(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.