Grey areas in AskMe November 23, 2004 4:57 PM   Subscribe

The AskMe thread on faking one's death seems to skirt the same grey area as several of the deleted warez-related inquiries. Not to be a prude, of course -it's ust that curiousity like this could be bad for our ponies.
posted by Smart Dalek to Etiquette/Policy at 4:57 PM (35 comments total)

I wouldn't be offended if Matt wanted to delete it, but it didn't seem any worse than the "How to Hide a Dead Body" thread cited on BestAskMe. I had assumed that the thread was there simply for curiosity and/or fictional applications, and I don't mean that just to cover my patoot legally for posting an answer. It just doesn't seem that someone actually looking to go through with this kind of fraud would ask about it un-anonymously (nonymously?) on an easily accessable forum.

I see your point re: the ponies and what's best for them, but I don't see this as being particularly problematic. I can't imagine anyone getting in trouble for this, but then again, I can't imagine a lot of things.

At any rate, it's Matt's board and it's his call to make. If deletion is wise, then delete away, good sir...
posted by Sticherbeast at 5:12 PM on November 23, 2004

*Scratches "Be your own undertaker" from scarabics xmaslist*.. Clearly no need for that book there. nope.
posted by dabitch at 5:16 PM on November 23, 2004

SmartDalek - Maybe it's too early for me to try and ride without the training wheels, but I don't see the issue on this one. I'm sure there are a lot of people that have pondered the question - not because they're planning to fake their own death or have any need to disappear from society, but because they're curious. Sure, there are some sinister implications and some answers may delve into the unscrupulous, but the question itself doesn't seem out of bounds to me.

The only part of the original AskMe question that seemed odd to me was that he specified "How difficult would it be for an American to fake their own death?", as if he's only curious within the US borders.

I don't think the question is a "tinfoil hat" question, but I will freely admit that the catalog I referred him to is. I've always been amazed at the stuff they carry and I've always hoped that I never have a need to actually have to order something from them. It looks to me like in only a few days you guys have given Matt quite a big "to do" list when he returns.
posted by HifiToaster at 5:31 PM on November 23, 2004

I was just asking because I'm curious. I'm not actually going to do it, and my specifying "American" in it was because I'd imagine that it's much easier in lands without strong central governments full of high tech toys.
posted by cmonkey at 5:54 PM on November 23, 2004

Askme has already shown us how to hide the (fake dead) body, learning how to fake the death is just clearing up the paperwork, so I don't think there's a problem with it.
posted by Salmonberry at 6:22 PM on November 23, 2004

I think it's an interesting question, and one I, as a novelist, have thought about in some detail. And I got why cmonkey specified "American", because it's a lot easier to get false identification in many other countries than it is here (and it's not that hard here).

For example, US authorities have recently cracked down on the former widely-used practice of searching birth and death records until you find someone who was born around the time you were and died in early childhood, then writing away to the local City Hall and asking for a copy of "your" (i.e., your dead contemporary's) birth certificate.

In many countries, though, there just isn't the technology or infrastructure to keep a close rein on that.
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:48 PM on November 23, 2004

*removes thumb from mouth long enough to speak*

I like the post. It's interesting and requires research plus creativity in order to come up with a good answer. It's a thinker. Seems like a great, fun question.

*goes back to playing with coloured blocks*
posted by stray at 7:46 PM on November 23, 2004

and how could this be bad for our ponies? It's just general information, a Hippothetical question -- what are the dangers to our ponies?
posted by page404 at 8:16 PM on November 23, 2004

since when does curiosity deserve ceonsorship?

besides, this is always one of my favorite daydream topics.
posted by Hackworth at 9:20 PM on November 23, 2004

really? my favorite is "How to rob the bank across the street", alternatively "fort knox" when I wanna be really creative. :)
posted by dabitch at 9:52 PM on November 23, 2004

since when does curiosity deserve ceonsorship?

When it's illegal? I mean, it's not a thoughtcrime to ponder it publicly, but someone is basically asking folks how they would go about breaking all sorts of laws.

I don't want Ask MetaFilter to be a place where someone goes "hey, how can I grow some really great pot plants" because no matter how much I try to insulate myself, I'll be the guy getting busted for hosting the server where it was asked (and I wouldn't be surprised if the DEA could pull the plug on the server).

It'd be nice if people stuck to questions about stuff that's actually legal and wouldn't ever get me into hot water.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 9:54 PM on November 23, 2004

Oh, Matt. You're so selfish
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 10:02 PM on November 23, 2004

Matt, in the past I would have thought a statement like yours was a little too paranoid, but the way the pendulum has been swinging lately, erroring on the side of caution might not be such a bad idea.

I still think that the original question was broad enough to be innocent (and not just in legal terms). If somebody asked for tips on luring children from playgrounds or exactly WHICH cable on a 1887 Toyota Camry do you cut to sever the brakes there would be an obvious problem.

