I know I’m like a dog worrying a bone with this thing. Knowing when to stop has never been my forte.
So last week, I posted four entries about the Chase contest between Wednesday and Friday.
By Friday afternoon, I had another entry ready – Part V – that linked VoteFive.com directly to one of the schools in the contest.
I basically had my finger on the post button, having sent the draft to Chimp to look over, when he came into my dayroom and asked me to hold off on posting it. He wanted me to do consult with a lawyer – or at least do some reading – before publishing something so explosive.
At that point, it was close of business before the holiday weekend. I was frustrated with his caution, because I wanted to strike while the iron was hot and while I was still getting massive traffic. I knew that he was right, though. Who wants to get sued, really?
So I started reading about the pleasant topic of defamation law.
Because some of the religious figures involved would fit in the category of “limited-purpose public figures” under Pennsylvania defamation law, they’d have to show I was acting with actual malice (which is a legal definition, not merely disliking someone’s actions) in order to make any claim. Additionally, in defamation law, truth is a defense. And I certainly believe I’ve uncovered the truth here.
I decided many people would be away from the internet over the holiday weekend anyway, so I decided to sit on the post until Tuesday, because I still had some research I wanted to do. By Tuesday, I was well into a second phase of the research harvesting openly-available social networking information, and wanted to finish it before I published anything. I realized that publishing that post I’d written on Friday might impinge upon my ability to do further work, because things that I needed might be pulled from the web.
By Wednesday night (which was last night), I’d done some heavy lifting in Excel to finish my work (Excel was the majority of my working day before I became disabled, and I daresay I’m a bit of a whiz). I started with 5000 records, which, via a PivotTable of interrelations, yielded about 30 names to check out on facebook. A dozen of them proved to be important.
And at that point, I believed I’d identified the rabbi who’d organized the whole thing and also believed I knew with whom he’d worked to do it. I’d also been able to connect two more of the five schools to the effort, for three total.
But the more I knew, strangely, the less I wanted to post it. The bigger things got, and the more the number of people I saw were involved increased, the more I felt like I was seriously risking my neck. Chimp had suggested that I reach out to a reporter who covers charities and another who covers business and consumer affairs. So I’ve done just that, sending along my published entries and some of the additional work I’d done. The story would practically write itself.
I’m waiting to hear back. If there’s no interest in writing a story about it, will I publish the additional research? I’m not sure. I think I have an airtight case. But I know even an airtight case comes with a risk to me.
In the meantime, I’ve sent all the new evidence to Chase, and of course, heard nothing in return. Tomorrow, Chimp is going to send a packet via certified mail with all the stuff I’ve emailed to them.
I think, honestly, that part of the reason I’ve found myself unable to charge ahead with naming names is that I’ve spent a week getting to know these people through the internet. And while I deeply resent what they’ve done, it’s far more difficult to put their names in pixels than it is to be angry about the almost faceless injustice of the compensation offers.
I wish I thought that publishing what I know would result in less cheating in similar contests in the future. But I think that it’ll mostly just give those involved an object lesson in how to cheat less detectably.