I want to consider the “criticisms” of the way I’ve handled my online presence as well as book sales issues over the years, starting with the mid 1990s when I decided to write my first DADT book.
Indeed, the first controversies occurred with the idea of the book itself, before it became clear that self-publishing without gatekeepers would become “common” and seem to be accepted by, say, around 1997.
In January 1990 I had started a (then “new”) job in Arlington VA with USLICO corporation, a life insurance company that specialized (originally) in selling life products to military officers (a bit like USAA but another company) that had also purchased other life companies and formed a small conglomerate. One of the other specialty operations was salary deduction products for (civilian) employers. I actually worked in that area a lot of the time (with the billing). I had left another consulting company in DC that reported on health care issues (especially Medicare) (Resume).
In late 1991 there was a possible opportunity to move into an area of the company that would grow (using the then new “Vantage” system that would eventually “rule the world”) A particular situation at work preoccupied me at the time in late 1991 and prevented me from looking not this. With hindsight, I see I could have handled the situation better. But it turned out to be ironic.
In the spring of 1992, as some people began to sense that Bush might not win a second term (amazing Persian Gulf War win but then a sharp recession which affect many people, but not me) a few gay members of the military started talking to the media. These included Keith Meinhold, Joseph Steffan (book) and Tracy Thorne. By the time Clinton won was in office in 1993, he could credibly propose lifting the ban on gays in the military (as understood at the time) and also on highest level security clearances for gay civilians. The debate in the spring of 1993, about (the lack of) “privacy” in military barracks obviously paralleled my 1961 William and Mary expulsion That observation would drive the entire story circle of my book.
But given the nature of my employer’s main business line (as publicly understood) I was uncomfortable with the possibility of “conflict of interest”. It is true that my work was strictly technical and I did not participate in making underwriting decisions about consumers. (I had access to them read-only for production support issues.) In September 1994, there was a public announcement of the company’s acquisition by NWNL, to become ReliaStar, in Minneapolis. I waited until the morning of the announcement (I “knew”) to mail an article about gays in the military that would be published in a local gay paper (that I would become an editor of later). The merger was formally completed in mid January 1995, which is pretty fast.
There was also a sidetrack journey where another employee was dismissed and I replaced him in 1995. The other employee sued for alleged racial discrimination (using very “woke” arguments as we would understand things today), and my situation (and perhaps worldview) were at least tangential to the litigation. It was eventually settled or dismissed out of court. But in the end we mutually agreed that a transfer to the corporate HQ company in Minneapolis would prevent any wrong appearances after the book came out. Under the circumstances, I actually paid for my own relocation. I started in Minneapolis on Sept. 2,1997 (formal publication of the book had occurred July 11, 1997, with registration with the LOC of the print run.) I remember the experience of driving out and moving that Labor Day weekend vividly. The corporate transfer would not have been feasible if my career with them had gone in a different direction toward the military, as it might have, in 1991, which did not happen because of a misplay be me, in a sense.
This may sound like a “created problem”, especially to today’s far Left, which sees the world in turns of tribal intersectionalities of oppressed groups. But, as I wrote in the books themselves, I saw the military ban (and subsequent “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy) as a reflection of the personal choices and ethics of those whose inclinations seemed to veer from common expectations by assigned sex. I owned the morality of my own situation; there was no tribe that I belonged to (except imputed by extended family). Issues like the past military draft (even though “suspended” by Nixon in 1973 as the Vietnam war wound down) became relevant to personal choices. My own military service (1968-1970) had become very relevant to what I was arguing, as would my circumstances later (as during the HIV epidemic in the 80s and beyond).
While sales of the print run were reasonable in the first year, I eventually became much more aggressive with tackling connected issues on line, posted mainly to the websites I had (previous post). I posted the book contents online in the late summer of 1998 (for “honor system” use).
On February 28, 1999, my mother had a heart attack and spent a brief stay in the hospital before being sent home. I came back to visit (from Minnesota and work) in late March 1999 and she was pretty stable although bothered with fatigue from the housework from a large house. On May 4, 1999, she became ill late at night, and her best friend came over, as she was taken to the hospital. I got a call the next day at work. At first the doctor wanted to do just an angioplasty, but then decided her arteries were too brittle and did a more-or-less-emergency triple coronary bypass the next Monday morning (May 10). The hospital sent her to a 20-day stay in an SNF that was not particularly conscientious and her best friend went to bat for her in person. I did not return for a visit until early June. However, I feared that there could be a risk that they would not do the surgery unless I agreed to move back to Virginia (as a male without children). That did not happen. (I was scolded by one of her friends for not moving back, however.) Moving back would lead to job loss for me because it would break the “conflict of interest” agreement.
