Jason Fortuny and Michael Crook, who both conducted sex-baiting, privacy-killing pranks on CraigsList, are currently feeding what seems to be a new phase in the lifecycle of the meme. In the process, while trying to turn "bad attention" into revenue streams, they're throwing insults at one another, as well as taking considerable rebuke from various sources.
Fortuny had baited hapless doofuses by pretending to be a woman seeking rough sex. In a blustery online interview last month he taunted his victims, saying his detractors had failed to prove his prank was illegal, and crowing that "I'm still alive... No one's killed me, no one's tried to kill me..."
But last week on his blog he posted a scan of a beautifully handwritten letter, signed, "Mom."
You are my son, and I will always love you; but I don't respect the person you have become. You'll never get the chance to play us again. You're wrong, Jason, to play with people's minds or emotions; and don't push buttons.
I do wish you well.
Good Bye, Mom
Comments of condolence quickly turn to his September notoriety as well. ("Your mom ditched you in a letter?" "Maybe she thought an email would get published on the net and it was safer.") After an earlier post where Fortuny noted he'd been unable to identify his biological father, someone suggested he simply post an ad on CraigsList looking for one. One poster even suggests that the letter itself was another prank. ("Jason has already proven he will do anything for attention," another commenter adds.)
But Fortuny continues to bait his critics. In a mock advice column to future CraigsList prankers, he writes, "Don't worry about lawsuits. They won't happen. Don't worry about getting stalked or beaten. Not gonna happen." Fortuny published what he says are hate mails in response to his prank, including one scolding email from a lawyer in New Jersey. Another blogger claims to have contacted Seattle's prosecuting attorney, and received a response that, "there is no violation of our state criminal code involved here, yet."
Fortuny identifies the experience as "the peace corps of attention whoring: the toughest spotlight you'll ever love."
Meanwhile, Fortuny found himself sharing the spotlight with second-string sex-baiter, Michael Crook. Word of Fortuny's prank had reached Crook in upstate New York, inspiring him to also post fake ads on CraigsList forums two weeks later, again pretending to be a young woman seeking casual sex. By last Sunday the Las Vegas Sun had apparently confirmed Crook's aggressive coaxing of emails and photographs from his victims, including from one married man in Las Vegas. According to the paper, Crook then made taunting phone calls to the man's wife, and to managers and the CEO at the company where he worked. For his antics, Crook was served with an injunction in late September, according to the newspaper, and within days Crook had taken down his site.
Crook's own blog had gloated instead that he'd sold the domain (CraigsList-perverts.org), and he'd added sassily that it meant "the guys that were on there were literally bought and sold." The domain's registration did change — to a fake phone number in New Jersey belonging to a TV station, and a fake address belonging to a group of physicians. A Yahoo.com email address associated with the domain belongs to "Nightshadow Productions," though when contacted they'd claimed plans for "the same busts, as well as the results from at least 15 new busts, some of which are currently going on." Suspiciously, CraigsList-Perverts.org still shows links only to Michael Crook's own sites, and it still appears on a list of domains which Crook himself has for sale. (Its listing says craigslist-perverts.org will be offered free of charge to anyone purchasing CLPervs.org, for an asking price of $250.) Crook's boastful blog has been taken offline, though — replaced with instructions to search engines not to archive it. In an online forum he writes instead that, "It's difficult to get advertisers behind such a website, which is the primary reason I pulled out..." He says that he'd considered putting the site on a server outside the U.S., but, "It's just not worth it to me if I can't bring in the bucks."
CraigsList got involved, according to the Sun article, citing court documents where the popular web site alleges trademark infringement and harassment and threatens legal action against Crook unless he will "formally apologize" to each CraigsList victim. They also interviewed another of Crook's victims, a single 34-year-old homeowner who said he felt violated - and is "considering" hiring a lawyer. A spokeswoman for the Electronic Frontier Foundation even tells the newspaper that online pranksters "may be overconfident thinking that they might not go to court."
Crook responds on his web site, arguing he's too poor to be sued. "Judgments aren't a good thing, but when there's nothing to judge, i.e. nothing to legally put a lien on or seize, it's really a non-issue." He gloats that in any trial he'd use the sexy conversations as evidence, accomplishing "the very same thing these guys want to avoid... [E]verything would become public record, and it would likely wind up in the media, or at the very least under public scrutiny. "
He also bickers with Fortuny over which of them has kept more of their web material online, and argues that he's not ugly, but Fortuny is.
Into the drama comes a third character named "Mr Piss On Ya," a domain registered in Louisville, Kentucky which also matches the name of a Louisville "band" on a Garageband.com page. (Though two of their four tracks are recorded prank phone calls.) The "Mr Piss On Ya" domain shows only a picture of Michael Crook over a supposed transcript of Crook himself being baited into giving his phone number to a pretend online female. ("but what if my wife answers?") The transcript dates back to 2005, and was originally hosted on the fan site for a band called "Flaw" — also from Louisville.
There's no guarantee of its authenticity, and the content seems unusually damning and improbable. (At one point it has Crook saying his penis is "pretty small," and adding later that "I've been in 3 porn films...petite fuckers 1, 2, 3.") Crook had made himself a target for online revenge that spring, moving from an argument that America's soldiers were overpaid to incendiary comments like "Let 'em die in combat — we don't need their ilk in this country!" It's impossible to tell whether the revenge took the form of enticing a sexy chat transcript, or simply fabricating it.
But Tuesday night a tipster calling himself "[email protected]" gleefully forwarded the URL for the year-old web page to 10zenMonkeys, commenting that Crook "seems to have engaged in the same behavior he's calling himself a martyr by trying to expose." Three minutes later, someone calling themself "Michael Crook is a fraud" posted the same URL — in a comment on Jason Fortuny's blog.
Another comment appeared — less than an hour later — responding that the transcript "was long ago proven to be a forgery," and adding, "Fortuny doesn't care about facts, now does he?"
There certainly appears to be a private feud between the two online sex prankers. Fortuny linked to an article about copycat Crook, then made fun of Crook's hair. Someone calling himself "Michael Crook" then appeared in the comments, saying "you can crack wise and insult all you like, but you're the one who was molested as a child (by your own admission), and you're the one who posted about BDSM." (Adding: "And if you're going to insult my hair, get out of that glass house of yours. You're so ugly that my dog wouldn't barf on you.")
Perhaps it's a fitting end to the story: Two online griefers uncomfortably co-habiting the same meme, locked in endless arguments over their respective self-destructing reputations and posturing defensively for an imagined audience of fans and detractors. Or, God save us all, maybe this meme will simply never go away!
The Secret Life of Jason Fortuny
In the Company of Jerkoffs
Jason Fortuny Speaks
Craigslist Troll Gets Sued