I get legal threats: Cinematic Appraisals UPDATED

So I got this e-mail accusing me of slander and informing me that attorneys will be in touch regarding damages from an old post about a service called “Cinematic Appraisals.”  The writer does seem to have a fundamental misunderstanding of the fact that every time they e-mail me, there’s something new for the front page of Google.  In different places, this particular message seems to be trying to legally threaten me, trying to shame me, and trying to make me feel sorry for her.

The e-mail mentions a Facebook *page* with which I am unfamiliar, but I have written about their website twice — once before FtB (on SheThought, WordPress, and now hosted here) and once last spring.  The second does a very thorough job highlighting all of the things claimed without evidence on the scientific part of their website:
http://freethoughtblogs.com/ashleymiller/2010/11/04/cinematic-appraisals-scam-or-science/
http://freethoughtblogs.com/ashleymiller/2013/04/22/i-get-e-mail-cinematic-appraisals-mind-science-or-pseudoscience/

Now the letter — it is pasted as is, typos hers.  I’ve offered some notes.

Dear Ms. Miller,
I am shocked that you have maintained your campaign against my company even after I communicated the facts you misstated.¹ From this point forward our attorney will be the only contact because we feel it is important that people who seek to have a public voice are also accountable for their actions. I appreciate the rights our great country affords its citizens and, like most people, work hard to keep my rights from infringing on the rights of others. Thankfully, our courts have defined where your rights end and mine begin. I cannot imagine why anyone who wishes to have a public voice would so recklessly damage the business of another, especially without provocation.

In your November 4th, 2010 post, you identify yourself as a writer who spends, “a lot of time looking out for scams trying to take advantage of me” and identifies my company as fraudulently “bilking people out of their money”, even though the Home page of our website clearly defines that we do not work with writers and that we do not offer screenplay coverage.²  We have not solicited your work and you have never been a customer. However, you have gone as far as to misleadingly solicit ScriptSavvy and Carson Reeves as alternative legitimate businesses for your readers to use as though they performed the same service as our company.

You are certainly aware of your errors and the damages of your slanderous comments.³ I contacted you personally as soon as your initial post surfaced in the Google search results requesting that you re-visit our website for the facts, however you continued your campaign of slanderous advertising by creating a Facebook page labeling our company a “scam”.  Facebeook removed the page over liability concerns, yet your posting continued.  I contacted you again on April 21, 2013 indicating that we had been financially harmed by your posts and clarifying again that we are an emotional response testing company, not screenplay coverage.

Your misleading comments have financially harmed our business, slandered our business name and disparaged our products, and we will seek to recover the damage you have caused. I hope you can put yourself in my shoes and understand how you would react to someone that slandered your name or a business you worked hard to create.

Sincerely,
Christine Reynolds
christine@cinematicappraisals.com

1. By maintaining a campaign, she seems to mean not having deleted the initial post.  On her part, no facts have been offered, no questions answered, no sources or science presented.

2. “After the initial page-by-page study is complete and individual score determined, the screenplay is then studied and examined by separate evaluators for its story structure and connection strength, yielding the second analysis based on content.” I’m sure there’s some other word for this than screenplay coverage, but for some reason it’s just not coming to me.

3. I’ve yet to be offered any information suggesting my analysis was in error, despite having asked for it.

4. She technically contacted my editor with this message: “11/17/10 8:23pm  We strongly suggest you review the complete information on our website prior to making slanderous comments, as our evaluations are completely separate from script coverage and script doctoring services. Our evaluations measure the bioneurological activity of the tester. We are available to answer any questions you may have.”  My editor responded by saying she was free to say what was wrong with the post and to offer any fact corrections.  We also both asked her for any scientific evidence for the claims on her site.  There was no response.  Also, “bioneurological” is a silly, meaningless word.

5. Facts were not and are not available on the website, which is the entirety of the complaint.  Seriously, nearly every sentence makes a claim that should have a citation.

6. I legitimately have no idea what she’s talking about here.  The only thing on Facebook I can find is me sharing my post about it last spring, which is obviously still up: https://www.facebook.com/mgafm/posts/10100289115192657  Possibly there was some actual page created?  I am unsure.

UPDATE:

I got a second e-mail from the same address, this one far more aggressive.

You obviously have not consulted an attorney, you will need to do so. When you do, they will tell you that you have no defense.

Your opinion is not based on experience or knowledge, the only opinion you have shared has been a fabrication because we have never conducted ourselves fraudulently with you or anyone else and do not even offer the services you purport are a “scam”.

