Bryan Pesta Sheds More Light on the Atheist MySpace Group

Bryan Pesta is the person who began the now-defunct Atheist and Agnostic Group on MySpace.

A story about the group’s deletion appeared in today’s edition of The Plain Dealer (Cleveland). (Thanks to reporter David Briggs for writing about it!)

In this comment, he explains his reasoning behind why he believes the shutting down of the group was a result of religious intolerance (I added in a few relevant links):

Hey all. It’s been an interesting day. I want to be as transparent as possible, and welcome skeptical inquiries about how I know Myspace deleted my group because of religious intolerance.

First, thanks much to Hemant for helping communicate all this, and featuring it in more than one of his blogs. Thanks also to the godless community, the response has been overwhelming, and I think I owe anyone who took time dealing with this some further elaboration.

I started the group in June 2004. In the summer of 2005, it was deleted most definitely because of complaints from “religious intolerants”. A myspace user group called the “christian crusaders” was responsible for getting many groups deleted back then (including a large pro-abortion group).

Their strategy was to scour myspace looking for profiles and groups they found offensive, and then mass complain to myspace customer service. CS at myspace is very much hit or miss. The crusaders simply kept sending emails til someone at myspace took action (a key I think to what happened recently).

It took 3 weeks or so, but eventually the group was restored. Tom Anderson himself (pre news corp) posted to the group saying “myspace doesn’t censor” and “if any thing happens to the group in the future, just send him an email” (if interested, check out whom Tom lists as his heros. I suspect he is at least agnostic, but I also suspect he doesn’t control his profile anymore, post newscorp).

All was fine til around thanksgiving 2007 (with April 2007 resulting in the group’s award from the SSA and Harvard’s Humanist Chaplain).

My profile which controls the group was hacked. I still have no idea how; if anyone wants to blame me for stupidly falling for a phishing scam, I probably am guilty, but I honestly don’t know how it happened.

The group was renamed jesus is love; 100s of regular users were banned (which oddly is permanent in a myspace group; cannot be undone, even by the group’s moderator). All our huge threads were deleted and the hacker was systematically deleting users from the group as well.

It stopped when my profile was deleted. Note that with my profile’s deletion, every single thread I ever made to my group got deleted as well.

This lead to the first round of requests to myspace to restore it (see an earlier blog here from Hemant for an example). It also led to the online petition which now has 600 sigs.

Sometime in mid december, I finally got someone sympathetic at Myspace to restore the group.

The problem was, all the regular users were still banned.

Once again I sent repeated requests to myspace asking if the users could be unbanned (the group was essentially dead; delete 100 or so regulars from any internet forum and guess what happens).

I got dozens if not 100 auto-reply emails from customer service. Finally, on 1/1/2008, I got a reply– I think– from a person. It said “thank you for this information; we are deleting the group”. Literally 5 minutes later, the group was gone.

Sorry for the book length explanation. I realize the evidence is circumstantial, but I think there are enough parts to establish a prima facie case of disparate treatment on myspace’s part (if interested in my argument regarding this, see my new myspace profile).

Add to this how myspace (post newscorp) reacted to the biggest christian group getting hacked and deleted, and I think I have a rational basis for the claims made in my press release. Note that very few “discrimination” cases will have a smoking gun. I doubt there is a “crush the heathens” internal memo that was circulated among myspace execs. Most cases of discrimination are established by what I’ve been calling “prima facie” evidence (I’m no lawyer, but see Mcdonnell Douglas Corp versus Green for an example of how this works). I think an agent of myspace (and therefore myspace) deleted the group for religious reasons and I think I have enough evidence to meet the legal test for disparate treatment.

So, there it is. I’ll glady answer questions people pose here, but give me some time. I’ve spent the whole day emailing, so excuse any babbling above. We all know there’s a difference between believing and knowing (please no atheist versus agnostic discussions here…:). I believe myspace deleted my group for religious reasons, but I don’t know it. I’d argue my belief is reasonable and rational, however.

For the one person still reading (thanks mom) myspace code is so weird that even though our group is deleted, it still exists in internet limbo. The threads are accessible, and if you know the html glitch, you can even post in the group. That said, it trully is deleted as a group. Here’s the back door link to the topics. Note the second pinned topic is the 2005 post by Tom Anderson (I hope the link doesn’t ruin the formatting….):

Link

Sincerely,

B



[tags]atheist, atheism[/tags]

  • http://www.myspace.com/aiffb Bryan

    Wow, thanks again Hemant!

    Quick clarification. I went back and re-read Tom’s post to our group from 2005. It was very close to the time newscorp acquired myspace. Bear that in mind in my original comments when I mention “pre” and “post” newscorp; technically both were post newscorp.

    Thanks.

  • http://www.goodcustomerserviceblog.com Jason Rakowski

    I found your site on technorati and read a few of your other posts. Keep up the good work. I just added your RSS feed to my Google News Reader. Looking forward to reading more from you.

    Jason Rakowski

  • Mriana

    Hi Bryan. Sorry this happened too you and I hope they don’t go after individuals, but still a group would be nice and that they leave others alone. Good luck with the legal case.

    I know they deleted some individuals too and that upset me. I had my suspecions why they did it too and it seems they maybe accurate. :(

  • FOLA

    Scary Stuff. I started a small group and have been flooded with phony jesus friend requests. I guess they were trying to infiltrate me. It’s upsetting that you have spent so much time and effort bringing similar mindsets together, and someone had the power to end it with the push of a button. This doesn’t make the christian crusaders look good. Do they think that Jesus would want to silence large groups, or anyone? What they don’t understand is that they cannot delete our minds, and maybe the attention from this will create more tolerance.

