How A Few Facts and a Lot of Lies Swayed An Unknowing Public
an editorial by Kalel Venkman
Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.
– Isaac Asimov
SCIFI.radio was kind enough to allow me a public platform on which to set a few things straight, with the proviso that what I say here doesn’t necessarily represent the views of SCIFI.radio or its affiliates or advertisers.
There have been public debates recently over whether the Justice League Unlimited group operating in Second Life has been harvesting IP addresses and is currently holding private information about Second Life citizens. The answer is a simple “no”. The League has never harvested IP addresses, and currently holds no private information about Second Life users.
Many people on various forums and some in-world venues, are raging and calling for the removal of the Justice League from Second Life. And while everyone has their right to their own opinion, we do want to straighten out some misinformation which is being spread by various people and groups who were actually banned from SL, and are trying to get revenge on the League over our investigative reporting which have exposed their very real criminal actions.
Our greatest concern is that people in general are being lead to take the word of a website which claims to be exposing the “evils” of the League. However when you actually read through the website, you’ll see they’re actually exposing their own true nature.
The site in question is “TheListSL”, which claims to be targeting JLU members to expose them. If one looks at this site’s history, though, the site has been exposing private information on Second Life users a long time before they decided to focus on the League, posting real world data on Second Life users, using obscene and abusive language to describe their hatred for the people whose Second Life and real life information they’ve linked and posted online for the world to see.
While Linden Lab has publicly declined to involve itself in this matter, we are going to be up front and answer some questions on the material being “leaked”.
The Big Lie
The debacle started with what propagandists call “A Big Lie”. People generally need to believe one another, yet also are on the lookout for falsehood. Most of regularly tell small lies and engage in minor deception, and so expect others to do likewise. When a big lie is told, this does not fit into our model of modest mendacity, and so we say ‘It must be true’. In this case the Big Lie was that the League was somehow harvesting the IP addresses of users in Second Life and cross referencing them to discover and record people’s alternate accounts. This Big Lie ran in various public forums unchecked for two weeks. The debate was not begun by legitimately concerned residents of Second Life, but by people who, for the most part, had already been banned from Second Life and no longer had a stake in the outcome.
Coincidentally, the day Tux Winkler was banned from Second Life for creating an avatar tracking system and using it to stalk people in Second Life, he proclaimed that his new system (a much better one) was already operational and gathered much more data than his previous one did.
It doesn’t take much guesswork to figure out where the Red Zone style IP list had come from. The alt detection data being released on theListSL was, in effect, a forgery. It was real data, but it was being used to perpetuate a massive lie – that the League had done it. By this time two or three dozen people had joined the discussion and had become morally outraged over something that had never actually taken place, and we were off to the races.
Once Soft Linden had actually analyzed the IP list and had determined that it had been produced by “a member of a group that has been banned from Second Life and told not to return”, the second part of the master plan was executed – the publication of supposedly unmodified data from the BrainiacWiki itself. This is the evidence stage of a propaganda attack, called “Card Stacking”. Evidence, even falsified evidence, can be very persuasive. The attackers mixed just enough truth with the falsified evidence to make it sound “truthy”, editing information heavily to make it appear as though things said well over a year ago were said just weeks ago in an effort to support the already failing proposition that the “leaked” IP list was genuine.
Is the information being posted on TheListSL real?
Yes and no. Some of what is being “leaked” is from our database, but large portions of it have been altered, and members of the Wrong Hands have admitted that much of it has been completely fabricated, with other portions taken out of context or had the dates removed so that it appears that something was said recently when it had actually been said well over a year ago when Second Life rules were different than they are today.
Is the public outrage posted on SL Universe real?
We think some people are genuinely indignant or upset, but we also think they’ve been given a lot of false information in order to enrage them.
