I'd be surprised if anyone in New Zealand was unaware of the Auckland housing situation, and probably most would have heard of Phil Twyford's announcement of Labour's new policies. Policies which were based on what I consider to be some pretty dodgy leaked statistics from an as-yet un-named Auckland real estate company, based on their customers' "Chinese-sounding" surnames.
While there has of course been some divided and diverse comment in the media and in the blogosphere, and the veracity of the statistics has been challenged, there has also been some fun – and some serious spite.
Earlier this week, Ben Guerin, a Young Nat and a Parliamentary Services staffer, launched an anonymous site, http://howkiwiareyou.nz (which has now been taken down) which measured how Chinese your name sounded and whether or not not you might be a fair-dinkum Kiwi. It was obviously satire, a parody, a spoof. For example, it threw up several different answers when you punched in the same name.
I found it funny, but not everyone agreed. Lynn Prentice from The Standard, who writes and comments as ‘lprent’, wrote a post entitled Ben Guerin: a dirty politics fuckwit. Here are some of my thoughts on that:
Prentice may well have the right to call Guerin a fuckwit, though my personal opinion of Prentice has just taken another dive.
He also has a right – he sees it as a responsibility – to out a National Party staffer using Labour logos without permission (apparently in his own time), even though to me the website was obviously satire and a quick-witted response to Phil Twyford’s ‘expose’ on the effect of Chinese on the Auckland housing market.
It clearly irked Prentice that Guerin didn’t identify himself on the site itself and he happily informed us how he caught him out. That much was interesting to non-techies like me, whom Prentice appears to hold in such low regard.
But this is where Prentice crossed a line himself and broke the rules, though I suspect he won’t care, will argue that he hasn’t, and anyway, the “sanctions” are lighter than the proverbial wet bus-ticket.
There’s a footnote at the bottom of every domain search result on the Domain Name Commission’s site which is where Prentice got Geurin’s contact details. It reads (my emphasis in bold):
“Users are advised that the following activities are strictly forbidden .... Using any information contained in the WHOIS query output to attempt a targeted contact campaign with any person, or any organisation, using any medium.”
And there’s the issue: despite knowing the toxicity of so many commenters on The Standard, Prentice published Guerin’s cellphone number, postal address and email address. He could just as easily have made his point and identified Guerin, and even told us how and where he got the information, without publishing those contact details.
Then, when commenters announced that they’d sent Guerin abusive messages, Prentice defended them rather than taking down the offending material.
"I just sent him a text letting him know what a shit head he is. Can’t see much harm in anyone else telling him the same.”
Izzy responded with a balanced and reasonable comment which includes (my emphasis in bold):
" …. I think it’s disappointing that you saw fit to publish his contact information, which apparently commentators here have now used to send him abusive messages
…. he doesn’t deserve the level of vitriol in this post, and he doesn’t deserve texts and emails telling him he’s a piece of shit. Being a Nat doesn’t make him immune to being hurt by this kind of thing. Be kind.”
Prentice defended his position and the actions of some of his commenters (my emphasis in bold):
" …. The “voitrol” (sic) was because he didn’t provide any information on the site to identify who was responsible for it.
…. Since he’d neglected to provide that information, I feel that he should wear the consequences like any responsible adult
…. Suffice it to say that the next site that I spot of this non-transparent dirty politics ilk will at least redouble that level of vitriol if I can trace it back. So you should suggest to your wellington “team” that they’d better learn to be responsible before I make them.”
The next day, Guerin ventured into the lion’s den and announced on The Standard that he’d taken down the parody site (my emphasis in bold):
" …. As the registrar of the domain my details were publicly available. Perhaps this was a mistake, but I am a supporter of transparency, and made no secret of my involvement. The fact that the site was made by Young Nats was publicly acknowledged by myself personally and on the Young Nats social media pages.
Unfortunately, after my personal details including phone number, postal address and email address were published on an article on The Standard, I receive a significant amount of hatred-filled vitriol directly at me personally via txt message, phone calls, emails and messages sent to my personal Facebook and Twitter accounts.”
“Welcome to my world. In the last 7 years I have amassed a very large collection myself.
…. The contact details are there for people to contact you. Sometimes that contact may be unpleasant. From your whinging, personal responsibility appears to be something you are uncomfortable with. Perhaps you should not put up websites until you are better able to bear the burden.”
It's interesting to note that in Prentice's mind, taking personal responsibility equals happily accepting personal abuse, and therefore he chose to publish Guerin’s personal details, knowing that it would most likely result in Guerin being targeted by The Standard's commenters.
Unethical? Yes. Breaking the rules? Yes. And that one step further said more about the vindictive Lynn Prentice than it did about his subject.
Re my contention that Prentice broke the DNC’s rules, I suspect that it’s water off a duck’s back, and all part and parcel of Dirty Politics. As mentioned above, he could always deny his intent, “It was the commenters, Your Honour” and anyway, the consequences are minimal.
The DNC footnote continues:
"A breach of these conditions will be treated as a breach of the .nz Policies and Procedures. Sanctions in line with those specified in the policies and procedures at www.dnc.org.nz may result from any breach.”
Policy 6.WHOIS data protection defines the “sanctions”:
"6.3 …. In the event that NZRS (.nz Registry Services) discovers or suspects abuse of the service, they may take appropriate steps to restrict access to the service including (but not limited to) removing or limiting access to any IP address.
and 6.7 The steps the DNC may take include, but are not limited to, the following:
6.7.1 removing or limiting any party's access to the WHOIS service on a permanent or temporary basis
i.e. if a complaint were made – and upheld – Prentice’s access to the DNC WHOIS service would be cancelled – Crikey, that should stop 'em! <Insert Tui Ad>