December 6th, 2013
To mark the year that has gone by since the drama which ended my would-be career in politics last year, the scandal involving a bombshell Tory MP, the hacking of my private email account, and the exposure of my secret sex life, this is an excerpt from my book, Don’t Bite the Apple, which is available in paperback or Kindle from Amazon here.
A part of me wants to take my hat off to the people who hacked into my email account, my blog and my company website. Begrudgingly, I have to admire both their skill and their balls. Considering the high risk of a prison sentence, it took some guts. And of course, I only take my hat off so far; the psychopaths set out to destroy my life and don’t deserve any real respect from me.
In January 2012, my life changed forever. I was no stranger to controversy – at least internal Labour Party controversy – up to that point. I was a high-profile member of the new generation of the ‘Blairite’ wing of the party. I was more concerned with how Britain could be economically powerful, friendly to aspiration and ambition, and reduce taxes on everyone, than with the usual stomping political ground that Labour occupied: high taxes and lots of government spending.
I wrote articles, authored pamphlets and stirred debate in the party. I wasn’t afraid to speak my mind. Actually I’ve never been afraid to speak my mind, and I think that’s one of the things that has propelled me through politics at such lightning speed.
I attracted attention quickly, and not all of it was pleasant. I began to stir up forces of true hatred. Strange, demented people who couldn’t simply disagree with me started to put their energies into harassing me for my outspoken views. I became an easy target.
Perhaps there is something intertwined in my psyche between addiction to sex and my strong desire to be noticed. Or maybe I just say things the way I see them, and what’s wrong with that? But in Britain – and in the universe surrounding British politics – there is a ‘tall-Poppy’ syndrome. People hate, genuinely hate, that someone else can be on an upward trajectory in any field. If they’re doing well, it must be time to tear them down.
I always understood that a life in politics would involve having people hate me. I was unprepared for how fast and how thick the hatred would come once I became active. Simply for being a commentator and a controversial political thinker, I was fair game for the haters.
The maelstrom of hate would only become a bigger, stronger force in January 2012. But this time I sort of expected it. After a few weeks of negotiation, I decided to take the very public plunge and switch parties to the Conservatives. I’d gone through a challenging period of reflection over which party I would be most comfortable in moving forward. I’d had enough of Labour’s obsession with the state as the answer to all our ills. My new home would be a more welcoming place.
Late in the week preceding my ‘defection’ as it would become known, Conservative HQ’s press department had been preparing the necessary media announcements to make the splash as large as possible. On my birthday – the 15th of January – I had arranged for a small dinner with my children and my sister and her baby daughter at Wagamama in Camden Town. Unfortunately, I spent most of the day in a state of nervous wreck. And I spent most of the dinner on the phone to journalists briefing them on what would happen the next day.
The wheels were put into motion and I’d reached the point of no return. I would become a bigger fish – albeit still a relatively small one – and my upward journey toward Parliament in 2015 would be secured. The floodgates of hell would open and I’d become a hate figure to the left.
My name has been a top ten trending topic on Twitter a handful of times, most of those times for the wrong reasons. To trend on Twitter, a name, topic or hashtag must be tweeted many thousands of times, with varying degrees of intensity depending on how busy Twitter is at the time.
It ought to be a badge of honour in the social media age, but I’ve always hated when this happens, because I became a figure of hatred and derision, it was never for what I thought were the right reasons. It was always because a large group of people, hundreds or thousands of them at a time, had decided to create a bandwagon out of my name and jump on it. Insults were hurled at me, jokes were made, and I trended.
This happened when I defected from Labour to the Conservatives. At about a quarter to midnight that Sunday the 15th, I posted the following tweet to all of my followers, sealing the deal which would theoretically lead to my rise to Parliament a few years later:
“I suppose I should let you know. I’ve decided to leave old Labour and join Cameron’s new Conservatives. There’ll be a statement to follow.”
Within less than a minute, the responses were coming in by their hundreds. Despite it being so late on a Sunday, many people were apparently glued to Twitter. I thought this would be a good chance to quietly get the news out early to people who followed me. Many of my friends and associates didn’t know what was coming and I wanted them to hear it from me.
Within ten minutes, the deluge of tweets hadn’t stopped or slowed down as I expected they would. In fact it went the other way. Hashtags were created about me. People were having fun; frankly so was I. But then it started to trend. It was the bottom trending topic – 10th place in a 10-place list. Slowly it crept up and eventually it reached the top. Some of it was out of interest in me and the story. A lot of it was people asking who the hell I was. But the bulk of this interest and chatter came from a very large number of hateful people venting their anger at me for daring to switch sides.
I stayed in the top five trending topics for the next 12 hours or so, including the very busy Monday morning 9am-midday window.
