September 24, 2010


ME + me : On "harassment" by internet


I continue being not well, for which reason I still have not yet written more on the DSM-5TM  and there also was no Nederlog yesterday. I also wanted to write a bit more about psychiatry and about Cargo Cult Science and pseudoscience, but these things also have to be queued awaiting somewhat better times.

Meanwhile, having had Ms. Goudsmit drawn to my attention by her own public writing about me, that I may well call "harassment", as I will explain, I have a small treatment On "harassment" by internet:

1.  Introduction
2.  Harassment and the internet
English terminology
The Law
5.  The Harassment Act

6.  Harassment and the internet
7.  Cyberstalking
8.  Three rules for (British) forums concerning "harassment"

Note that apart from Ms. Goudsmit, I am interested in the matter for general legal reasons and my own concerns about free speech, and have written about these matters in Nederlog in Dutch in the past, and am well aware that there is more to say about it than I do in this text, but one does as one can, not as one wants in life, often.

On "harassment" by internet

1. Introduction

I wrote several days ago about my being upset by what Ms. Goudsmit felt free to assert or imply publicly on the ME Associations Facebook Wall - that I had not visited till then and do not know very much about - about my site, my academic qualifications, my integrity and my honesty.

In some sense of the term, I could say that I feel "harassed" by Ms. Goudsmit, supposing that someone who asserts or suggests falsehoods about one's my site, academic qualifications, integrity and honesty is harassing one.

Whether this is so is debatable in a semantical or etymological sense, and one may also suggest other terms are appropriate for public assertions, implications or innuendo to the above effect, as I did on September 21, viz. "Slander", "Calumny", "Defamation" and "Libel", and I then provided the relevant parts of the definitions I found in my edition of the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary aka S OED.

I presuppose these definitions as known and give four more, since Ms. Goudsmit seems to know of no uncertainty in her mind as to when she is "harassed" by persons on the internet, and specifically on the Facebook sites of both the ME Association and the Action for ME charity which - if I do understand her prose well, which is not so very easy as it should be since she mostly delivers herself of her ideas in a very chatty style, that touches and judges things, but - gives no arguments other than the implied or asserted authority of Ms. Goudsmit's writing what she does. 

What's more, Ms. Goudsmit, it turns out, seems to mean something quite specific when she writes on a public forum that somebody else, say X, who is on the same forum saying things that might perhaps be construed as stating or implying some possible criticism of Ms. Goudsmit's person, style, way of expressing herself, or of her publicly stated strong opinions (*), that such a person X (1) is "harassing" her thereby, if and when Ms. Goudsmit thinks so and feels moved to publicly write so on some Facebook page; and much more specifically (2) is "harassing" her in the specific sense of the Malicious Communications Act of 1988 or the Harassment Act of 1997; and moreover (3) that Ms. Goudsmit then is perfectly justified - she thinks - to call the police to arrest the "harassing" perpetrators (aka persons who criticized Ms. Goudsmit on such public lists as Facebook); and finally (4) that Ms. Goudsmit then is perfectly justified to do just that: Go to the police, file a complaint for harassment, and ask the Crown Persectution to get the ones complained about arrested or at least appear in court, and be judged according to the said acts, for harassment.

This seems to me to be where it presently stands, as Ms. Goudsmit has incited such a courtcase which presently is ongoing; as she also did some years ago, according to information I have found or received; and is threatening several other persons with on the Facebook Walls of the ME Association and of the Action for ME charity, incidentally, all having nothing to do with what she wrote about me (that I can rationally see), but with what Ms. Goudsmit perceives, or at least writes she perceives, as harassment from them on these public Faceboook Walls.

2. English terminology

Personally - and I do have a most excellent M.A. degree in the science of psychology, although Ms. Goudsmit, who must know this since 2002 at the latest, chose to assert, suggest or imply I must have lied about that on my sites and two M.E.-forums many times - I am somewhat amazed in several ways and for several reasons, that I shall try to elucidate in what follows, also because this may clarify matters some for others.

Let me start with giving the definitions of "Harass", "Harassment", "Innuendo", and "Mad" as supplied by one of my most favourite books, namely the S OED:

Harass (..) 1. trans. to wear out, or exhaust with fatigue, care, trouble, etc. Obs. or dial. 2. To harry, lay waste -1710. 3. To trouble or vex by repeated attacks 1622. 4. To worry, distress with annoying labour, care, importunity, misfortune, etc. 1656.

Harassment (..) 1753. (..) The action of harassment; the being harassed; vexation; worry.

These are interesting and useful definitions, also because "Harass" sense 1., is quite close to having ME: I have been harassed by ME 32 years now, and I have been harassed by Amsterdam's municipal bureaucrats and their refusals to maintain the Dutch laws in my personal case for over 20 years now. Incidentally, note that the nature of the "attack" is unclarified, and that there is no talk of threats in the definition (though one can clearly threaten one that one will harass one, or harass one with saying that the other is harassing one, and so on).

Innuendo (..) 3. An oblique hint or suggestion; an insinuation, esp. of a deprecatory kind.

This definition is considerably longer in the S OED, all of it interesting, but less relevant here and now than the last summary definition. One finds several examples in Ms. Goudsmit's public warning not to visit my site in her text I quoted on September 21.

Mad (..) 1. Suffering from mental disease; out of one's mind; insane, lunatic. In mod. use: Maniacal, frenzied. b. causing madness (rare) - 1676.   2. Foolish, unwise. Now only: Wildly foolish; ruinously imprudent. OE.   3. Carried away by enthusiasm or desire; wildly excited; infatuated ME. (..)  4. Beside oneself with anger; furious. Now only colloq. (In many dialects and in U.S. the ordinary word for 'angry'.)    5. Of an animal: Rabid 1538.   6. Uncontrolled by reason; extravagant in gaiety; wild 1597.

This seems to me fair enough, especially the senses 2. and 6. and the reason to mention the term and concept at all is that it is materially relevant:

What if one believes one is harassed if one isn't; what if one says one is harassed if all that happens is that one is being criticized (without threats or defamations, slander or libel, and without statements or  insinuations of falsehoods that damage one's personal reputation if believed); what if one is in fact oneself paranoid, schizoid, not of quite sound mind, severely stressed, delirious or whatever; and what if the complainers of what they call "harassment" only abuse a badly crafted law to silence all opposition, namely by the crafty abuse of the term "harassment" and threats with persecution if the opposition merely honestly says what they believe?

These surely are relevant logical possiblities, so lets turn to the letter of the law:

3. The Laws in case

I mentioned two British Acts above: The Malicious Communications Act of 1988 and the Harassment Act of 1996, both of which I myself would take not to apply to what people say on internet, or in extreme cases only, where other laws, such as against slander or  defamation, might apply as well or better.

But these things differ since Ms. Goudsmit (so far I know and infer from such information as I have) did already go to the police once for what she claimed to be harassment by way of the internet; had at least one person arrested for that; did incite a court case, and presently is involved with another over "harassment", and very recently threatened at least two others on the Facebook pages of the MEA and of AfME (different charities, with different pages!) that she might go to the police to complain about their "harassment", which as far as I can see consists in their despicable, hateful and immoral crime of disagreeing with something Ms. Goudsmit said or did, left unsaid or undone, but all without calling her any names, without disqualifying her, without denying that she has the academic degrees she has, without saying that anybody who has lived in England would know that she lives herself in a dreamworld of England, not in the real one, and without threatening her in any way: Ms. Goudsmit feels able and willing to go to the police if someone on a forum she also writes is critical of what she writes. That's "harassment", especially if and when she has said it is. Here is how she ended a recent post on Facebook:

The police will decide if there is a case to answer. If there is, the CPS takes over, not me. This has to be the end of the discussion. By law.

Here are some links to the laws that Ms. Goudsmit seems to deem appropriate to shut up those whose opinions  disagrees with her own opinions:

Let me refer to these legal acts as MCA and HA respectively. Both acts of parliament are legal pieces of standing law in Great Britain, and both have counterparts in Dutch law, which I add because I am Dutch, not British, but there are quite a few differences, which need no discussion here other than registering the fact.

In any case, while I see some of the needs for some sort of laws of this kind, I don't agree with their formulations, nor with their applications, nor indeed with the use that has been made of them to silence opposition of any kind, who were silenced by being persecuted or being threatened with persecution for harassment, when their real 'crime' was that their opinions contradicted those who persecuted or threatened them with persecution under these acts.

4. The Malicious Communications Act 1988

The MCA I will not say much about, beyond the fact that it was a bit difficult to find out what its current wording is, since it has been revised since 1988, and that the quoted statement about the MCA saying

that makes it illegal in England and Wales to "send or deliver letters or other articles for the purpose of causing distress or anxiety".   

embodies several of my main reasons for disagreement:

First, often one cannot, in my opinion, fairly decide on what are or were "the purpose" or "the intention" of some act, because one only can observe the act, and not the actors thinking, feeling and desiring. So that involves a serious difficulty of getting solid factual evidence for attributions of purpose or intent.

Second, the law ought to be, and has been for ages, apart from the Catholic inquisition and dictatorships, such as those of Mao or Kim Il Jung, concerned with observable behaviour rather than thoughts and feelings, that are hidden from observation, and must be inferred (also about people saying that they feel, believe or desire such and such, because they may not be speaking the truth). The aim of rational law in the legal sense must be to regulate their behaviour, but not their thinking, feeling and desiring.

Third, both points enter into the problem whether it makes sense at all to design laws against people communicating (by words or pictures, not by physical abuse) what is claimed and may have been meant "for the purpose of causing distress or anxiety". What if the distressed or anxious person lies about being distressed or anxious? What if the distressed or anxious person feels distressed or anxious because the person has misunderstood what is meant? Or is mad?

So the MCA seems to me to not a good law as it stands, and it seems to me that without it there should be sufficient means in the existing laws to defend oneself in law against such communications as may be fairly deemed malicious, namely such as embody threats to one's person or property, or defame one with falsehoods.

5. The Harassment Act

Next, the Harassment Act seems a worse legal act, and it has been widely criticized since its inception, it turns out. Indeed, the Wikipedia article on it starts thus:

The Protection from Harassment Act 1997 is a piece of United Kingdom law, which, among other things criminalises, and creates a right to protection from, stalking, and persistent bullying in the workplace. However the first three people prosecuted under the act were all peaceful protestors, and commentators such as George Monbiot have voiced the concern that the amended Act effectively "allows the police to ban any campaign they please".[

The Wikipedia article Protection from he Harassment Act of 1997 seems adequate though brief. I quote

The Act defines harassment in section 1(1) as a "course of conduct" amounting to harassment and provides by section 7(3) that a course of conduct must involve conduct on at least two occasions. (Originally these occasions needed to involve the same person, but in 2005 the act was amended by the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act so that "pursuing a course of conduct" could mean approaching two people just once.[1]) If these requirements are satisfied, the claimant may pursue a civil remedy for damages for anxiety: section 3(2)


Under this act the definition of harassment is behavior which causes alarm or distress. The Act provides for a jail sentence of up to six months or a fine. There are also a variety of civil remedies that can be used including awarding of damages, and restraining orders backed by the power of arrest.

These seem akin to fairly dictatorial judgments, "legal" actions and persecutions, that should not be thus made into law, for reasons briefly indicated above: The Malicious Communications Act 1988.

Besides, the law is nonsensical or self-contradictory in various ways. Thus, much of what the police, the CPS, the prison authorities, and indeed the authorities do, not only the legal and political ones, but also medical ones such as messrs. Wessely and White, is to engage in many "courses of conduct" they know must cause anxiety in many, and that in fact  often is the purpose. Indeed, laws themselves can be taken as harassments and being intended to cause anxiety.

Anyway... having at the moment no desire to engage in legal philosophy, and indeed having published before in Nederlog in Dutch on comparable articles and applications of comparable laws, notably - much downloaded by lawyers and legal types, it seems - in my Argumenten inzake vervolging Wilders, I shall leave the topic of these British laws for the moment and turn to

6. Harassment and the internet

It seems to me that Ms. Goudsmit abuses bad British laws, in which she is not alone, as the above shows, and it seems to me in more general terms that there is no such thing as harassment on the internet, in any special sense that goes beyond such protection as other laws provide, namely against defamation, libel, threats with violence to person or property and the like.