(In April 1996 she had a hip fracture when falling while cleaning on the porch; in May 1997 she had a hip replacement. Her sister June came from Ohio and looked after her both times, and then we hired a live-in caregiver, which she easily had the funds to pay for, for about four weeks in the early summer of 1997. She recovered quickly, before I moved to Minnesota – even though I always had my separate apartment in Arlington or northern VA. In the summer of 1999, we hired a caregiver for longer, maybe about eight weeks, as I lived in Minnesota. .)
However, other legal concerns were starting to pop up.
In the summer of 1997 (the same time as the book publication) the Supreme Court had overturned the “censorship” sections of the Telecommunications and so-called “Communications Decency Act”, which would have severely limited the spontaneous coverage of some kinds of content online outside of established media. But it maintained “Section 230,” which stated that Internet providers and platforms should not be viewed as “publishers” of user generated content (after a couple tricky cases, one involving AOL as I recall). I had actually visited the court from the 3-Minute line and heard some of the oral arguments on March 19, 1997, a snowy day that I took off work. With Section 230, self-directed online speech (essays and soon video as technology grew) could take off.
However, Congress would try again with a “son of CDA” law called the Child Online Protection Act of 1998, of COPA. That again could pose a threat to my keeping my books online as well as some supplementary discussions. I became a subplaintiff of Electronic Frontier Foundation (affidavit). The law was enjoined on Feb. 1, 1999 and went through two cycles of being sent to the Supreme Court, in 2002 and 2004, being sent back to lower courts, to finally be struck down by a bench trial in Philadelphia in 2007 (I went to one day of testimony, Oct. 30, 2006).
By the late 90s, it was apparent that self-promotion online could gradually create controversies, particularly with the workplace (for persons who had authority over other employees or consumers). I actually wrote a “white paper” about this.
Meantime, there was a creeping controversy about domain names and trademarks. Although I have never heard a complaint, it’s conceivable that I have skirted it. In the mid and late 1990s, some companies were slow to get on the Internet and found others had taken their names as domain names for unrelated businesses, or even non-profits. This did generate some litigation between maybe 1999 and 2001. Everyone was using “.com” which was originally intended to mean “commercial”, but often was not. Over time, other tld’s had to come into existence (besides the obvious originals like .org, .edu, and country codes). Often unrelated businesses or even individuals could take on the same root name with different tlds’.
I had done a couple of controversial things when I put the book out. I had used a pen name, “Bill”, based on the nickname my parents gave me (based on middle name “William”). I also used the slogan “Do Ask Do Tell”, a negation of the “don’t ask don’t tell” policy name, as the leadoff for the book title, as if to imply series. Now in books and movies, series names are trademarkable, and sometimes author pen names have been.
There is a group in Massachusetts that uses the “doaskdotell” with “org” to offer an HIV and other STD prevention “toolkit”, which sounds like a logical, narrow use different from mine. (But maybe not absolutely different, in that I discuss HIV in book one, as theoretically relevant to sodomy laws and military service.) There has never been a complaint; it is perceived publicly as a clearly separate use of the name. Generally, common phrases with “political” meaning should not be awarded to just one party for trademark. (There is another, more “consumer” book that used a “doaskdotell” button in the cover but not the title.)
In 2000, when I ran out of copies of my initial printing, I went to a POD company to continue offering the books. There was a provision that you weren’t supposed to behave in a manner as to discourage actual purchases of books (overpriced, though Kindles were cheap). Nevertheless, I left the books up online because material like mine (very academic in nature, autobiographical, and not particularly sympathetic to more conventionally “woke” ways of presenting human rights in terms of group or minority oppression) doesn’t “sell” as well as material that might be designed for popularity, more or less meeting the public masses “where they are”.
At the end of 2001 I was “laid off” (age 58) and “retired”. I would stay in Minnesota for 20 more months. I did a lot of work with the hppub site then while doing telephone bank and debt collection jobs (separate video).
After 9/11 in 2001, there was occasional talk of a new concern, that “steganography” placed in amateur web sites could be used to signal new terror attacks. This threat never materialized, but the mere suggesting was scary.
At the end of August 2003, I returned to Arlington and lived in the house with Mother until she passed away at the end of 2010, with the last 18 months being difficult and needing caregivers.
I’ll talk more about post-retirement job searches in a future post, but there is a general impression that the sites, being available with so much free and non-professionally curated material, might have been a distraction. The evidence is not conclusive. But there was an incident when I was substitute teaching at the end of 2005 (as noted on the previous post 2005/10).
