Huffington Post Finally Removes Most Articles About Fake Email Inventor; Meanwhile, Ayyadurai Threatens To Sue His Critics

from the did-he-invent-slapp-suits-too? dept

Over the weekend, it appears that someone at the Huffington Post finally realized that hoping the fuss over its entirely bogus “history of email” series would blow over wasn’t going to happen. In case you missed it last week, we had called out Huffington Post for allowing Shiva Ayyadurai and his friends to post an entirely bogus “history of email” series, all designed to make it look like Ayyadurai himself had invented email — a claim he’s been making for a few years, despite it being entirely false, based on totally misrepresenting a number of things, including what copyright means, misquoting a 1977 research paper and playing “no true scotsman” over what is a “true” email system. Despite the evidence of how wrong Ayyadurai and his friends were, HuffPo allowed the series to go on with more false claims, and then told me it had “added a clarification” that didn’t clarify anything, but was a statement written by Ayyadurai, repeating the false claims. On Friday, we wondered how Huffington Post could justify posting obviously false information.

It appears the powers that be at HuffPo finally realized that they had a problem.

All of the posts by Shiva Ayyadurai’s friends, making the entirely false argument that he “invented email,” have been removed from Huffington Post, redirecting people to this page with the following text:

The post that previously appeared in this space — part of a blogger-generated series on the history of email — is no longer available. Readers and media commentators alerted us to factual and sourcing issues in the series and, after an internal review, we removed it from the site.

There are some interesting language choices there. First, note that they admit that it was a “blogger-generated series,” which is an attempt to distance the fake series, put together by Shiva Ayyadruai himself with PR guru Larry Weber, from Huffington Post’s journalistic “news” side. Ayyadurai and Weber had been banking on the fact that most people don’t realize that the blogging side of HuffPo has no editorial controls to pretend that the series had some sort of journalistic credibility. They appear to be promoting the fake articles everywhere, and some of their supporters have been trying to use the Huffington Post series as credible citations for Wikipedia (amusingly, one of their supporters kept trying to reject others pointing to my detailed debunkings by saying it doesn’t count since I’m just a blogger — ignoring that Weber, Ayyadurai and their friends were using HuffPo’s blogging platform as well).

Of course, what that note also (conveniently) leaves out is that it wasn’t just the “blogger-generated series” that was the problem and has been taken down. HuffPo Live (part of its “journalistic” side) also did a long interview with Ayyadurai, and had articles written up by reporters like Emily Tess Katz (who continues to ignore every question asked about this), repeating ridiculous claims from Ayyadurai about how his critics are just racists who don’t like the fact that a “dark-skinned immigrant boy” invented email. Of course the reality is that it has nothing to do with racism, but rather the facts — which Huffington Post journalists apparently didn’t even think were worth the trouble of a quick Googling, to find where all of Ayyadurai’s claims had long since been debunked.

Finally, HuffPo didn’t actually take down all such articles. There’s a blog post from 2013 by Deepak Chopra and Ayyadurai making the same claims that remains on the site. Ayyadurai is associated with Chopra and frequently uses his connection to Chopra as some sort of validation of his claims.

Amusingly, despite HuffPo PR people telling me to email them with any more questions last Wednesday, they ignored every question I sent them since then (with one exception which I’ll get to below), and (of course) didn’t bother to tell me they had pulled the series either, despite my sending a few questions about whether they intended to keep it up. Instead, a whole bunch of you — the readers of this site — let me know. It’s almost as if HuffPo wished to sweep the whole thing under the rug.

Of course, one part of the problem may be that Ayyadurai is now claiming in the Economic Times of India that Arianna Huffington herself “commissioned” the series after hearing Ayyadurai give a talk. I asked HuffPo PR (and Arianna directly) if that was accurate and (finally) HuffPo PR got back to me to say that (once again) Ayyadurai is lying, and that “neither HuffPost nor Arianna ‘commissioned’ Shiva’s series.”

In that same Economic Times article, there’s also the absolutely hilarious claim from Ayyadurai suggesting that he’s considering legal action against his “critics.”

Shiva Ayyadurai, the man in the middle of a raging controversy over his claims of being the inventor of email, doesn’t want to go legal on his detractors but is looking for support from the public. “Lawsuits take a long time. If I have to pull the trigger I will. But I have decided to go directly to the people,” Ayyadurai said in an interview with ET.

First off, there is no “raging controversy.” There’s no controversy at all. Ayyadurai is simply making false claims and that’s agreed upon by pretty much everyone who’s looked at the evidence. Second, “going to the people” is great, but historically he’s done that with clearly bogus claims — such as misquoting Dave Crocker’s 1977 research and pretending that his 1982 copyright on his EMAIL software is the equivalent of a patent for the concept of email. So it’s pretty easy to counter that, since the facts are not on his side. As for the idea of a lawsuit, I would hope that any lawyer he discusses a lawsuit with takes the time to look at the details here — and also understand the laws around SLAPP suits and the nature of the First Amendment. Because I may not be “the inventor of email,” but I can guess that any such lawsuits won’t end well for Ayyadurai.

