Ever since I first stumbled across the story of the "stolen Sidekick
", several points bothered me. I waited for someone else to mention them, but so far no one else seems to have considered things that seem obvious to me. This episode garnered so much public attention I am reluctant to allow the discussion to end without voicing my thoughts. This is a lengthy post; my reasoning requires some explanation. I ask only that you read every word before forming an opinion.
On some points, I agree with Evan, the man who wanted his friend's cell phone back. When I find lost property, I attempt to return it to its owner. In the interests of honesty, there were occasions as a boy when I found battered tools lying in the middle of the road, and concluded looking for the owner was pointless. But if I found a valuable item someone might actually want back, I'd try to return it. And if someone asked for their old screwdriver, I'd have given that back, too. I agree, without reservation, this is the right thing to do. The fact that the girl who had the phone wouldn't return it, however, does not necessarily make what Evan did in revenge right.
His response seems disproportionate to the crime. What was at stake? One expensive toy, a cell phone with features only the rich and spoiled could claim with a straight face are necessities (cell phones and e-mail may be necessities, but a blurry camera and all the bells and whistles on a Sidekick?) . An item worth so little to her his friend Ivanna wasn't even careful not to lose it; something she could afford to replace right away. Now, just because someone has money does not make it right to keep what should be theirs. But it does permit them to be more restrained in their efforts to get it back. What a man might understandably do to save his livelihood, is much harder to justify over something he can afford to lose.
What Evan did may have been legal, but he kept claiming it was about what is right, so I won't consider what he was legally allowed to do, but what was right for him to do. It was reasonable and right for him to make a certain effort to recover his friend's phone. But how far did he actually go? In effect, he ruined a young girl's life, and possibly her family's and her baby's as well. This may seem like a strong statement, but consider all the ramifications of what he did.
Through his efforts, her full name, her picture, her age to within roughly six months, her address, and various details of her family and her life all became public knowledge. Yes, he has removed some of those details now, but it is too late. Everyone saw them, they were cached by Google and various other services; there is no way Evan or Sasha or anyone else can say just who may have printed them out, or saved them on their own hard drives. There is no way those details will ever be private again.
As a professional genealogist, I know enough about what a person can learn given certain information that I can say with confidence, Evan has made Sasha an easy target for any identity thief or stalker who singles her out as their victim. Yes, she was foolish, and I doubt even now she understands just how vulnerable Evan has made her. What's more, he has drawn the attention of many thousands of visitors to his site, and made them aware of her; any potential stalker seeking a new obsession had more than enough opportunity to take notice.
As well as endangering her, Evan has humiliated her so thoroughly, and so publicly, this episode is likely to haunt her the rest of her life. Ten years from now, she may apply for a job and be turned down because someone remembers who she is. And he has stirred up hostile feeling towards her among thousands of strangers. More than one person drove by to harass her. It is true he asked readers not to do this, but unless he is much more stupid than he seems, he must have understood that was no guarantee everyone would listen. The only certain thing about his statement is that it protects him
against charges of inciting violence.
Only time will tell just how much damage he has actually done to her, her family, and her baby. Will a stalker fixate on her, pursue her and, some day, murder her? Only time will tell. Will her humiliation overshadow her life to the point that, in a year or two, she commits suicide? Only time will tell. As she gradually realises how much he has scarred her life, will she sink into alcoholism or drug abuse in response? Only time will tell. Under the stress of these events, has she already abused her baby? Even the passage of time will probably not reveal that.Two wrongs do not make a right.
No matter how many laws are on his side, Evan had no right to exact such a heavy price for a few hundred dollars worth of techno-toy. Personally, even if Sasha is too uneducated to understand this, I don't think any amount of money would be enough to compensate her for what has been done to her. In fact, her very ignorance, which rendered her effectively defenseless against Evan's publicity onslaught, just makes the whole thing worse. The moment it became obvious she couldn't understand how much harm she was doing herself, it should also have been obvious it was time to stop kicking her around.
In other, minor, ways, Evan's account disturbed me. His comments reveal him to be a hypocrite. He rails against those who dig up personal details of his life, and criticise him for them, then he makes remarks about Sasha's ignorance, the fact she already has a baby, and other aspects of her life that have nothing to do with the cell phone this is supposedly about. In other words, he is free to criticise her
personal life, but no one has the right to discuss his
, or Ivanna's, personal life. Either it is only about the cell phone, or it isn't. If he can drag other aspects of Sahsa's life into the discussion, his critics have an equal right to examine his life, but he self-righteously rejects that.
