Saturday Waffling (June 27th, 2015)

(38 comments)

Update: Mr. Brook has responded in the comments. Jack Graham, on Twitter, characterizes his response as "bluff and bafflegab and nothing else," which is pretty much the long and short of it. I've got a funeral today (not mine), so I won't be able to address it in detail until tonight. I've replied in the comments, and updated the original post. The tl;dr is "regrettably it seems like only legal action is appropriate, and that victims should contact UK Trading Services via Citizens Advice."

The original post follows.
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Surprising nobody, this is pretty much all about the article I posted on Thursday accusing the website Doctor Who online and its owner Sebastian Brook of fraud. We'll be back with Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell tonight.

The reports of Sebastian J. Brook and Doctor Who Online ripping people off continue to roll in, both over this and over a wealth of previous slights to a variety of people, both prominent and obscure, over the past decade. Seemingly nobody actually has a good word to say about him or the site.

Meanwhile, Brook remains silent, his only response to people who ask for a response to my article being to block them, or to privately insinuate that there are inaccuracies without offering a shred of detail as to what those inaccuracies might be. I would suggest that at this point his silence speaks volumes.

For my part, what I want is for small business owners in and around the Doctor Who community to be safe from predatory and fraudulent offers. That's it. That's literally my only goal here. I think by far the easiest way for that to be accomplished would be for Sebastian Brook to show the barest modicum of integrity and respond to the evidence I've unearthed in a convincing way that allows everybody to move forward with confidence. I continue to call on him to do that, both because it saves everyone a lot of trouble, and, more to the point, because it is literally the only remotely moral response available to him.

Beyond that... Over the past week, Doctor Who Online has been running a Twitter hashtag #whatwhomeanstome.

That's obviously not a 140 character sort of question for me, hence, you know, the books and all. But certainly a part of what Doctor Who means to me - the largest single part - is that it's an expression of a moral viewpoint that says "stand up to crass and petty jerks who hurt other people." A viewpoint that is completely and utterly uncompromising on that. What Doctor Who means to me, more than anything else, is standing up and saying "no, this is wrong."

Look, if you read that article and don't think there's a compelling case that Doctor Who Online has a moral duty to answer, fine. I disagree with you, but go on your way.

But if you read it and thought "god, that's awful," then for God's sake, step up and help do something about it. I'm not saying condemn DWO. I'm not saying loudly boycott them. I'm saying tell them that they need to address these issues. I'm saying to tell them that you want answers. Because that really is the easiest way forward. Yes, there are legal avenues, and yes, they may need to be explored. Or this could all be wrapped up today if Sebastian Brook realizes that hiding isn't going to work and that he needs to actually do something.

So please. Take a minute of your day and tweet Doctor Who Online asking them to respond to the concerns raised. Ask them on Facebook. E-mail them at mail@drwho-online.co.uk. Join the calls on GallifreyBase for them to answer the questions raised.

Especially if you're one of my readers who has a large voice in the community. Because I know you exist. If you're someone whose name is on the spine of some books or who comes up in the credits of episodes, if you're someone with your own site, if you're someone with a decent number of Twitter readers... we need you. It's that simple. We need you. Please help us. 

Past that, I suppose, is the question of what the next steps are and should be. If getting Brook to voluntarily show a shred of human decency is a non-starter, what should be the next step in bringing this ugly mess to an end?

Obviously one step, which I at this point unreservedly recommend for UK-based victims, is contacting Citizens Advice to report DWO to Trading Standards. Here's a page with instructions on that.

What else can be done, though?

Comments

drwhoonline DrWhoOnline 2 years ago

We were not going to respond to Phil’s allegations due to advice from other fans and friends in the community, but as per his comment about ‘ending this today’, we wanted to do just this and clarify a few things:

We refute any claim that our advertising packages are in any way fraudulent; we simply offer banner ads on the site for companies to promote there products, services or events.

Rates:

Our rates are based on a number of industry standard prices for online advertising, and we do offer discounts and promotions throughout the year to help out advertisers. Regardless of the critique from Phil that they are steep, we do have high profile advertisers who pay these prices and who have been with us for over 10 years.

Clickthrough Stats:

In regards to clickthrough stats, it is almost impossible to give an exact figure as every campaign is different and there are a number of factors dependent on this; relevance, position, how eye-catching the art is e.t.c. We can only go off of averages and in the rare situations that a potential advertiser asks about clickthrough stats we give averages based on previous campaigns.

