ASCII by Jason Scott

Jason Scott's Weblog

The Ass-termath —

Well, that was pretty frisky. I wrote a perhaps-ill-advised entry about having fun with myspace and hotlinking images and got visited by 78,000 individuals in less than 12 hours. The lesson is clear: talk more about goatse. My staff will get right on that.

I can always tell when this weblog gets outside of the “regular” audience when folks start complaining about the color scheme. White on black! How dare he!

But let’s go further than that. I can start to figure out that one of these stories has “broken wide” when I start seeing people who are falling all across a spectrum of opinion, including meta-opinion regarding issues not even brought up in the original story.

For example, browsing the hundreds of comments I’ve read here and elsewhere about my prank, I’ve found some of the following responses:

  • I am horrified that Jason would do something this evil and terrible.
  • I am utterly delighted that Jason would do something this evil and terrible.
  • This is absolutely great, I hope he keeps doing it until the entire universal contingency of stupid people are forced to see Goatse until the end of their days.
  • Let me take this time to tell you a story in which I, myself, am the star.
  • Goatse is old. This trick is old. This discussion is old. I’ve been online since 1998.
  • I believe, possibly, that Jason will go to jail because of this. Somehow.

There’s almost a Brownian Motion aspect, where all these people who would normally not come into contact with each other end up doing so and there’s nothing dependable you can rely on as a base premise. Nothing is assumed, nothing is accepted. Fan mail sits next to hate mail. Disgust mingles with chortles, non sequitur blathering jostles with measured smiles from kindred spirits. That’s the biggest reward of these little flashes of relative fame.

The value system regarding “shock” photographs is worth noting too. For some people, Goatse is the most mundane, uninteresting of that family of images. There are much worse, people rise to say, and then they link to them and yes, they’re quite worse. I’ve done work on and off for a few years at I can assure you, there are things much worse, stuff that makes your left eyeball shout “take the controls” to your right eyeball and run back into the john to throw up.

Others, however, find Goatse at the tip-top or beyond what would be acceptable in this situation. Why couldn’t I be more clever about it, involve a gentle prodding or an advertisement for one of my websites or projects? Couldn’t a kind word have sufficed in contrast to a manually prolapsed rectum?

Oh, sure. I’m sure this could have been done a dozen different ways. I got into a big fight with some folks about watermarking images a ways back, and there were excellent formulas and suggestions involving htaccess and imagemagick and the rest. You know, nerd tools. And this whole issue had been on the backburner for some time, right up there with “Man, I really oughta finish describing this pile of files” and “Perhaps that e-mail from a month ago should get an answer”. It just happened that the roulette wheel fell on goatse that day, so I put it up. What was always more interesting to me was the issues that the whole situation represents, so I wrote a lengthy weblog entry about it, for the amusement of my readers. I just didn’t expect that many readers.

And make no mistake, I myself have been at the recieving end of unexpected shock images on many an occasion, so I’ve definitely had some of my own medicine. In fact, I can actually recall my very first time!

This would have been circa 1996, and I was browsing some porn newsgroup using a program called “Forte Free Agent”. This was basically a Usenet news reader that was geared towards pulling down images from a news server and serving them up in a browser. You’d aim it at, say, and then it would put up the first photo it downloaded, then wait for you to arrow or click to the next. While by now this might seem mundane, at the time it was a breathtakingly simple process rising out of what was previously as much fun as changing a spark plug.

So there I am, without a care in a world, happily seeing that other people have been having much more fun than I have, when I’m face-to-face with a corpse.

I mean BAM! We’re talking a young lady that got knocked around quite a bit, and had been photographed from the neck up to show just exactly how knocked around she’d gotten. It was, as they say, “graphic”. And the eyes… oh, you don’t forget those eyes.

Suffice to say the part of the brain that is all into looking at porn is in a much different place than the one that is steeled for incoming harsh images. I never knew what hit me. I can still remember the feeling, like a cold iron rod got shoved into my gut and turned. I was totally open, totally floored, totally taken. I was a wreck.

For extra laughs, it was 2am and I was at work, since work at the time had the good net connection. There was no way I was in shape to leave my cubicle, much less go into the hallway and walk home in darkness. I was stuck, shaking, completely undergoing a panic attack.

The way I got myself out of this fine mess was to go onto the MUSH I was running, find someone not idle, and have me call him and talk on the phone for an hour. We talked about life, people, stuff.. just anything for me to hear a person’s voice, normally modulated, discussing anything but the truly horrible thing I’d seen. His name was Justin, and we still hang out every once in a while, ten years on.

So I know the effect this sort of shenanigan can have. Does that make it even worse? Maybe. I know that one of the arguments is that I don’t know what effect putting a “shock” image has on people, and then when they find out I do, the argument then becomes that my knowing the full effect of my actions makes me responsible.

Except one thing. I’m not on trial here. I’ve been on trial. This isn’t it.