Professional legal counsel will advise you on the difference between expressing yourself and infringing on the rights of others through slander, product disparagement, and tortious interference. Your postings are such an obvious example of a violation of the statutes that an attorney actually contacted us.

We have the ability to change our name or simply bury your online fabrications, while recovering our lost income and marketing expenses from you for the period beginning when your slanderous campaign originated in November 2010 through the end of 2013. Thankfully, you cannot change who you are and when I worked at an educational institution, part of my job was performing background checks on any potential speakers to ensure a solid reputation and to avoid people such as yourself that recklessly slander others which could damage the institution’s reputation.

Regardless of the outcome of this slander complaint, I will keep it renewed to forewarn others. Additionally if this lawsuit, whose judgement I will personally keep renewed until every cent I am awarded has been repaid, protects the world from another aggressive blogger with nothing relevant to say, the stress of the court filings will have been worth it because I will have made the world a better place.

Safe Spaces, Free Speech, and the Internet: On Your Right Not To Be Triggered

triggerwarningI should start this probably by saying that I am a big supporter of free speech (the Constitutional concept) and also a fan of the trigger warning, when used by people who are trying to create a safe space.  Trigger Warnings are actually a great way to enhance free speech and allow yourself space not to self-censor certain topics, while also making it easy for those who are bothered by the subject to avoid it.  That said, that doesn’t mean that every space gets absolute free speech nor does it mean that every trigger gets a warning.

I am, personally, not a big user of the Trigger Warning in my own work.  Not because I think people shouldn’t use it if they’d like, but because I rarely talk about subjects that traditionally require them, I find them bulkier than tags, and don’t really think they work for Facebook/Twitter, which is where I do most of my textual interaction.  They are, to my mind, most useful when linking to something else that someone might not want to click on because it is graphic, like a NSFW warning.  I generally don’t have a problem with the idea that people are, at times, disturbed by my content.  Many are disturbed by my atheist content, some by my language, I don’t feel the need to warn people that I am going to talk about religion disparagingly and with bad words.

This post was inspired by two separate events that happened in the last couple weeks on Facebook.  The first was a post that someone made in response to MRAs trying to hurt rape victims in which the poster said in anger that they wanted to hurt the MRAs for doing that and, in the comments below, said that some people need killin’.  Some people then got angry at him for talking about violence in hyperbolic fashion about people he doesn’t know without self-censoring, because any reference to death made people “uncomfortable” and suicidal people could be triggered by it and immoderate words could lead to immoderate actions.  (It was unclear if anyone was being triggered themselves, or just concerned that it was possible; since distancing language is common when trauma is involved, I don’t make any conclusions.)  The argument escalated to basically an insistence that, to be a good person, one should be willing to self-censor anything that might be triggering.  Not to simply warn that there was content, but to completely bar yourself from speaking on the topic in shared spaces, like Facebook.

Now, to me, my Facebook page is not a safe space for other people; it’s a space where I talk without self-censorship to my friends and followers and they can tune in or shut me off, either is fine with me.  No one is obligated to listen.  It is my space to rant and complain and cope with horrible things and share exciting things and get angry at things that are terrible and happy about things that are adorable.  That doesn’t mean that what I say there is beyond criticism in comments, but I am not going to NOT talk about something because someone finds it triggering, in the same way that I don’t always avoid spoilers.  Facebook is therapeutic for me; it is how I process anxieties and questions and my own struggles with mental illness and trauma of many kinds.  There are some things that are for my gratification, and it took me a very long time to understand that that’s OK, I get to do things for myself sometimes.  I balk at the idea that who I am, the experiences of being me, require a content warning every time I open my mouth to talk about surviving them.

On top of that, I’m not going to try to stay on top of every possible thing that could trigger someone that follows me, because it’s just not possible.   I do not advertise any of the spaces in which I write to be universal safe spaces, because they aren’t.  Which leads me to the second incident.

I am a member of a Facebook group that claims to be a “Safe Space” and has a very long list of Content Warnings that anything to do with the subjects in question has to be hidden behind many returns so that people can avoid the content if they’d like.  One of the things on that list is the word “trigger,” which is apparently a trigger for people; hence, CW rather than TW.  Another thing on that list is People in Drag — there are to be no pictures of people in drag in this forum.

