Cyberbunk

Kevin Massey is no 'cyberstalker.' But when he tangled with another bullheaded loudmouth on the Internet, their 'flame' war spawned a great publicity stunt.

In line with Compu-tek's policies, Massey agreed not to post profane messages to dfw.internet.providers, and apologized for posting foul stuff there in the first place. Those sorts of policies--that specify where someone can flame with impunity, and where not--are upheld by Internet etiquette and informal agreements, not by courts and lawyers applying the intricacies of defamation law.

Paul Watler, a Dallas lawyer who recently conducted a seminar for journalists on law and the Internet, says he is surprised that a company like Internet America would be dragging these issues into civil court.

"These companies have typically supported the idea that the Internet is a free marketplace--an unregulated medium," Watler says. "To lead the courts in by the nose is like the Dallas Observer going out and suing a lot of people for libel."

Such philosophical notions of free speech and the Web have their place. But customer letters that Maynard posted on his Web site show that some people are more concerned about sweeping the foulmouthed jerks off the Web than worrying about who will work the broom. "Even though there is virtually unlimited space in the cyberworld," one Internet America customer wrote Maynard, "there is no room for 'cyberpunks.'"

Massey came forward to police and the media almost immediately after Maynard's lawsuit was filed.

At first, Massey reveled in introducing himself as "the cyberstalker" to journalists, receptionists, and even the repairman who showed up at Massey's house to fix the fridge. Then a film production company e-mailed him and told him the name was already trademarked. Massey changed his handle. Now he's "the stalker formerly known as the cyberstalker."

Armed with a black binder stuffed with printed copies of the nasty postings he traded with Internet America's staff, he began to complain that he was the injured party--victimized by Maynard, bad publicity, and mounting legal bills.

Once the lawyers started passing around his binder full of the flame notes written by Internet America employees, Maynard's restraining order fell into rapid retreat.

In a hearing on October 28, a judge pared it back. On November 6, Maynard dropped it altogether.

"Teri and I are much less concerned with our physical safety and that of our family now that the person we felt targeted by has been publicly revealed," Maynard said in a prepared statement.

An eight-hour mediation session that same day brought the sides close to settling matters, both sides acknowledge. Roughly speaking, Maynard would be granted a judgment from Massey that he couldn't collect, and Massey would get his $7,000 in lawyers' fees paid by Maynard.

But within just a few days, some weird cyberbanter started breaking out.
Incredibly, and against all the high-dollar legal advice both sides had been getting, Maynard and Massey began posting notes to each other on line. Call it a street fight in the middle of the information highway, mano a mano, mouse to mouse.

Massey, the ever-eager irritant, had been posting goading, pseudonymous notes all along--or at least that's what most on-line observers suspected.

The day after the mediation session, he wrote under the name Mackdaddy: "I am not a stalker or an asshole, just a guy who gives as much as he receives and backs down from no one."

The next day, Maynard fired back with a three-page missive posted to dfw.internet.providers. It attached to a thread named "Maynard: Scare Tactics=Coercion."

"Massey told us here that unless we paid him off, he was going to fire up his machine and really get started," Maynard wrote. "Needless to say, I declined to pay the demand...So perhaps this is what it was all about. He certainly didn't judge his mark very well."

It was very likely an Internet first: one party to a lawsuit who has spent more than $25,000 on legal fees telling the other party, on line, "No deal."

But Maynard didn't stop there. Warming to the subject, he went on to tell whomever was reading that he would be posting transcripts of Massey's deposition in the case. "They make for hilarious reading," he wrote. "One of many little gems is when Kevin actually states under oath that he uses the big pinky fingernail on his hand not to scoop cocaine, but to 'pick boogers.'"

This, mind you, is the CEO of the largest Internet company in Texas posting into a newsgroup that, a day earlier, he had described as an "on-line trade journal."

What came next was nothing short of flame.
"I've had his wife's record on my desk for four weeks, in fact," Maynard wrote. "I had hers before I had his." (Although Massey's wife was arrested in Dallas County in 1993 for alleged prostitution, she was not convicted.)

Soon, the battle was joined. Within hours, the Mackdaddy's response hit the Net: "It was YOU who agreed to pay me $10,000 to shut up and I told you NO way, you would have to have at least $20,000 to get my temporary silence," Massey wrote. "Tell the Whole truth for once Robert (I know it's hard.)...Your a lying sack...You are a coward, yellow belly, cry baby and con-man."

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