I love reading Ars Technica. Their writing is exceptional and among the more unbiased. Granted, their specialty is technology and science-related material; they only report on politics and current events as it overlaps with the former categories. Their staff does a phenomenal job of conducting background research and presenting the material in as objective a fashion as possible. Effectively, they’re an institution that practices ineffable journalism.
But this latest controversy over the last few months involving The Oatmeal’s Matt Inman and FunnyJunk’s Charles Carreon just keeps getting weirder and weirder, and even from reading the Ars articles, it’s clear the writers are just as baffled with how things are unfolding as the rest of the internet is.
Let’s see if I can get the rough order of events correct:
1: TheOatmeal makes an issue of FunnyJunk hosting its content. Without permission.
Inman mentions this on his main recount of the whole thing. FunnyJunk is a comic website that relies on submissions from other users; think YouTube, but for funny stuff. As the content is user-supplied, there’s always a risk of copyrighted works being uploaded. As per the DMCA, it’s largely the responsibility of the site itself to patrol its content. There’s a lot of leeway, but the bottom line is the site needs to make an honest effort to keep copyrighted material off its servers.
2: Nearly one year later, FunnyJunk hires Carreon to sue Inman. For defamation.
Carreon sent a lovely letter to Inman, demanding $20,000 in damages for Inman’s previous post that poked fun at FunnyJunk’s business model. Putting aside the fact that Inman’s sense of humor largely relies on exaggeration, rhetoric, and hyperbole, FunnyJunk wouldn’t have had any problems in the first place if it properly removed infringing content from its servers. The list of links Inman listed as persisting nearly a full year later is impressive, and the fact that many folks who knew and loved The Oatmeal had never even heard of FunnyJunk would suggest that somebody there knew the content was copyrighted, and still did nothing. FunnyJunk’s case is dubious as best.
3: Inman responds by starting a fundraiser. With a twist.
Inman, truthfully, escalated things by posting the picture of Carreon’s mother humping a bear. The fundraiser, I think, was a completely legitimate response: raising the $20,000 that Carreon demanded and donating it to charities was pretty classy. The picture was less classy, but it still fit with Inman’s shtick of hyperbole. If Carreon knew anything about the internet or Inman in particular–which says something, given his history of lawsuits–he’d have known the hornet’s nest he was poking. Laughing this off would have been preferable; it would have ended here with no loss of face for either side.
4: Carreon takes it personally and files suit against Inman, the charities, and everyone on the internet.
This is the point at which everything on both sides descended into chaos. Where in step #3 Inman clearly poked a little harder than he should have, steps #4 and on depict Carreon as bringing a nuclear missile to a fist fight. Carreon filed suit against Twitter accounts impersonating him, commenters on articles talking about the lawsuits, the charities, and Inman. Simply put, he went off the deep end. Perhaps he was provoked: the internet has a nasty tendency to fight for what and who it loves, and Inman has a strong following. But what Carreon contends–that Inman whipped them into a frenzy–has no supporting evidence.
5: Both sides get nasty, with Carreon’s wife leading the fray.
Inman’s supporters hack Carreon’s site and sign him up for porn services, Carreon files suit against them all and calls them names; Inman’s supporters get nastier, and Carreon’s wife starts monologuing with the assistance of a badmouth thesaurus. There’s no civility to be had on either side, but here’s the kicker: the internet is always this way. That doesn’t excuse it, but Carreon and his wife are acting as though they’re victims in this mess, when they’re behaving like children who’ve been teased and will stop at nothing to punish their fellow younger siblings. And countering with more nastiness? The internet is kind of insulated against this sort of things. It just makes them look even worse.
On Inman’s end, I haven’t seen him do anything that would appear either out of character, or to incite his following to action. As such, that would mean his comics, while certainly provocative, are left to the readers to interpret. Carreon, on the other hand, seems utterly shocked by the internet’s response to his actions, which leads me to believe the guy has no idea what he’s doing. So this is my overall impression of this situation: