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Of blogging, the internet, and anonymity

Danton Remoto
Remote Control
www.abs-cbn.com

Of blogging, the internet, and anonymity


The blog of Brian Gorrell has had 2 million hits, has been written about in the papers and featured on Channel 2, and discussed in radio shows, reunions, e-groups, chatlines and, yes, other blogs.

Since I teach Introduction to Fiction to freshmen students at the Ateneo, when we study character I tell them to look at the motivation. Brian’s motivation here is both a paraphrase and an allusion to a line from Shakespeare: ”Hell hath no fury like a woman [in this case, gay man] scorned.”

Allegedly, Brian, who ran a flower farm in Australia, took a visit to Boracay and, like all of us, fell in love with the island paradise. There, he met a group of high-powered, social butterflies with mega-media visibility. Brian from the boonies was amazed, perhaps titillated, even proud, to have fallen into such a fabulous group.

And he also fell in love with one of them, a guy who, if you believe the blog and the comments it has spawned, used to run a restaurant in Malate that failed, among other unlucky enterprises. But he always survived such financial disasters, simply because it wasn’t his money that funded them.

So the besotted Brian returned to Australia, sold his farm for A $100,000 – and remitted a total of A $70,000 to our Filipino gigolo. They were supposed to fund two businesses – a restaurant and a travel agency – a nest egg for two people who love each other. Brian claims he has the receipts from Western Union to prove his case. But when the Filipino gigolo dumped him and could show no proof of neither a restaurant going or a travel agency booking tickets, Brian began to blog.

The effect was electric. One of my best friends told me about it three weeks ago, telling me to read it before it was shut down.

And so I did. And thus, I need to make a full disclosure, for the sake of journalistic ethics, before I go on. All of the people involved write for the same newspaper as I do, the Philippine Star, but I had only met two of them in a newspaper party. And this opinion piece is neither a beef for – or against them. The other disclosure is that Tim Yap, who invented the word ”eventologist” and was roundly bitched at in some of the unmoderated comments, donated a painting for the Ang Ladlad auction held at the National Museum in October of 2006. Unfortunately, the painting was not sold and after the May 2007 elections, Ang Ladlad chose to donate it to our Secretary, a transgender who is moving to – what a coincidence! – Australia with her boyfriend, to start a new life.

The disclosures having been made, where do we go from here?

When Brian began to blog, he only wanted his A $70,000 returned, to pay for the astronomical costs of his medication for infections arising from HIV-AIDS. He did not know that the blog would take a life – or lives – of its own. The comments are unmoderated, and I read Brian’s entries and the comments for two hours. And then I had to stop. My migraine began to throb, coming from a vein in my left temple. I felt that the unmoderated comments had descended to unmitigated bashing. One guy’s sexual organ was compared to a needle [but not in the haystack]; the other woman’s body – a scion of a former Marcos crony – was ”bigger than a van.” Being just friends of the Filipino Gigolo and having had no direct bearing on the case at hand, I felt the unmoderated comments were way off the line.

And yes, they were anonymous.

I began to wonder what is it about the Internet – and its anonymity – that releases the bestial, the bitter, and the bad in some of us. Four years ago, I helped edit a gay men’s magazine. I charged them half the rate because they promised to include serious gay issues in the magazine. But I had to resign after closing one issue. One of the models complained to me that he was being harassed by an administrator. And when I saw the photos, I nearly fainted. I was talking to my lawyer on the phone every day. He cautioned me that one definition of porn is showing pubic hair, since pubic hair is part of the genitals. So my design director and I had to erase and clean all the hair, cut all the photos from the hip bone down. And then I left.

After I left, the bashing against me started in the gay yahoo groups. Somebody impersonated me, but was found out quickly because, to quote one of my defenders, ”the guy mixed his past tense, his presente tense, and his future tense in one sentence, and Danton does not do that.” Another again impersonated me and sent an appeal for hairy men, who are supposed to be my weaknesses. A Filipino director who was scandalized had to call me up to ask if that was me.

And before the May 2007 elections, one of my friends in the administration party called me up to ask if I was, indeed, that naked guy in the Internet? It turned out that somebody had been spreading my picture in cyberspace. My laughter must have sounded like that of a mad hyena because he added quickly, ”Oh, I was sure it wasn’t you. His body was just too hunky.”

And recently, in another gay site, one guy wrote in Bicolano that ”In the Heart of Summer,” my short story that won third prize int he Philippine Free Press and posted in the site was plagiarized. Another anonymous entry said I was ”delusional” and ”a glamorous mendicant” because I want to run for public office even if I had no money. I like the delusional and the glamorous mendicant, because we all know that even Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama had to raise funds for their campaigns, But I was cross with the accusation of plagiarism.

I called up my lawyer, who advised me to get the anonymous’ guy’s IP number. The site owner gave it to me. My lawyer wanted to investigate, track down the guy’s real name and address, and file a case. With the cold logic and knife-keen sharpness of a pilot on a carpet-bombing mission, he told me what we would do.

But I had to stop. First, the site owner is in the closet and would be dragged into the case. Second, like UP summa cum laude and Bb, Pilipinas Universe Anna Theresa Licaros who was blasted for competing in the Miss Universe and thinking it was a Quiz Bee, won’t I infringe, somehow, in another person’s right to free expression?

It’s a slippery slope, a dangerous divide. In my heart of hearts, I do hope that, if the blog entries are true, Brian would get back his A $70,000. Having an incurable disease is painful enough to go through. He does not need the deeper pain of a heartbreak, and a betrayal.

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