There hereby follows a rather lengthy explanation which ends with a simple question: would someone please explain how IP addresses work in a way that a very non-techy person could understand it? Because I have a bit of a problem here which I need your help with.
As some of you might know, some of us have had a bit of trouble with Brit Writers Limited recently. I’m not going to discuss that here–I have another post or seven in the works which will go into all of that–but a problem has arisen in the comments to an earlier post I wrote about them, The Brit Writers Awards Agents Division, which you’ll find here.
[I'll port all discussion of this from the Brit Writers thread to this one just as soon as I can, so don't be surprised if this post appears with its own comment-thread already established.]
On November 10 someone calling themselves P Gharai posted a comment in that thread which was somewhat critical of The Writers’ workshop.
P Gharai wrote:
I have read this several times and just can’t see what the problem is, you can ask these questions of any organisation, and as far as I can see you have not uncovered any real ‘wrongdoing’ so one has to ask, what is your motive for such a long and unfocused blog?
I sent something to The Writers Workshop once and I got back a report that was so general that it was useless, so please don’t quote them as font of all integrity
The Writers’ Workshop is run by Harry Bingham who, along with me and Claire King, received a threat of legal action by Brit Writers Limited (Brit Writers Limted suggested that we’d libelled them, but has since quite rightly withdrawn its threats). Because of the content and context of the comment I assumed that P Gharai was a sockpuppet for Brit Writers Limited, but I did my best to respond to him in a reasonable manner.
Two days later, on 12 November, P Gharai turned up again and left two comments on that same Brit Writers thread:
P Gharai wrote:
@ Jane Smith:
Dear Jane, I work with publishers and agents all the time and many advise my writers. i think you might be out of date on how publishing works and what agent and publishers want. Several London agents with hugely successful lists admit that if the synopsis and first five pages does not grab them, they they move on to the next manuscript. I really don’t see what your problem is with the BWA, they don’t appear to be taking any money and you are just speculating that they might try and act as agents, from a tiny bit of an email. This is what I call bad journalism.
P Gharai wrote:
@ Jane Smith:
But isn’t that exactly what The Writers’ Workshop does – charge people in the hundreds (not always low) to edit or assess their work? I think you are sending mixed messages here and making your site look less credible.
You’ll note the sly digs at me and this site, the attempt to lead the conversation off on a tangent and away from discussing the problems with the Brit Writers Awards, the suggestion that I was causing trouble over nothing, and yet another snipe at The Writers’ Workshop. It’s all classic sockpuppet behaviour.
Several people addressed these points in their comments to that thread, and when Gharai didn’t reappear I assumed we’d seen the last of him. Nevertheless I added his IP address to my “moderate” list so that if he escalated in his sockpuppetry, his comments would not appear here until I approved them. Call me old-fashioned, but I prefer not to provide sneery sockpuppety types who are too cowardly to own their words with free airtime on a blog I pay to maintain.
It seemed that my concerns were unfounded. Gharai didn’t reappear and I settled back into the peculiar complacency that only an unfounded threat of a libel case can induce. I continued to read the unfolding saga of the Brit Writers Awards, and forgot about P Gharai.
On the morning of November 17, a new comment from P Gharai’s IP address popped up in my moderation queue. Only this time the comment hadn’t been left by P Gharai: it came from The Oxford Editors who had been announced as associates of Brit Writers Limited a couple of days after P Gharai left his first comment here. I approved the comment as it was a positive addition to the conversation.
However, I was concerned. Was there a connection between The Oxford Editors and P Gharai? I plugged “The Oxford Editors” and “P Gharai” into Google and found this, which suggests that a Ms P. Mosteshar-Gharai is the sole director of The Oxford Editors.
1) Is the person calling themselves P Gharai who commented here the same person as Ms P. Mosteshar-Gharai, who is a director of The Oxford Writers?
2) If they are one and the same, don’t you think it’s a bit below the belt to use my blog to try to discredit your competitors in this way?
3) If they are the same person, did P Gharai really employ the services of The Writers’ Workshop or was it all just pretend?
4) And finally, if they are not the same person, what on earth is this P Gharai doing using your computers?
I look forward to your response.
I also emailed those questions directly to The Oxford Editors, and I was grateful when the aforementioned Ms P. Mosteshar-Gharai pretty swiftly arrived in-thread (commenting as The Oxford Editors) to assure me that she had nothing to do with P Gharai.
[I'll admit here to having done a bit of a sneaky thing. It ocurred to me that P Gharai might read my response to The Oxford Editors and respond here using their name, which could be very difficult to unravel. And so I emailed The Oxford Editors using the comment-form on The Oxford Editors' website; and I very slightly changed the wording of the questions I'd asked. The response which was left in-thread quoted my emailed questions, not the questions I'd left in-thread--check the wording of my second question to them--so it had to have come from The Real Oxford Editors, and not Gharai. I hope The Oxford Editors will forgive me this minor deception.]
The Oxford Editors wrote,:
@ Jane Smith:
Dear Jane, as I said in my reply to your email, the P Gharai who posted the remarks is not me. I never use that name and if I wished to attack someone in this rather clumsy way I think it would be unlikely that I would use a name so close to my own.