In any case where there is a discrepancy with stats we will look into it. This doesn’t happen very often but in the interests of transparency we are currently looking into a new system which links into Google Analytics so that advertisers can have logins and instant and transparent access to stats.

Dissatisfaction:

The vast majority of our advertisers are incredibly happy with our services and we will be putting up some testimonials on the site over the coming weeks as further evidence of this.

Unfortunately you cannot please everyone, and whilst we try to maintain a high satisfaction level, it is inevitable that some campaigns may not work out. We are still committed to working with those advertisers to find out what went wrong and why and we encourage them to contact us at: advertising@drwho-online.co.uk

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Jack Graham 2 years ago

The above comment doesn't "refute" the claim of fraud. It simply *denies* it. In order to refute it you'd actually have to respond with evidence, as opposed to mere bafflegab.

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Chicanery 2 years ago

I would tweet him, but he blocked me years ago for calling out a homophobic tweet.

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J Mairs 2 years ago

This comment has been removed by the author.

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Sean Dillon 2 years ago

Wait, what?

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tvstudies 2 years ago

You have painted a picture of someone totally at odds with his high Twitter following, the respect he has within the BBC and also within fandom as a whole these days. You were in a business relationship with him, it didn't work for you, you got your money back, but you are still pissing in his direction. Why? Why do you wish to interrupt this person's business? Is it because he is a Limey? Are you a racist, Mr Sandifer?

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Sean Dillon 2 years ago

...So, the problem isn't that Phil has found a troubling trend in the business methods of a website with statistical analysis that gives off the shape of fraud based on the standards of the UK, it's that he's a racist.

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tvstudies 2 years ago

Mr Sandifer (the Pultizer Prize winning writer) has not shown ANY independently verifiable evidence. Mr Brook has a huge community built, many Facebook and Twitter followers to for both himself and DWO. Now I ask again, Mr Sandifer, are you a Racist?

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Tony Cross 2 years ago

"Are you a racist?"

I assume your posting this under a pseudonym because you're part of Doctor Who Online. And have never read anything Mr. Sandifer's ever written. Because if you had you wouldn't make such stupid claims. I can only assume you're trying the ''when did you stop beating your wife" approach to stop Mr. Sandifer upsetting the applecart.

Having read the article & having no axe to grind and actually using my real name as opposed to a sin covering pseudonym Doctor Who Online have questions to answer, which I don't think they reply answers those allegations. Claiming the number of Twitter/Facebook followers is a sign of credibility fails to take into account that someone like Katie Hopkins - who is a terrible human being - has thousands of Twitter followers.

It's also possible that the reason this hasn't come out before is no one actually wanted to rock the boat.

Anyway to cut a long story short you'd do yourself and Doctor Who Online a favour if you didn't throw stupid accusations about. With friends like you...etc

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tvstudies 2 years ago

Not at all - DWO still has advertisers. I have advertised with them previously and successfully. Suggesting I am part of DWO is like me suggesting that you are simply Mr Sandifer, that very successful writer, under a pseudonym. It seems from a lot of what Mr Sandifer is going on about that he has a problem against Limeys. I notice he hasn't even refuted that yet. Therefore, I ask again, are you a Racist, Mr Sandifer?

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David Ainsworth 2 years ago

Brook, I think, needs to explain the origin of his tracker (the mysterious GammaOnyx Trackster) and, assuming it is an example of personal coding and not a complete fabrication, provide the source-code for it online.

That wouldn't address all of Phil's accusations, but it would help.

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Neo Tuxedo 2 years ago

It seems from a lot of what Mr Sandifer is going on about that he has a problem against Limeys.

In the words of a player who ain't with us no more: "Specifics, please. Generalities make my teeth itch." I don't actually know for certain that you're a DWO sockpuppet; I will say only that, if you were actively working to convince us you are, I'm not sure what you'd be doing differently, except for not being so blatant. On the rest of Tony Cross' point, however:

I assume you[...] have never read anything Mr. Sandifer's ever written. Because if you had you wouldn't make such stupid claims. I can only assume you're trying the ''when did you stop beating your wife" approach to stop Mr. Sandifer upsetting the applecart.

As the great John Simon put it, there is no point in saying less than your predecessors have said.

I notice he hasn't even refuted that yet.