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Comments on “Huffington Post Finally Removes Most Articles About Fake Email Inventor; Meanwhile, Ayyadurai Threatens To Sue His Critics”

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76 Comments
Mike Acker (profile) says:

commercial pubs

commercial pubs server their commercial masters and so also do political pubs serve also their political masters.

you would not expect to get an honest review of a Widget from a pub. which is taking advert. money from the company that makes Widgets.

today pubs often accept comments and such comments may help to shed the proper light on various subjects. and they do, at times. but at times good comments are flagged as “trolling” and trashed by the sys-admins.

the net bottom line is that each of us needs to “be our own man” — not a “puppet on a string” — manipulated by whatever public consensus can be blown up by advertisers and propagandists of the times.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

More extortion than blackmail I’d say, and I wouldn’t wish it on just anyone, just someone large enough, and well funded enough, to be willing and able to fight back.

Ideally of course the moron would realize he’s only digging the hole he’s in even deeper by drawing attention to his exaggerations, misleading claims, and outright lies, leading to him shutting his mouth and hoping people go back to forgetting about him, but if he’s going to insist on lawyering up, would be nice to see him get slammed in court, hard, by someone willing and capable of doing so.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Hence the second half. While the best case scenario is no-one being sued, if he’s really that desperate to ‘make an example’ out of someone to try and silence his critics, it would be best if he went after someone willing and able to fight back, rather than someone who doesn’t have the funds or ability to do so.

Anonymous Coward says:

do you think he will actually move forward with this and make himself look an even bigger plum than he has already? perhaps a little challenge from you, Mike, to him, is in order? it could prove interesting, although i seem to remember in the not too distant past he appeared in a talk show or something, trying then what he is trying now.

Anonymous Coward says:

From his own “inventorofemail.com” site:
He determined that the essential features of these systems included functions corresponding to “Inbox”, “Outbox”, “Drafts”, “Memo” (“To:”, “From:”, “Date:”, “Subject:”, “Body:”, “Cc:”, “Bcc:”), “Attachments”, “Folders”, “Compose”, “Forward”, “Reply”, “Address Book”, “Groups”, “Return Receipt”, “Sorting”.

Ok, so he admits to creating the flawed “from:” feature of email that is not validated allowing spammers to hide their identities.

He admits to creating the feature that allows virus “attachments” in emails.

He admits to creating the flawed “address book” that is easily stolen by viruses instead of being protected.

Does this mean I can sue him for every piece of SPAM and virus I’ve ever received through email? He must be responsible for trillions in damages from his flawed “invention” of email.

Michael (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Does this mean I can sue him for every piece of SPAM and virus I’ve ever received through email?

This is the United States of America. You can sue anyone for anything you want – you just need to be prepared for the fact that you will not win.

Apparently, he’s going to be at the courthouse anyway, so have at it.

Chris Rhodes (profile) says:

Re: Journalism

I’m not sure it also wasn’t the past of journalism, except that now it’s easier to debunk garbage like this and get the word out about it to others.

I’d certainly rather us not go back to the days when a person’s two sources for news were a talking head on the TV and some guy at the local newspaper. If this series had been written back then, who would have been there to correct them?

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Journalism

“I’d certainly rather us not go back to the days when a person’s two sources for news were a talking head on the TV and some guy at the local newspaper”

Me either. I’d like to go back to the time before that. I took a passel of journalism courses in my young ‘un days, and I was taught that the multiple sources meant multiple primary sources — another journalist doesn’t count as a source at all.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Journalism

Real, high quality journalism has always been a rare and precious thing. However, there was a day when people (especially people in the news biz) at least knew what it looked like. It used to be much more common than it is now — we have very nearly no journalism at all in the mainstream anymore. I yearn for the days when you could still find it there, even if it was rare.

“I like the new checks-and-balances system we have now as well – people get called out on bulls*** right away these days”

Here’s the thing: journalism in the US died before the internet started picking up the slack, so there was a number of years when it didn’t exist at all. The checks-and-balances system is welcome in that it’s a shift back toward some kind of reliability in reporting, but it still has a long way to go, and you still have to examine everything with an extremely critical eye. I don’t think it’s as effective as you portray quite yet. It’s improving, so perhaps it will be, but in my opinion we haven’t even reached the level of reliability we had back in the “golden days” of journalism (such as it was).

Michael (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Journalism

I am not sure the level of reliability was ever that high. It feels like a “get off my lawn” conversation where journalism was better when we were kids.