That incident, in fact, had been triggered by an unlikely circumstantial connection to the possible effects of McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform in 2002. There is an explanation here.
I also had a low-level concern that the “gratuitous” nature of my content could unnecessarily attract risks to the Arlington VA house, where I lived there with an increasingly frail mother. But this idea was never mentioned to me explicitly as some kind of challenge. My mother did not know how to use a computer or the Internet (although she finally learned to make calls on a pre-smart cell phone like around 2005). Neither did her friends in her age cohort, especially one in particular who looked after her after the heart attacks.
Generally, the sites were stable, and I started using Blogger at the start of 2006. Myspace had been around since the summer of 2003, but the major social networking sites Facebook and Twitter didn’t take off with full public access until about 2008. The presence of algorithmic social networks strengthened the public perception of the value of online self-publication and somewhat diluted the concern about “conflict of interest” as I had described it.
After my mother’s passing, my online life became fairly stable for several years, as described in the previous post. However, the speech was largely gratuitous and was a long track from paying its own way. I was depending on high-volumes of blog posts with an “I told you so” attitude, which often attracted attention and comment. I did not develop the video and associated editing skills of my peers, who were finding they could make a living on YouTube sometimes. On the other hand, it my speech did not make money on its own, it could raise new questions. For example, property insurance providers (for the inherited house) could question what the point was of my speech if it could attract a risk of enemies. They never did. But I started to wonder if they could.
There was also always the possibility of damage to infrastructure, one person working alone, from storms. If I lived in an area more prone to hurricanes I would have to be able to pack up and leave for a hotel long before the storm. And there is no practical way to prepare for tornadoes other than cloud backups and physical copies in separated locations.
In fact, perhaps my “complacency” was disturbed a bit the Tuesday after President’s Day in 2012 when I got a call from my POD publisher scolding me for not selling more books (after hearing nothing for ten years!
In 2016 things began to change, with Trump’s candidacy. The public was only beginning to understand the role of social media algorithms in shaping public opinion and affecting elections, and the possibility of manipulation by foreign adversaries.
One buzzword turned out to be a non-issue. Naive commentators suggested the online world and Web 2.0 would fall apart when the Trump administration undid Obama’s network neutrality rules. That did not happen. Hosting companies and especially telecom companies (ISP’s) and backbones voluntarily honored it anyway.
Social media companies started to become a bit stricter on acceptable speech on their platforms once they saw what was quickly spiraling out of their control.
In 2018, I had sold the house and was living in the downsizing high rise condo. In the early Spring, I was quickly becoming more concerned about the future of online “gratuitous” speech. The most immediate concern was the SESTA/FOSTA law (signed by Trump in April 2018) which reduced Section 230 protections regarding content potentially leading to sex trafficking. The actual interpretation of the law is somewhat subjective, but some online activities were curtailed by some services like Craigslist.
Another development was the curtailment of hosting and domain name services by some providers to (allegedly) extremist or white supremacist sites after Charlottesville in August 2017.
In the latter part of 2018 various platforms became even stricter. Patreon closed some accounts of speakers for past behavior even on other platforms, even if some people (myself included) would have found their behaviors generally acceptable given immediate context. Some other platforms did the same. YouTube started demonetizing accounts, leading to a day in June 2019 when, after a particular quarrel between two persons on YouTube (Carlos Maza and Stephen Crowder) many unrelated accounts found themselves unexplainably demonetized. Other speech, especially associated with weapons, became problematic after a few horrid incidents such as Parkland High School in Florida in February 2018. In general, political ideologies from activists (in the streets and doing fundraising) became more extreme and polarized. In my opinion, this is an understandable reaction to some positions that Trump and his supporters often took, which many groups took as very threatening, yet they began behaving more lawlessly, like in Portland and Seattle later (in 2020), barging into the lives of ordinary city residents who did not want to be involved. Trump and his supporters drew the first straws (I don’t like to admit it).
We all know how this came to a head right after the election, when social media (esp. YouTube) banned speech challenging the election after the official Electoral Count vote and tried to ban the phrase “stop the steal”. Nevertheless, law and order broke down on Jan. 6, 2021 and threatened the republic.
So I had every reason to be concerned that social media platforms and even hosting companies would not want to allow “amateurs” to play journalist with volatile issues given the increasing threats of political violence and risk which could follow. We had already seen this viewpoint in Europe with the copyright directive (and link tax proposals as well as mandatory filters), where there was a sentiment that “amateur” speakers were lowballing real journalists out of their jobs. There had been a similar sentiment stimulating the lawsuits by a copyright troll “Righthaven” from 2009-2011 in the US.
