I wouldn’t have written this story had I not been asked to, but I was and so I have. Strangest of all, the person who asked me to write it is the subject of the story and is really angry for most of the time. Confused? I still am. Anyway, here’s the back story.
Last week I wrote an article about a company called BioFuel Africa, who took it upon themselves to plant around 38,000 hectares of jatropha in an area of Ghana replete with rich biodiversity and cultural heritage which would be irrevocably damaged in the event of such an industrial monocultural invasion.
The majority of the article quoted third party sources, primary of these being the web site of the company carrying out the plantation project. There was a little bit of opinion from myself, but as with almost all of the posts on The Unsuitablog, the bulk of it was factual information, along with a chunk of logical extrapolation. However, I did refer to the two buyers of the newly reformed company as “arseholes”, which I have now changed to “ecocidal maniacs” (I’m not going to apologise; what would you call people who want to produce vast amounts of agrofuels for profit at the expense of an ecosystem and a cultural milieu?)
A representative of the company — Ove Martin Kolnes — possibly a director, and definitely a relative (brother?) of the owner Steinar Kolnes, attempted to post a couple of rebukes after the article. My view on comments is that if I feel they are adverts, illogical rants or I simply don’t like the tone or content, then I won’t publish them. It’s my blog, it’s not a democracy (for all that is worth); if you want to say something then start your own blog. In fact, I was about to accept Ove’s comments when Mr Kolnes decided to send me an email, and not just any old email: a very offensive, very angry email.
From: “Ove Martin Kolnes” firstname.lastname@example.org
Date: Sat, 22 Aug 2009 17:40:37 +0100
I find your article about Bifuel Africa Ltd very disturbing. You are in public calling the founders by names and naming them “assholes” and want people to spam their E mail and fax- machine. I dont know what kind of Idiot U are, but I have left an answer that I asume U are not going to allow to your blog. I see you dont know nothing about what is going on down here you fucking wealthy piece of shit. I am really surprised by your lack of knowledge and politness, but I can not expect more from a man from the UK. I live down here, work down her, employed with Biofuel Africa. We employed over 400 poor people before assholes like you and others started putting out shit about us. Now there is a lot of people suffering, and we “white” on the ground here is trying to heal some of the damages that has been done to our employees. I dont have numbers of how many I had to pay hospital bills for from my own money to save their lifes because of the shit you have published. Well… U can sit in your middleclasshouse in UK and fuck your nice wife and tell your nice little kids about powerty in Africa and think that you actually do something with the powerty in the world, while we “bad guys” in Biofuel Africa actually do something about it, creating working places for the poor people. Anyway.. I expect you to remove names and charactheristics like “assholes” in your stated lies about us… or else we maybe go to some legal steps to remove them.
Well, obviously I couldn’t stay silent about that, so published it as a comment below the post (now moved to here). I responded:
Cool! I’ll be sure to print this.
Then after reading it again, followed up with:
Oh, and if you ever threaten any member of my family again, no legal steps will be enough to stop me.
You have sealed the fate of your company.
The first statement was based on the phrase “fuck your nice wife and tell your kids about powerty (sic) in Africa”, which can be taken a number of ways, including as a threat. The second statement reflected the fact that I would be posting his email on the blog, which would be appalling publicity.
Now it gets interesting. It seems that Ove thought he had a right of confidentiality, sending me emails. Incorrect: anyone who posts a comment has to enter an email address, and their IP address is also shown for moderation (this is standard practice to prevent spamming), neither of which I ever reveal. The same does not apply to emails sent directly to my personal mailbox, unless the sender requests, politely, confidentiality.
This was his response (verbatim):
so.. this is how you work? Im not surprised. How you can “find” a threat in my email against your familily is fantastic.. Get your ass, if your feets can carry you, down at the local police- station and do something about it. I will come to the UK defending myself in the court. We are not a big multi- national company. We are a family- company spending munch of our own money. I get provoked when somebody is mentioning names, calling them for assholes and want people to spam their email, telephone and fax- lines. We too have familiy..you are not the only one knowing how to make children.. and you never know what kind of (left- winger) nut- cases out there wanting to hurt us. You are the first one charactherising people in the company like this with names and want other to do illegal actions against us… thats why I react to your statement…
So dont try getting any sympathy by acting like a poor victim here.. you started this. You have a choise to remove names, charactheristics and wanting people to do illegal actions against us.