A side-effect of the ease of browsing is that it can quickly lead to an ease of caring, too. Hit-and-run judgementalism. Drive-by sympathy. Love and compassion in a flimsy cup that dissipates as soon as you hit the “back” button. News stories are especially prone to this: you read how a guy did something horrible and then got caught, and this is the nearly-insignificant grit a group of people will use to form a stunning pearl of opinion to admire and show off between them. The guy is quickly forgotten, the circumstances never really explored. It’s about the idea of the moment, soon to be crumpled up and replaced with another target.

It’s fun to second-guess, backseat drive, armchair quarterback. It’s fun to throw out some speculative nib-nob in a one-line jest in between sips of coffee after having scanned the first 5 sentences of an essay or news story. But that’s not really conversation in the classic sense, that’s just having a nice time. And I am all for having a nice time, don’t get me wrong, but I don’t expect that a barrage of Opinion Tourists is going to make me go crazy over the deep meaning inherent in those claims of legal liability and moral fortitude. It’s background music playing in the soundtrack of my life. Treating it otherwise makes me into the sort of lightweight personality, constantly hitting “reload” to find his world worthiness, that I hope I never become.

But saying that…

At the end of a pulse wave of internet attention, that’s usually when you get a few nerd-come-latelys who take advantage of the slowdown to browse in, check if everyone’s eaten all the donuts, and then drop a little “meh” into the mix before moving on. After 5,000 “diggs” and tens of thousands of users, I saw this review go by:

“God this guy loves to hear himself type.”

And I have to say: Yes. Yes I do.


Categorised as: Uncategorized

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  1. bluknight says:

    And some of us like hearing you type, too. Probably because you’re most entertaining than 99% of the Internet.

  2. Leon says:

    I don’t think your post was ill advised. You explained an issue and your response to it. As for the photo it’s on your site and you are not broadcasting it to anyone.

    I read the post because I saw it at a site which aggregates digg stories. I liked it enough to check out other posts here. Thanks for an entertaining read.

  3. ubuntuguy says:

    Move over David Hassellhoff – we have a new King of the Internet.

    *bows down*

    but seriously, has anyone checked out hotfreelayouts dot com – they are hotlinking all over the place.

    pure bandwidth stealing scum.

  4. Michael Kohne says:

    I still think it was a good prank. If they didn’t want their background images to change under them, they should have put them somewhere they could control them. Simple.

  5. Random IX says:

    I think it was a great prank.

    As Bluknight mentioned, you’ve got a superb writing style. The bit about the eyes and the john and the somewhat subtle reference to the aviation theme from the last post made me laugh a good, hearty laugh.

    Keep up the great work. =)

  6. Philippe says:

    Very insightful follow-up post. I admit to seeing your previous post from Digg, and didn’t both looking at too many of the comments (those on this one not much better), as they are banal at best. This post drives at much deeper issues pointing out as has been said, “the medium is the metaphor” and that the Internet has become today’s epistimology. But you present it in ways that seemed to me to be more accessible and with great wit. Unfortunately, based on the readers’ comments I just read on this post your viewers are still just looking at the surface and for jokes.

    I’m inclined to read more of your posts.

  7. RedWolf says:

    Don’t worry, old pal. No matter what happens, I’ll still support you!

  8. Anonymous says:

    I love your color scheme. It was a sad day for the internet when Ars Technica went to dark-on-light. I hope you never do the same!

  9. jeffx says:

    I am the regular audience that wasn’t. I never really knew you had a blog until I saw the digg entry yesterday. However, off and on, I read the files you have archived. I was interviewed for your documentary. One of the best times I ever had a a hacker con was at Phreaknic 6 (I think) when a group of us sat in the hotel lobby and talked.

    Now that I know you have a blog I will be reading it more often. Your posts are entertaining and smart. If you like to “hear yourself type”,.. great because I like to hear you type as well.


  10. Flack says:

    Wait … there were donuts?

  11. Wintermute says:


    Don’t ever change, man. Simply put: brilliant response to another of your slivers of fame. Count me among those who love to hear you type as well.


  12. leahpeah says:

    as a nerd that has come late, let me save us all time and just pick items 1, 2, 3, 4 and 7 from your bulleted list.

  13. Stacia says:

    Goatse is old. This trick is old. This discussion is old. I’ve been online since 1998.

    Dude, I’ve been online since at least 1995.

    Seriously though, if you took offense at my mentioning that I’d seen the trick used years ago, I certainly hope you saw me praising it as the most massively awesome execution of said trick. I mean, you blew anything Kibologists did back in the day way out of the water. That’s high praise, my friend, and offense was not intended.

    I didn’t know you worked at I spent a lot of hours on that site.

  14. Stacia says:

    Er… that first bit was supposed to be a quote. The “Goatse is old” quote. Sorry, I can’t format anything to save my life.

  15. Jason Scott says:

    No offense was taken. Your statement was not the only of its kind, I just wanted to show various examples of reactions.

    If this shows any cred whatsoever, Kibo and I worked on the same humor magazine in college in the fall of 1988. We go way back.

  16. Alex says:

    Well, I was so impressed coming from Digg that I’ve bookmarked you and plan to read regularly. Kudos on a fun prank and even more props for your thoughtful analysis. Keep up the good work (which I imagine you have been for a long long time =) ).

