Saturday, December 24, 2011

An Open Letter to Mark Yudof

I missed a telephone call two days ago. Which isn't so weird really; I'm not a huge fan of telephones anyway, and have a pretty hard time imagining that anyone could really need to talk to me. Plus, the number was one I didn't already have in my phone, so even if I had seen it at the time, I probably would have decided to let it go through to voicemail, on the assumption that it wasn't likely to be anything of interest to me.

The caller didn't leave a voicemail, but he did try again, this time with my mom's home phone. He got in touch with my mom, and talked to her about me.

I tried to call him back yesterday morning, but no one picked up. I still haven't talked to this caller - I'll leave his name out of this for now, so we can just call him Detective - but my mom told me the night before last what it was that he had to say, and my little brother (who overheard my mom's side of the conversation) corroborated most of it.

The Detective called from the University of California, San Francisco. His call was to inform me, I suppose, that some things I had been saying online recently - referring, I presume, to the hashtag #RIPMarkYudof - was bordering on infringing a (new?) law against cyberbullying. I was also informed that he told my mom that they (the UCPD, I'm presuming) have a file on me "over an inch thick," that isn't even complete yet, dating back a few years.

See, in September of 2009 I started to troll @mark_yudof, making up a story about how we had been college frat drinking buddies. I continued to be mildly dickish towards the account until January of 2010, when I sent a series of (very obviously) fake retweets. Yudof's account successfully had me banned from twitter over those retweets, but only temporarily; I lobbied Twitter support to reinstate my account, and they did, after about two weeks. I posted a transcript of the emails I sent & received from Twitter Support here.

The only communication I got from @mark_yudof before the ban was in the form of a single Direct Message, which I happened to screenshot before the ban took. It was in response to one of the fake retweets I had made; you can see, in the pictures below, the relevant fake retweet (outlined in red) & the Direct Message. Both are lyrics from the Flobots song Handlebars.

A friend elicited an email out of the General Counsel at the time, which is also reproduced below; it contains the gem "Impersonation should not be confused with satire" and confirms that the complaint that was lodged against my account had to do with the falsified retweets.

After I got my account back, the @mark_yudof account fairly quickly blocked my twitter account. I continued to say some rude things, occasionally, but not really all that many, and towards a different end, mostly annoyed responses to things that were tweeted.

On December 15, following two successful (at making into Trending Topics, at least) fake-#RIP hashtags, one for Ron Paul and the other for Scott Baio, I decided to throw Mark Yudof's name into the running and, well, run with it.

Using Yudof's name - as opposed to his twitter handle - was strange to me, as I had tried to make it a point (without ever quite saying it) in the past to focus my energies on the UCOP's unequivocally public organs. What a #RIP hashtag would be doing, however, would be announcing (publicly, of course) the passing of a public individual's private self. Theoretically, at least.

See, the #RIPMarkYudof hashtag was split between wildly fantastical reports of how he passed, and criticisms of his policies. It was also very small, created as it was by me, through a mixture of my own lack of influence on these things, mixed with the already limited appeal of faking the death of a UC administrator who I've already babbled about extensively in the past. Which is to say, that the hashtag sort of skipped the announcing part of that equation. We convinced maybe ten people, if I'm being generous, for an average of maybe thirty seconds per. Even Seth Yudof, Mark's son, and the only person who saw our hashtag that could have been truly concerned about it (to my knowledge), laughed it off immediately. The incestuousness of the hashtag took a particularly neat visual form in the graphic below.

All of which seems, to me, to indicate that the jokes we were making were still firmly aimed at his public self.

I mention this because of how I understand the call between Detective and my mom went. I'm not entirely sure how much of it was her inference, or her worried exaggeration, and I imagine that the words weren't used by the Detective himself, but my mom was very worried that this file that the UCPD has on me was being organized to keep track of death threats, on the possibility that I turned out to be some attempted assassin, or, you know, a fucking terrorist.

The thing was, though, that when my mom was through telling me about the contents of this telephone call, I asked her if the Detective had at any point asked her if I would call him back. She said that he had left a phone number, but it is my impression that he didn't seem to think it particularly pressing that I personally talk to him.

So, on my end, what seems to have happened is this: a UCPD Detective, after expending the absolute minimal energy to contact me, opted to have instead a conversation with my mom where he (willfully or not) lead her to believe that I was being placed on some sort of terrorist watch list over potential death threats I may or may not have made, and that the police department had been collecting documents and were considering pursuing litigation against me.

Now, I'm not very well versed in the legal definition of cyberbullying. I'm not sure which law the Detective was referring to - though, as I imagine he knew it would, the Stop Online Piracy Act immediately springs to mind, though I am not familiar with its contents. What this does feel like, from my perspective, though, is getting bullied.

Which brings me to the letter part of this open letter.

I imagine that you, Yudof, are, at most, only very peripherally aware of all of this stuff. I think it's fairly obvious that you have little, if anything, to do with your twitter account, and are certainly not undergoing any personal stress because some kid who helped fund your construction projects has since said some rude things on the Internet about you. Or, more accurately, about your PR wing. I would be hugely surprised to learn that you, personally, had ever even heard my name.

But, on the off chance that you have, and given that I have the attention of at least someone in your administration, let me try to make one thing clear.

Mr. Yudof, I do not give a fuck about you.

This is the first, and, I presume likely, last time I will address you personally. I feel it is fairly safe to assume that neither of us is particularly interested in a dialogue with the other, or anything beyond that. You've made it abundantly clear that you are utterly indifferent to the concerns of students, except for insofar as they coincide with your efforts to privatize the University that you preside over. And as for me, I'm not at all of the opinion that your person is all that important, in the scheme of things. You are, for my purposes, a convenient metonym, a useful figure to represent the constellation of social forces that I would very much like to see replaced. Who you are as an individual, the things you say, I take only as symptomatic of those social forces.

I hope you understand, then, how utterly fucking baseless the claim, perhaps only inferred by my mom, in the Detective's telephone call, that I could ever have made a threat on your life is. I am not interested in your life, and I am certainly not desirous of your death. I desire only the death of the neoliberalism that your office has facilitated; I am interested only in the life of public education.

That your name may continue to figure as a character in my impotent polemics is pretty likely, of course. But rest assured that I am not talking about you; I am talking about the node that you represent in an institution, and about the pressures that that node exerts on the whole to mobilize it in a certain direction. I am talking about the way in which an individual dissolves their individuality in their work, and the ways that certain institutional roles will utilize that dissolved individuality regardless of how it looked beforehand.

And the fact that you bear an uncanny resemblance to an infant, that is immaterial. Except that it does make the whole endeavor quite a bit more fun.


P.S. But hey, you know, if you want to pay some dude almost a hundred grand a year to keep reading my tweets, be my guest. It's almost like I'm one of those fabled job creators!