“you hav sealed the fate of the company”… he he.. you know nothing. We have assets in the comapany, we could just pack everything down, sell it off, and do something else that is not so taboo in your eyes. I have a good job in Norway waiting for me were I make better money, but we are burning for this, our workers, the community and the project itself so we will try getting this up and going. The people around us depend on us.. and we will try not to let them down. As I told you, we have increased farming land for the farmers in “our” community with almost 10 times. Dont let the lies you read blind you.. internet is full of shit. I invite you to come down one day, maybe time will heal our little dispute.
Heal? Ok, I have changed “arseholes” to “ecocidal maniacs”, and posted your previous email in the comments. My readers can decide for themselves what you meant.
As can any solicitor you employ.
At this point, I’m not going to comment about the nature of BioFuel Africa’s business model, nor their philanthropic claims; I’ve already made my opinion (and others’) clear.
The next email from Ove was interesting, to say the least:
Keith Farnish, I demand one thing from you. You should remove the “paste and copy” answer you have put up on your blog. You dont act like a responsible person enough to admin a blog. You signed a contract with me, not revealing my E-mail answering your so- called article. You have violited that contract. You are in right not to make the answer public, but NOT faking it. If you want you can publish my E- mail to you in a new article and put up lies as much as you want, but not fake an answer! I have never seen anything like this “paste and copy” practise in my life…and that is coming from the UK?!? Well.. I know this “paste and copy”- game myself… there is much damage to be done to your name if you know somebodys name and E- mail adress and there is a personal agenda. My name is not important enough, so the damage is not big at all, just to my family, but your name is more in public so the damage to your name will propably be bigger. Call this a threat.. or what you want.. but I know this game very well :) You started this fraud.. I hope you will end it, and you will never hear from me again. There is a family on both sides here.. and making things public like you have done from the first moment is not ethical like you suppose to honor. Well.. let the game begin… or?
So, I have done as he asked: I published his email in a new article. I wasn’t tempted to put up any lies, nor “fake” any answers — there was too much real stuff to need to fake anything.
As it happens there were lots of emails from Ove, some of which overlapped, so here is this one to fill in the gaps:
hehehe.. I am not surprised your way of working… and you are trying to be taken serious? I see now that you are a totally jerk. You did not put public my response to you, but my email to you. Well.. this is the kind of idiots we are facing every- day… people that can not answer when we are telling our story.. I thought people from UK were honest ones, but you are acting more corrupt than anything UK created down here in Africa. Well.. I am not a director.. I am just a simple farmer.. but I see I have really stepped on you.. You dont have any power in your pen, since you are laying down for me :) … a simple farmer drom Norway.. I must laugh :) You.. afraid for my pen???
put out my telephone- number too so people can call me down here +233249649737
This was sent at about the same time as the email that began: “so.. this is how you work? Im not surprised.” Yes, it’s getting a bit confusing, but it’s important to give the whole story, as Ove is so keen on. By the way, I’m not sure how a relative of the owner, and the person listed as the primary Ghana contact on the web site could be a “simple farmer”; but what would a “fucking wealthy piece of shit” know?
Then the threats began:
by the way.. I must see in any way how I can stop you now. You are running this blog, stating that you will not publish any e-mail when anyone is replying. You are editing my answers, you are a cheater and a lier..but worser, you are putting out my e-mail in public when you are doing a “contract” with your readers not to do so…. so now just put out my telephonenumber too..
Very confusing: he asked me to publish his phone number, then keeps on about the email address…
So, bringing these together, I responded:
You sent the email, I published it. That is not libel.
If you want to make issue, make it with the people who published the original article about your activities, or The Independent who also published (see the link on the article) information about your activities.
I will happily publish your email to me. Again, you sent it, so can hardly claim it was fraud.
By all means send a solicitor’s letter, but make this personal — and by the way *I* didn’t reveal the names of the people in the company in the original article, you did, by publishing them on your web site and sending me emails that any sensible person would publish.
P.S. It’s my blog, I reserve the right to delete comments or shorten them. I don’t have to publish anything if I don’t want to.