There is literally nothing to refute. He has laid out evidence for his charges; your "evidence" comes from the files of that eminent authority, Dr. Otto Yerass. Again, you only started talking about him needing to "refute" your invented bullshit after people started talking about DWO's failure to refute the charges Phil levelled against you. The only reason I'm still giving you anything resembling the benefit of the doubt on not being DWO's sockpuppet is because I don't actually have psychic powers so can't know for certain, given how much overtime you're putting in on the presumably-accidental project of convincing us Sebastian Brook would get a sprained wrist if you sat down too quickly.

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Philip Sandifer 2 years ago

I just want to point out, you are literally trolling me about being a racist and then bitching that I'm not replying *while I am at a funeral*.

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Prandeamus 2 years ago

It's rather telling that searching Google with the term "gammaonyx" today returns two hits, the top one being Phil's article. That doesn't prove anything directly, but it rather suggests it's neither a commercial product or an open source product because both of those categories of product advertise highly. Therefore it's more likely to be an inhouse product (which is not inherently a problem) if it has any status at all.

Asking for the full source code is asking a lot, though, because it might legitimately have some sort of secret sauce which the author is not willing to share. Also, as well as the source code you'd also need a discussion of the data it's running with, which would have data protection issues.

In a bigger legal case, he might turn the source code and the database to a trusted third party for independent analysis. I can't see that happening here, because it's just not that sort of large legal case.

So I agree it would help but it won't settle many arguments in practice.

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Prandeamus 2 years ago

(By "advertise" in connection with open source, I mean that open source products are often promoted by virtue of being held on github or one of the other free source hosting sites, not that open source is always commerically advertised. But either way, they'd show up in google search).

Also, describing Mr S as a Limey-hater when he's self-evidently an Anglophile is just plain silly. He doesn't love the UK unconditionally but he's expressed many positive comments about us on the Eastern side of the pond.

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Neo Tuxedo 2 years ago

Also, describing Mr S [...] is just plain silly.

If Sandifer were an overtly political blogger -- i.e. one who blogs primarily about politics, rather than one whose posts are only political to the extent that the personal is the political -- this is where he could make use of the phrase my fellow Sadlies either invented or perfected: "IT'S ALWAYS PROJECTION."

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Prandeamus 2 years ago

But he isn't an overtly political blogger, therefore your paragraph is irrelevant. I can't even tell if you're on his side or not, from that posting.

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Iain Coleman 2 years ago

It would certainly explain Dr Sandifer's long-standing antipathy to British TV and comics.

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Aylwin 2 years ago

I'm marvelling at the sheer transcendant alien beauty of the concept that numbers of social media followers are evidence of moral probity.

The "racism" gambit, though (and the triumphant repetition thereof - "Aha, that's IT! That could be the clincher that makes this whole thing go away!")...I just...I...have no...wow.

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HarlequiNQB 2 years ago

'Are you a racist, Mr Sandifer?'

'Racist...' you keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

('Xenophobic' is, if you were curious)

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BZArcher 2 years ago

If he's specifically saying that Phil is biased against the British, I think Nationalist might be more accurate that Xenophobic, but either way it's a rather poor use of terms.

Unless he's swinging for the fences and implying that people from the UK should be considered a race in and of themselves, in which case HAHAHAHAno.

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Philip Sandifer 2 years ago

This is a ridiculously inadequate response. Specific issues are highlighted below.

We refute any claim that our advertising packages are in any way fraudulent; we simply offer banner ads on the site for companies to promote there products, services or events.

Well, yes. It's not the packages themselves that are fraudulent so much as your marketing of them.

Our rates are based on a number of industry standard prices for online advertising

What prices, exactly? Because your cost-per-click rates would appear to be ridiculously overpriced, in most cases so much so that even if every single click translated into a sale it would be a money-loser.

we do offer discounts and promotions throughout the year to help out advertisers

Indeed; you'll note, in fact, that one of my complaints was that you claim a "discounted" rate that is in fact your standard rate, which is an advertising practice that's widely considered unethical in the UK.

in the rare situations that a potential advertiser asks about clickthrough stats we give averages based on previous campaigns.

To be clear, these averages are based on your GammaOnyx Trackster numbers, yes? The ones that don't seem to match any analytics from recognized sources?

In any case where there is a discrepancy with stats we will look into it. This doesn’t happen very often

It has happened to several of your current advertisers, so clearly it happens often enough to be a problem. But more to the point, your "looking into it" appears to consist of grabbing numbers from a mysterious piece of software nobody has ever heard of that don't match the numbers from any recognized analytics platform, and then just leaving it at that instead of trying to investigate whether there's a problem with your data.