  • http://www.myspace.com/aiffb Bryan

    Quick update. Wikipedia might be joining the bandwagon, as our entry there is up for deletion:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Articles_for_deletion/Atheist_and_Agnostic_Group

  • atheos

    At this point, wouldn’t it make more sense to simply start up a new group either on myspace or somewhere else? Pursuing resolution with myspace is fine but there’s probably no way to restore everything to its former status now.

  • Siamang

    Sorry Bryan, I’m with the wikipedians who are questioning the merit of the article’s inclusion at this point.

    And really, Bryan, “Wikipedia might be joining the bandwagon”? You had me wondering about the motivations of MySpace, but your lumping in wikipedia frankly makes me think that you are a bit paranoid. While as the saying goes, that doesn’t mean that people aren’t out to get you, I also think that it doesn’t mean that you aren’t tooting your own horn in the meanwhile.

    I don’t think there’s any need for a wikipedia article at this point.

  • http://www.myspace.com/aiffb Bryan

    Siamang; fair enough.

    Note the Wiki article existed for almost a year. It was created before the recent deletions and was originally about the group’s award. I know Wiki’s huge and so maybe no one there noticed it til now (which explains why they haven’t bothered to delete it til now).

    I regret using the word bandwagon now. I don’t think Wiki’s decision to delete it would be an anti-atheist move.

    point taken.

    For what it’s worth, I’m 20 minutes into my 15. I’d like to just get the group back and focus on other things (like getting tenure!). I’m not sure how to do something like this (i.e. issue a press release to get a myspace group restored– very surreal) without coming across as a whiny attention whore. I guess I’ll let other people decide for themselves whether I have ambitions/self interests motivating my use of the “victim” card. Again, though, I think it would be trivially simple for myspace to undelete and the group and unban regulars. That’s all I want.

    B

  • Allan Ire

    Arch-conservative and corrupt media mogul Rupert Murdoch now owns Myspace. He also owns the rightwing reactionary bible thumping Fox cable TV, the proud pinnacle of ignorance and intolerance in media.

    Why would one expect Myspace to give a fair chance to those who espouse thoughts antithetical to its corrupt arch-conservative owner?

    I would recommend perhaps moving to Facebook.

  • http://www.myspace.com/aiffb Bryan

    Myspace just restored the group!

    The regulars are still banned, but I am happy, and owe many people thanks…

    More later.

    Bryan

  • Pingback: Friendly Atheist » MySpace Group Restored! (Kind of.)

  • Josh Kutchinsky

    What does Bryan mean when he says: the regulars are still banned?
    Congrats on getting it restored.

  • http://george1001.livejournal.com/ George

    Siamang said:
    You had me wondering about the motivations of MySpace, but your lumping in wikipedia frankly makes me think that you are a bit paranoid.

    There’s nothing “paranoid” about believing that a few people may want to censor the wikipedia article

    I don’t think there’s any need for a wikipedia article at this point.

    There certainly isn’t any reason to delete it now.

  • http://www.otmatheist.com/ Siamang

    There certainly isn’t any reason to delete it now.

    If you are a wikipedia editor, you can make that case. If I were an editor, I’d vote for deletion… I honestly don’t think there’s anything there but some self-serving going on. And frankly the fact that Bryan is trolling websites trying to get people to vote up the wikipedia entry tells me that this is about him and his group, and not wikipedia.

    Wikipedia entries are there to serve the wikipedia, not to serve as “easy find web locations” for other groups. Every dude with a rock band wants it covered in wikipedia, and playing the “they’re jumping on the bandwagon to ban us because of persecution” card is prima facia evidence to me that Wikipedia is right to disregard Bryan’s trolling for votes.

    The article should stay or go based on the merits as they match the guidelines. All I see on that article’s talk page is some whiney people crying persecution and making accusations of bad faith. It’s clear that you and Bryan are not wikipedia editors. Your tone there, your combative nature and lack of seriousness tell me that you are there to promote your group, end of story. Which is fine, but you’re being poor advocates for your position.

    Wikipedians take their duty to themselves and the community and the wikipedia higher than that. You guys stand out like sore thumbs there.

    Let the entry get deleted if that’s what the editors decide. And then if the group does indeed achieve the notoriety called for in the Wikipedia guidelines, it can be reinstated with a couple of mouse clicks.

    If you don’t like the Wikipedia guidelines, I suggest you volunteer to be an editor and a member of the community, and you may gain the ability to make your arguments for changing the guidelines. But you can’t waltz in from the outside and expect other people to respond to your whining. Wikipedia editors hear whining all the time from self-promoters.

  • http://george1001.livejournal.com/ George

    Siamang
    It’s clear that you and Bryan are not wikipedia editors.

    You are a remarkably presumptuous person. I am a wikipeida editor: I am fully aware of the rules: and I am voting to keep the article.

  • http://www.otmatheist.com/ Siamang

    I did check after i said that, and noticed that you are indeed an editor.

    Do you share Bryan’s opinion that the movement to delete is because of “bandwagon jumping”? Is it really censorship driven? Do you have evidence that this is supression, or is the call for deletion based merely on it being noticed because of the story’s being peddled around the atheist blogosphere?

    Anyway, I’m not an editor, and you are. So obviously I’m talking out of my ass here. Do whatever you want with your vote… I don’t get one.

    I’m just catching a whiff of “poor persecuted us” here.


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