Who is behind three sock puppet accounts attacking a #MeToo reporter? Is it the plaintiff in a lawsuit against him?

(One of three sock puppet Twitter accounts attacking a #MeToo reporter)

In November, a pseudonymous account called "Not M. Balter being sued for his #MeToo reporting" sprung up on Twitter and began commenting, falsely it must be said, about my reporting on bullying, sexual harassment, and other abuses in academia, especially in anthropology and archaeology. My reporting has long been controversial; and since last June, I have been the defendant in a lawsuit filed by Danielle Kurin, an archaeologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara. At the time I did not connect this "sock puppet" account directly to Kurin, as there were a number of people taking issue with my reporting at that time.

But right around Christmas 2020, two other sock puppet accounts appeared. One, called "factcheckingbalter" (see above), first posted on December 21, as far as I can tell. The other, called "NotMBalter," first posted on December 27.

I believe, based on the available evidence, that at least one of these accounts, and possibly all three, are associated with Kurin, and may even be Kurin herself. Here is the evidence I am relying on for my conclusions.

1. On December 2, Kurin sent a subpoena to the National Association of Science Writers (NASW), a professional organization which I have been a member of since 1986, demanding all records concerning my membership in the organization, and any "complaint" or "investigation" concerning me. At the time I was not aware of any such complaint, but it is now clear why. The NASW's bylaws require that any ethics or misconduct complaints be first investigated by an ad hoc committee appointed by its board, and only if there is a case to answer is the accused informed of the complaint--at least under normal circumstances. These bylaws were formulated in 2019, and I supported and voted for them.

2. On December 8, 2020, Kurin served an amended set of "initial disclosures" in our litigation--a required document in which each side in a lawsuit tells the other side what evidence it might rely on in the case. In that document, Kurin made reference to a "complaint" about me to the NASW. This was the first I had heard about this complaint, which is not entirely surprising, as our bylaws require that such complaints be kept confidential if at all possible until an ad hoc committee decides if the accused member has a case to answer for. The disclosure names three members of NASW who it says had knowledge of the complaint: Kate Clancy, an anthropologist at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, a well-known #MeToo advocate; Bethany Brookshire, a science journalist who writes for Science News for Students; and Siri Carpenter, former president of NASW.

3. On December 18, 2020, NASW's counsel responded to the subpoena, refusing to supply any of the documents requested. Although Kurin could have gone into court and asked the judge in the case to compel NASW to produce the documents, they instead withdrew the subpoena on or about December 22.

4. On December 20, 2020, the sock puppet "Not M. Balter being sued for his #MeToo reporting" posted the full NASW ethics complaint online. At that time, the pdf included a link to all of the testimony and supporting materials for the complaint; sometime later, access to that became restricted. On the following day, the sock puppet "Factcheckingbalter" posted the same link to the complaint.

5. On December 21, both of the sock puppet accounts mentioned above posted a screenshot of a document that we had given Kurin during legal discovery in the case, and which only Kurin and her legal team had access to, other than me and my attorneys (no one had ever seen that document, a list of my publications, before we produced it to the plaintiff in the lawsuit, as it was strictly for my personal use.) At first, Kurin insisted to us that this document could be found on the internet by a simple Google search. This turned out to be false, and Kurin was forced to admit to us that she had supposedly given the document in question to two members of her department at UC Santa Barbara.

6. I have continued to state my belief that Kurin is associated with one or more of these sock puppets, and that she or someone closely associated with her is behind them. Kurin denies any involvement or association with the sock puppets, and she now has threatened me with further defamation claims for these statements based on information and belief.

7. At this time, the four complainants in the NASW ethics complaint are all listed as potential witnesses in the lawsuit, along with Brookshire, who organized the preparation of the complaint and interviewed the witnesses. One of those four complainants is Kate Clancy, with whom I have had a three-year long dispute over the methodology of my #MeToo reporting. Another is Akshay Sarathi, formerly a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, where I first knew him, and currently a visiting professor at Indiana University in Bloomington.

8. On December 27, Sarathi signed a declaration in support of Kurin's lawsuit, making a number of false statements concerning me, similar to the false statements he had made in the NASW complaint. The very next day, that declaration was put online by one of the sock puppets.

9. On January 14, Kurin informed us that Kate Clancy had been cooperating with Kurin and her team, but that she no longer was because I was allegedly intimidating her (false.) At the same time, Kurin's attorney informed us that he was now representing Akshay Sarathi.