In the SL Universe thread as of August 25, we note that an astonishing whopping 1036 posts were made by members of the banned Second Life group, “The Wrong Hands” or the person posting supposedly un-doctored pages from our wiki (and in one case, someone whom we discovered to be impersonating a police officer and who has been trying to phish private information from people within Second Life). Regular readers of SCIFI.radio should recognize most of these names already from previous Wrong Hands reports:
Tux Winkler 201 (including the first-ever post of his own information anywhere on the ‘net)
Robble Rubble 136
Cummere Mayo 91
Economic Engineer 83
Code Slacker 74
Kiddoh Korobase 68
Atlas Saintlouis 57
Dontspill McGinnis 41
Remember that the first two weeks of this thread contained nothing but discussion of how abhorrent our IP harvesting system was – the one we weren’t actually running, based on falsified evidence presented by an anonymous attacker. At the same time, a fake online petition was started by the same trolls. The site featured no means of verifying that any of the participants were actually Second Life citizens at all, nor did it prevent people from “signing” the petition dozens of times each using different names, which a large number of people did – no one knows for sure how large.
Also posting in this thread and doing his level best at rabble rousing is N3X15, the infamous leader of the Patriotic Nigras between 2007 and 2010 (there were sock puppet leaders, but they were largely figureheads – it was N3X15 ultimately pulling the strings). Yet N3X15 hopes that everyone has forgotten that he led a group created simply to victimize everyone in Second Life, and to bring about the demise of the platform if possible. The Patriotic Nigras web site was finally removed from the internet in June of 2010, though the weapons scripts archive lived on for a time on Tux Winkler’s web site.
These are the “injured parties” who are crying foul the loudest, and the ones who hope we will all forget how all this started in the first place – with their own misdeeds and with them getting caught doing them. Keep in mind also that if Tux Winkler was so very upset about his personal information being held in a place where nobody could see it, why did he post his own cirriculum vitae in a public forum for the entire world to see? Clearly the safety of his family is not his aim, or he wouldn’t have done this. He’s after revenge, not justice.
Over time it became clear in the threads that people claiming to be law enforcement were actually play-acting teenagers, and that people who claimed to file real world law suits against the League and its members had not actually done so.
Was the information actually leaked by a disgruntled JLU member as they claim?
We had originally thought that the information was stolen from our systems by a hacker, who managed to compromise the account of a (now former) JLU member , which was then used to steal the connection credentials necessary to breach our database. Linden Lab notified us that a member account was breached, and that they had detected spyware placed by that account in our in-world headquarters. The chat spy devices (there were two) were active between August 3, 2011, when they was placed, and August 18, when they were removed (about fifteen days).
We had received word that an alt of Cheergirl Allen, a Wrong Hands sympathizer, had managed to sneak a mole account into the League and had ready access to the BrainiacWiki over the span of about three month’s time – though at this point the source of the information is in doubt. Our records do indicate that an account was shared with others who had no legitimate right of access – once again, the content was not “liberated”, or “reported”, but simply stolen. Much of the information being “leaked” has been heavily modified from the original, and much has been simply fabricated from whole cloth. Enough of it matches what we have, though, to show us that a major break-in and theft has occurred. Aside from this, Cheergirl is a member of the Robble Rubble Fan Club, and her use of the Neil Life client featuring sim crashing tools is well documented. She was a major participant in a faked chat spy incident wherein a Thomas Connover radar system was moved to her land and “discovered” by a small group of the usual suspects.
Linden Lab did not violate anyone’s privacy in notifying us of this. The spyware detected was transmitting chat and other information to a server that LL has been monitoring relative to activity by previously banned griefers who were using alts to bypass their bans.
How much of what they’re posting is accurate?
The Justice League has helped in uncovering actual crime in Second Life on more than one occasion, and yes, we’ve asked a lot of questions and dug to find proof of that. We function as a neighborhood watch group, and always have. We have never exceeded our authority in this, and leave the real police work to the real authorities.
