Tuesday, December 29, 2009

4chan vs Sharecash: Sharecash Responds

Our recent article on 4chan's DDoS attack against Sharecash has garnered quite a lot of attention. As a matter of fact, it has been our most popular story so far (measured by weekly traffic). Most of that attention has come from 4chan regulars and sympathizers, but Open Media Boston also received correspondence from the owner of Sharecash and one of its more vocal (and less sensible) supporters. While these emails were not worth responding to individually, they were hysterical, and are worth sharing with our readers, who we think will appreciate them.

In the first email, Sharecash's owner, who reluctantly identified himself only as "Paul" for (justifiable) fear of retribution by the 4chan mob, took issue with Open Media Boston's reportage of the facts and our framing of the story. Discrepancies between Paul's and the 4chan community's perceptions of the weekend's events were addressed in updates to the article itself and need not be repeated here. Instead, let us focus on Paul's complaints of our framing.

Complaint One: You Say Attack, I Say Spam

According to Paul, Sharecash users who consistently posted child pornography and viruses to 4chan should not have been called "attackers." Paul wrote, "People who posted links are not 'attackers', that is a completely incorrect term. Spammers, perhaps, would be more appropriate, but 'attackers' is totally out of context. An example of attackers would be the people who attempted to flood our servers."

We used the word "attackers" because the repugnant content and sheer volume of posts to 4chan effectively shut down several of the site's most active boards. The constant flood of child pornography and links to viruses drove users out of 4chan boards, preventing them from using the services the site was designed to offer, just like the DDoS attack Paul claimed did not affect Sharecash's server prevented its users from utilizing Sharecash's services. This might not be illegal, but it is unethical.

It would be petty of me to start listing definitions of the word "attack" and explaining why so many of them are appropriate to exactly this situation. So I'll just pick my favorite and provide a link to the rest. Attack (n.): "The onset of a corrosive or destructive process." Sounds about right, no?

Complaint Two: Actually, Let's Not Say Spam

After calling those Sharecash users who attacked 4chan "spammers," Paul insisted our depiction of Sharecash as a "cash for spam" service (as was written in the article's title) is "not only derrogatory [sic] but shows a lack of understanding of internet marketing." This statement implies that Sharecash does not pay users to create spam, but in the very next sentence Paul defended those exact actions, writing that "nearly every single online income source, from Google Adwords to CPA Networks have people who spam their links to earn money," and that "these companies, too, don't ban the users, because it is not against their ToS nor illegal."

So which is it? Is Open Media Boston's characterization of Sharecash as an outlet that encourages users to spam unfair, or did it just hit Sharecash in a sore spot? We really can't say because just one sentence later, Paul wrote that Sharecash "never enouraged [sic] users to spam," but that doing so "was not against our ToS." I'm really confused now. Doesn't paying users who spam sites encourage them to do so? And if Sharecash was concerned with being perceived as a legitimate marketing service — rather than as an ATM machine for script kiddies and blackhatters — wouldn't they explicitly forbid spamming in their terms of service? I think so.

Anyone who has any lingering doubts about the nature of Sharecash's business model need only read the "Money Making" section of the site's forum. It includes topics like "Make money playing WoW," which advertises cash for (virtual) gold services, and "YouTube Commenting and Rating Service," which advertises YouTube comments and ratings for a fee. It is clear these are conversations between Sharecash users who buy and sell information and services intended to bypass other websites' terms of service agreements and spam protections.

The most telling fact, however, is that more than half the topics in this forum include referral links to Sharecash users' other sordid and disreputable sites. That's right... Half the posts on Sharecash's forums are spammers spamming spammers.

Complaint Three: Open Media Boston Encourages DDoSers

In the final paragraph of his email, Paul suggested Open Media Boston encourages organizations to utilize DDoS attacks to achieve their goals, and offered a veiled threat heartfelt concern that such a stance "could lead to a bad reputation" as our audience grows. The article in question briefly explains what a DDoS attack is and touches on the moral and ethical implications of recruiting users' systems into a botnet without their knowledge or consent via trojans or other malicious code. The article examines the then recent DDoS attacks against Iranian targets as an example of how such tactics disrupt civilian networks, but can potentially harm isolated targets without compromising network infrastructure or the systems of unwitting users.

It's an excellent read, I think, and broaches important issues, but at no point does it advocate the usage of DDoS attacks to achieve one's goals. To the contrary, it suggests that without clear international conventions to limit network warfare, the public Internet is likely to suffer. The final sentence warns, "The world has yet to confirm a case of state sponsored cyber warfare against a civilian network, but it seems foolish to think this critical component of a country's government, economy and culture would not be subject to attack just the same as any other."

I Can't Quit You, Dom

The second email, which came from "a very dedicated user of ShareCash," Dominick, had us gasping for breath. Here are the best parts:

First of all you claim that users have been posting and I cite: "... disgusting child porn..." I'm a regular 4chan visitor but I have never seen a post containing such content, maybe jailbait at most, or adults who look like children. As for malicious links and viruses, I cannot judge as I never click those links, I don't download from sharecash nor am I interested in such content.

The first point is just funny. Was there a reason write any of that? And then Dominick, a "dedicated" Sharecash user, reveals he doesn't download from the site and isn't interest in content hosted on it?

Also I don't see any paragraph in which the other side of the story is told apart from the two later added updates. The owner of ShareCash is a college student, as such he does not have sufficient time to cooperate as much as 4chan desires, this hasn't been mentioned by 4chan nor by your site, while it is an important factor in the matter.

Dominick didn't see Sharecash's version of events. Except for in the updates where we outline Sharecash's version of the events. Is Dominick unhappy we didn't rewrite the entire article to his liking? If so, we recommend he start his own website where he can blog about spam and blackhat marketing as much as he likes. Oh wait, he already has two such sites. Good job, Dominick!

Dominick's second point is irrelevant. 4chan's creator supposedly is (or was recently) a college student, a status many of 4chan's users likely share. Sharecash's owner has created a service that, by its nature, encourages users to propagate their links as widely as possible to large audiences. If Sharecash's users try to achieve this goal by violating other websites' terms of service agreements, Paul had better be prepared to deal with those users.

Third, a site owner can never be held responsible for the actions of their users. The only responsibility they have is cooperating with federal authorities of the country the website is based in. This has been like that since the beginning of the internet and will always be that way, again not mentioned.

To the first point, as mentioned just above, Paul created a service that encourages users to widely distribute referral links. If those users violate other sites' terms of service in the process, he can expect some phone calls. He might not be legally required to take action against those users, but by virtue of incentivizing and enabling them, he is responsible and should accept that. By banning posts to Chan sites, it seems Paul has accepted responsibility. Good on him.

Dominick's last point here sounds like dogma. "The Internet has always been, and will always be..." That's nonsense and is again irrelevant.

At the end of his email, Dominick wrote, "As you might be able to see my English isn't too proficient, not everyone has English as primary language." I simply don't believe this. Up until the dropped indefinite article ("a") in this sentence, Dominick displayed a perfectly correct — if somewhat simplistic — understanding of the English language. Moreover, Google searches for Dominick's full name and email address revealed only English language content. This language disclaimer just sounds like an excuse for what Dominick knew was a baseless argument made with slipshod reasoning.

Want Open Media Boston to Make Fun of Your Complaints?

Email us your comments and complaints. If they're as stupid as these two, we'll put them on our blog.

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