Time magazine meets AOL

On June 20, 1996, Time's Philip Elmer-Dewitt appeared on Usenet, boasting Time's coverage of the ruling against Communications Decency Act.was larger than the magazine's competitors. But a closer examination of the article shows that Elmer-DeWitt remains blind to his magazine's one-sided misch aracterizations. ("The Internet, of course, is more than just a place to find pictures of people having sex with dogs," he wrote less than a year before, in the notoriously-flawed "Cyberporn" article.)

On April 1, 1996, Time magazine published another internet pornography horror story. A city councilman's wife received "over 75 phone calls a day" from strangers--"lusty Netizens" seeking phone sex.

Time leaped on the story. The hapless city councilman spent three hours sifting through 7,400 files on alt.binaries.pictures.erotica to locate the two files containing his phone number, they tell us. "One featured a topless brunet wearing only a string of pearls..."

Time's morbid fascination with prurient internet stories is like AOL's puritan twist on the on-line experience. Time's Cyberporn cover story was engulfed in controversy; but on March 18, the article's author did it again with a 700-word story on mailbomb ing. The flawed "Cyberporn" article was even cited in Congressional debates on restrictive internet legislation which ultimately passed. "I felt like he handled it really poorly," a Time staffer commented after the controversy. "I think he kne w what he was doing and it still bothers me."

Naturally, protesters of that legislation mailbombed the reporter's address along with the White House. But in a kind of revenge, Philip Elmer-DeWitt composed the inflammatory "I've Been Spammed". "The first thing I learned was how little I knew about I nternet mailing lists," Elmer-DeWitt confessed. The Time Senior Technology Editor couldn't set up a filter. Sidestepping the connection between his cover story, the internet, and the federal government, he created another article depicting the internet as an arbitrary, dangerous place. Understandably, the article received a withering response in Usenet newsgroups. ("For chrissakes, Phil, don't you even know the proper definition of spam?") "You don't have to tell me I'm being punished for Cyberporn," Elmer-DeWitt commented March 12. "I'm going to carry that albatross to my grave."

Amazingly, the two forces came together: part of Time's article concerns a free-lance writer who posts to alt.aol-sucks. Netizens were amazed at his choice of source. "His conspiracy theories about conspiracies against AOL are a little weird to say the least," one poster commented last summer. "Interesting," the Time editor commented after the article's publication--acknowledging that he had no idea of his source's history with the newsgroup.

Discussing his "Cyberporn" story, Philip Elmer-DeWitt conceded to a Usenet newsgroup "I'm not saying the article didn't do a lot of damage. It did."

Netizens reacted skeptically.

Maybe because he's also remarked, "For the record, the 'Cyberporn' issue sold like shit."

Meanwhile, Time's source continues his pattern in other newsgroups. The "free-lance writer"--an AOL staffer--also continues AOL's pattern of disregard for existing culture, riding roughshod over the Usenet community to enforce their own interests.

And in a kind of confirmation that commercial entities can't interface with the internet, other AOL employees have stepped-up their campaign against the internet community.

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