The book catalog I mentioned in the original post was a favorite of mine to look through in highschool. I was totally fascinated by the subversive stuff, but to me it was all just for curiosity. It took me a while to grasp that there really were people ordering those books to make bombs, forge checks, and disappear.
posted by HifiToaster at 4:47 AM on November 24, 2004

questions like this are not illegal. as you (matt) say, talking about things isn't generally illegal. there are a few exceptions (i don't know american law in detail, but typically different countries get upset about things like inciting racial violence, or describing how to make bombs, or details of defense establishments etc). there are also various problems with copyrighted material (which may or may not include links to them). but these are exceptions. in general you are free to talk about whatever you want.

talking about faking one's death is clearly not illegal.

it seems to me that you are letting worries about a few very exceptional cases drive policy here, rather than following the tradition of free speech that (1) america is pretty famous for, at least to those of us in other countries, and (2) that i would have thought you, pesonally, supported.

it's bad enough that groups like the RIAA use their weight to bend the law to restrict what people can say and do on the internet, without us imposing our own, un-needed restrictions here.

yes, i understand that a balance is necessary. that you can choose topics so that the community as a whole evolves as you would like. i'm not arguing with that. rather, i'm saying that you seem to be over-estimating the threat of external pressures. you seem to be assuming that talking about illegal things is generally wrong. it's not. it's generally legal, acceptable, and within your rights to do so. that is what free speech means - it doesn't need to be a right if you can only talk about things that are ok anyway.
posted by andrew cooke at 5:20 AM on November 24, 2004

what andrew said.
posted by amberglow at 5:59 AM on November 24, 2004

I think it's a fun question. So was the 'disposing of a body' question. Although it did make me lose a lot of sleep..
posted by graventy at 6:08 AM on November 24, 2004

Matt, if you want to be overly cautious, it's completely understandable, especially in Ashcroft's Gonzales's America, but no one can touch you on this. Even the "how can I grow some really great pot plants" is completely legal. I mean, have you ever read High Times?

Of course, IANAL.
posted by jpoulos at 6:28 AM on November 24, 2004

"how to grow some really great pot plants" question coming to AskMe in 5...4...3...2...
posted by luser at 6:48 AM on November 24, 2004

Not being a lawyer and all, I'm not sure, but it seems to me that there isn't anything illegal about a hypothetical question (even one that acted on would certainly be illegal). Even the weed example should be fine, my local independent bookstore stocks a variety of books on cannabis cultivation and there is certainly no shortage of websites devoted to the topic.

But that doesn't really matter. Legal or not I imagine a DHS, DEA, ATF or FBI investigation of any sort would be damn inconvenient and almost certainly expensive.

Maybe MetaFilter isn't the best place to test the limits of the First Amendment and it definitely isn't the best place to force another into pushing the envelope. Maybe mathowie has plans for the winter that don't include the ACLU.
posted by cedar at 6:52 AM on November 24, 2004

Well, note that Matt hasn't deleted the thread. I have to say that it was helpful to me because I came up with a great idea for a short story in the course of posting my comment. Thanks, AskMe!
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:54 AM on November 24, 2004

you seem to be over-estimating the threat of external pressures

Well, if his overestimate turns out -- surprise! -- to be closer to the truth than you would have thought, guess who's going to be in hot water? Not you and not me. So why don't we let Matt do his own estimating and not bitch about every goddam thing?
posted by languagehat at 7:38 AM on November 24, 2004

He did just delete the one on "What is the perfect crime?" though.

I had an answer all ready and everything.
posted by smackfu at 7:50 AM on November 24, 2004

It's an interesting thread. But. Even if it's legal, are we all prepared to contribute to Matt's legal defense fund? While Matt's in an unnamed holding location for presumed terrorsts, where will we get ponies?

Of course, there's the argument that we should be challenging the limitations of free speech, so that we can keep our speech free, but um..
posted by theora55 at 7:51 AM on November 24, 2004

Did anyone ever actually go take on a bear, arming themselves with only a knife?
posted by LionIndex at 9:32 AM on November 24, 2004

It has always amused me just how respectable murder mysteries are -- little old ladies are quite happy to admit they read books containing the details of all sorts of clever (and not so clever) means of killing people. It's also quite respectable to write them.

Other thrillers, stuffed with crime, spying, terrorism, and so on, while not quite so respectable, are considered to be well within the bounds of good taste.

So it would seem that all we need to do is persuade our askers of dubious questions to ask for help in writing a book:
I'm writing a book where someone is growing pot, but he gets murdered and his body is disposed of by a murderer who then disappears. How do you grow pot? What's a good way of killing someone? How would he best dispose of the body? And how would he go about disappearing afterwards? Thanks in advance!
posted by Quinbus Flestrin at 9:45 AM on November 24, 2004

not bitch about every goddam thing?

i'm sorry you feel that way. i've actually made less posts than you have to meta. but i guess yours are carefully judged comments rather than bitching...

matt will not be taken to court because someone discusses how to fake their own death. no matter how convinced you all are that you live in a police state, you're not.
posted by andrew cooke at 10:54 AM on November 24, 2004

andrew, I think his point was that even if Matt is totally wrong and you are totally right, it is his site, his labor, his creation, and his responsibility for whatever tiny amount of liability may truly exist for some of these posts.

