NZ Herald Online Story - Offensive intruder poisons chat lines

Date: Fri Jan 12 2001 - 09:47:10 PST

The following story has been sent to you by a friend who feels it may be of interest.


[A good one to check out.. In this case, how NZ deals (or doesn't) with Trolls. Granted, his individual trolling isn't that profound, but the fact that it makes the news in NZ is interesting:) -BB] 12/01/01 - Offensive intruder poisons chat lines
                                                                                                        By MICHAEL FOREMAN

Local internet service providers may consider blocking an American from taking part in online discussions following one of the worst cases of "flaming" seen in this country.

A mysterious figure calling himself "Bertie the Bunyip" has upset local Usenet newsgroups after a bizarre campaign that has included posting fake photographs of a topless Queen Mother.

If someone burst into a cafe or pub and started yelling obscenities and abusing everyone in sight, you might expect the manager to throw them out or call the police.

But neither of these remedies is available to the newsgroup users, who are desperate to rid themselves of what is known on the internet as a "troll."

Trolls get their kicks from baiting other people using online discussion forums.

"Bertie the Bunyip" is believed to be a commercial pilot living in the United States.

He claims to have been similarly hounding newsgroups in the United States for three years, despite complaints to the FBI and a libel action against him.

After local users unwisely responded to his taunts, the Bunyip's replies soon spread to the nz.comp and nz.politics newsgroups.

 New Zealand politicians - including some ministers - are believed to use the politics group.

In the past few days, the American has paralysed the most popular of the local forums, nz.general, which is read by up to 50,000 people.

 Bunyip's antics have prompted some users to stop using the newsgroups.

Bunyip changes his identity characteristics every 30 or 40 posts, so it is difficult to check him using e-mail or newsreader software blocked senders' lists.

David Farrar, a newsgroup user and information technology adviser to National Party leader Jenny Shipley, described the "flame" war as the worst outbreak of its kind he had seen on New Zealand discussion groups.

Applying sanctions against Usenet users could be extremely difficult, said Mr Farrar.

Bunyip has been using a Seattle-based newsgroup service called Altopia, which has a liberal policy on what it will allow.

"One of the problems of newsgroups is that they are about as close to anarchy as anything can get," he said.

 "If you get a person going rogue, as this Bertie the Bunyip has, you would normally complain to their internet service provider.

"Unless it is causing actual harm, they don't see it as their job to police it."

Xtra systems support specialist Richard Stevenson said he could easily filter the messages from Xtra's news server - one of several providing Usenet feeds in New Zealand.

But he would not decide to do so himself.

Mr Stevenson said he had not yet had to remove individual posts but had occasionally, at the request of the Department of Internal Affairs, blocked newsgroups that were related to child pornography.

He was not concerned about Bunyip's rights to freedom of speech.

"He's got to get it into his skull that [news servers] are private property."

Mr Farrar believed that if Bunyip persisted for more than a couple of weeks, local internet service providers might agree to remove him from New Zealand servers.

But it was more likely that Bunyip would disappear quite quickly if ignored.


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