That is: One can be fairly said to be harassed on the internet - which is a public place - if one is defamed, libelled, threatened with violence etcetera, but that is a sense of "harassment" that should not itself be made into a legal article, or if it is, as in laws against stalking, should be far more specific, and also clearly depend on objective empirical evidence regardless of feelings or value-judgments, and not on accusations based on mere feelings without further proof of facts.

As it stands, and on the two public Facebook-sites Ms. Goudsmit regularly writes on, she is regularly criticized, which she experiences - or says she experiences - as "harassment", which indeed it may be if she experiences distress because of the criticism, for simple etymological reasons, and she may appeal to the existing British laws as a British citizen, and appeal to the Harassment Act and the Malicious Communications Act.

As I explained, I believe these laws are inappropriate and should be removed or radically revised, and indeed many others believe the same, it can be found on the internet, even groups of women who pleaded for acts like the Harassment Act against stalking, but found that the law was mainly abused for ends it was not intended for (by them or at all).

7. Cyberstalking

Ms. Goudsmit chooses to call repeated criticism of her (by some persons at least) "cyberstalking", which is a term that has not yet found its way into lawbooks but can be found in the Wikipedia:

  • Cyberstalking

    Cyberstalking is the use of the Internet or other electronic means to stalk or harass an individual, a group of individuals, or an organization. It may include false accusations, monitoring, making threats, identity theft, damage to data or equipment, the solicitation of minors for sex, or gathering information in order to harass. The definition of "harassment" must meet the criterion that a reasonable person, in possession of the same information, would regard it as sufficient to cause another reasonable person distress.[

This is well-intended, but "reasonable person" links to "The man on the Clapham omnibus", who is - you might not know or believe - supposed to be "a reasonably educated and intelligent but non-specialist person", which is not much of a clarification and a bit of two fallacies at once (begging the question and red herring), and the last statement again has the fundamental problem that it insists that it involves "distress" as in

 a reasonable person, in possession of the same information, would regard it as sufficient to cause another reasonable person distress

This firstly has the difficulties - among other ones - that distress is not public evidence but must be inferred; secondly that distress is subjective however reasonable one is; thirdly that not even the most reasonable persons are reasonable always or in all respects; fourthly that different persons have different interpretations and evaluations of the same information; and fifthly that as stated, if giving information - other than threats, defamations, libels - that is causing distress in a reasonable person may be construed as harassment that is prosecutable by law and punishable by up to 6 months imprisonment, we have arrived at the end of all communication of criticism or indeed unpleasant news to the one informed.

For example, someone X tells you the news your parents have died in an accident. Naturally, you are distressed. Being reasonable persons you and X knew and could know the news would distress you. Your name is Goldsmith, and you go to the police, and seek huge damages, quoting the Harassment Act.

Distinctly possible, in legal fact and actual British practice, though I do not know about claims for damages - but then, if one can be imprisoned for half a year for bringing undesired information ("let's start with killing the messenger"), surely one must have caused considerable damage, that as surely requires some compensation.

However, the Cyberstalking article in Wikipedia is rather a bit more to the point in providing a list:

A number of key factors have been identified:

  • False accusations. Many cyberstalkers try to damage the reputation of their victim and turn other people against them. They post false information about them on websites. They may set up their own websites, blogs or user pages for this purpose. They post allegations about the victim to newsgroups, chat rooms or other sites that allow public contributions, such as Wikipedia or
  • Attempts to gather information about the victim. Cyberstalkers may approach their victim's friends, family and work colleagues to obtain personal information. They may advertise for information on the Internet, or hire a private detective. They often will monitor the victim's online activities and attempt to trace their IP address in an effort to gather more information about their victims.
  • Encouraging others to harass the victim. Many cyberstalkers try to involve third parties in the harassment. They may claim the victim has harmed the stalker or his/her family in some way, or may post the victim's name and telephone number in order to encourage others to join the pursuit.
  • False victimization. The cyberstalker will claim that the victim is harassing him/her. Bocij writes that this phenomenon has been noted in a number of well-known cases.
  • Attacks on data and equipment. They may try to damage the victim's computer by sending viruses.
  • Ordering goods and services. They order items or subscribe to magazines in the victim's name. These often involve subscriptions to pornography or ordering sex toys then having them delivered to the victim's workplace.
  • Arranging to meet. Young people face a particularly high risk of having cyberstalkers try to set up meetings between them.