And I want to stress, *this in and of itself is fraud*. You have ample reason to mistrust your analytics data. Continuing to assert it when you know you likely have a massive problem with it is fraud.

in the interests of transparency we are currently looking into a new system which links into Google Analytics so that advertisers can have logins and instant and transparent access to stats.

This is literally the only part of your response that is even remotely a substantive attempt to address any of these issues. To it, I can only say "stop looking and do it. Get it set up yesterday, for god's sake."

The vast majority of our advertisers are incredibly happy with our services

That is essentially impossible given that 30% of your current advertisers responded to a cold e-mail to complain that they felt you'd ripped them off. Simply put, there's no way I could have gotten the response rate to my inquiries that I did if the vast majority of your advertisers are satisfied.

we will be putting up some testimonials on the site over the coming weeks as further evidence of this

You don't need testimonials. You need data. You need analytics that didn't come from "GammaOnyx Trackster" showing successful ad campaigns.

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Jeff Heikkinen 2 years ago

I'm half convinced tvstudies is a parody account, so transparently awful are his arguments.

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Nick Smale 2 years ago

the mysterious GammaOnyx Trackster

There don't appear to be any onclick events set on any of Dr Who online's outbound links. Hard to see how any piece of software could track clickthroughs without those...

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Philip Sandifer 2 years ago

Nick - please explain more. This intrigues me.

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prandeamus 2 years ago

Nick is asserting that the site in question is not attempting to call back to any service that tracks clicks. It's not calling back to Google analytics or some analogous service. Without these events the browser clicks through the link without keeping any statistics. Caution: there are ways in modern javascript to set up these links without putting them in the main page source, so be cautious in your analysis.

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Nick Smale 2 years ago

Just as prandeamus says, really.

If you want to count how many visitors to your site are clicking through to another website, you need to put code into your pages to record those clicks.

You could have an onclick="" term in each link, or you could bind a handler to the click event with .addEventListener("click", ). As far as I can tell from looking at the site in Google Chrome developer tools, Doctor Who online isn't doing either of those things.

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camestrosfelapton 2 years ago

The racist line is somehow both sad, unintentionally funny and awful all in one go.

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Andrew 2 years ago

@tvstudies:

Ah, that'll be Poe's Law you're trying to demonstrate, yes?

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Prandeamus 2 years ago

Jury's still out. I examined the HTML via Chrome just now for a randomly selected ad on the homepage. There *is* an onclick handler for the *document*. I assume it's event bubbling to have all the handlers in one place, and there definitely some logic relating to A and AREA tags.

As is customary in javascript of this type it's compressed and terse for efficiency and I don't have all day to analyse it.

TL;DR Don't jump to conclusions just yet.


I do think DWO may have a case to answer based on the earlier discussions, but it's not correct to assert there is absolutely no javascript attached to onclick handlers.

If spot anything else relevant I'll post here. My email is my name here AT btinternet DOT COM.

Disclaimer: although I don't rank in the top ten commenters here I've been signed up and occasionally posting over the last two years, so I hope that proves I am no sock puppet. I have no affiiliations with either Phil Sandifer or with DWO.

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Tony Cross 2 years ago

As I said tvonline with friends like you Doctor Who online doesn't need enemies.

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gatchamandave 2 years ago

"Limey" ? " Racist" ?

Pot making off-colour remarks about the kettle, I suggest.

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Daru 2 years ago

When I was first getting into online fandom with Doctor Who, DWO came up lots in my searches especially in relation to DW magazine. First I thought that they were affiliated with DWM as their pages with all of the back issues were very prominent.

Generally I have found it hard to get a handle on what the site's main voice/aim is for me, as looking around it as a designer it seems like a lot of visual chaos and I don't really feel like it's a site I want to spend time around anyway.

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tvstudies 2 years ago

I notice Mr Sandifier you don't deny being a racist. Thanks for the clarification.

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Dan 2 years ago

I must remember to play the race card the next time an American Anglophile justifably accuses me of malpractice. Its absurdity will stun my opponents into stupefaction.

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Aylwin 2 years ago

In this case, I think it's not quite a race card as such, more a scuffed scrap of paper with "RASE" scrawled on it in crayon.

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Neo Tuxedo 2 years ago

Aylwin, will that Internets be take-away or delivery?

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Philip Sandifer 2 years ago

I mean, I'm not really sure tvstudies wants to go down the "not denying something means its true" route, given that Doctor Who Online has not, strictly speaking, denied the fact that their analytics software is fatally broken and their ads get wildly fewer clicks than they claim.

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