This made me very angry.  I expressed this anger in a constructive form, simply saying that I thought it was inappropriate for drag to be on the list, because it was creating an unsafe space for other individuals for whom drag was a part of their identity.  Would it be OK to put “black people” or “women” in your list of content warnings?  “Sorry, any pictures of someone who is not a white heterosexual male must go behind a cut.”

The person who’d asked for the warning to be added responded, saying that they were traumatized by the sight of people in drag and the moderators defended it saying that there doesn’t have to be a reason for a trigger, it just is one.  Except this person wasn’t *triggered* into having PTSD symptoms and flashbacks, they were just grossed out by it.

The result is that, in this community, because the list of triggers is so long, everyone just hides every post and tries to come up with a CW for them, often in vague useless ways or ways that are far more disturbing than the sentence long update.

This is, of course, this particular group’s right, and they can create a safe space for whomever they want, whether it includes me or not.  And it is my right to feel mildly horrified that people are equating seeing a picture of a drag queen and being grossed out with people seeing graphic depictions of rape and having flashbacks to their own trauma.

I want to be very clear here, being upset at something is not the same as being triggered by it.  I am deeply upset by many gruesome images and I dislike seeing them, but they don’t trigger me.  Almost all of my triggers are really mundane, and they happen inconsistently and without warning — I can’t ask the number 864 to suddenly stop existing, right?  I don’t have an expectation that people generally avoid anything that might trigger me, I just have strategies with coping with what it’s like to have a brain that isn’t always my friend.

In much the same way that you don’t have a right not to be offended, you don’t have a right not to be triggered.  You have a right to feel your feelings and express those feelings.  You even have a right to ask for certain spaces to be different.  But I also think it is unfair to expect friends to self-censor every public thought for your benefit and that it is insulting to equate being grossed out or upset by something to being triggered by it.  I get to ask for consideration of my needs, but I also have to accept that other people have needs as well and, sometimes, they are in conflict — and while my need to not have flashbacks does seem, on the face of it, like a greater need than someone else’s need to vent, it’s not really my place to decide that for them.  I get to decide what spaces I expose myself to and how to respond if someone else can’t make a safe space for me, but someone needing to talk about things that might trigger someone else doesn’t make them a bad person.

My Muslim Facebook Friends

muslimfbI admit that I am fairly wanton in my acceptance of Facebook friends.  Since it’s my primary mode of communication and sharing with my friends and followers, I’m happy to pretty much accept anyone who isn’t harassing me.  More hits on my blog, more attention to me, etc.

While the vast majority of strangers who friend request me are atheists, I’ve noticed that I’ve been getting a lot of requests from strangers who are Muslims.  No other religious denomination, just Islam.  I didn’t think too much of it — they could be people who were curious about what I was saying or maybe were in the closet atheists in inhospitable areas or they were trying to convert me.  All of which were OK with me.  I did a little digging and discovered that these people have friended en masse a lot of other atheists that I am friends with.

The weird thing is that none of them really comment on my page or engage with anything I say.  I guess they just want their posts to show up in my News Feed, but I am pretty heavy with my “Don’t Show Me Posts” powers, so a lot of people disappear soon after friending me.  Yesterday I got a friend request from someone with over 100 friends in common with me and today she showed up in my News Feed:

Screen Shot 2013-08-06 at 1.27.28 PM

 

Screen Shot 2013-08-06 at 1.30.39 PM

Uzma Rathore: I don’t want to come across as harsh but i request those of you who are Islamophobics to kindly remove yourselves from my friends list as being a practicing Muslim, i won’t allow anyone to disrespect my religion. I removed a particular individual from my friends list just now due to the same reason. Cheers.

What’s she doing going around friending all these atheists if she’s just going to tell us to unfriend her.  MAKES NO SENSE.

So, strangers, why are you friending me?

EDIT: Apparently asking why she friended so many atheists is islamophobic hate speech.  Fascinating.

Screen Shot 2013-08-06 at 2.21.49 PM

I have absolutely no idea how many atheistic Islamophobic mad hatters i have added to my friend’s list out of sheer ignorance since i don’t deem it necessary to confirm individual religious beliefs prior to sending out friend requests but i am getting negative vibes about this whole thing. I just removed two women from my friend’s list who were propagating religious hate speech on my wall notwithstanding my persistent requests to not disrespect my religion. I wonder how some people can be so unreasonably adamant !

News Flash: Sexism still a huge problem

The following is a screencap of a Facebook conversation happening right now.  It is a lesson in how not to be welcoming to women in the movement.  And I would like to point out that the person who is recievng this abuse is a woman in a position of power.  I cannot imagine what a girl who is not already a member of their group would think when looking at that.  Hey, would you like to join our group, I promise to tell you if you’re hot or not.