Taken together, the facts above strongly suggest that one or more of the NASW complainants made the complaint available to Kurin's camp, and that this document was posted by the sock puppets just a few days after NASW refused to supply it on their own to Kurin. And while we do not know how long Clancy had been cooperating with the Kurin camp, it is a logical supposition that this began right around the time that the NASW complaint was filed. Add all this to the incontrovertible fact that two of the sock puppets posted a document that only Kurin possessed within a day at most of posting the NASW complaint, and it is completely reasonable for me to suspect that Kurin is involved in providing information to one or more of the sock puppets.

I have briefly discussed elsewhere my ideas about why a small but active group of anthropologists has tried to block my #MeToo reporting, and I will expand on those ideas in a later post. Let's just say for now that during the five years that I have been reporting on abuses in anthropology and archaeology, I have won the loyalty and respect of a lot of survivors, whom I have tried to help tell their stories; I have also earned the enmity of some in the field who think that such reporting is too disruptive. I believe that the purpose of these sock puppet accounts is not only to harass me, but perhaps even more importantly, to intimidate witnesses who might otherwise come forward to testify in the case or to help me with my reporting.

Last week, the sock puppet factcheckingbalter posted the same Tweet 86 times, claiming to be a rape victim I had allegedly wronged, and tagging in many of my friends, journalists, academics, advocates, and others who follow me on Twitter. This wholesale harassment of a reporter who is just doing his job must cease, and it will.

But the reporting will go on, and I will not be intimidated.

Post a Comment


Anonymous said…
“This turned out to be false, and Kurin was forced to admit to us that she had supposedly given the document in question to two members of her department at UC Santa Barbara.”

I wonder why she’d drag her department members into this unless, of course, inciting the NASW complaint was also motivated by her never-ending tenure application.
Anonymous said…

“On January 14, Kurin informed us that Kate Clancy had been cooperating with Kurin and her team, but that she no longer was because I was allegedly intimidating her (false.) At the same time, Kurin's attorney informed us that he was now representing Akshay Sarathi.”
Well, I'm pleased that Clancy took some time to evaluate the evidence carefully and rightfully decided not to align herself with a known bully and enabler. Clancy is aware of how harassment reporting works in the real world in terms of survivors reaching directly to reporters, and for all their differences even she didn't blame Balter for making up those abundant testimonies. This is what Kurin was hoping would happen, but I guess it didn’t work.
As for Akshay Sarathi, I don’t know him but am expecting now that those who do will talk some sense into him. Dragging other ECRs into this lawsuit is the most vile act that the devil’s advocate had done so far. As an attorney he doesn’t know better, but Kurin should. I am hopeful that at the very least Sarathi will soon reach the same realization that Clancy did, that the enemy of his enemy is definitely NOT his friend.
Anonymous said…
It’s a real shame that some scholars will exploit #MeToo to further their egotistical agendas while all the while regard survivors as merely fodder for their publications. Seems to be a pattern for this particular colleague, with negative evaluations gradually increasing over the years:

“Failure to separate her ideology from the class content.”

“She cares nothing about the student and only enjoys talking about herself. No sympathy when emergencies occur. Please fire her and avoid her at all costs.”

“She literally should be fired from this university for her unwillingness to discuss things with her students. She acts like it's a burden for her to teach you and you should bow down tot her greatness.”

“The professor talks down to you and sends a lot of negative emails/feedback.”

“Clancy has a ridiculously condescending demeanor.”

Anonymous said…
Good news: the Kurin-supporter account https://twitter.com/factcheckingba1 has been now suspended for violating Twitter Rules. Thanks Jack!
Anonymous said…

The reaction I witness unfolding on Twitter in the wake of Kate Clancy’s declaration letter epitomize the hypocrisy of it all. All her sympathizers and well-wishers focus their attack on the “white male” reporter, while completely ignoring the vile act that started it all. In Clancy’s own words:

“It was explained to me by Dr. Kurin’s attorney they wanted my testimony to refute defenses
raised by Mr. Balter. I was not asked, nor would I have agreed to provide testimony related to
Dr. Kurin’s actions or conduct. I have never publicly or privately expressed support for her, or
for her defamation lawsuit against Mr. Balter. Based on what I do know of Dr. Kurin’s actions, I
would consider her possibly both a victim and a perpetrator of harm.
On December 8, 2020, unbeknownst to me, my name was included on Dr. Kurin’s First
Amended Rule 26(A)(1) Initial Disclosures, provided to Mr. Balter and his counsel. I did not
know my name would be disclosed as a potential witness, nor had I agreed at that point to do so.”