Much of what has been posted is either heavily manipulated or simply convincingly synthesized. These people have real material motives, and they’ve lost some substantial sums of real money (thousands of U.S. dollars) because they were banned from Second Life and lost assets. It took them months to find a way to break into our wiki again, and this time it included hacking into somebody’s account to do it. They’re ready and willing to cross any line in front of them, legal or not. Don’t think for a minute that they’re not heavily motivated to doctor records before showing them to you.
Who is behind the attacks on your wiki?
We have a pretty good idea who our attackers are, and we’ll show you some stories from SCIFI.radio to build a history for you so you can more clearly see what’s going on.
In the SL Universe thread, Robble Rubble explains how the entire original “wiki heist” was planned and executed – laid out exactly how he organized the original attack.
They’re also gloating about it – Tux Winkler, Dontspill McGinnis and others are sending harassing emails and Skype messages to League members about it, mostly to gloat about how exposed the League is; and, we’ve learned from insiders in their group that this “mission” has been planned from since before the fall of Red Square a couple of months back, and that Pixeleen Mistral knew the entire time that this project was underway and neither reported the plan to law enforcement authorities, nor exposed the plan on the Herald as journalism, nor did anything to stop it.
- 10 January 2010, A group calling themselves “The Wrong Hands” at the direction of a person known in-world as Tizzers Foxchase, has an agent use social engineering to steal a partial copy of our wiki. This was done in response to one of our members interfering with a raiding party from the Woodbury University group while on its way to grief a Holocaust Survivor memorial in Second Life.
- 20 April 2010, The Woodbury University group is perma-banned by Linden Lab.
- 17 May 2010, Woodbury University group hacks third party websites.
- 22 September 2010, Major players in The Wrong Hands are banned from Second Life.
- 10 January 2011, Woodbury group attempts to sneak back into Second Life and is exposed.
- 10 April 2011, A new major player in the Wrong Hands is identified as Tux Winkler, and his establishment of a spyware network in Second Life.
- 04 July 2011, SCIFI.radio runs a story showing a possible connection between Anonymous/Lulzsec members and Woodbury University/The Wrong Hands.
- 18 July 2011, Woodbury University’s 3rd incarnation is, along with various The Wrong Hands members, banned from Second Life, this time drawing SL’s Bronies down with them.
- 20 July 2011, Sephora Mafia appears on Twitter and shows it is orchestrating the Distributed Denial of Service attacks on SCIFI.radio, corresponding images mocking the SCIFI.radio site being down appear on Tux Winkler’s website. Along with other twitter feeds confirming that Second Life servers were being hijacked to attack our server.
- 25 July 2011, Linden Lab removes Tux Winkler from Second Life after they prove that he had indeed been operating a spy-ware network within SL, after a Linden Lab employee sees a story on SCIFI.radio about our investigation uncovering it. He does his own investigation and finds that we were right, and brings the information to the Governance team.
- 04 Aug 2011, Sephora Mafia stops tweeting, and TheListSL on the same day, announces they are focusing their information exposing operations on the JLU/SCIFI.radio. And also shows the first disclosure by listing the Second Life and Real names and private contact information of several of SCIFI.radio staff members, along with birth-dates, home addresses, private email addresses, and phone numbers. This highly encourages identity theft, their site also shows other customers of Second Life who have their identities hacked and stolen in order to expose their private info.
- 10 Oct 2011, mass defections from the SL Universe threads begin, as people began figuring out that the IP address database was faked, and that warring factions within the griefer groups that had stolen the information in the first place were each releasing their own edited versions of the materials – it was becoming clear that they were manipulating the public for their own ends. Major supporters withdrew in disgust as theListSL and its friends violated the privacy of more people than the JLU had been accused of doing by as much as eight to ten times in their efforts to get at us by any means possible. A few stubborn trolls linger on, but the public by this time has turned away from the spectacle.
Even in the event that information is removed or changed on TheListSL blog, Google can easily roll back the blog to an earlier state to reveal the information that was deleted.