Zack Fowler, ladies and gentlemen:

For those who cannot see images, the conversation goes as follows:

Kelley Freeman: Hi SSA at EKU! I’m Kelley and I’m the Volunteer Network Coordinator for SECAA (Southeastern Collegiate Atheist Alliance) and a leader of the SSA affiliate at USC (formerly Pastafarians, now SSAUSC). I’m sort of in charge of helping to facilitate networking between groups within the region and such. I also operate as something of a ‘second’ for Gordon Let me know if you have any questions. SSA at EKU leaders are more than welcome to add me especially. :D

Zack Fowler: 10/10 would bang.

Kelley Freeman: Cool story, bro.

Zack Fowler: Figured you would need a pretty blunt greeting. We’re rowdy and crude and hungry for babies. You’re welcome to stick around and get nasty.

Kelley Freeman: Good to see this group is so welcoming to women.

Katherine Leonard: We’ve had a few feminism discussions now and then :p *thwacks Zack upside the head*

Zack Fowler: What makes me not welcoming to women?

Kelley Freeman: Dunno. Generally when I’m introducing myself with some professionalism, I don’t expect people to comment on my gender or looks.

Kelley is the very awesome president of my university’s SSA affiliate and someone who spends an unbelievable amount of time and energy working for the secular movement.  And this is the shit she takes from people who are on her side when she is trying to reach out to do her job… her job that she does as a volunteer.

This is what the problem looks like.  Can we please all agree that there is a problem and that we should be fixing it?

Chick-fil-A pretends to be a girl for PR reasons, is caught

This is the funniest thing I’ve seen in a long time.  H/t to George Takei for posting it.  Chick-fil-A has been horrific to gay people for a long time, I am glad that they’ve finally been outspoken enough about it to cause everyday people to start protesting.

The story is this: the founder’s son/COO said CFA money was going to fight gay marriage so Jim Henson announced they would not partner with Chick-fil-A in the future.  Chick-fil-A suddenly discovered that the Muppet toys they were giving out were defective and announced they would no longer be giving them out.  Obviously, many people think that they dropped the toys because Jim Henson called them on being homo-haters, but Chick-fil-A is sticking to its story… an making up fake Facebook accounts to do the dirty work for them.

“Abby Farle” is a FB account created by Chick-fil-A to promote the lie that the toys had been removed weeks ago.  I guess the logic being that if someone who isn’t the store makes a claim that is untrue, no one can be mad at the company for lying.

Except social media under the scrutiny of tens of thousands of people is not the best place to use easily found stock photos as your head shot or to start a profile only a few hours ahead of when you post to a company’s website.  Especially if that’s the only thing the fake account does.

So, not only did CFA create a profile to enable them to lie, they made her super Christian, and they didn’t make her convincingly.  CFA was caught in the act 2 hours after they began the lie.  The internet is sometimes a beautiful thing, but companies are sometimes incredibly stupid at what they think they can get away with.

Dear everyone, when you get caught doing something bad, just admit it, because then it won’t be a story.  This?  This is a story.

BUAHAHAHA

UPDATE: Here is screencap of the stockphoto for those who think it isn’t the same girl:

UPDATE2: Personal message to Chick-fil-A

Gun Law Arguments/Tweet of the Day

This is Wonka meme has been going around my Facebook. I guess I’ve got a lot of FB friends who are idiots.

“Also, if you could please tell me more about why we have laws against rape, assault, murder… Actually, if you could explain the whole concept of laws to me, that might help. Because I’m an idiot.”

And, completely unrelated, here is the tweet of the day:

@beardedstoner: To everyone mad about Joe Paterno’s statue being taken down – just look the other way & pretend it’s not happening.

Facebook Rumors: Paying to reach fans

In my other life, I write for a social media news blog, and I recently wrote about the current rumor going around about pages/celebrities having to pay to reach their fans.  Unfortunately, my tiny blog post didn’t reach George Takei so I imagine the level of hysteria over this is just going to continue ratcheting up.  I’m sure you will all be surprised by this, but misinformation really gets under my skin.  Here’s the relevant information from Facebook itself:

Nothing has changed about how your posts are shared with the people who like your Page.

A lot of activity happens on Facebook and most people only see some of it in their news feeds. They may miss things when they’re not on Facebook, or they may have a lot of friends and Pages, which results in too much activity to show all of it in their news feed.

