On a much more pleasant note: This Wednesday (June 5) at 7:30 p.m., I'll be participating in a really cool event that involves books and Jews -- two groups with whom I have long been associated.
Jewish hipster Kevin Smokler, editor of Bookmark Now: Writing in Unreaderly Times, has organized a quarterly gathering at the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco. The events are called "Lit Shtick," and here's how Kevin blurbs them:
What turns a discussion of a favorite Jewish book into entertainment that even non-readers will enjoy? Find out at Lit Shtick, featuring host Kevin Smokler, a celebrity guest and many other intriguing San Franciscans you'll want to meet. Lit Shtick is definitely not your ordinary book club!
Lit Shtick started off with a bang: their first guest, a few months ago, was "Lemony Snicket" author (and former JK Show interviewee) Daniel Handler. But evidently they were unable to secure any actual celebrities for this second session, so they invited me. The book I suggested we discuss is Henry Roth's 1930s immigrant novel Call It Sleep, a coming-of-age narrative written with astonishing insight and beauty.
And just as the ads in my hometown of New York used to proclaim that "You Don't Have To Be Jewish To Love Levy's" (Jewish rye bread), you don't have to have read the book to attend this event, for which admission is free. But you do have to reserve in advance. You can call the JCCSF box office at 415-292-1233 or send an email to email@example.com.
June 5th, 2006
On Friday morning I was on my way to the gym, planning to further hone my Abs of Steel, when I received a call from Michael Isip, head of programming of KQED (in other words, my boss). Michael told me that someone had been flooding station management with emails saying that "Josh Kornbluth" had a "profile" on the website MySpace.com, and that this "profile" contained horrible, pornographic materials. The email concluded: "Your company needs to let him go. I would never want such a foul human being associated with my network."
So much for my workout! I hurried back home and went online. I'd heard about MySpace.com -- apparently there are tons of people who use it -- but had never been to their site before. Now I went there and typed my name into their search box -- all that came up was a list containing stuff like this blog and my little homepage. No filth to be found. For a moment I allowed myself some sense of relief: perhaps, at least, there was no phony "profile" of "me"!
But then Michael emailed me a link to the fake "profile" -- and there it was: a web page filled with publicity photos of me (presumably pulled off the Internet) and semi-literate invitations to "watch my show !!!!" -- along with disgusting, pornographic materials.
What to do?
I searched through the MySpace homepage and clicked on a link called "Contact MySpace." That brought me to another page, with a pull-down menu of possible questions that users might have. Along the side of the page was a list of the "Top 6 Questions" that MySpace receives. I clicked on Number 6: "How do I report Identity theft, Underage User, Cyberbullying, or Copyright Violation to MySpace?"
This, in turn, brought me to a page containing the following Q & A:
Q. Someone is pretending to be me - what do I do?
A. In order to verify your identity, please send us a "salute". This means we will need an image of yourself holding a handwritten sign with the word "MySpace.com" and your Friend ID (your Friend ID number appears immediately after "friendID=" in the web address/URL when viewing your profile). We can then remove the profile that uses your identity without your permission.
Please be sure to include the web address/URL to the profile in question when you send your salute.
If you do not have a profile on MySpace please write in the email address that you are emailing us from instead of your Friend ID.
If the profile is an extremely obvious attempt to be cruel/false, you may not need to send a salute. Sending a salute will definately help expediate things, though! If you are a teacher/faculty member at a school, please click on this link.
You can contact us here.
Well, I'm not a teacher, so I "definately" couldn't "expediate" things -- but I did hope, at least, to definitely expedite things. So, as instructed, I made a handwritten sign, held it in front of me and -- after some awkward maneuvering -- managed to snap a picture that contained both my enormous shiny head and the sign. Then I looked for instructions on how to send a "salute." I couldn't find any! (I'm guessing that "salutes" are things that MySpace members can do to each other, but I'm not a member.)
So, not knowing what else to do, I sent an urgent email to MySpace "Customer Care," requesting that they immediately delete the phony "profile" of "me" and, if possible, track down and prosecute whoever had created it.
An hour went by and I heard nothing back from MySpace. I searched through the MySpace website for a phone number to call, but I couldn't find any. Fortunately, I have friends who are much smarter than me, and one of them found this phone number for MySpace: (310) 917-4920. I dialed the number, and was spoken to by a computer that offered me a menu of possibilities. The one that seemed most potentially helpful was "Customer Care," extension 7. I hit "7" -- and got a recording telling me that "at this time" MySpace.com doesn't have any customer care that's accessible by phone, and that I should send MySpace an email instead. I called back and tried extension 8 -- for "Legal" -- and got a recording telling me that if I was calling about (among other issues) identity theft, I should send MySpace an email.
I thought, There must be someone -- some actual living person -- at the offices of MySpace! As a longtime user of telephones, my experience hinted at trying extension "0" (zero), to reach the operator or receptionist. So I hit zero -- and got a voicemail message telling me that "Hannah" wasn't at her desk, but could I leave a message? I left "Hannah" a message explaining my situation and begging for prompt assistance.
Time went by. Still no call or email from MySpace. The phony "profile" was still up.
Meanwhile, one of my smart friends found this Q & A on the MySpace website:
Q. I'm a journalist and I want to talk to someone at MySpace. Who can I contact?
A. Thank you for your MySpace media inquiry. We want to do our best to meet any pressing deadlines you may have. Please dial the MySpace media line at (800) 905-9324 in order to leave your full contact information, brief story overview and deadline. Again, thank you for your inquiry and we'll speak to you soon. Any non-media inquiries will not receive a response.
