Response to the New York Times

by Suw on May 6, 2004

After talking to Joi and the other guys in #joiito, I decided that so appallingly inaccurate was Seth Schiesel 's piece on IRC, that it warranted an email to his editor, Kevin McKenna.
Below is my email to Mr McKenna, and the incisive response I received from the New York Times.
Dear Mr McKenna,
I am writing regarding the article The Internet's Wilder Side, by S Schiesel, published at
Mr Schiesel seems to not only be somewhat behind the times – IRC has been around for at least 15 years, far longer than Napster or P2P – but also rather ill-informed about both the positive uses for IRC and the fundamental issues underpinning its less savoury uses.
The arguments Mr Schiesel puts forward against IRC are specious at best. At the end of the day, IRC is just one medium for communication amongst many, like messageboards, blogs, websites, sms and phones. To call it the 'wild west' and to imply that the only people who use IRC are 'pirates' and 'hackers' is not only hyperbole, it's also wrong, as any regular user of, say, #joiito (Joichi Ito's IRC channel) could tell you.
Mr Schiesel also fails to tackle the key issues underlying hacking, illegal file sharing and porn, which are far more important than the manner in which hackers and file sharers communicate. These issues include the concepts of free culture as discussed by Lawrence Lessig, the way in which software houses are failing in their fiduciary duty to provide their customers with secure software and operating systems, and the lack of appropriate resources being brought to bear against child porn rings.
These questions are complex and not answered by a simplistic attack on IRC, which is perhaps why your correspondent failed to address them.
You should also consider that such articles reflect poorly upon the NY Times. Your credibility as a source of informed news within the tech/net arena is damaged by such poorly researched and badly written pieces and you risk appearing to be scaremongering for the sake of it.
I hope that you will redress the balance by publishing a feature which gives a more balanced view of IRC, both what it is and what it can achieve as a communications and networking tool. I would be only too happy to write that feature for you.
If you would like to read my current response to Mr Schiesel's piece, you can do so on my blog at
Yours sincerely,
Suw Charman
Dear Ms. Charman:
Thank you for your letter to the Circuits section of The New York Times. In the hope that we will have room for it in a future Letters column, may I ask you for your town of residence? We print each letter writer?s town of residence beneath his/her signature.
Sincerely, Nancy Kenney, Circuits

Anonymous May 7, 2004 at 7:09 pm

According to Wikipedia, IRC “gained prominence when it was used behind the Iron Curtain to report on the fall of the USSR during a media blackout.” and “was later used in a similar fashion by Kuwaitis during the Iraqi invasion.” Maybe that history should be brought to Mr Schiesel's attention.

Anonymous May 11, 2004 at 5:50 pm

When members of a private usenet I used to frequent caught wind of this IRC controlled army of bots, many users didn't understand that they didn't have to ever go to IRC to become an IRC bot drone.
They had to have it explained to them that they became infected in the traditional ways, using unsafe email/usenet clients (this usenet allowed HTML posting), using warez, using UNsafe browsers to surf (IE), spyware (from 'freeware' and UNsafe browsers [IE}), ect.
Then the infection would call out to the IRC channel the evil ones programmed into the infection. Then all the evil one had to do was enter in commands through the IRC channel; those commands would be picked up by the infected dronebots.
That NYT article mentioned something about the FBI seemed to want to know more about monitoring IRC. Well DUH, they were in contact with GRC at the time he was DDOS'd by IRC dronebots (GRC was calling WinXP unsecure due to its raw sockets, mentioned how easily a script kiddie would be able to take advantage of the raw sockets, so a script kiddie DDOS'd him).
It's not like the FBI doesn't already know GRC; he's the one that alerted them to how dangerous the WinXP raw sockets were…he also alerted MS, who ignored him (big surprise). That's when the FBI had to make the public announcement to *force* MS to fix XP.

Anonymous May 16, 2004 at 11:58 am
the houston chronicle carrying more over-generalizations from the grand idiot of the intar-web.
i applaud you for writing that rebuttal. it seems quite a few people did and they were posted in the letters to the editor section of the paper (a quick search on their website confirms this). i'd write one but you pretty well summed it up; i just got even more angry at the common misnomer that hacker == person that tries to wreak havoc using a computer.

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