If you don’t promote your post, many of the people connected to your Page may still see it. However, by promoting a post, you’re increasing its potential reach so an even larger percentage of your Page audience and the friends of those interacting with your post will see it.

Nothing has changed, Facebook is just now offering the opportunity to advertize specific posts to the people most likely to be interested: casual fans who don’t interact with the page often and friends of fans.  If you have a problem with EdgeRank, the system that sorts your Newsfeed in Facebook, that’s a different issue entirely that impacts every post from every person, not just pages.

Harry Potter + Google = Love

As the resident Google fan, I am happy to report that there is a whole lot of interesting Google news this week.  It seems that Google doesn’t do news weeks in half measures.

First up is political news — both Google and Facebook have spent more money during this quarter on lobbyists than they have ever spent previously.  Both companies have had some run ins with the FTC and are now throwing money at theproblem.  Google is spending way more than Facebook, though — $2.06 million in the second quarter to Facebook’s $320,000.  For the first time ever, they even spent more than Microsoft!

To further their attempts to take over the internet, Google is also planning on offering a low-interest credit card to advertisers on AdWords.  It’ll be a MasterCard without an annual fee and a 8.99% APR, but can only be used for ads.  The idea is that small businesses can get some credit for big ad campaigns at holidays without having to have funds for it on hand.

Google is also offering a new feature in Gmail that allows you to use more than one line at a time.  The multi-call feature lets you put people on hold and pick up another call at the same time — a normal call waiting function that’s relatively new to the online phone services.  They actually are going to offer the full call waiting function, meaning that you get notified of incoming calls and can choose to answer and put people on hold and all that jazz, but you can only use two outgoing calls at a time.

Google+ continues to grow, gathering a fairly young demographic.  It’s currently the 42nd most visited social networking site in the US.  Google+ has grown by 821% since the week of July 2nd and has a much larger percentage of women than originally estimated, meaning that it’s probably not just engineers and internet nerds who are jumping on the bandwagon.  In an attempt to compete with Apple and Facebook, Google+ will be offering games and taking a much lower percentage of revenue from games — approximately 5% compared to the normal 30%.  Google also will host the games on their own servers, theoretically making them faster and less buggy.

Google will be shutting down Google Labs, a feature that allowed users to test run experimental features on different websites.  For example, the popular beer goggles that requires you to do simple math to access your email late at night on the weekends, to try to prevent drunk emailing.  They say that many of the features in Calendar or Gmail won’t be going away, but it’s unclear what exactly is going and staying.  The good news is that just because there will be no more labs doesn’t mean that the 20% rule is going away — Google employees are supposed to spend 20% of their work time on personal pet projects out of which many of the labs have emerged.

And finally, of personal interest to me, is Google’s announcement that it is teaming up with JK Rowlings Pottermore to make the Harry Potter books available through Google eBooks.  Google will also get exclusive payment rights for all Pottermore.com purchases, edging out PayPal and Amazon Payments.  With Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 set to be the first of the series to reach 1 billion, it seems that despite the fact that Harry Potter is about to be 15 years old, it’s still a major draw.

Originally Posted at SocialAxcess.com

Google +1 Button: Not Buzz

Google has apparently not learned its lesson when it comes to getting involved in social ventures, and is rolling out a new feature called the +1 button, which is essentially equivalent to Facebook’s “Like” button.  If you’ve got a Google profile, you can see what your friends with Google Profiles have +1ed and, unlike Facebook, you don’t send out notifications every time you +1 something.  In other words, you only see +1s when you get the site in a search result anyway, so it’s like a personal recommendation tailored to your search.

See +1s

 The other thing that is slightly different than the “like” button is that Google is integrating the results into their overall search engine algorithm.  Though they haven’t explained exactly how that will work, one assumes that sites with more +1s will end up higher in the search results than those that haven’t been +1ed.  We’ll see how long it takes for businesses to try to take advantage of that.

Social media has been a struggle for Google, especially since their debacle last year with Buzz.  Although they immediately addressed the privacy concerns and general uproar, Buzz failed to take off and it earned them a visit from the US Federal Trade Commission for being misleading in their tactics and not upfront about their services.

This +1 button seems to be a nice marriage of what Google already does well, searching, with the more social aspects of the web.  Hopefully they can avoid the criticisms they had with Buzz, since this will be strictly opt-in, and it seems like it could further personalize web search results, which is great.

Here's the video introduction from Google: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OAyUNI3_V2c