of prosecutable illegal activity on the site, they would of course consider reporting it to social services and law enforcement; so what evidence did WfI have, exactly?

Third, they could have gone to the Warriors for Innocence website and noted that it didn't contain a single phone number or street address anywhere on the site, or the real name of any person associated with the organization. Its contact information was an email address. Its only point of contact with the real world was an anonymous commercial mail drop rented from an outfit in the Phoenix area. None of the established child welfare organizations linked to it. In short, Warriors for Innocence was about as substantial as a coat of paint.

Fourth, they could move on to the fun questions: "Which advertisers were those, exactly? Why did they go to you with their problems, instead of talking to us? How did they even know Warriors for Innocence existed?" And, most obvious of all: "How did they contact you?" In short: "Who are these lurkers, and can you show us their email?"

These are very basic maneuvers.

But Six Apart/Live Journal didn't do that. Instead, they began mass deletions of user and community journals -- about 500 in all -- based on hot-button keywords. They indiscriminately shut down rape, incest, and pedophilia survivors' support groups and personal journals, character-based RPG journals, a discussion group for the novel Lolita, and a bunch of long-established fan and fanfic groups. They did it without warning, giving users no time to salvage years' worth of content posted there. It was an epic clusterfuck.

Meanwhile, a bunch of old GEnie and Usenet hands were watching incredulously as the whole thing unfolded, saying, "Six Apart fell for the lurkers support me in email?"

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