  17. drew says:

    Very well done. If the internet was a pool, myspace would be the shallow end. You just threw over one hundred thousand people into the deep end. None of them can swim. None of them have those little inflatable things that go on your arms.

    I am surprised that the people who wrote the code for the profiles didn’t get what was going on. It just adds that much more humor to the whole ordeal.

  18. Flack says:

    If the Internet were a pool, MySpace would be the “cess”.

  19. Stacia says:

    You don’t have to have “cred” with me, Jason! My reply was really toward commenter “Bill” more than anything. It’s cool that you worked with Kibo, though, and I concede it gives you more awesome than I could ever attain.

  20. mut says:

    I’ve had this hotlinking problem with MySpace wankers. This was my solution:

  21. dosman says:

    TinyTIM saves

  22. mgroves says:

    Ah yes, the old MOO days. Let me tell you a story in which I am the hero about this one time when I was on TinyTIM…

  23. Wah says:

    Nice follow-up on that one. As mentioned, I found the whole episode highly entertaining, both from the asspect of listening to you type and the content of the story.

    That being said…nice to see you retain that bit of humanity called empathy. Some of the stuff that comes out of the barrel of the internet is indeed more than some can handle. Ignorance is a sword with many edges.

    Either way, you’ve introduced a few, assload, more people to the *true* nature of the Net, and that, ultimately, is a positive thing.

  24. davisrei says:

    I love the prank, and the bandwidth stealing pirates got what they deserved, but the nay-sayers have a point here too. The only problem that I have with any of this is that the people who downloaded the profiles were innocent and ignorant to the crime. So it’s a bit like puting feces in peoples’ soft drinks because the soft-drink company stole your formula. Sure, you could say that they should have done a spectral analysis on the soda before drinking it, and were at fault because they didn’t know how, but they didn’t technically commit any intent to defraud you. Next time, I recommend alum (yuck, but not scarring).

  25. Megatron says:

    I didn’t get any donuts 🙁

  26. vernes says:

    “How dare you replace the image which I was hotlinking from you, using your bandwidth and thus making you pay for MY use of it?”

    Oh boohoo, someone made you look bad by changing something on HIS OWN WEBSITE.
    This IS the attitude we have towards criminality. Someone killed your family but YOU are on court for assaulting the killer.

    But truth be said, we all complain, and we like to complain. Its part of internet, and without it, it wouldn’t be internet.

  27. Carnildo says:

    Bright grey on black is the tool of the devil. The only true color schemes are grey on black and grey on blue.

  28. Raltar says:

    Ha ha! I read both of your stories and they are great. While I would like to agree with whoever said “This is absolutely great, I hope he keeps doing it until the entire universal contingency of stupid people are forced to see Goatse until the end of their days.” I won’t because I know that will not happen.

    But I’m just glad to see that there is alteast one other intelligent person on the internet who takes to time to write these sorts of things, doesn’t overlook details and has the good sense to know when something is funny.

    Not to mention someone who knows that a site doesn’t need some fancy interface, outrageous color sheme or buttloads of images to get a point acorss. Text rocks.

  29. Brian Macker says:

    Fabulous rationalization and nice touch trying to make your critics feel guilty.

    I’d like to see that picture that deflated your boner. Got a link?

  30. Kat says:

    It seems to be the thing to do. I have had death threats on YouTube (yes, YouTube…the bottom of the barrel when it comes to comments) simply because I provided content that was shocking. The amusing aspect to it was that:

    1. The footage was not designed to shock. It was not for the purpose of grossing people out but more to give my friend further proof of how much more of a dork I can be while thier back is turned. Humor. Having fun. Laughing at myself

    2. I did not spam this link everywhere, the commenters’ friends likely did. In fact, it landed on Portal of Evil TV where they like to showcase things that the typical /b/tard crowd finds gross, ugly (in that non mainstream way), etc

    Who is really to blame? LOL. Your post hits the nail right on the head. Ignorance shouldnt be an excuse but what can you do about the “precious snowflakes.” Someone’s gotta teach them that the internet is not all bunnies and rainbows. LOL

    This is great *adds you to google reader*

  31. This entire “saga” is a rather captivating and very well executed demonstration of the flaws of the “cloud”, Myspace and its ilk, content leeches as opposed to creators, excessively lazy users, and many other phenomena that you complain of in ASCII. My sentiment toward this “prank” itself is neither one of delight nor one of disgust, but as a fellow “online anthropologist” as it were, I commend you for the intentionally actuating and observing the implications of it.

  32. *intentional actuation and observation of the implications of it.

  33. … discusting… this pointing to something more extreme reminds me of something that you said yourself later though (summer 2007).

    Quote “Jason Scott / The Edge of Forever / DefCon 15 (2007)”

    “Everybody who does something that seems like it is rather extreme knows a more extreme motherfucker personally. Points to them and says: I am nothing.”

    q.e.d. (Quod erat demonstrandum) 🙂