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Serdar Argic

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Serdar Argic was a spambot created by Turkish graduate student Ahmet Cosar, who flooded Usenet on a regular basis for much of 1993 and 1994 with posts inverting the facts of the 1915 Armenian Genocide, accusing the Armenians of massacring over 2 million Turks, Azeris, and other Muslims in the area.

The Zumabot's Tale

Last summer, a friend of mine told me he was setting up a special magazine issue on email and the net, and I suggested that perhaps I should write something about the zumabot, a story (and a word) that never ceases to amuse me. He replied immediately:

Oh lordie, what's zumabot?

This is what eventually came out.

Three years ago, Usenet's culture and history discussions suffered under a flood of huge swaths of repetitive propaganda concerning the supposed Armenian murders of Turks in 1918 (history shows that the killing was the other way around), coming from a poster named Serdar Argic at a site known as zuma.UUCP.

Serdar responded to, seemingly, every and any Usenet post he could find that mentioned Turkey or Armenia, even in newsgroups that had nothing to do with either country. The poster was generally harangued with such phrases as "your criminal Armenian grandparents" (even if the poster happened to be, say, Japanese) and with over-the-top subject headings such as "The Self-Admitted Crook and Liar", "The Criminal SDPA-ASALA Grandparents of The Gum Brain", or "A mouthpiece for the fascist x-Soviet Armenian Government". This was usually followed by a lengthy essay concerning the alleged Armenian mass murders.

Some participants tried to argue with Argic, but that only made matters worse as he replied to each post with more harangues, along with successively more hysterical accusations concerning secret Armenian conspiracies. Some watched in amusement, and some even wrote parodies mocking the overwrought style of the posts. But the amusement quickly turned to annoyance when it became apparent that the sheer volume of Serdar Argic posts was overwhelming the discussions on the hardest-hit newsgroups.

It quickly became apparent, however, that his responses didn't have much intelligence behind them. For one thing, they followed a distinct repeating pattern. For another, Argic did not appear to distinguish between the nation and the bird: posts containing references to Thanksgiving turkey were as likely to become targets as posts discussing Turkey's foreign policy.

Over time, a consensus built: Serdar Argic was not a person, but a computer program which scanned the news articles and responded to any article that contained certain words, plugging in the name of the article's writer ("John Sugaharo's criminal Armenian grandparents") and other random phrases. Because of the robotic nature of the responses, this program was promptly dubbed "the zumabot".

One of the net's traditional methods of dealing with problem users is to ask their system administrators for help. Unfortunately, since "Serdar Argic" seemed to be zuma's system administrator and only user, that wasn't likely to help. Each computer on Usenet must connect to the rest of the network through one or more other systems, so the next step is to consult the administrators of those systems. Research revealed that zuma connected through - but was registered in the name of Ahmed Cosar, a student who had previously posted material that looked suspiciously like the zumabot's ravings, and who in fact was widely supposed to be the bot's programmer. No help there. Desperate netters, finding that connected via Uunet, a large commercial site, petitioned the administrators there. But Uunet was reluctant to take responsibility for posts made from zuma, which was not its direct customer.

Meanwhile, participants in various newsgroups attempted to take defensive action. The newsgroup soc.history, Usenet's main forum for general discussion of history, was so hard-hit by the zumabot that non-zumabot-related conversation had all but died out. So participants formed a new newsgroup, soc.history.moderated, which was set up so that each post had to be approved by a moderator who could filter out the zumabot and the futile responses to it.

The long-term results? Well, many people were motivated to learn how to use thir software to filter out unwanted posts. Usenet as a whole learned about a new method of destroying conversations; the use of this tactic to disrupt newsgroups continues to this day, with attempts by parties unknown (but widely thought to be affiliated with the Church of Scientology) to drown out criticism of the church by posting reams of repetitive drek to the Scientology newsgroup. Newsgroups acted to make themselves less vulnerable to the zumabot and to other floods of off-topic messages; some of those actions also served to blunt the worst of the commercial spamming that was to begin in later years. A sardonic t-shirt commemorating the incident was created.

And what of the zumabot?

In the spring of 1994, the zuma site went off the air and was never heard from again. Rumors abounded - had Uunet finally cut the site off? had the person running it been deported? had, improbably, the point been made? - but the exact fate of the zumabot remains a mystery.

