Another 9/11 went by. Some people remembered the US-supported coup in Chile. Some remembered the twin towers in NYC. Me, I remembered the assassination of the city mayor the night before. I'm sorry for all these victims of violence.

But even closer to my heart, I remembered an MIT student and blogger, legitimately angry at institutional misogyny, who got fed a package of disinformation that triggered her into writing a hate letter that brought great injustice onto a long-time feminist. I'm sorry for the misogyny she faced, and I'm sorry that she was misled and fell for it.

At the time, MIT was in the middle of the Jeffrey Epstein scandal, a rich and influential sex trafficker who had donated money and invited researchers to parties. He died in prison before trial, in very suspicious circumstances. He could have exposed a lot of other rich and influential people who had used his sex slave's services, and I'm sorry he didn't live long enough to tell on them.

People at MIT were angry over suspicions that a late professor had had sex with a teen sex slave at a party at Epstein's private offshore island. It later transpired that the professor had actually declined her offer, that she was not too young to give lawful consent, and that he had no reason to as much as suspect her to be under duress. It's unclear whether he even had any reasons to mistake her for a sex worker. In hindsight, however, we know she was a slave, and I'm very sorry for her and all the misery Epstein imposed on her.

The false rumor got that professor falsely accused of sexual assault, and the furious mob reaction would have got him sacked--like others, guilty or not, were--unjustly, in his case, if he hadn't already passed away. I'm sorry for his memory.

A friend of mine dared stand (figuratively) before the angry mob and try to bring it to reason. He argued the term assault suggested the use of force by the professor, while no evidence of that was present; that the professor likely had no reason to suspect her to be underage, which she wasn't, or a slave, which she was, but it was presumably concealed at the time. I'm sorry for my friend's neurodivergent status, that often gets him mocked, misunderstood, criticized, and rejected, and that prevented him from stopping short of entering such a dialectic minefield.

That made him a target of the MIT mob, for allegedly defending the innocent but presumed-guilty professor.

Then the blogger twisted his words, and suggested that he denied her condition of slavery.

Then she sent on the disinformation package to a reporter, who was just as misled by it, and, without verification, wrote and published a fake news article.

The next day, the same fake news site published another version of that story, written by someone else, who misrepresented it to the point of stating my friend had defended trafficker Epstein!

By then, opportunists in various dissident factions of the wider free software communities were coordinating to cancel my friend, founder and leader of the Free Software Movement, of the Free Software Foundation, of the GNU Project, and collector of corporate opponents who had long resorted to various kinds of attacks to weaken the movement that threatened their profits and influence.

Some wanted to bring him down, some wanted to take his positions, most just believed the lies, proclaimed him guilty and demanded justice, without realizing they were the ones committing an injustice.

The fake news reports multiplied (suspiciously associating him with Free Software, which he normally has to implore reporters to write; this time, for some reason, they were determined not to label him as the father of Open Source Software), the angry cancellation mob grew, corporations, organizations and projects ganged up on Dr Stallman (though really on Mr Strawman, given that it was all made up) with threatening letters full of presumption of guilt, to the point that my friend was advised to resign from his post at the FSF, to protect the organization from the hatred directed at him, and had to vacate the guest office at MIT, where he'd started the Free Software Movement and the GNU Project.

Accusations were investigated, pursued, and invariably led nowhere. They were clearly no more than hearsay, fabrications, and unfounded rumors started and repeated ad nauseum by political opponents, a dirty but hardly original or surprising trick.

A little over a year went by before we elected him back to the FSF board. Corporate shills coordinated the writing of another hate letter, threading a gish-gallop of doubled-down false accusations into a truly repugnant strawman. They even added links to sources next to their word-twisting leaps, to try to make them more credible, in the hope people wouldn't verify the facts, wouldn't look at the sources.

Alas, their hope was not unfounded. A number of people who didn't get the memo that he was innocent rushed to sign the letter and to renew their disposition against the Mr Strawman the shills had made up, condemning him over fabricated accusations of misogyny, transphobia, paedophilia, and even eugenics, while the real person has long defended and fought for the freedom, the rights and the well-being of not only software users and developers, which he's most famous for, but also of women, of trans people, of teens and children, not in a leading or pioneering role, but long before these struggles gained enough public support as to be integrated into and then captured by corporate culture. Even defending the rights of the unborn to not be forced to develop into a life of assured misery, a nearly-universal consensus, was turned into a reason to condemn him!

Without influence of corporate shills, another open letter came out in support of the movement leader, got over twice as many signatures from indviduals from many more countries, got more widely translated, and it just kept growing, while the hate letter shrunk slowly, as people struggled to get their regrettable signatures revoked once they learned they had been fooled and manipulated.

Still, far too many people remain stuck with those false beliefs. Most didn't even try to check the facts; some mistook it for running a web search that finds the same lies repeated thousands of times; some even reason that where there's smoke there must have been fire, missing entirely the political and economic motivations for the groundless difamation campaign. In their determined but disinformed pursuit of justice, they aim at a fabricated strawman, and end up hitting an innocent human being, becoming themselves an instrument of injustice.

Such repugnant accusations seem to have that effect of making enough people leap to guilty veredicts with little to no evidence. The Brazilian remake of 2015's movie Virus of Fear (El virus de la por), 2018's Liquid Truth (Aos Teus Olhos) depicts how repugnant made-up and twisted accusations escalate on social media, and end up reversing the roles of offenders and victims.

Public opinion manipulators know of this vulnerability in human minds, and exploit it. If we care about justice, about fighting injustice, we need to be alert to avoid being fooled by them and carrying out their injustice. I'm sorry if you fell for it, and I hope you know better by now. Thanks for fighting injustice, even injustice that you unintentionally committed yourself.

So blong,