Largest Atheist Group in the Country Destroyed…

… by hackers.

Bryan Pesta ran a popular atheist/agnostic group on MySpace. At last count, it was over 31,000 members strong.

Technically, that made it the largest organized group of atheists/agnostics in the country.

However, that group no longer exists.

Recently, hackers broke into the group profile and essentially killed it.

They renamed it “jesus is love.”

Jesusislove

The 3000 “friends” of the group are gone.

The regular posters on the group’s message board have been banned.

Many discussion threads were deleted.

I can’t even access the renamed group.

Bryan is working on getting his group back, but things aren’t looking bright.

He told me he was having difficult getting customer service at MySpace to listen to him.


[tags]atheist, atheism[/tags]

  • FGL / Bryan

    Hemant– thanks much for blogging this. I’ve invested lots of time in the group (independent of whether it truly is the largest). I think we’ve done some good for humanism, and I hate to see some punk hacker ruin all this in one day:(

    Here’s to hoping that blog publicity might get myspace to react.

    Thanks sincerely.

    Bryan

  • evelynn

    I heart A&A. Good luck FGL.

  • Richard Wade

    Anything specific we can do to help?

  • Brad Anthony

    I myself am a Christian, but don’t believe that was right. I personally respect any intellectual property of anyone, even if I disagree with it. I’d like to issue an apology on behalf of the jerk who did this. That’s just not cool.

  • Sporky

    The group was where I went to relax ad have fun on the internet. theres a sort of backdoor in but I got banned so i cant post anyway. Everyone lobby to Myspace!!!

  • Agony In Death;}

    When I last checked the member count before I got banned and the group was shut down was 34,610. It was a little higher, but people were either leaving because of what they saw was happening or because they got banned.

  • Angry Atheist

    Despicable. And completely unsurprising. If it isn’t ranting at someone saying a prayer that isn’t to their invisible man in the sky, it’s disrupting campus atheist meetings with yelling and screaming about how “you’re going to hell!” Now this.

    I know, I know, it’s just a few bad apples. That’s all it ever is, isn’t it? A few bad apples from a 90% majority of the country makes for a lot of obnoxious little pissants.

    This is the kind of thing that just makes me sick and positively angry at these detestable pricks. Remind me – who’s oppressing who?

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    That’s really shitty. I hope they catch the bastards. :(

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  • Plato

    What can you expect from people who call the demiurge God?

  • stogoe

    This is bullshit, and it sucks. But I have no trouble at all believing this:

    He told me he was having difficult getting customer service at MySpace to listen to him.

    MySpace is owned by Rupert Murdoch. Big surprise.

  • MIke J.C.

    I know this is said every time something like this happens… nonetheless, I still can’t help but think of how people would react if this had been done to a popular religious group on MySpace.
    If it had been a 31,000-member group of Catholics, you can bet Bill Donahue would be on every morning talk show screaming about it. If it had been a group this large of fundamentalist christians, Pat Robertson would no doubt be making a few hateful remarks on his show.

  • JesusFreak

    Too bad. It gave the real leaders, earners, and the true citizens of this country a hearty laugh in checking out this drivel at a single source… food for forum trolls, great joke material online and off.

  • http://thechapel.wordpress.com the chaplain

    Brad,
    As an atheist, I thank you for offering an apology. I know you mean well. The difficulty is, you can’t take responsibility for the actions of others. It is they, not you, who owe Bryan an apology. And only they can take responsibility for issuing it, if they ever feel led to do so. It’s certainly appropriate for you to empathize with Bryan and I appreciate the fact that you obviously do. I can only wish that more Christians were as level headed and even handed as you are.

  • http://thechapel.wordpress.com the chaplain

    Lots more of the famous Christian Love going around.

  • http://www.friendlychristian.com Bill Cecchini

    There are times that I’m embarrassed to be a Christian…

    Honestly, find something else better to do. I offer my apologies as well.

    Sigh…

    bc

  • Karen

    That’s disgusting. I’m so sorry. :-(

  • Missy

    wow…see what I was going to say was allready said….not very christian of the hackers. not to mention I don’t think the right to free speech was one of the things Jesus would have had a big problem with

  • Nancy

    More disturbing than having the site hacked is that MySpace is ignoring the situation. I am really disappointed in them. And I agree that if it had been a Christian site, it would be all over the news by now. The human race has not come very far…we are still in our childhood as a species, aren’t we?

  • Sarahann

    If this crime were to have been committed against an all black, or all Jewish web site the media and such would be all over it.

    The actions of these persons should be considered a HATE CRIME, because that is exactly what it is! This was not simply voicing of an opinion, or expressing freedom of speech, but total destruction of someone’s hard work, and effort, all the while spewing “Christian hate propaganda”. Hopefully these people are caught, arrested and charged with it as such.

  • Steve Craperson

    Oh, for christ’s sake… we’re talking about MySpace here!!! “HACKING” myspace is like shooting fish in a barrel. AFTER, Jesus has performed his Loaves and Fishes parlor trick. While it’s probably something as simple as the MySpace page owner getting his password phished (clicking on an image or video and being asked for his/her password by an impostor site posing as MySpace, it really could be any number of XSS or CSRF vulnerabilities. Don’t take MySpace too seriously…. MySpace certainly doesn’t.

  • Steve Craperson

    and furthermore… CUSTOMER SERVICE?!!?!

    bwah hah hah…

    I’m curious, how much do you pay for your MySpace account per month?

    Yeah… I’m sure they’ll have someone get right on that…

    They can’t even keep pedobears off the site.

    Take it in stride and just rebuild.

  • http://www.DaneAndrade.com Dane Andrade

    Technically, this leaves Atheists, Agnostics and Non-religious on Facebook as the largest Atheist group online now.

    =)

    Myspace was prone to easy script kiddy type hackers. As a System Administrator and member of the culture myself I believe most “hackers” are sympathetic with atheists in general.

    I don’t see this happening to AANR anytime soon.

  • http://www.DaneAndrade.com Dane Andrade

    To be completely honest Hemant, the Myspace group was comprised of mostly Christians, not atheists. AANR has well over 13,000 members, more than half of which are more than moderately active. I thought that the group had already been hacked before. It is a shame, but it was also the reason I looked for a more secure location for humanists and atheists.

  • Sarahann

    We are not simply talking about the security of MySpace. We are not complaining about a phish that occurred.

    What happened was NOT a simple NON BIASED phish…Most on MySpace have been phished, or have seen the results of a phish… ie that damn 500 dollar gift card from Macy’s. Yes, a problem that needs to be addressed in and of itself… but not THE problem that we were discussing here.

    The problem that is being discussed is the attack of a page and subsequent destruction of all its contents, and deletions of its members, because of a prejudice against the beliefs of its participants.

    Shame on you for defending their actions!

    The cost of MySpace doesn’t matter and really is irrelevant. One does not pay to use an e mail, yet the courts are now catching up to the times, and have given an e mail some of the same type of protections as actual mail ( ie snail mail) and that one does have a reasonable expectation to privacy while using one.

    The discussion was about an obvious hate crime, as defined below.

    Hate crimes (also known as bias crimes) are violent crimes, hate speech or vandalism, motivated by feelings of enmity against an identifiable social group. …
    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hate crime

  • http://paxnortona.notfrisco2.com Joel Sax

    Jesus may be Love but this surely wasn’t an act of love. I don’t see anyone doing anything that would qualify for martyrdom such as coming right out and taking claim for this.

    I’d call this an act of Terrorism, form of faux Christian jihad. A hate crime if you will.

    Why is Myspace dragging its feet? Well, it’s run by a bunch of second-rate techies who like to sit on their asses not solving problems is my theory. The people who pulled this caper counted on that.

    Find some sympathetic columnist or more to spread the word. Blog about this. Make a lot of noise.

  • http://paxnortona.notfrisco2.com Joel Sax

    Thought: could this be an elaborate troll, specifically calculated to create mayhem? I think we should concentrate on two things:

    * Getting the group restored.
    * Finding out who did it and holding them to account.

    The big issue now is getting Myspace to do something. Focus on that.

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  • Keith

    I’m sorry this happened guys. This is a real shame.

  • Maria

    I was a member of that group. It was a good group. I hadn’t checked in for a while and now I hear this. It’s really dispicable. When are christians going to realize this only makes people NOT want to deal with them even more???

    I know this is said every time something like this happens… nonetheless, I still can’t help but think of how people would react if this had been done to a popular religious group on MySpace.
    If it had been a 31,000-member group of Catholics, you can bet Bill Donahue would be on every morning talk show screaming about it. If it had been a group this large of fundamentalist christians, Pat Robertson would no doubt be making a few hateful remarks on his show.

    I know right? Just look how they’re going on and on about the Golden Compass!

    Brad,
    As an atheist, I thank you for offering an apology. I know you mean well. The difficulty is, you can’t take responsibility for the actions of others. It is they, not you, who owe Bryan an apology. And only they can take responsibility for issuing it, if they ever feel led to do so. It’s certainly appropriate for you to empathize with Bryan and I appreciate the fact that you obviously do. I can only wish that more Christians were as level headed and even handed as you are.

    I second that

  • FGL / Bryan

    Dane

    I approved every single one of the 35000 members. Though most didn’t post, the vast majority of group members were atheist and agnostic.

    Are you claiming 6500 active posters on the face book group? I was thinking of joining but being used to myspace makes facebook really weird– just cant get used to the layout.

    Thanks again H for posting about this. I dunno what’s going to happen, but I’m not going to start over. Three years and lots of time to get 35k. The value of the group always was it’s size…

  • Aj

    The web design values of myspace itself are very average, and from the user pages I’ve seen, the members are much worse than that. Sure, I want high contrast colours, small text, music that auto plays, all different sized containers not inline, lots of imbedded content to lag my browser, and most importantly bad standards compliance so it’ll probably be severely broken.

    There’s always facebook that’s much better apart from the extreme sluggishness. Pownce, Twitter, Jaiku and Tumblr are good at what they do, for adding friends and their posts to the stream, could be cool for a community that wants to share links and videos.

    Good luck whatever you decide to do.

  • fgl

    We have an offsite– safe– petition. Please sign it.

    Strength in numbers and all that!?!

    Please! Sign this petition thingy to help get my group back and to protect your group or profile!

    The first 100 signers get free AA group mugs, or would’ve, but they got broken when the group was deleted!

    http://www.packetsmiter.com/cgi-bin/petition/petition.pl

  • Jacob (frenchy)

    I know this is said every time something like this happens… nonetheless, I still can’t help but think of how people would react if this had been done to a popular religious group on MySpace.
    If it had been a 31,000-member group of Catholics, you can bet Bill Donahue would be on every morning talk show screaming about it. If it had been a group this large of fundamentalist christians, Pat Robertson would no doubt be making a few hateful remarks on his show.

    But it HAS happened to a Christian group on myspace. HCLH (Hardcore Christians Living Hardcore) was ‘hacked’ and tampered with in a similar fashion as the Atheist and Agnostic Group. Granted, that group is back up and running, but it still happened

    No one should use this issue to condone or chastise a religious affiliation. What this is about is/are the hacker(s) who did this…and what is to be done to prevent such thing in the future.

  • http://www.podblack.wordpress.com Podblack

    I’ve just managed to plug it all over Facebook and urge many of the popular figures to chip in:
    http://podblack.wordpress.com/2007/12/01/save-the-biggest-group-of-atheist-agnostics/
    Here’s to hoping, Bryan! :)

  • John Kelly

    I can understand and sympathize with the Atheists. I don’t even know if the person who did it was actually a Christian, or just picking what would be most offensive to atheists.

    However, the Larger 80,000 member HCLH, previously the most active Christian group on myspace, has been so repeatedly attacked. It was totally incapacitated for an extended period of time more than once, and destroyed and restored a few years ago. Recently it has been hit so hard that most of the regulars have left, along with all the harassment from athiests who lurk on the site practicing their inconsiderate agressive and offensive form of atheistic evangelism.

    It hasn’t made any news. Venting about inequality that doesn’t exist in this case is just plain irresponsible. Its propaganda, and creates hatred. It’s very dangerous. I don’t even need to go into the level of intolerance and extreme disrespect that some of the A&A members display on HCLH

    (this does not mean all of them, some of them are quite pleasant, and are able to be engaged with in great conversations). However, the moderation cannot ban the harassing members because these agressive atheists just go an exploit a glitch and are found harassing people again an hour later. Even to this very moment, HCLH is still suffering from the effects of spam attack, and we have to link the topics page in order to have people be able to know where it is.
    Some of the Atheists actually have been really helpful in making the topics page more accessible at HCLH and that is appreciated by everyone.

    This problem is just as much of a problem for Christians as it is Atheists. In fact the Christians have had to deal with this more times than the Atheists. Nobody is being unfairly treated here. It’s everyone’s problem.
    However we can work together mutually to petition for some change in myspace that will benefit us all.

  • Siamang

    So the largest Atheist group in the country is smaller than the group of Facebook Users against The Golden Compass?

    Shit. That sucks.

  • http://paxnortona.notfrisco2.com Joel Sax

    Bryan/FGL, this is terrorism. If you don’t fight for the group, other atheist/agnostics will be subjected to worse offenses.

    Impunitas semper ad deteriora invitat is a Latin maxim to keep in mind, roughly “impunity invites greater crimes”.

    I think every atheist/agnostic/free thinker who has a blog should be putting this up. And you should find friendly journalists to ask why this is happening.

  • fgl

    Thanks guys. I have lots of time and no social life. I won’t go quietly into that dark night.

    I agree that HCLH has been whacked too. Note that many of the mean atheists there were not regular posters in my group.

  • http://atheistrevolution.blogspot.com/ vjack

    Looks like a case of Christian cyberterrorism. Let’s call these things what they are.

  • John Kelly

    Its pretty scary that so many people want to so quickly slap a label of terrorist on someone who makes a mere myspace group messed up. Nobody in HCLH has ever gone to such extremes, and what happened in A&A doesn’t hold a candle to what HCLH and other Christian groups on myspace have been through. Its not even close to cyberterrorism. Quit trying to over-villainize and focus on bringing all people who are in groups in myspace together to create a very large petition that will bring about positive change instead of negativity.

  • Aj

    I don’t know, to me, terrorism has always been applied to vandalism as well as violence, so threats or acts of vandalism to create fear in aid of stopping behaviour fits the definition of terrorism. The only group labelled terrorists in my country known to me were vandals not killers.

    I accept that I don’t know the motives of this group, and without that I cannot judge whether this was cyberterrorism or not. Americans seem to have adopted a new meaning of terrorism that goes over just a tactic, but I haven’t been able to work out the details of this “new terrorism”, or the “war on terror”.

  • Rovakur

    I’d like to acknowledge Brad (above) and thank him for his sentiments. I (like to) think the majority of individuals–theist or atheist–are good people, who recognize and denounce despicable acts.

    Does Bryan now have access to his group or account? I’d like to message him, but want to make sure he’ll get it, first. Perhaps I’ll send a “test” mail. … I guess I have to be a myspace member to do that…and I’m no more inclined to sign up now than I was before. Hermant, if feasible, could you please give him my mail addy?

  • Chaim Krause

    I can’t help but think to myself,

    When the Religious hacked MySpace,
    I remained silent;
    I was not a member.

    When they locked out the accounts on Facebook,
    I remained silent;
    I was not on Facebook.

    When they came for the Google Group,
    I did not speak out;
    I was not on that mailing list.

    When they came for the Friendly Atheist,
    I remained silent;
    I wasn’t a blogger.

    When they came for me,
    there was nowhere on the Internet left to speak out.

  • Bryan

    Thanks guys, for all your comments and support.

    Almost 2 weeks now and despite many many attempts no human at myspace has even acknowledged the problem:(

  • Kris (Apple Snail)

    There is new information: The group has been deleted again. I do not know why this has happened but hope it is not permanent.

    While parts of the group’s profile are still functional, anyone who did not have direct URLs cannot access them. You can reach the forum here, but the links above in the article no longer work.

    Atheist & Agnostic [former] Group forums:
    http://forum.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=messageboard.viewCategory&categoryID=0&groupID=100002606

    I have high hopes but low expectations for this to be resolved.

  • bryan

    Yeah, alas, deleted again:(

    Perhaps I should just take the hint, though a 3 year investment of time seems worth fighting for– doesn’t it?

  • Richard Wade

    AGAIN!? Goddamn motherfucker! Yes Bryan it is absolutely worth fighting for. Don’t get discouraged. Don’t let some asshole beat you. Make whatever changes you must to have better security, new site, new provider, I don’t understand what’s involved, but just rolling over and dying for some cowardly little shithead should never be an option.

    Are you facing this all by yourself? Do you have help? As I asked way up at the top last month is there anything we can do to help?

  • Bryan

    Rich, thanks!

    It wasn’t hacked this time. As best I can tell, Myspace deleted it.

    I was emailing their “customer service” to get my regular users unbanned (when myspace finally restored my group after the hack, they left the regulars banned– the group was basically still dead, as few people could post!).

    I kept getting back “auto replies” from customer service with worthless info and the old “if this doesn’t address the issue, please reply” note at the end.

    I think myspace sometimes handles requests for help by deleting the requesters account (problem solved!).

    My account was not hacked / spammed / phished this time. The group just got deleted. I suspect myspace CS did it either on purpose or out of incompetence.

    I dunno what the next step is; some type of coordinated complaint / press release / whatever. I am small potatoes and would need help from any interested atheist / humanist organizations out there.

    So, yes, help please!

  • Richard Wade

    Bryan, Get a lawyer. Somewhere in the atheist blogosphere, perhaps one of your group’s members or at least among the members of FFrF, Atheists United, Center for Inquiry, etc. there’s an attorney who would be willing to send MySpace a letter pro bono. If he or she is an atheist who uses sites such as yours it’s in his or her personal interest to help you. It looks suspiciously like someone in MySpace just doesn’t like your subject matter. You are being stonewalled and you need to knock really hard on the wall. There’s nothing like the word lawsuit to get someone’s attention.

    Normally I’d go for the press release first to embarrass MySpace into properly responding to your needs, but atheists don’t yet have much clout. The general public either won’t give a damn or might even approve of MySpace’s behavior. Maybe I’m too cynical about that part.

    Does anybody else have suggestions or resources for Bryan? If this kind of treatment goes unchallenged and unresolved it will spread.

  • Chaim Krause

    Not sure if you have “enough of a case” to warrant their involvement, but it wouldn’t hurt to send an email to the ACLU.

  • Bryan

    Thanks guys; I was considering legal action more as a pressure point, versus thinking that I was legally wronged (though I submit that we give myspace consideration– our posts and content– which has value, and for that, contractually, myspace owes us at least some level of security or good faith / fair dealing that the content we labor over for their site wont be unfairly removed without warning).

    Not sure about the ACLU, though, as myspace (at least not yet) is not the government.

    Open to any and all suggestions, and thanks for those who are trying to help!

    B

  • Claire

    Not sure about the ACLU, though, as myspace (at least not yet) is not the government.

    The ACLU was my thought too – even if they can’t help directly, I’m betting they can point you in some useful directions.

  • http://www.linktomeet.com/groups.aspx/atheists Tom

    Atheist Groups abound. This site just went live in January 2008 and has over 1.5 million members already.

    Religion, as we know it today is dead.
    I personally have suffered at the hands of, so called, religious people.
    The more divine they are, the more they look like terrorists.
    Visit LinlToMeet.com Atheists Groups

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  • john

    isn’t this country founded on religious freedom? freedom of religion, or freedom from religion. whatever your choice

  • Bill

    Bryan,

    Public pressure will be the way to get some leverage against myspace and this will ultimately be very positive for the group and its size. A blast out of press releases would be a very effective way to bring light on myspace and would likely result in a huge increase in membership because of the national exposure. I would even think that the Daily Show and a few other television outlets coould have some interest in this one. Fight on.

  • http://lippard.blogspot.com/ Jim Lippard

    How was the group hacked, and was it under your control when it was deleted by MySpace?

  • http://turbofool.com TurboFool

    And they have the balls to call US immoral. Granted, this act does NOT speak for all of Christianity, and I recognize that, but it does speak for some of the more outspoken members who clearly see us as some sort of threat. These are the very people that are the reason I have to be an outspoken Atheist instead of the normal sort, who simply don’t believe and don’t see what the fuss is about. How sad and disappointing.

  • http://atheistwatch.blogspot.com/ Metacrock

    No one side has a monopoly on stupid people. I denounce that action.No one has the right to invade the privacy of an individual or group, especially not in the name of Christ. We have to find the smart people on both sides and team up to stop the stupid people from advancing such childish crap. I am totally with you in deploring that sort of thing.

  • Phineas Neidermeyer

    It is difficult to read all this mamby pamby conciliatory tolerance rhetoric.
    All the Christians claiming to be sorry for something they imagine that they didn’t do or flat out saying that they are embarrassed to be Christians, all the atheists saying that these acts don’t speak for all Christians or all religious people.

    The truth is, what happened to this group is exactly what religion is about.
    Christians who find that they are embarrassed to be Christians ought to consider putting their faith in their family and their friends and loving the human race instead of wasting all that good energy on invisible super heros who live in outer space.
    Atheists who feel the need to be tolerant are missing the point… By loving a imaginary non human entity… something “better than us” more than their own family and friends, these people have made themselves into elective sociopaths. They have chosen to renounce their own basic humanity.
    The jump from destroying a virtual community for disagreeing with their worship of mythological beings to destroying real communities and real people is so small as to barely constitute a baby step. If you do not believe that the same folks who did this would not have been riding into your village by torchlight and burning you in your homes while the other “Christians” wrung their hands and prattled on about how that’s not real Christianity in another place at another time… you are gravely mistaken.
    These aren’t the two opposing faces of Christianity, they are the two parts of the same entity, one does the dirty work of destroying opposition while the other apologizes for it and denies responsibility.

  • Darryl

    Phineas, people will be cruel for any old reason that suits them, whether they be religious or atheist or whatever. I fear ideologues, of whatever kind. Ideologues are stupid liars who frequently let their reptilian brain get the upper hand. Your post is short-sided. If we stand any chance, we have to come together. It’s people with your attitude that start the purges.