I agree that it felt like that, but the fact that as a child I remember everyone trusting that what the news reported was true because we thought they had integrity does not mean that they actually had integrity or could be trusted. I agree with Chris that there seems to be a pretty good chance that we just didn’t know when they were full of crap and since news came from all of about 3 possible sources, there was nobody telling us different.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Journalism

“I am not sure the level of reliability was ever that high.”

I agree. I suppose I didn’t stress that point enough — the level of reliability was never very high. It’s just that it’s fallen so much lower now that in comparison it looks that way.

This isn’t just a subjective thing — pretty much all analyses of factual claims made in reporting supports the notion that we are at a nadir right now.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Journalism

We will likely never return to the “golden days” of journalism. The Vietnam War was lost precisely because the US news media was given too much free rein, a point not lost on military strategists, and to no one’s surprise, every conflict since then has had a captive press.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Journalism

It didn’t help that the senior officers ignored the Australian officers who had recently been in a very similar campaign and won (and the Australian government was even worse, because they removed the officers who were making intelligent suggestions and replacing them with those who agreed with the Americans).

To make it worse, when the Australians did start applying the lessons they learnt in the Malayan Emergency, the American sector commanders who copied them were criticised for not killing enough Vietnamese.

Anonymous Coward says:

racism vs. facts -- rewriting history

Just a quick off-topic rant … I’ve noticed that history is often re-written in the name of “combating racism” or whatever. Just to name one example, when I was in elementary and middle school, we were all taught that the first person to die in the “Boston Massacre” was Crispus Attucks, a ‘Negro’ protester. Years later I learned that the actual facts don’t agree with that narrative. It seems that court documents from that time refer to Crispus Attucks as either “mulatto” or “Indian” – but never once as “African” or “black” or “negro” – the preferred label of that time. Also, as he was just one of several people who were shot in that incident and died where they fell, there was no evidence that his death somehow happened before the others. Also the fact that the soldiers’ flintlock rifles of that era were as a rule fired simultaneously on command (lest the primer sparks from one rifle set off the gunpowder in another) would suggest that each victim was hit at essentially the exact same time.

But it seems facts mean little when it comes to writing children’s history books. It took a century before the George Washington cherry tree fable was no longer presented as documented fact in history books, but it remains to be seen how long it takes before the equally-unlikely Crispus Attucks narrative starts to be addressed truthfully. And the Crispus Attucks story is just one of many examples.

As to Ayyadurai’s claim of racism, I’ve noticed that “reverse racism” seems to be the general rule when (re)writing history in the modern era. By tossing out that he was a ‘dark-skinned’ kid in Newark, it looks like he was trying to ride that sympathy bandwagon by associating himself with an entirely different ‘dark-skinned’ race and ethnicity. (I wonder if he might also be exploiting the “minority-owned business” pool of perks, subsidies, and freebies that was never intended for people like him.)

JEDIDIAH says:

Re: racism vs. facts -- rewriting history

Yeah. Can’t see why a black man in the US colonies might want to downplay the fact that he has enough negro blood to be considered property in the southern colonies.

Although if you are going to split hairs about terminology you should at least bother to learn what the terms in question actually mean.

Our president is a Mulatto.

Andrew Norton says:

Just noticed at the bottom of his wikipedia page this little tidbid.

In September of 2014, Ayyadurai married American actress Fran Drescher. The two had met the year before at an event hosted by Deepak Chopra

Maybe it was her publicist, or his trying to make him sound big and get more wedding coverage. Even ET wrote he had a patent for email. Wonder if he lied to her too….

Annonimus says:

We still have screencaps yes?

Please tell me someone archived this mess while it was happening and that we can bring up these lying articles the next time this idiot (or the Huffington Post) decide to blunder over the internet again.

And since you are asking questions already could you ask this one: Are they going to keep their journalistic and blogging articles separate or is another debacle like this one to be expected in the future?

Thomas Haigh (profile) says:

Is Ayyadyrai's Plan Working?

News of Ayyadurai’s wedding seem to clear up the “why now” question raised by some commentators on earlier posts. Ayyadurai apparently wanted the Huffington Post and other recent stories to amplify his claims before the inevitable surge in press coverage he could count on as a participant in a celebrity wedding.

Despite the Huffington Post retractions (made on his wedding day) this strategy seems to be working. The same pattern is taking place as with the 2012 wave of stories. Enough inaccurate material stays online to help dupe the next wave of bottom-feeding bloggers. For example, Time never retracted its credulous online interview with Ayyadurai from 2011 and, as Mike pointed out above, the Huffington Post still has the Chopra blog post from 2013. Those both slipped under the radar when they appeared, as did a concerted effort to write Ayyadurai into various obscure Wikipedia pages. It’s only when Ayyadurai gets high profile coverage (the 2012 print article in the Washington Post, the recent epic Huffington Post series) that anyone bothers to push back.