The fact that not a single person in Clancy’s self-righteous community would even comment on how wrong it is to add one’s name to legal documents without their consent (and whether it is true or not that she didn't know, they clearly believe this is the case), shows once again that these people do not care to attack the perpetrators and their attorneys but rather the messengers and the represented victims/survivors. Clancy herself is fanning the flames by, once again, centering the discussion on Balter. This is precisely why we end up reaching out to investigative journalists, and not to misguided academics who just talk and tweet but do nothing.

By the way, I am posting this here and not directly on Twitter because: 1) I have seen how this same academic mob can bully and shame those victims/survivors who sought (and received) help from Balter, and 2) I do not wish to add another sock puppet account to the mix.

Anonymous said…

“I have never publicly or privately expressed support for her, or for her defamation lawsuit against Mr. Balter. Based on what I do know of Dr. Kurin’s actions, I would consider her possibly both a victim and a perpetrator of harm.”

These are contradictory statements. If Clancy considers Kurin as possibly a victim of harm based on what she knows of her actions, then she has just publically expressed support for her.
Not coincidentally, the only few other academics who I know publically supported Kurin are those same ones who consider themselves victims of Balter.
Anonymous said…

You just got to love a good confirmation bias:

“Dr. Kate Clancy
In December I was listed as a potential witness in a lawsuit filed against Balter. This week I sent a Declaration to plaintiff and Balter’s attorneys asking Balter to stop intimidating, threatening and harassing me.
11:15 AM · Feb 5, 2021·Twitter Web App”

Or in other words:
In December Kurin and her attorney listed her as a potential witness in their lawsuit against Balter, without her knowledge and against her wishes (according to her). As a response, a month later she sent a declaration asking Balter to stop intimidating, threatening and harassing her.

Anyone with basic scientific training will see the screaming deductive fallacy. Sadly, all the PhDs who responded to that tweet did not.
Michael Balter said…
The previous commenter raises some interesting issues.

The NASW “ethics complaint” was filed on Sept 30, 2020. From social media posts, I believe that Clancy, while she is technically correct in saying that she was not one of the “complainants,” helped to instigate the complaint and enlisted NASW member and science writer Bethany Brookshire in that effort. Bethany did most of the interviews with the four anthropologists whose “testimony” were the heart of the complaint.

Clancy says in her declaration that Kurin’s attorneys approached her last fall. She is conveniently vague about when exactly she was approached. We became aware both of her involvement and the existence of the NASW complaint at the same time, Dec 8, when Kurin’s attorneys disclosed that to us. In her declaration, Clancy makes clear that she was considering being a witness for Kurin, although she states that she was leaning against it at the time her involvement was exposed by Kurin’s attorneys (who told us that she had been “cooperating” with them.

In other words, instead of hanging up the phone when the attorneys called (or rejecting their emails), it appears that for some extended period of time—one month, two months, more?—Clancy was talking to Kurin’s attorneys and considering being a witness for them.

Clancy was well aware of the allegations concerning Kurin and the evidence for them, as is nearly everyone in anthropology and archaeology at this late stage. No matter what Clancy thinks of me, there is no question that Kurin is an abuser and an enabler of abuse (we have gathered much more evidence for that since the lawsuit was filed.) So, to put it bluntly, what is Clancy doing considering being a witness, and engaging in continuing discussions, with the legal team for such an abuser? Where were the survivors in her mind, or was she thinking about them at all?

Clancy is now accusing me of “witness intimidation” and “harassment.” Her lawyer says that I am trying to “dissuade” her from being a witness. Is she still a potential witness, or not? Why does she need dissuading, given how many survivors Kurin has helped to create over the past decade or more?

No matter what Clancy thinks of me or my reporting methods, she should not be helping someone who has been formally found to have committed abuses by her own institution, and who was kicked out of the largest field school network because her then husband sexually assaulted a student.

To go back to the “harassment” issues: Clancy has been publicly trying to stop my #MeToo reporting for more than three years. She was intimately involved in an attempt to throw me out of my professional organization, and she was “cooperating” with the Kurin camp for some extended period of time. She has done important work, and many good things, but she has done a lot of shitty things too, in my personal opinion. She continues to advocate for survivors, but not those of Danielle Kurin or any other survivors of the abusers I have exposed (with one possible exception.) She acts as an internet troll and either leads or instigates Twitter mobs often. I will have a lot more to say about all this soon.