Sybil Ballew and the Anti-Vaccine Crowd

I’ve asked time and time again for evidence from the anti-vaccine crowd that a pro-vaccine person or a public health worker has ever bullied, threatened, or spread lies about them in any medium. They are yet to respond. The closest they have come to saying that they’re being “abused” online is to say that the public health requirement that their children be vaccinated for school is “discrimination” or “persecution” for their personal beliefs. They also say that “forced” vaccination is just as bad as sexual assault or rape, and that the people who support mandatory vaccination of children in order for those children to participate in publicly funded programs is just like human trafficking.

Instead, what I have been seeing from many anti-vaccine types is some pretty harsh words and “wishes” aimed at public health officials, physicians, and anyone else who supports vaccines, including myself. They wish that I were dead or threaten me on their online radio podcasts. Others are not as open about their identities and hide behind pseudonyms online. Then they laugh when I remind them that there really is no such thing as online anonymity.

There is no such thing as online anonymity. If you go to a judge right now and show them that I have violated the law in any way, or that I am a danger to myself, the judge will issue an order for WordPress to reveal my internet protocol (IP) address from where I have been logging onto WordPress to post. From there, it’s all a matter of using some simple IP lookup tools to figure out where I live. Then you take that information to local law enforcement and you can pretty much uncover my identity.

All of it depends on me doing something bad enough to warrant the intervention of law enforcement. Short of that, you could take all that I have written and run it against some algorithm somewhere to see if there are any similarities between my style and content and that of other writers, bloggers, etc. Of you could bribe someone at WordPress and have them give you my IP address, but, in doing so, you’d be making me a millionaire since I could sue WordPress for violating my privacy.

I feel the need to remind you that I can see your IP address when you comment on this blog. I have a strict policy of not revealing your identity to third parties unless it is absolutely necessary to do so, or you have agreed for me to do it. I’ll do it if the greater good is at stake. But I will never do it to “out” you because the anti-vaccine types want to know who you are. This brings me to the next theme of this blog post.

I was contacted through Facebook by a person who claimed to be a friend of one of the readers/commenters of this blog. That person wanted to know how the reader was doing, claiming that they had not heard from the reader but recognized their pseudonym from previous conversations. When I asked the person to tell me the true name of the reader, they devolved into hurling insults and claiming that they were “very close” to figuring out who I was and to suing me. When I asked what the lawsuit would be for, they blocked their Facebook account. It’s been three weeks, and I have not heard from them since.

As I am sure that the person who contacted me through Facebook has read this blog, and might even be reading this right now, I’d like to remind them (and anyone else who thinks that online activity can be anonymous), of the sad case of Sybil Ballew. Ms. Ballew is a woman in Georgia who thought her libelous rants against a person would be anonymous. She thought no one would find out who she was and that she could say whatever she wanted to say:

“Cooley’s saga began with the murder of his fiancee, Paulette Harper, at the hands of her ex-husband in September of 2008. A few days later, the postings on the Blairsville page of Topix.com started showing up.

The poster wrote Cooley was a “pervert” and drug addict with a lengthy criminal record, a man who had been in prison and rehab. Harper’s daughter, who was 9 at the time, must be protected from Cooley, the poster wrote.

“I didn’t really even know the woman. I knew her in passing,” Cooley, 44, told the AJC. “She worked at two places [where] I was a customer.”

Cooley had a criminal background check run on himself showing that he had no such past, but people didn’t seem to care. Eventually he had to leave Blairsville, where his mother, sister and two sons lived, to find another job. He now lives in Augusta and works as a hairdresser.

Ballew is the woman who wrote the posts under the pseudonyms Mouth, Calvin, Bugs, Yuck, Rebel and Slim. She admitted in court that she also had conversations with herself, posting her concerns on the site under one name and then agreeing with the posts under another persona.

When asked in court why she wrote those things about Cooley, Ballew answered, “I watched him and I can tell a pervert. Every time a pretty girl walked by, he would look at them. I get a feeling.””

That “feeling” of Ms. Ballews cost her an award of $404,000 by a court who found her libelous postings under different pseudonyms to be just that, libelous. In much the same way, what the anti-vaccine crowd says about any of us defending science and reason need to pay attention to that story and know that if any of us get an itch to go find a lawyer, we can bankrupt them in a heartbeat. There comes a point when their libelous statements and accusations cross a line from Free Speech into libel/slander, and there are plenty of legal remedies for any of us to follow.

We are not killing any children by advocating for vaccination. We are not discriminating against you by pointing out the stupidity in your anti-vaccine rants. And we are most certainly not being paid by “Big Pharma” to do all this. That last one is one that can be used against the anti-vaccine zealots because some of us have contracts which prohibit us from receiving money from pharmaceuticals. To accuse us of such a thing, and to do it publicly and in a way that can catch the attention of our employers, can very well be argued to be interference with our contracts.

Yes, you may have deep pockets and lots of lawyer friends, but that only allows for us to be richer at the end, and for us to give all of your wealth to vaccination programs the next day, just after we gloat about it on our blogs.

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12 thoughts on “Sybil Ballew and the Anti-Vaccine Crowd

  1. Pingback: This Week From The Blogroll – Anti-Vaccine Observatory

  2. It will only be a matter of time before Dorit decides that enough is enough & ends up suing the hell out of the anti-vax collective……that will be fun to watch.

      • They are providing all of the ammunition one would need for a lawsuit – some of those articles on AoA alone have “libel” written all over them.

  3. I remember when Kim Stagliano from Age of Autism was surprised that I used my own name to comment on their blog. She then looked me up and told everyone in the comments section that I worked for the health department. And then she congratulated me on not using a ‘nym. Me? Use a ‘nym? I’m like Superman: No mask and bright colors so everyone can see me coming a mile away and not say that I snuck up to them.

    Then again, this Batman persona is very interesting, Professor Gaines.

  4. There is one problem in this country, the notion that the first amendment has no limitations. That is entirely untrue, one part of which you spoke of above.
    A few of other areas are revealing national secrets, former Private Manning can attest to that, whenever she is released from prison. Also, words that can spur imminent lawless action. Conspiracy is largely words, but such is unlawful if the conspiracy is one designed to promote a criminal act. Words spoken to promote, encourage or plan violent action against one’s government is sedition. Further confused is treason, which is not sedition, as sedition is words, whereas treason is an act performed against one’s government.
    There are a handful of other restrictions, I’m sure Dorit could assist far better than I could to flesh out the details of where one can speak or write and cause oneself significant legal injury.

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