Celebrity gossip bloggers are doing an even worse job than personal technology bloggers of evaluating his claims. Here are a few from today’s coverage:
Mail Online: “The pair met early last year when Dr. Ayyadurai – who owns the patent to email and is often credited as the inventor of the electronic mail system amid some controversy – was giving a talk at an event hosted by Deepak Chopra.”
CBS News: “Ayyadurai, who holds the patent for inventing email, met Drescher a year ago at an event hosted by Deepak Chopra.”
ABC News: “Drescher married the scientist, who is widely credited with having invented email — at their home… Ayyadurai currently teaches at MIT and was profiled in 2011 in Time magazine for being the first person to hold a copyright for ‘EMAIL’”
People Magazine: “Ayyadurai, 50, who holds the patent for creating email, met Drescher, 56, a little over a year ago when he gave a talk at an event hosted by Deepak Chopra, according to an interview he did with the Huffington Post.” The HP news article it links to is still up, and claims that “In August 1982, the U.S. government accepted a patent for an electronic intra-office messaging system called “email” from then-teenager V.A. Shiva Ayyadurai.”

It is almost as if the whole thing is a post-modern performance art stunt designed to highlight the failings of online media. A few minutes with Google would reveal that he does not currently teach at MIT, that he was not granted a patent on email in 1982, and that he is credited as inventor of email primarily by his friends, family members, and business partners. I have updated my online evaluation of Ayyadurai’s claims with a one paragraph summary at the beginning, but do not expect it to make much difference.

Rich Kulawiec (profile) says:

Where's the source code?

He claims to have written an email system in 1978. If that’s true, it’s an impressive achievement, particularly for someone so young. Surely anyone so accomplished would have preserved the source code along with documentation (e.g. screen shots, demonstrations, etc.).

So where is it? I (and others) can lay our hands on source code from that time period: heck, I have copies of far more trivial, far less important pieces of my own work from v6 days, including the manual pages. So he must have a copy of this of email system somewhere, and of course, he should be willing to back up his claims by publishing the entire corpus for public scrutiny.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Where's the source code?

“Surely anyone so accomplished would have preserved the source code along with documentation (e.g. screen shots, demonstrations, etc.).”

The documentation and source were both registered with the copyright office, so copies (masked, in the case of the source) are in the possession of the copyright office. There is little reasonable doubt that he wrote the system he claims he wrote.

As an aside, when I was 15, I wrote and deployed a class registration and grade recording system for my high school. This was a project about as large as implementing a full email system. However, I lost the source code to this many, many years ago. It happens.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Where's the source code?

I agree with masch. It’s not an extraordinary claim. It’s also a claim that literally nobody who has even the remotest connection to the guy doubts or disputes.

In my view, given the ample evidence (both in documentation and in eyewitnesses), the extraordinary claim is that he didn’t write it.

Thomas Haigh (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Where's the source code?

Everybody who has looked into this recognizes that Ayyadurai created an electronic mail system. Although not in 1978 — his own timeline infographic used to say that the “first version of the system was designed and deployed” in 1980. He since changed his story since to 1978. He has screenshots of source code dated 1982 and a newspaper report (that just calls the program electronic mail, not “email”) from 1980. No reason to think those things are faked. So yes, he wrote a program in 1980 when he was 16. He gave a box of stuff to the Smithsonian and says that the source code is in it. I have no reason to doubt that.

The problem is that to be the inventor of email you don’t just have to make an electronic mail system. You have to make the first electronic mail system. So he would have to prove that none of the dozens, probably hundreds, of electronic mail systems documented between 1965 and 1980 deserve to be called “email.”

I go through this is great detail at http://www.sigcis.org/ayyadurai. But that’s the bottom line: you can’t invent something that is already invented.

Kronomex (profile) says:

“…man in the middle of a raging controversy over his claims of being the inventor of email, doesn’t want to go legal on his detractors but is looking for support from the public. “Lawsuits take a long time. If I have to pull the trigger I will….” Means he’ll make a lot of noise and threats but won’t go any further because he knows he’ll get his arse handed to him on a plate.

JB says:

You may be wrong about this

I just went to Shiva Ayyadurai’s website and it makes some very good points.

If he did design a system with all the features he described in 1978 and copyrighted it as EMAIL, then he can credibly say that he invented email. The point he makes is that his feature set was complete and working and it was the first system that truly resembles modern day email.

His arguments that earlier systems were text messaging systems that did not resemble modern email also needs be closely looked at but from what I see he may be right here.

It makes no difference if email evolved from his system or from a different lineage. If he rolled out modern email first, then he invented email.

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