So no matter how wrong Matt might be in the view of some, it's unseemly and even foolish to spend time arguing about it. When the lights go out each night, it's Matt that has to be able to sleep soundly, and if he needs to take a hypercautious editing mindset in order for him to do that, who are any of us to object?

Let's complain about each other in MetaTalk. That's fun, rewarding, and in this holiday season, fun for the whole family. Complaining about Matt? That's just stupid.
posted by luser at 11:11 AM on November 24, 2004

matt also created metatalk as a place to discuss these things. a place where people could argue their case. that's all i'm doing. i'm not holding a gun to his head, just expressing an opinion. and doing so in the manner and environment which, i believe, he expects.

in particular, i'm not making a personal attack on matt. i think he does an excellent job of running this place, and i've said so before. all i'm doing is pointing out that it's not illegal to talk about ilegal things, except for some small exceptions. that may seem obvious, but in my experience is something people often forget or have never seriously considered - many people never sat down and asked themselves what a "right" to something is, for example.
posted by andrew cooke at 11:22 AM on November 24, 2004

What Andrew said. The question ain't illegal at all. Nor would "how do I grow pot?" I can buy books on these topics at Amazon and have 'em sent to my house in neon gift-wrapping without a legal worry. High Times is sold in every subway and I've seen "How to Disappear Completely and Not Be Found" as an impulse buy at several bookstores. Maybe in 120 years when they place Ashcroft's brain into an enormous killing robot with laser-lasers, but not before.

But also what Cedar said. Just because this question is technically OK, we should be mindful not to get Matt in trouble. We should err on the side of caution, not necessarily out of fear, but out of courtesy. It's his awesome site, and we should do our best to show gratitude and respect for it. While this question seems quite ironclad to me (which is why it's still up), it's only a few steps to the right to get a question which could attract the wrong attention.

We don't ever want to land Matt in court, even if he'll win anyway.
posted by Sticherbeast at 11:26 AM on November 24, 2004

You must realize that even though it is not illegal, Matt might be forced in the awkward position of having to give over dip addresses to aid an investigation. While a ethical PD will never base a warrant (unless they're extremely bored) solely on a simple Internet post, nor will a judge issue a warrant on such grounds, if the person was gone under suspicious circumstances and it was traced back to this post, Matt may be forced to give up an IP address. Though that'd be the worst that could happen.

I think we must keep in mind, that even though we're armchair anarchists and would never carry out such things, we will gain little from asking the question. I'm very interested in money laundering/organized crime related activities and just how they still manage to get away with it. Obviously it won't be illegal for me to ask, but no one who is successfully committing the illegal acts would want to reveal how they do it. Security through obscurity does work in many cases.
posted by geoff. at 2:49 PM on November 24, 2004

What if some guy tries to fake his own death--by say going out in a boat late at night and sending it back empty--but actually ends up dead? Couldn't his relatives sue Matt for allowing that question? Also, think of the children! What if a kid trying to run away by faking his death ends up dead by following one of the suggestions?
posted by Jim Jones at 2:54 PM on November 24, 2004

Another concern for Matt is that if the coppers 'only' want the missing person's IP addy, he'd still have to hire a lawyer to deal with the issue. And lawyers, unlike ponies, are not free.
posted by haqspan at 3:14 PM on November 24, 2004

I am amazed at how many people have seemingly been cowed into abandoning what is supposedly one of the cornerstones of our western democracies -- the protection of free speech.

I am also sympathetic to Matt's position, of course, and I think that there are quite possibly many questions (or discussions) that might, especially given the litigious assholery of American culture in particular, leave him as proprietor of the site open to some kind of troubles with which he'd have no interest in dealing. It's well within his purview to moderate as he sees fit to limit the possibility of getting into hot water of some kind -- nobody should expect him to be some kind of free-speech superhero unless he declares himself to be such.

But taken aback, am I, at how willing people are to say 'well, that's possibly inconvenient, so we'd best not bother with it' when it comes to rights that people are still dying for in other parts of the world.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 3:44 PM on November 24, 2004

So how is that the dead body thread is still around? Getting rid of a body has GOT to be worse than faking your own death.
posted by bob sarabia at 7:58 PM on November 24, 2004

I'm sorry you feel that way

andrew: That part wasn't directed at you; that's why I put it in small type, though I guess that didn't make it clear enough. It was an outcry of exasperation at the recent rash of nitpicking and whining.

stav: I don't get your point. I, for one, am a frothing free-speech maniac, and resent any attempts to shrink the universe of discourse on the part of the powers that be. What does that have to do with the question here, which is how far we're justified in putting Matt in jeopardy with our naughty playground games? If Matt wants to take risks for the sake of free speech, good for him; if others want Matt to take risks for them, screw 'em. Or so I feel.
posted by languagehat at 8:46 AM on November 26, 2004

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