UPDATE-- 3/12/11 A follow-up post will be published later this month regarding my thoughts if this citizen activism piece about is-a-jerk.com and jerk.com was a worthwhile win for civility, privacy and the First Amendment, or not.
After Dave Brown commented on this post below, he did remove the degrading image of the special needs youth from his is-a-jerk.com auto-regenerated URL and its sub-domains . He still maintains the same image on most of his Gigahertzinc.com's other site links. The image-- with various phrases-- has been copied by other people throughout the web. Mr. Brown also has kept the word "retard" and other hate speech on is-a-jerk.com's delete page, per below. He has chosen not to respond to my e-mail whether he owns copyright or has use rights for this image, or any of the other exploited pictures on his many sites.
UPDATE-- 3/10/11 As of sometime this past week www.jerk.com is no longer online. The domain currrently forwards to its server's URL. No comment yet from John Fanning if this post contributed to the site's removal. Dave Brown, of is-a-jerk.com, has chosen to respond to this post via his comment below. - CSH
It unfolds the necessarily complex navigation between privacy, distasteful methodologies and first amendment rights, and how we as a society are each ultimately responsible for shaping public dialogue toward accountable practices on the Internet.
Both Jerk and Is-A-Jerk openly thrive on eliciting anonymous, user-generated, sub domain public registering of people as Jerks. You probably won't know if you've got a Jerk-entitled sub domain until you see it in a search engine. Obviously, the everyday people who use these sites to anonymously label someone a jerk are most responsible for their actions. Alexis shows neither site is even very popular, yet.
Nonetheless, in a political environment where civility is the new mantra and the prevalence of bullying anonymously online and physically at school -- some ending in suicide -- continues, these Jerk sites are illustrative of a devil-may-care authoritianism by their developers, even more than a simple knee-jerk opportunity to measure name calling with online sticks-and-stones.
Jerk then prompts hate as the true motivator for anonymously creating a jerk page on someone you don't like:
It's like saying paper is illegal because slanderous info can be written upon it's surface.
Every Jerk profile page statically exploits the same smiling Down Syndrome adolescent sitting in a room with other special needs students, as he unwittingly holds a misspelled, childishly scripted sign not of his making:
Remember, it is easier to hate others than it is to gain their friendship...Hatred makes us
stronger & wiser.
i SMaRteR tHeN (the name of the person being shamed is displayed)
You can "refresh-page" each profile for new photos of people -- sometimes children or celebrities -- holding re-generated signs that wish AIDS or cancer on someone. Amidst bubbly euro-elevator tunes, and an occasional, screeching meow, tired school yard-isms like "Your momma is so fat she eats Wheat Thicks," merge with gay-bashing and other in-your-face links for your continued entertainment and Is-A-Jerk's pocketbook.
The image of the special needs youth holding the same sign remains mascot on the left-side throughout.
You think it below-low to exploit a special needs person for a site ridiculing people as jerks? Dave Brown's Twitter is open for comment. But be forewarned, he'll probably turn the tables that we're the true jerks by excluding a mentally challenged person from being in on the joke. Such seems the thought methodology of Dave Brown throughout his many sites. (One national Down Syndrome site said that many sites with demeaning images demand payment to remove them.)
Jerk, on the other hand, props itself up to be a serious site. It has a U.S. news section on its home page that doesn't update. Jerk envisions itself to be the definitive, organically created "ubiquitous reputation service across the net." Rather grand goals for a site named Jerk. Unlike Is-A-Jerk, Jerk does let a person anonymously declare someone not a jerk; the lucky few can even be sainted. (What will the atheists say?) .
Jerk conveniently invites people to upload all their Facebook contacts to automatically create new Jerk profiles (without their friends' knowledge, of course). Your email address book works just fine for adding jerks, too.
Most of us probably see either site as ignorant and perhaps quite bland -- another bunch of tech-savvy hucksters making a buck at the expense of others. Fanning's selfish leadership style had been noted as Napster's main downfall. His Net Capital portfolio page showcases a half-dozen semi-deserted sites. Brown, along with countless prank sites, has a Bible site and a "help the homeless" site that he converted to a donation site for himself complete with a picture of himself with his child. He shies away from porn, a bare chested over-18-sign in boobs URL site is his boundary line. His answer for if you don't like Is-A-Jerk is that he'll sell it to you for $50 K, or you can buy all his sites for $1 million.
Conscientiously, John Fanning has his own Jerk profile and he or someone created an Is-A-Jerk one for him, too. The phrase "karan is a jerk," coupled with variations of sub domain dots or dashes, was posted so frequenty for both sites that search engine results make its seem that the name actually connects Jerk with Is-A-Jerk. One wonders if just a few people with tech skills could have seeded most of the names for each site. Not that anyone's suggesting a conspiracy, or anything.
But there's a glacial warning that both Jerk and Is-A Jerk's attitudes foreshadow-- "Don't blame me. Blame the Internet" for letting me get away with what I do.
Jerk's prominently displayed "Remove Me" tab simply states -
Final answer. The king has spoken.
"No one`s profile is ever removed because jerk.com is based on searching free open
internet searching databases and it`s not possible to remove things from the Internet."
Is-A- Jerk's Removal graciously provides an option to delete your name, but then gives a three-point explanation why it's pointless to try to remove it. Each page is generated from dynamic URL variables, so Brown alleges it's not real anyway. But then he says, deleting a name doesn't remove the URL from search engines. Links on each page belong to other websites, so you'll need to contact them directly, too.And in true Dave Brown defensiveness:
"...You should check back often if your livelyhood (sic) or reputation is at risk of finding retards stupid enough to believe or care about this useless crap. We are not responsible for the re-creation of the site!"
A tad sensitive he is there. Maybe because that 'useless crap' we want removed is his bread-and-butter.
Brown and Fanning's small-time, but overblown, personalities are reminiscent of Wall Street entitlements and the housing crisis free-for-all. If the insistent, recklessness of these two aptly-named Jerk sites doesn't feel ominous, the aggregate of thousands of other sites, also feeling so unrestricted to accountabability-- with names less self-announcing than Jerk-- should.
Follow Crystal Syben Haidl on Twitter: www.twitter.com/crystalhaidl