Hmm ... Now, I don't know if you could say I was a "journalist," technically -- but I do work in the media. So I called the MySpace "media line" and left a voicemail message with my story idea: A guy finds out that someone is impersonating him on MySpace. This person has created a phony "profile" of this guy, a web page containing filthy, disgusting material. Furthermore, someone has sent an email to lots of people at this innocent guy's company, saying that -- based on this "profile" -- this guy should be fired. And this guy has been unable to reach anyone at MySpace to take care of the problem.
I thought that was a pretty interesting story idea -- it's certainly a story that would interest me -- so I felt hopeful that someone from MySpace would get back to me about it.
In the meantime, my frustration growing, I tried the MySpace phone number again. Perhaps someone would answer at some other extension? I tried "Accounts Receivable" (I'm not even sure what "Accounts Receivable" means!), and ... someone answered! Ascertaining that this was, in fact, a person who worked at MySpace, I began telling him about my urgent and upsetting problem, and asked him please to put me through to someone who could help me. In a tone of great irritation, he told me that I had dialed the wrong extension -- that I should call "Customer Care" instead. I tried explaining to him that there was no "Customer Care." He started yelling at me. I asked him to tell me his name. He shouted, "My name is irrelevant!" and hung up.
Well, that wasn't so helpful.
Just for the heck of it -- and since I didn't know what else I could do -- I tried reaching "Hannah" a few more times. And finally, instead of getting her voicemail message, an actual, live human being answered the phone. I could hardly believe it!
I asked her who she was. The receptionist, she said. At MySpace? I asked -- I wanted to be absolutely certain. Yes, she said. What was her name? I asked. "Lily," she said. (I didn't ask for the spelling -- so if you're reading this, and you're that receptionist, and your name is spelled, like, "Lilly," please accept my apologies.) I quickly explained what my problem was. Lily said she'd put me right through. The phone then rang a few times and it sounded like someone picked up and then -- immediately -- hung up! Without saying a word!
I tried calling back the receptionist's extension several more times -- and after getting a bunch more recordings from "Hannah" saying to leave her a message, Lily picked up again. I explained to her that the extension she'd sent me to had simply hung up on me. She said she'd try again. I thanked her, and also asked, for my future reference, if she could give me the number of the extension she was putting me through to. She told me she was putting me through to "Customer Support" at extension 158. I told her that, in my limited experience, "Customer Support" wasn't very supportive. Nonetheless, she transferred me. The phone rang and rang. And rang. And rang. While I still waited for them to answer on my landline phone, I picked up my cellphone and tried extension 158: it was answered by a recording, informing me that the mailbox was full and I should call "0" for the receptionist!
I hung up both phones, checked my email again for any response from MySpace -- there was none -- and tried to think of who might be able to help. And then it hit me: Of course -- Jack Palladino! I had interviewed this famed private investigator on one of my shows! He'd defended whistleblower Jeffrey Wigand from vicious smears by Big Tobacco (as memorialized in the film The Insider), among many other high-profile cases. So I called Palladino's office -- and he called me back from Europe, where he was vacationing, with the incredibly welcome news that yes, he would help me. (He returns from Europe tomorrow, I think.) He also told me that apparently there's a huge problem with cyber-predators stalking the young people who use MySpace -- and that MySpace had recently hired a security expert to try to deal with the problem.
Later in the afternoon, I got a call from [name removed on 12-18-06, as that person no longer works with MySpace; further references to him, which I've also deleted, are in brackets]. He told me that he handles publicity for MySpace. I explained my situation. He expressed concern, and said that he would contact someone at MySpace and ask them to take down the phony "profile" of "me." I begged him to do this right away. He said he'd try. I asked [him] if MySpace could set up some mechanisms so that this would not happen to me -- or anyone else -- again. He said he didn't think MySpace could do that. I told him that it was very important for MySpace to warn children -- and their guardians -- about the dangers of predators on his website; he told me that the company had, indeed, hired a new "chief security officer" and that they were aware of these problems. He then said that he had a meeting he was late for and had to go.
By the end of the day, I did receive two emails from MySpace "Customer Care." The first -- from a writer identified only by the number "1010" -- told me that before they could take down the false "profile" of "me," I had to send them a "salute" with my photograph, etc. The second -- from "1023" -- said: "Hello, The account in question has already been deleted."
I checked. The fake "profile" was, indeed, down.
That was Friday night.
On Saturday afternoon, Michael Isip called me again. There was now another "profile" on MySpace, again purporting to be me and again containing disgusting materials. And a whole bunch of my colleagues at KQED had received two additional emails, purportedly from two new people, expressing chagrin that KQED would be harboring such a nefarious person as myself on its payroll.
I immediately wrote an email to [the guy whose name I deleted above] and Customer Care at MySpace. That was Saturday afternoon. It is now Monday afternoon, and I have not received any response. ...
I went back and forth in my mind about whether to write to you about this ongoing experience. It's creepy, and disgusting, and frustrating, and scary -- none of which are emotions that I generally wish to evoke in others (or myself).
But some horrible things are happening on MySpace. And based on my experience, MySpace -- to put it mildly -- does not seem responsive (or even available) to those who express concern. I think people should know about that.
If you're a journalist, and you might want to cover this story, you can call the MySpace media line at (800) 905-9324. [This item also used to list the contact info for the guy whose name I deleted earlier, but of course I've now deleted that as well, as it is no longer relevant or helpful.]
If you're Rupert Murdoch, I hope you know what you've bought into.
June 5th, 2006