The following further intelligence appeared in April 2001 on Slashdot:

Longstanding UseNetters will remember the activities of Achmed Cosar, a member of the Turkish Secret police who posted hundreds of messages a day to the soc.culture groups of Usenet under the aliases Serdar Argic and Hasan B-) Mutlu.
The clear intention was to drown out any discussion of the 1918 massacre of Armenians by the Turks. The massacre is a touchy subject for the Turkish government and Turkey recently withdrew its ambassador to France after France recognised the massacre as genocide and made vehement complaints to the British after the Armenian masscre was amongst those recognized on 'Holocaust day'.
What Cosar did was to run an AWK script that scanned several USEnet groups for any occurrences of certain keywords. The script would then return the first paragraph of the post, append a randomly chosen insult and add a piece of Turkish government propaganda to the end. Cosar's activities stopped when the US cancelled his H1B visa. [Don't ask how I know this stuff, I am not going to discuss my sources on /.]
And there you have it. (Maybe.)

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Serdar Argic (What a bunch of turkeys):

Common monickers: zumaBOT, "that d*mn*d turkey". Greps for "turkey" much as Kibo greps for "Kibo", and follows up to many appearances thereof with long rants about Armenian genocide as practiced on Turks, or Muslims (or was it vice-versa?), which bear little if any relevance to the original post other than (usually) quoting a line or two out of it. Will happily follow up to Ken Arromdee's Stuffed/Leftover Turkey .sig bait... Usually crossposts to hell and back, also. Widely believed to have been a script for auto-posting for Some Time Now. Can be sighted on soc.culture.turkey and alt.revisionism, usually. If you really wanted to. His sysadmin, Ahmet Cosar, has been talked at, and is *not* cooperative in the least with the wishes of the rest of UseNet that Serdar get a real life. Believed to have formerly posted under the name Hasan Mutlu; see FAQ mentioned below. Other names sometimes associated with it are Joachim Mattillo/Ilan Rabinowitz/Supric Gupta. Contrib. post:

Actually, the repititious daily bombing of USENET in this manner was started a couple of years ago ['92?] from the account of Hasan B. Mutlu from an AT&T site. The real Hasan B. Mutlu, based on an examination of conferences and transactions by an author of that name, is/was one of those AT&T software wizards. The manual reposting of files containing canned replies, preceded by a custom-written reply-specific insult, could have easily been coded into a program whether or not the two Mutlus were the same person. This Mutlu net.personality (referred to as such in deference to the real Hasan who may be a different person that may be suffering repercussions due to the USENET entity) then moved around to a number of other sites, using that name or masked behind other nicknames (either getting disciplined by AT&T, or after the entity was discovered to have been a hacker breaking into the real Hasan's account). Whatever the name, the behaviour is obvious. For a while a running joke was a weekly Mutloids analysis done out of Australia, which tracked the infestations, ranked the appearance of file repostings, etc. Traffic was considerably higher for the two weeks preceding the past two American Thanksgivings, also popularly referred to as you-know-what day. One "Suha Artun", whose path also goes through, ("anatolia" apparently translates to "Turkey", by the way) has shown up on soc.history doing the same thing (xpost, Armenia, etc.) (2/94), and a Mr. RooT from anatolia has shown up to protest the group alt.cancel.bots, formed specially to carry cancel messages for the 'bot (subscribe if you want to automatically not see the bot's posts at your site), in news.admin.* . Other recent arrivals are (Arif Kiziltug) and (Yalin Ekici), although these two do not set followups to soc.culture.turkish, post much less often (~ once/day), and don't crosspost *quite* as widely. Finally (?), Argic apparently disappeared entirely in April '94, one step ahead of a petition drive aimed at UUNet to ask them to ask him to tone things down; a representative from UUNet said "the site anatolia has not existed on UUNET since April 94." Does not answer posts directly; cannot be e-mailed to (although Cosar can be; see the miniFAQ). Bleah. May actually be a small group of people who have taken over maintenance of the posting script. Representative quote: "There are now none left of the 2.5 million Turks slaughtered by Armenians in the early years of this century" or some similar combination of templates/words to that effect. Because this FAQ includes the word "turkey", it may well be followed-up to if it's ever posted, although cross-posting to a moderated group may slow it down a bit. Minifaqs with a bit of info are available, as well as the FAQ. One note: as far as anyone who's read history can tell, the Turks slaughtered the Armenians, directly contrary to this entity's multitudinous claims... Has (2/94) claimed to have virtual lawyers, quoting their success record; possibly rented them from John Palmer (q.v.), and (5/94) claimed to have a doctorate ("Dr. Argic") by one of the people railing against the Uunet petition. Can be emailed to at (Ahmed Cosar); be warned that *any* mail to this address earns you a threatening email to your sysadmin complaining of harassment... A person from anatolia (*not* "Mr. RooT") showed up on news.admin.* in 2/94 asking how to set up mail maps; this may be a sign that mail to zuma.UUCP may actually start going somewhere (bit-bucket, most likely). Joel Furr (q.v.) has released a Serdar Argic T-shirt. Posted from (among others) sera@zuma.UUCP (Serdar Argic).

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