So let me clarify:
I’d be grateful if you’d clarify whether the P.S Gharai who commented on my blog is your director, Ms P. Mosteshar-Gharai.
No it was not me, I never call myself P Gharai and if I was trying to post a negative comment why would I use a shortened version of my own name?
2) If they are the same person, don’t you think it’s rather shabby behaviour for your director to use my blog to try to discredit your competitors in this way?
Again, it certainly was not me, and my Head of Admin, who also uses the computer tells me it was not her.
3) If they are the same person, did P Gharai really employ the services of The Writers’ Workshop and get a below-par report back from them? Or was this a falsehood? And if so, why was this claim made, and would your director like to apologise for it? I’m happy to issue that apology on my blog.
As a director of a company that was started by someone who worked with Harry (no longer with us) and that shares many of the same authors on our list of editors, don’t you think it would be rather silly to post a negative comment that would reflect back on my services and editors? Let me clarify here, that we have never had anyone come to us from The Writers’ Workshop, we have never shared any clients happy or otherwise.
4) And finally, if Ms P Moteshar-Gharai and P Gharai are not the same person, why are you allowing this P Gharai access to your computers?
As I said in my longer email to you, I do not know who this P Gharai might be, it is obviously an attempt to discredit me and my company and Harry’s at the same time. How they had access to my computer I have no idea. I am not sure how these things work, but several present and past staff have access to our email and have the password to get into The Oxford Editors website. These include some work experience people over the years, but they don’t have access to the computer anymore.
Let me say here that when I give talks and workshops I always say to the audience that they don’t have to use out services, but I believe that there are only three other agencies that I would trust and The Writer’s Workshop is always on the list just behind The Literary Consultancy.
I find what is happening very worrying, there appears to be an attempt to discredit us that started after Brit Writers announced there were working with us. I have to take your word for it that the two comments appear to come from the same place – why on earth would we do that?
I hope this has reassured you and Harry. I have been in the same business with Harry for more than four years and have never attacked him or his company. There is plenty of room in this world for all the people who are helping writers.
But there are people out there who are really ripping off writers, who are promising them the world if only they spend £8,000 to self-publish their books – an then of course do nothing to market the book.
Lets use our energy to go after the real bad guys and stop picking away at the few reputable, respectable people out there.
So, that was a very emphatic NO to the suggestion that The Oxford Editors and P Gharai were the same person.
But the question of the identical IP address remains, and I am confused. So, here I my questions. I’d appreciate any help in answering them.
1) The Oxford Editors wrote,
How [Gharai] had access to my computer I have no idea. I am not sure how these things work, but several present and past staff have access to our email and have the password to get into The Oxford Editors website. These include some work experience people over the years, but they don’t have access to the computer anymore.
I don’t think that having access to a website will result in sharing the same IP address, so I don’t think that this is part of this problem: am I right on this point, or am I missing something?
2) As I understand it, IP addresses are the computer world’s equivalent of a postcode. You can have just one computer at an IP address, like you can have a single house with its own unique postcode: or you can have multiple computers working from one IP address if they’re all connected to the internet through the same router, just like you can have a block of flats with all of the flats in that block sharing a single postcode. If I’m right, that means it’s possible that someone using a computer in The Oxford Editors’ network–that is, with access to an internet connection through The Oxford Editors’ router–left the Gharai comments here which is why they showed up with the same IP address. Have I got that straight?
3) I know it’s possible to mask one’s own IP address without too much trouble; but is it possible to not just hide one’s own IP address but to purposely assume someone else’s? At the point at which he commented here The Oxford Editors had never commented here, nor was there any indication that they ever would do so: he’d have to be a technological smartarse and be able to see into the future for this to work.
4) I understand that there are two sorts of IP addresses: dynamic and static. Static ones don’t change: dynamic ones do. It seems to me that the IP address in question is a dynamic one, which means that it would change from time to time; and that those IP addresses are recycled, so that each will eventually be assigned to more than one account (but never more than one account at a time). So in theory it’s possible that Gharai was assigned the IP address; then his IP address changed without him knowing it, and his old one was assigned to The Oxford Editors. But with tens of thousands (if not hundreds of thousands) of IP addresses in the rotation what would the chances be that two people sharing the same IP address would comment here, on the same subject, in the same thread, and that they’d share at least part of their names as well?
I’m working with my webhost to check the access logs to my site, which should provide me with a lot more information: but meanwhile, have I got things right about how IP addresses work? Is there anything significant which I’ve missed out? And does anyone have any reasonable explanation for how this happened?
The Oxford Editors has told me via Twitter that they’re keen to move on from this, and that they’ve changed their passwords on all their accounts so are happy it won’t happen again: but I’m not sure that this issue can be resolved by changing a password or two, and I don’t like my blog being used in this way.
If I’ve got anything wrong I’d welcome your corrections; if I’ve missed anything out, do please let me know. And let’s do our best to avoid wild speculation or unwarranted criticism, shall we? While I am determined to do my best to work out what happened, I won’t have this turn into a witch-hunt or a tangle of conspiracy theories. Cold, hard facts, and respect at all times. That’s what I want in the comments. I know you won’t let me down. Thank you.