Why are they doing this?
The motivation is revenge – they don’t seem to understand that it isn’t just the League responding to their antisocial destructive behavior – it’s the entire community around them. The League happens to be the most visible part of the efforts against them, so they picked us to strike out at.
This is a similar event to the recent difficulties San Francisco’s BART had – BART police shot a man on the train who was wielding a knife, so Anonymous decided to punish them by hacking and defacing their web site, stealing their database and exposing information on thousands of BART users, et cetera. Then they staged a real life protest in the BART station on August 15 to protest the practice of cell phone and text message lockdown in BART stations during potential riot situations. In all, only twelve Anonymous actually showed up – they’re very ready to commit cyber crimes such as this, but they’re not so keen on actually getting caught at it.
In the BART case, just as with this one, the data exposed hurts the public rather than helps them. It’s not being done in the name of the public good – it’s being done to hurt people, and specifically us, as much as they can. They know they’re in the wrong here. That’s why the initial leak site has a banner across the top telling people how to find them in case Google bans them.
They complain bitterly that the League was unfairly targeting them on their own private sim over the past year – but we hasten to remind the reader that the very fact that they had one was a violation of the Terms of Service, as they had been told by Linden Lab to leave Second Life and never to return. This latest incarnation of Woodbury at Red Square was their third time trying to sneak back in, and dozens of citizens’ watch groups in addition to our own were trying to figure out how to get them to leave Second Life as they were instructed by Linden Lab legal.
A recent anti-League rally was attended almost purely by Woodbury ban-evasion alts.
The perpetrators’ ties to Anonymous are self-admitted, so it’s not hard to see what’s really going on.
An interesting side note, by the way, is that each time somebody buys one of those Guy Fawkes masks, they’re paying a royalty to Time Warner who owns the trademark, so they’re feeding the very establishment they’re protesting against.
What is your response to TheListSL and others claiming that the JLU are stalkers and building a database of real world information on Second Life users?
For one thing, that’s not even possible. We’ve seen the claims, and it’s just not possible to build a database on every single Second Life resident. Have we ever at any point looked up real life information on anyone? Certainly – a few people we discovered were actual threats to other people’s safety in real life, but our sources were public, and found via Google. No private information was involved. Anything we found was kept for the sole purpose of turning over to law enforcement. Our wiki doesn’t contain information of this nature – as we’ve passed it on to proper authorities, who are looking into the attacks on our server. It should be noted that people we do keep notes on are people who have been banned from Second Life already. We’re not tracking citizens, and never did.
What do you even have a private wiki for?
We have the same rights anybody else does to maintain a private wiki and put anything we want on it. We also are protected under certain laws and governed as members of the press and the media. As with any commercial news source, have the right to build a database for use as reference material.
But you work as a citizen’s watch group in Second Life, how exactly does that work, being members of the Press at the same time?
The Justice League started out over five years ago as a small group of friends who liked comic book heroes and what they stood for. We began to be approached for help by SL residents because we looked like people who might be able to help. In that situation you have two choices – you can either let it be somebody else’s problem, or you can step up. We stepped up. And we’ve been stepping up ever since.
The League began helping people with security matters at first; we slowly built relationships over time and discovered we had a talent for helping fellow residents on a myriad of issues. From fund-raising to helping investigate security matters, we built the JLU up to what it currently is. In 2009, SCIFI.radio was launched to help coordinate security matters on a big event in Second Life. What we discovered was that the radio station would be perfect thing to help us share our love of comics and related media with fellow fans.
We started out as fellow comics fans and geeks, who decided to take a cool website and build it into an actual commercial venture. But we felt we couldn’t get away from our roots in SL, which included the Peacekeeping and trying to help people. So, for now we’ve maintained both and used SCIFI.radio on occasion to help share news on major criminal activity in SL when it was appropriate.
Admittedly it’s a balancing act. Sometimes we can’t publish what we know because it might interfere with corrective actions that might be being taken. But we do our best.