In recent years more online publications have put up paywalls or asked for donations. In the early days (like around 2000) there was some controversy about deep hyperlinks (and a few sites would throw 403-forbiddens at them) but courts said that hyperlinks were the same things as term paper footnotes. That normally has applied to embeds, although there is an unsettled case in NY 2nd Circuit challenging that (link), My understanding of the law now is that when a visitor clicks on a link to a paywall site, the visitor is on their own to subscribe first if required (or may meet a policy of a limited number of free articles). But we could see new pressures on bloggers in the hyperlinking area, as some established publishers don’t like to see this happen.
In the fall of 2018, Congress started considering the CASE Act, which would create an administrative small claims court, a Copyright Claims Board, with opt-out rights for defendants, to settle copyright claims quickly without going to court. There was concern that this could attract trolls. The law was passed at the end of 2020 and the office opened for business June 16, 2022 (recently).
In 2019, on Feb. 27, I announced that I would keep my websetup through the end of 2021, when the “doaskdotell.com” registration was due to expire on Dec. 2. I would only renew if there was prospect of legitimate commercial use for the name from 2022 on. The possibility of screenwriting pitchfests provided that opportunity.
In late 2019, YouTube announced a policy (given compliance issues that the FTA had with it over the COPPA law, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, not to be confused with COPA) requiring content creators to mark “made for kids” on videos intended as such in order to remove them from comments and monetization. In the course of issuing revised Terms of Service, YouTube also announced it could require (presumably smaller sites like mine) prove that they could become “commercially viable” for future advertising. I have not, and no action has been taken against me, but the “idea” still caroming in play.
During the pandemic my life slowed down. I wondered if my activity would be seen as “unnecessary” even though it was almost all online. There were some service problems in the spring of 2020 with one provider. A practical concern also was that if there were a major equipment failure on my part or infrastructure failure in the unit, I might not be able to get it fixed because of contagion quarantines and could lose my sites. I did lose money having to cancel a fight to LA for a pitchfest in late Feb. 2020 over Covid fears. Don’t whine, so did a lot of other people have tremendous losses. There was an odd bot hack on my Blogger sites the day I would have flown out. Many scary coincidences.
But the complicated blogging setup with so many posts was no longer sustainable. The practical “threat” from the CASE Act from trolling from such a mass of accumulated material was certainly now a bit of a big deal. But there were many other problems percolating underneath all the time, stemmimg largely from the gratuitous nature of the content.
One also encounters ploys on webhosts these days about professional email addresses, and insinuations that today the web should be about conducting business or organized activism. Indeed, my practice of free “gratuitous” content over the years could be viewed as “anti-democracy” and interfering with organized activism. This is of great concern to me now (and motivates this April 2018 video “A Dangerous Thought Experiment” which appears on some of my pages.)
In the long run, in evaluating this list, what stands out is that I do not seem to be willing or able to work with others, except on my own rather narrow terms. Now this is troubling because, at least partly, I don’t have a professional background in journalism (it is in mainframe IT – next post). There certainly are news and commentary outlets I would like to work with (and this might have happened without a pandemic). But there are possibilities in the future the “tech oligarchy” (call it what you want, it is almost like a “shadow government”) might not allow me to work in this mode independently. I have been aware of this since early 2018 and had some private meetings about it. Here is another reference with a list of all these issues (from Nov. 2019, just prior to the pandemic). One so far little noticed issue is that individuals (like me) have no backup to respond to security threats if something happens to them (hospitalization, or eventually sudden passing) and there is no one else prepared to respond to issues. ICANN rules don’t seem to address this, but some attention seems inevitable. Again, “legitimate” commerce will normally have to set up backups and have more than one person. Yet, we really can’t support a world where everyone’s personal identity is predicated on how much they can “sell” individually (like everyone played life insurance “producer” and played the industry convention qualification game, which by the way I worked on at one time.)
But I cannot allow others to speak for me if I don’t have my own voice. I am very strict about that. I get loads of emails from outlets begging for money. Independent creators (Patreon, substack) I sometimes support. Non-profits who beg to (even as journalists) to fight for the “oppressed”, no, I can’t deal with these kinds of requests now. I’m supposed to “get over myself”? Maybe. I’ll talk about this in the next post. But a crucial point is that I cannot identify myself just by having been “oppressed” and try to “sell” that Idea to make a business self-sustaining.
(Friday, September 2, 2022 at 6 PM EDT)