I am not faulting his complaints about her racism. No matter what the situation, racism is unjustified. It is the single one of Sasha's traits that makes me least inclined to feel sympathy towards her. Yet she is clearly young and ignorant, and if we are honest, all of us have at least a few crumbs of racism inside us, even if we battle them. That is the legacy of a culture soaked in hate. It isn't enough to justify her remarks, but it is enough to suggest education, and mercy, might be a better answer than playing the role her bigotry expects of him.
What bothers me most about this incident, though, is the fact that there was actually a motive for all the publicity, one no one else seems to have considered. It is impossible to be sure if the whole thing was calculated in advance or not, but it is equally impossible to deny there was at least a motive. It is not a hidden motive, it leapt out at me as I was reading Evan's own words, posted on his own site.
Once thousands of people were reading his web page, and feeling sympathetic, Evan reveals an interesting tidbit. [Ivanna] "used that Sidekick to send email to the consulates in Russia where her only sister was trying to get a visa to come to the wedding (she has been denied twice for no reason)". He explains "I know that you can view the emails online, but that's only if you register with T-Mobile online for that. And you can only register it, when they send an email to your phone."
Evan can stir up the whole world against a young girl, but he can't arrange for T-Mobile to give his friend access without her phone? This type of thing must come up sometimes; if T-Mobile doesn't have a procedure in place to help people in Ivanna's position, why didn't he go after them
publicly? It may be wrong to ruin an individual's life this way, but I don't dispute any individual's right to shame a huge corporation that treats them badly. So, if T-Mobile wouldn't work something out for Ivanna as soon as the situation was explained to them, why didn't Evan complain publicly about them
Ignoring this possibility, Evan claims "Because of this girl's failure to return the phone, my friend's sister was DENIED a visa to come to the wedding (she was supposed to be the maid of honor)". But he already said she was denied twice for "no reason" (it would be interesting to see the embassy paperwork on that). Then he goes on to casually mention, "If you want to help my friend with getting her sister to get a visa, please call and email American embassy in Yekaterinburg, Russia".
So, all this publicity did serve another purpose besides recovering the phone. If enough people contacted the embassy, perhaps they'd change their minds, and issue a visa to a woman who had already been turned down twice. In light of those earlier denials, Evan's claim everyone's help is only needed because Sasha didn't return the phone in time seems like a diversion from the real issue. Consider that, if Evan and Ivanna had simply put up a web site asking for people to contact the embassy requesting Ivanna's sister be granted a visa, few people would have cared. It wouldn't have attracted half the notice the "saga of the stolen Sidekick" did.
Now, I don't know any of the people involved in this, and I don't have any facts beyond the information Evan put on his web site. How much of that is reliable, I can only guess by analysing what he said, and how well it holds together. So I can't be sure Evan and Ivanna got together and planned a clever ‘viral marketing' stunt to persuade thousands of people to put pressure on the embassy to let Ivanna's sister into the United States. But I do wonder. It seems awfully convenient, the way as soon as there was a large enough audience the little matter of something else they could do to help just happened to come up; finally, poor Ivanna let him explain.
When I went back to look up the exact quotes as I wrote this, I found Evan had made the original site
harder to access, and included comments about it being too long for most people to take the time to read. Why? I don't know for sure, but his ‘summary'
conveniently omits a few details. "Ivanna's wedding was getting closer and closer and since she had not been able to contact the embassy in time, her sister's visa was denied. I tried a last minute gamble and requested that from readers who wanted to help, to please email the embassy for us."
He doesn't mention her sister's visa was denied twice before
. As long as the whole thing is Sasha's fault, he and Ivanna had no motive for planning a viral marketing campaign to secure Ivanna's sister a visa. His convenient gloss over the facts only makes me wonder more; was Sasha set up as a pawn in a game whose real goal was drumming up enough publicity to enlist hordes of people to put pressure on the American embassy to grant a visa to someone they had turned down twice before? However petty their reason for turning her down, it seems obvious if the embassy did so twice before they probably would have done so a third time in the absence of a strong reason to do otherwise.
There was clearly a motive. Was there intent as well? Only Evan and Ivanna can answer that, and of course if they planned all this they aren't likely to admit it. It originally seemed I should only name Evan, since I know so little about Ivanna. But if this was planned in advance, Ivanna had to either discard her phone where it was likely to be picked up by a suitable pawn, or hand it over to Evan so he could do that for her.
Whether or not this was a cold-blooded viral marketing scheme, I still think mercy would have been the wiser choice. Evan claimed he was doing this to teach people like Sasha to do the right thing. But I suspect what other girls like Sasha really learned is not what Evan says he wanted them to. They probably do understand, now, it isn't safe to keep something like a Sidekick in case the owner wants it back. But, after seeing the callous way one young girl's life was ruined, they might just decide to stomp on it or toss it into a river rather than give it back to someone who could prove just as heartless. Somehow, I don't think that's an improvement.