The last main bit of my response was a bit garbled, I meant to add “– and I will not be happy.” Anyhow, he responded, and I was starting to become impressed with his typing speed and the sheer volume of information in the emails. At no point in my original article did I mention financial corruption, so why is he making such a big deal of this. It seems — and this is not just idle speculation but based on exchanges I have had with companies in the past — that the ecological and cultural damage of the BioFuel Africa project is less important in his eyes, than the financial situation; such is the nature of capitalism…
when I answered the article.. there is a writing that my E-mail is required, but will not be published. Its like a contract, I accepted to make a comment, but only if my Email was not published. I trusted this so much that I even gave a correct E-mail… but I see that I was too naive trusting you. You can publish my Emails as much as you want, but not as it is an answer to the article with copy and paste. You are in fact an editor, you are responsible what you are putting out in public.. you are inviting people to comment.. its a fraud when you false this answers. It was a general E-mail to you as an editor were I was angry at you mentioning single persons as assholes, it was not an answer to your article. If you want to publish it, make a new article instead., just an advice…. Well, its your blog, do whatever you want, keep up the work insulting people in public.
When it comes to the source of this lies its a consultant that did not get a assignement with us.. he tried to blackmail us.. and got money to publish the story in the biggest newspaper in Ghana and on internet. Media in West- Africa is some different than in our world. You have to pay to get any story in the newspaper. I have journalists every week to my house wanting to write a story, but its all about money. When a lie has come to internet its impossible to stop it.. then Der Spiegel picked it up, Norwegian television, ..you name it…now 2 years after Independent wake up from their sleep and publish it. There is much more to say about this issue, and we are not people that does not do mistakes.
The bankrupcy were not because of this lies from this consultant. The bancrupsy were because Statoil(Norwegian oilcompany), not with the best story when it comes to corruption, should invest first 10million dollars in our project. We had worked over 2 years with them finalizing the investment. The day before the formal signing they come up with some story about us..I have it here, a story with AA, BB, in the country Y, doing some moneytransaction to officials. We were shocked, because the story did not suit the country we were in, we did not get any information were they get this from. They had outsourced! the investigation to a UK, London based, investigation company.. and by contract with them not allowed to reveal their name. It was therefor impossible to clear our name..and therefor it was impossible to get replacement in investment. We had to lay off all of our workers the same day and declare bancrupt. Now we are on scratch, trying to get it all up again. By the way, our own investigasions here in Ghana show that the investigation- company is named “Kroll”. I know that this company dont have clean hands tehmselves…
Anyway.. do what you want. Its your blog. I dont have time trying to spoil your name.. but I get pissed off.. and lose some more of my naivity about decent people.
So that, would appear to be that. I was going to respond, then didn’t, then finally did, because I had finally understood what he was getting at with regards to the email privacy issue:
This will also be my last response. I never publish email addresses when people post comments; there is, however, no such agreement when you decide to send me a personal email, which you did, especially one that is so offensive.
I didn’t expect this response:
ok Keith.. I find your charactheristic of persons also so offensive that I have to take som steps further… Calling people for assholes and even worser IN PUBLIC like you did, inviting people to spam their emails and fax is very offensive. You can not just delete it and believe that everything is ok. Remember, you have brought everything to public. You have edited everything… you are the editor.. you are responsible bringing this to the public. I propably find some time anyway to bring things public about you to then. By the way, calling me a director..hehe.. Well as you said, its your blog.. Im just sitting in a slum in Africa wondering how I will attack all this :) You really provoked me with this last E-mail
Why would clarifying a point be so provocative? Anyhow, I have no intention of deleting my blog, and I’m quite tempted to reinstate the word “arseholes” except neither of the people alluded to in the article have chosen to write to me in such a way.
Finally, late last night he sent the following:
Maybe you should take a look at this one. http://blogethics2004.blogspot.com/2005/03/cobe-revised-form-based-duties-in-blog.html#comments Its about blog- ethics. You are a radical (raddis) fundamentalist that does not want any reflection or new knowledge. No discussion is allowed, all should be in the hands of you. The meaning of life should be to learn something new every day. Well.. I have learnt something from you yesterday, thats for sure :)
Well… read this list. I think the one about promoting free expression and the one about deceiving others should be read carefully.
Anyway.. you have gotten me into this blog- thing. I will propably create my own, inviting you, since you will be my first subject, to a comment :) I will handle my blog in an ethical way, free expression. I even think I will make it more popular than your own.. I dont think you have so many visitors.. propably because you dont let them speak… Well, I will contact you when I am up an going :)
He went on to list the COBE, which you can read via the link above. Well, I have my own form of ethics, and it’s rooted in Natural and Common Law, along with basic social politeness: in short “Be nice, unless you have a very good reason not to be nice.”
This may be continued…