Did we ever consider alt detection?
We’ll be honest here – yes. When it was still allowed by Linden Lab, we considered implementing it. However, we found it was so unreliable and produced so many false positives that it was really useless, and we never did implement a system that did this. No version of our in-world security system “Phantom Zone” has ever been able to scan IP addresses, and it never will.
But what about all the claims of massive privacy invasion?
There has been no massive privacy invasion. Most of the information we have on the citizens of Second Life consists of:
- Their avatar name
- Their avatar key number
In 99.95% of cases, this is all we have. The remaining half of one percent are those where we have recorded some of the nasty things people do to each other – assault, sim crashing, intolerance based on religion, sexual preference or fandom rivalry, and theft being the main ones. Occasionally this information must be handed over to real life law enforcement – but by this time, the person or persons involved has been banned from Second Life anyway. No information beyond Terms of Service violations has ever been managed against legitimate citizens of Second Life, only people who have been removed from Second Life by the Linden Lab administrators in the first place.
Of course, in some cases we make notes on people who have exhibited philanthropy or play significant positive roles in the virtual society. These people deserve special assistance when they request it, because they are usually trying to make the virtual world a better place, so the League likes to keep tabs on these important people as well.
Isn’t keeping records like that a form of harassment?
Linden Lab provides us all with an abuse reporting system with which to report trouble makers in Second Life. It is not a violation of the Terms of Service to use the abuse reporting tool – nor is it a violation to make notes on pattern violation, and report that to Linden Lab. Claims of harassment by people who are causing the trouble in the first place are a smoke screen to distract public attention from the real problem.
Additionally, every profile has a place for you to write down your personal notes on that person, so this is built into the Second Life experience.
Can I trust the contents of the leaked wiki?
Since the incident, we have interviewed a number of Woodbury members, and every one of them admitted that there are no versions of the leaked wiki that are actually intact. They have been edited to make them look far worse than they are, and I spoke with participants in the scheme who admitted that they had doctored the wiki and had released up to six separate versions. This is worth repeating: the wiki is being presented by thieves with an axe to grind, and none represent the actual database. If they would go so far as to steal a database, they would – and did – take the additional step of changing its contents before it was released to add things that were not in the original.
Who is telling the truth in all this?
We can’t force you to take our side, or tell you what to believe. It’s up to you to decide for yourselves, however we do ask you to look at the tone of the information being presented. When you look at the people screaming and claiming that the JLU and SCIFI.radio are stalking, and claiming its members are filing false abuse reports to get people we don’t like banned; you really have to look closely at that. Before you accept the word of either side, look at their history and where they came from.
We assert that TheListSL has committed several felony acts in the breach of an SL member’s account, and then the hacking attack on our database. The information stolen was then posted for the purposes of stalking, harassment, and possibly identity theft. If you read over the various stories on SCIFI.radio, you’ll pretty easily notice we do nothing like that.
We would also like to point out an important detail, and that is that the claims of misconducting leveled against the JLU came from people who routinely go through between a dozen ban evasion alts a year, and a dozen ban evasion alts a month, depending on how active they are in the griefing community. By contrast, no member of the Justice League Unlimited in Second Life has ever been banned, or suspended, or sanctioned in any way by Linden Lab in its five year history.
Addendum: As the League approaches its 12th anniversary in 2018, this statement is still true: no member of the League has ever been banned, suspended or sanctioned in any way while a member of the group.
If I wanted to join the League, how would I go about it?
The League hand picks its members for demonstrated leadership and a track record in the community for helping others. If you wish to join, first, strive to be a friend and an inspiration to others, and allow them to inspire you in return. Be a beacon of hope. Help those less fortunate. Be practiced at it. Develop a reputation for it, and pay it forward. Those are the qualities the League looks for in its members, and we’ll notice.
What’s next for the League?
