Anchor Lisa Mullins speaks with science blogger, William Raillant-Clark in Montreal about the case of alleged Twitter spammer, Dennis Markuze, aka “Mabus”. Markuze was arrested this week and charged with making death threats to scientists, including Raillant-Clark.
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Lisa Mullins: A Canadian man appeared in a Montreal court today. He’s charged with two counts of making death threats. The man’s name is Dennis Markuze, but he uses the name Mabus online. And it’s online where he’s accused of having threatened the lives of certain science writers for years now. Markuze is a Christian and atheists, especially scientists rub him the wrong way. There’ve been plenty of formal complaints about these threats, but the Montreal police did not act on them until a science blogger, William Raillant-Clark, wrote about the case. He learned about the death threats in the course of his work.
William Raillant-Clark: I monitor Twitter and other social media to know what science journalists are interested in. And I discovered that rather than talking about research they were talking about threats that they’d been receiving.
Mullins: So this came to your attention and you took some action last week. What did you do?
Raillant-Clark: I wrote a blog article because I was very angry with the Montreal police that they had not acted on complaints that they’d received from these people mostly in the US. And following the publication of that blog article I myself received a threat. As a Montrealer being threatened by somebody else in Montreal I took the complaint to the police department and it was pretty rapidly acted upon with the help of some pressures from the traditional media.
Mullins: I want to talk about that pressure, but what was the threat that you received and how did you get it?
Raillant-Clark: The threat came to my personal email account which means that he had to look up my contact details. And it was a long, rambling, crazy kind of text that really didn’t make any sense, but there were really nasty snippets throughout it. For example, we’re gonna come and cut your head off; die atheist, die; and you know, just a lot of really psychotic ranting.
Mullins: How do you know that the person who is appearing in court today is the same person who wrote those threats to you?
Raillant-Clark: Some of the people that he has been attacking are extremely intelligent. And some of them are even involved directly in computer security. By firstly looking at the technical aspect, but also by looking at the content of the messages he was sending, it was pretty easy to line up. And in fact, when he came to a conference here in Montreal in October, when he physically attended, people were able to recognize him and even take a photo of him.
Mullins: There was also the involvement of someone online from San Francisco, so this kind of crossed the border in terms of what you guys were doing, these investigators. What happened there?
Raillant-Clark: It all kind of happened at about the same time. When I went down to the police department to file my complaint, at about the same time a man in San Francisco organized an online petition asking the police to take this issue seriously. And the fact that that petition received 5,000 signatures within 48 hours demonstrates in my opinion quite aptly just how many people had been targeted by this guy and just how much frustration there was by the situation.
Mullins: So, you credit that kind of pressure from social media with prompting police to act?
Raillant-Clark: I think there’s a number of factors involved, and I think this case demonstrates quite well the difficulties police have responding to this kind of situation. When I first went to file my complaint you know, the response from the officer who took it was that if I went looking for trouble on the internet that I was sure to find it, and that he was very busy and the file might not be looked at for one, two, or even three months. So, I definitely think the social media side of it, the petition in particular, really helped in making sure my formal complaint was treated promptly and quickly.
Mullins: All right, William Raillant-Clark, public information officer at the University of Montreal, where he blogs about science matters. Thanks, William.
Raillant-Clark: Thank you.
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