It has been a busy week for the Block Bot. A front page rewrite, a resignation and more troubles to come … The Witchfinder explains the possible legal consequences of running an enormous public blacklist.
The Witchfinder, as followers will know, is a law student who is studying an LLM LPC as a weekend student and who does pro-bono work. After your Inquisitor’s recent video on the Block Bot, which expressed concerns about the inclusion of women and minorities, he was marginally irritated to be added to ‘Level 1’ on the Block Bot. As followers of the laughable Block Bot project will know your author is in good company with such luminaries as Professor Richard Dawkins, Professor Brian Cox and Beatrix Campbell OBE. Hell, Barack Obama was on at one point.
Having said that, the definitions of ‘Level 1’ that the Block Bot had last week were pretty extreme. The front page of the Block Bot site had this to say about those it blocks –
“Twitter is polluted by a number of anti-feminist obsessives, who viciously harass those who don’t support their warped views.”
“Level1 people might have something to complain about in terms of being labelled “abusive, stalker, doxxer or faker”, few have however as it’s a pretty clear cut accusation.”
“Level 1 is sparsely populated with “worst of the worst” trolls, plus impersonators and stalkers.”
The Witchfinder was slightly dischuffed and considered that this may fall foul of UK Defamation law not to mention Britain’s very strong Data Protection laws. In UK law, before suing someone for libel (or anything else) you have to send a special letter called a ‘Letter of Claim’ and give the other side an opportunity to set out their side of the story. There are costs penalties for ignoring them. So I wrote letters of claim to the Blocker who added me and to Block Bot author James Billingham. I had them delivered by process servers.
Since then the Block Bot’s normally sedentary front page has been a hive of activity. The homepage has been significantly amended. Fortunately your author had created forensic snapshots for evidence purposes. Link before – and after. So what, exactly, has changed?
The highlights in red show the text removed or changed and give a little hint. At least one of the Block Bot team talked to a lawyer who presumably pointed out the potential pitfalls of creating a category of ‘the worst of the worst’, ‘anti-feminist obsessives’ and ‘stalkers’ then adding people for merely e.g., criticising the Block Bot or being involved with #GamerGate. Also, the ‘Blocker’ who added me seems to have resigned, although whether that is connected is unknown.
Hilariously, having removed all the dubious allegations the Block Bot front page no longer mentions the word ‘Troll’. Recall that trolls are what it was originally supposed to be for. Having said that, they missed a few places – the word appears on the FAQ page and of course @TrollOrNot will have to go.
For his part, your Inquisitor is very grateful to wise Stefano Lucatello, Senior Partner of International Law Firm Kobalt Law LLP, who gave a second opinion and advised pro-bono that I should drop the libel claim due to the costs risk and focus on the Data Protection aspect as it can be used to similar effect much more cheaply.
Our analysis of the legal exposure of the Block Bot team is staggering. Leaving aside the main site for a moment, there is the secondary database run by Sarah Noble. The ‘Block Bot Checker’ records all the so-called ‘evidence’ the Block Bot team use to justify their actions and makes it available to the public.
The contents of the ‘Block Bot’ checker are astonishing. For example, per the screenshot at the start of this article, eminent Professor Richard Dawkins is labelled – ‘racist’, ‘gross’, ‘rapeapologist’, ‘childabuseapologism’, ‘transphobia’, ‘youradick’ . This is of course all untrue. Much as I disagree with Dawkins he is guilty of none of those things and the allegations appear to be wildly libellous. There are of course storified tweets but as so often with the Block Bot they prove nothing. He just said some sex crimes are worse than others. So does the Sexual Offences Act 2003 (that is why some crimes have longer sentences than others)! Noble could stand to lose everything she owns if sued.
Meanwhile, the Block Bot team have apparently been frantically contacting the police trying to claim that ‘being sued’ is harassment. This reached its nadir when James Billingham received a notice from me under the Data Protection Act 1998 and claimed he would report it to the police. Given the nature of their database in holding hilariously unjustifiable allegations against thousands of people I suspect they can expect more ‘being sued’ by many villainous types who object to their actions.
In the meantime, anyone, whether in the UK or abroad, who feels aggrieved by the Block Bot is entitled to ask the UK authorities to look into it. The responsible authority in the UK is the Information Commissioner’s Office. It does not matter that the server is located in the United States – that just means the UK based Block Bot team have exported data, which is prohibited under Data Principle 8.
Certainly, your author feels he has got his money’s worth for his letter of claim. At this stage the lawsuit has not even been sent to the Court and the Block Botters are running around like headless chickens. The followup will now be via firstly the Information Commission or if all else fails, the author will consider the County Court.
Your author strongly suggests that anyone aggrieved by the Block Bot contact the Information Commissioner. The Deputy Information Commissioner for Data Protection Act supervision firstname.lastname@example.org, his assistant email@example.com and the case work team at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can explain you are backing the complaints made by others about ‘The Block Bot’ or you can lodge a complaint of your own and fill in the form here.