It was bound to come back to haunt him at some point, but Bill Hobbs has been forced to break cover after people in his home town of Nashville came across the various posts by me, Kev Murphy and Brett Fausett that fingered him as being Steve Forrest – the most-biased man in showbusiness and the brawn behind Free2Innovate.net.
Mr Hobbs is a right-wing political blogger who takes very aggressive stances on whatever topic happens to come along that day. Fitting the model of such people beautifully, it would also appear that Mr Hobbs is a tremendous hypocrite as he has been posting consistently about the need for transparency without divulging that for two years or so he posed as an apparently independent blogger called Steven Forrest.
The controversy comes over the fact that Steve Forrest was so unbelievably biased and so monumentally inaccurate about Internet governance issues that many questioned what on earth he was posting for. And how he got hold of insider documents when no one had ever met him, or spoken to him, or seen him.
After a long while of putting up with Mr Forrest’s rants and misrepresentations, it finally became necessary to point out that every single post on the site reflected the specific viewpoint of dotcom owner VeriSign. And that there was a big bundle of evidence to point to the fact that it was a bloke named Bill Hobbs behind the propaganda.
Unfortunately we were never able to find evidence that Hobbs/Forrest was being paid by VeriSign for its PR work but then if someone who doesn’t know very much about the Internet and its governance structures suddenly decides to write about it in depth once a week, gains access to quite hard-to-get documents and trumpets 100 percent of the time the very distinct perspective of the Net’s most powerful company, well then you are entitled to raise your doubts.
After Murphy’s, Fausett’s and my blog posts, Mr Forrest shut up shop immediately and has never returned. The domain expired last month.
So anyway, these posts were chanced upon by someone in Nashville who has clearly had run-ins with Mr Hobbs who then enquired whether they were true.
Sure enough, Bill Hobbs in true Steve Forrest style decided that he would roar his way of it. Unfortunately there was a stack of evidence that pinned the owner of Free2Innovate now only down to Mr Hobb’s hometown, but also to his house and his email account.
Mr Hobbs has answers to three questions put to him:
Why did Bill Hobbs and Steve Forrest email the same man from the same address?
My client on the project, the pseudonymous Steven Forrest, still had dial-up internet connection when I set the site up for him, so he sometimes worked at my house on my computer, using my broadband connection.
Why did Steve signed his email “Bill”?
My client and I shared a rather common first name.
Most importantly: Why did the posts at Free2Innovate stop immediately after the three bloggers linked about suggested that Bill Hobbs was the author?
From what I can tell, posting at the site had dwindled in the months before that, so perhaps he was just tired of doing it – the site never had near the traffic he thought it might. I haven’t spoken to him in more than a year but I know he wanted to retain his anonymity.
As far as I know he wasn’t paid to write it. He paid me a small amount to set up the site and design it. As for whether I wrote it, I know virtually nothing about most of the topics that were regularly covered on that site.
Okay, so this is the scenario as painted by Bill Hobbs – who did incidentally say on his blog (and I believe I have a screengrab here somewhere) that he would write corporate blogs for money and did outline the use of anonymous blogging for corporations.
According to Bill Hobbs, he was paid by someone called Bill whose surname he won’t divulge to set up a blog. Not only did he set it up but that person also regularly came round to his house – apparently whenever he wanted, judging from the times of the emails received – to send emails to people. The reason that Bill couldn’t do this from his own house was because he only had a dial-up connection.
So there you go – a perfectly reasonable explanation.
Except, as people tend to feel inspired to do when someone is talking out of their arse, a bloke called Tim W, who unfortunately for our Bill appears to specialise in the use of English, decided he would analyse some of the writing written by Bill One and Bill Two and he found – would you believe it – glaring similarities:
The phrase “read the whole thing” occurs many times on both blogs to prompt the reader to follow a link. While the words in themselves aren’t overly unusual, their position and usage in the context of their surrounding blog posts are suspect:
Another curiosity to this armchair Encyclopedia Brown is the phrase “Yes it is,” which both authors use many times in a highly specific manner. First of all, standard punctuation calls for a comma between ‘yes’ and ‘it is.’ Second, the way in which the phrase is used is absolutely identical in both weblogs. See for yourselves:
And he helpfully provides links.
The next level of the lie?
So where does Bill Hobbs go from here? Does he now claim that he also wrote the occasional piece for his friend Bill when he popped in to use email (a service which, coincidentally, works extremely well on a 28.8Kbps line)?
Or does he try to avoid the really difficult question about possible payment from VeriSign (for which there is a whole other mountain of coincidences) by admitting it was him and pre-empting what could become an embarrassing drip-drip of revelatory information?
Here’s my prediction: an aggressive response in which he tries, unsuccessful to turn the tables on the people questioning him, followed by a refusal to answer any questions about it. If the good people of Nashville want to find out the truth, they just have to keep asking questions.