At this point in time, we have some good options. We refuse to be bullied out of Second Life, or off the net by a gaggle of griefers who think that exposing some of our private information will scare us. SCIFI.radio and the League of Heroes will be around for many years to come. During these trying times, it’s our accomplishments that remind us why we’re still in Second Life – accomplishments like achieving gold level in the Relay For Life fund-raising event for the third year in a row, or our new resident welcome center in Taber, or the establishment of SCIFI.radio as a reliable and respected news source for the Second Life community, or the creation of citizens’ watch groups such as GridWatch, and the Assistance Notification Network, or our upcoming release of one of the safest, most effective and yet most ToS-compliant security services out there, the Phantom Zone!
What’s next for the League? We’re going to do we’re good at, and we’re going to keep moving forward!
Stolen copies of the BrainiacWiki were distributed by several means, including MegaUpload.com. We recently learned that this site has been shut down by federal authorities, with seven people charged with conspiracy, and four being arrested.
Site owner Dotcom Ortmann, chief marketing officer Finn Batao, and developer Bram van der Kolk were arrested in New Zealand on January 19, 2012. The FBI worked with authorities from New Zealand, Hong Kong, the Netherlands, Canada, Germany, the UK and the Phillipines, and in concert with US Immigration and Customs Enforcement on the case. The indictment charges that the “Mega conspiracy” has for more than five years operated websites that willfully distributed pirated movies, often before their theatrical release, and other illegal copies of copyrighted works, earning the company over $175 million in illegal profits through advertising revenue. Megaupload is also charged with money laundering by paying uploaders through an “uploader reward program,” and paying other companies to host the pirated content.
This is one of the sites to which the operators of the Alphaville Herald directed its users during its participation in the piracy of the stolen BrainiacWiki materials from an earlier “Wrong Hands” theft in 2010.
Many of the players have been undone in various ways. Two major enablers of The Wrong Hands/ Woodbury in Second Life that had been providing sims for use by the Wrong Hands lost their accounts over it to varying degrees, losing quite literally several dozen sims, amounting to lost setup fees and deposits measuring in tens of thousands of dollars.
Pixeleen Mistral, for example, a long time enabler of dangerous behavior in the coterie of Woodbury University “students” in Second Life, was unmasked as Mark P. McCahill, a professor at Duke University and one-time protocol developer for the early Internet. He lost his mask of anonymity when the League forced the Alphaville Herald to remove postings from the stolen BrainiacWiki from their web site via the provisions of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act. He had been using Second Life and the cybergang culture he had been nurturing there as part of his curriculum; with his unmasking, his social experiments are now exposed as tainted at best via his direct interference with the social environment to produce the results he was looking for.
Peter J. Ludlow, also a professor, was the main driver behind the Alphaville Herald, hiding behind his in-world persona of Urizenus Sklar and acting as a lightning rod for the Woodbury clan in Second Life, encouraging risky behavior to the point where this encouragement may have led impressionable students to begin making very poor life choices with unending negative consequences. He is currently having legal troubles of his own outside of Second Life, having to do with improper teacher-student relations, a night of drinking, and waking up with one of his students in his bed, which nearly resulted in the student’s suicide.
When reading accounts of Woodbury and the Wrong Hands against the JLU, please keep in mind that these are the sorts of people leading the charge against the oldest charity and civilian watch group in Second Life.
The web site of the Alphaville Herald fell into disuse after McCahill’s unmasking, and though still online, has faded into irrelevance.
Tux Winkler was convicted of hacking internet servers back in February of 2011 and removed from the internet as part of his house arrest conditions. This was a blow to him as maintaining other people’s servers was how he made his living.
- Wikipedia – The Big Lie
- 3DBlogger – The Wrong Hands
- Second Thoughts – Ryokashi Revestal, Robble Rubble
- Reporting Internet Crime
- Parent’s Guide to Protecting Children’s Privacy
One of two cofounders of the Justice League Unlimited (JLU) in Second Life.