I agree these are reprehensible behaviors which should be curbed, and also note that here for the first time a fairly clear list of fairly clear misdemeanors is provided.

But none of these things seems to involve in such complaints as Ms. Goudsmit made about persons "harassing" and "cyberstalking" her on the MEA's and AfME's Facebook pages, for which see also the above point False victimization - that incidentally need not happen on (reasonable) purpose.

8.  Three rules for (British) forums concerning "harassment"

Having considered these issues of "harassment" and "cyberstalking", I end with a general consideration of a reasonable person and three rules, that I have formulated in the style of the Facebook rules I have meanwhile inspected.

My consideration of a reasonable person is that in law and in society there is and ought to be a system of graduated checks and balances, and indeed for internetforums there is something like it in principle:

Members of a Facebook wall or indeed any forum can complain to its moderators (or its directors or owners if its moderators don't answer) and ask them to adjust their pages or their users (so members C and E could ask moderators on a form to throw out the other; any third member X could ask to stop them from bickering or from posting); if these do not answer one can require the next level to do something, such as Facebook's moderators or owners or the providers of the forum; and only if all that doesn't and didn't work one could start thinking about lawyers and police, depending on the seriousness of what was said, that is, if one is a reasonable person to start with.

That is what I think a sane reasonable person would do, and here are my three new rules for Facebook and for internet-forums that have to work under British laws. I'll call them

The Goudsmit-Harassment-British-Forum-Moderation-Pacing-Rules:

x. You will not threaten other users with the Harassment Act on our pages.
y. You will take up conflicts about contents of posts that posters do not remove or do not change as you requested (privately) from the poster, or failing what you see as a satisfactory response, then with the moderators, the owners and the providers, in that order.
z. You will be banned if you threaten other users with the Harassment Act on our forum's public pages.

P.S. And there it stands for the moment, and corrections need to be brought in later. I wrote it mostly because others didn't and there seems to be some need for it.

P.P.S. It may be I have to stop Nederlog for a while. The reason is that I am physically not well at all. I don't know yet, but if there is no Nederlog, now you know the reason.


As to ME/CFS (that I prefer to call ME):

1. Anthony Komaroff

Ten discoveries about the biology of CFS (pdf)

3. Hillary Johnson

The Why

4. Consensus (many M.D.s) Canadian Consensus Government Report on ME (pdf)
5. Eleanor Stein

Clinical Guidelines for Psychiatrists (pdf)

6. William Clifford The Ethics of Belief
7. Paul Lutus

Is Psychology a Science?

8. Malcolm Hooper Magical Medicine (pdf)

Short descriptions:

1. Ten reasons why ME/CFS is a real disease by a professor of medicine of Harvard.
2. Long essay by a professor emeritus of medical chemistry about maltreatment of ME.
3. Explanation of what's happening around ME by an investigative journalist.
4. Report to Canadian Government on ME, by many medical experts.
5. Advice to psychiatrist by a psychiatrist who understands ME is an organic disease
6. English mathematical genius on one's responsibilities in the matter of one's beliefs:
   "it is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon
     insufficient evidence
7. A space- and computer-scientist takes a look at psychology.
8. Malcolm Hooper puts things together status 2010.

    "Ah me! alas, pain, pain ever, forever!

No change, no pause, no hope! Yet I endure.
I ask the Earth, have not the mountains felt?
I ask yon Heaven, the all-beholding Sun,
Has it not seen? The Sea, in storm or calm,
Heaven's ever-changing Shadow, spread below,
Have its deaf waves not heard my agony?
Ah me! alas, pain, pain ever, forever!
     - (Shelley, "Prometheus Unbound") 

    "It was from this time that I developed my way of judging the Chinese by dividing them into two kinds: one humane and one not. "
     - (Jung Chang)


See also: ME -Documentation and ME - Resources

P.P.S. ME - Resources needs is a Work In Progress that hasn't progressed today.

(*) Such as of my site: "Beware this site" with - at the very least - the strong suggestions it is written by somebody who lies, misrepresents, is not academically qualified to judge what Ms. Goudsmit believes she can judge, and who doesn't know what the world and specially Amsterdam is like at all.

Maarten Maartensz

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