Friday, 19 August 2011

Montreal police make arrest over "Dave Mabus" spamming of atheist websites

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Those of you who know the sceptical/atheist/humanist blogosphere well will be aware of a character who calls himself "Dave Mabus", who has persistently launched spam attacks on such sites, including our own, for many years. If you follow and converse with us on Twitter, you may have been subject to one of his onslaughts on there, where he bombards anyone he can link to atheism with abusive, and often threatening, messages before those on the receiving end report his account and get it blocked by Twitter. His attacks aren't automated either - it has always been clear from the nature of them that "Mabus" must spend hours at a computer, setting up new Twitter accounts when his previous accounts are blocked, and manually posting his comments on various blogs and web forums. While many of us in the atheist blogosphere have joked about receiving his messages, with a "Mabus spamming" being viewed almost as a rite of passage, ultimately the fact is that we have been dealing with the work of someone who is clearly mentally ill and in need of help.

The reason I bring all this up is that, just this week, police in Montreal have arrested a man suspected of being "Dave Mabus". It has long been known that "Mabus" lives in that city, as he has never been particularly good at covering his online tracks, and that his real name is Dennis Markuze (he even turned up at an event PZ Myers was speaking at once), and numerous people, including PZ, have attempted to get the police to take notice of his activities. While this might seem like an excessive reaction to an internet spammer, the "Mabus" messages, particularly those directed at famous sceptics such as PZ, Michael Shermer and James Randi, have often involved death threats, giving some of those targeted reason to view Markuze as a genuine concern.

Most attempts to alert the police have proven unsuccessful, but in the past couple of weeks a Twitter campaign by sceptics has succeeded in encouraging Montreal police to take the case seriously, and an arrest was finally made on Wednesday. The campaign, which involved alerting local Montreal journalists to the story and launching a petition encouraging the police to act, is a great example of online activism, and is explained in full in this comprehensive post by the sceptical blogger Tim Farley. It's a fascinating post, and well worth reading even if you've never heard of "Mabus" until now.

Now that this arrest has been made, it seems likely that the days of "Mabus spamming" are over, which means it's now safe to converse with us (and PZ, and many other atheist bloggers) on Twitter without being bombarded with abuse. That's certainly a good thing, but I think perhaps the most important thing is that the man behind the spamming may now receive the help he has clearly needed for many years.

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