As expected, I’d become a hate figure for the left in a big way. At least that is the online left; the tweeters, bloggers and also some journalists following politics at Westminster. My political life would never be the same again. The knowledge that Louise Mensch was involved in my defection spread, and that added salt to the wound. Louise being a hate figure in her own – considerably larger – right, combined with me, a more junior hate figure but also controversial, really pissed people off.
I created enemies for life. In January 2012 I sowed the seeds of the hatred that would come back for me later on.
A few months into my new life as a Conservative, news got out that Mensch and I were planning to come together in business. What had been planned in the days following my defection over cheap wine in the House of Commons bar, was to launch a social networking site rivaling Twitter, but with topics built in. Instead of posting general tweets, users of “menshn” would post short messages in different topics.
Louise wanted to call the new initiative “Menschon” after her husband. I quickly saw the drawbacks. It might be popular with Upper West Side Jews, but it was hardly going to rival Twitter with a name that only a few people would instinctively get. But it reminded me of the verb ‘mention’. I suggested menshn and it stuck. The resemblance to her name was there, but this would have broader appeal.
The news leaked in the Spring that we had formed a limited company, MenschBozier Ltd., but the concept was tightly controlled and we succeeded in keeping it a secret. We weren’t going to launch the site until the Summer, after exhaustively seeking venture capital in America.
We did go to America; in April, Louise and I spent about a week there zipping around Manhattan’s venture capital scene, trying to convince investors to put a quarter of a million dollars into our big idea. Thanks to Louise’s name and her husband’s contacts, we were able to secure meetings with whomever we wanted. We got to see the cream of the New York venture capital crop. One of our meetings took place on the vaunted 40th floor of the Goldman Sachs tower, overlooking the Statue of Liberty and the World Trade Center. That meeting in particular gave me an overwhelming sense of success; I’d come from humble beginnings back in Britain but I was talking to the cream of the New York financial elite, as well as the high princes of the dot-com world, including the likes of Union Square Ventures’ Fred Wilson, an early investor in Twitter among other major dot-coms.
Despite our best efforts, and the belief we had in the idea’s potential, we came back to London empty-handed.
Lack of funding wouldn’t stop us however. I would dust off my old computer coding skills and build menshn v1.0 myself. It wouldn’t be perfect but it would work. It would be a start.
menshn.com v1.0 launched in June with an exclusive interview with TechCrunch, the big American technology blog. I had spent the couple of months leading up to the launch on little other than writing the code and designing the site’s interface. I was happy with it and thought it was a pretty decent effort considering I hadn’t been a professional coder for some years.
A time of supposed celebration, the 24, 48, 72 hours following the launch of menshn in the UK were in fact an absolute nightmare.
We had some 5,000 registrations in the first few hours, even though our launch was at midnight. The site itself was holding up, minus a few minor bugs. The servers were fine. Everything seemed fine. The platform was humming with chatter. I thought we’d made it.
However, the British tall-Poppy syndrome kicked in and a few determined, self-proclaimed ‘hackers’ decided that they would do their very best to break menshn. To destroy it. To humiliate Louise and me just for the fun of it.
It doesn’t take much to make a website stop working in the way it should. Complex sites like Twitter, Facebook and menshn are full of potential holes and bugs which can sometimes be exploited by malicious hackers intent on causing havoc. And they did cause havoc. Those few days were a non-stop race to shut down holes and bugs as soon as a hacker – and there were hundreds of them racing away trying to destroy the site – discovered one. I didn’t sleep much.
I’ve always found it difficult to contain myself when upset or angry or frustrated. I’ve not been afraid of telling people what I think, especially when under attack. As a member of the developer community, albeit as a former professional programmer, I thought the way the wannabe hackers all jumped on the ‘let’s attack Bozier for being such a shit programmer’ was nothing short of bullying. And I hit back.
I posted a number of tweets over those days to the general effect of ‘stop sniping and throwing stones, be constructive with your criticism.’ This only worsened things as it fueled the fire of hatred.
Then one or two hackers took it upon themselves to lobby national newspapers to ‘expose’ how ‘dangerous’ menshn was because of its loopholes. The dangers were never real; nobody’s information was stolen, nobody ever had an account hijacked. Nothing untoward ever happened to somebody online because of a menshn bug or loophole. The so-called hackers just had a field day in mustering up yet more hatred around the controversial project. They jumped on menshn’s coat-tails for a few minutes of online ‘fame’.
The web is an ungovernable space when it comes to defamation and bullying. There are numerous laws in effect in Britain and other countries designed to protect people from both online harassment and online defamation, but in reality they aren’t effective at all. Harassment is serious as it leads people to desperation, and harassment in the virtual world can be equal to or more distressing for a victim as it can be in the so-called real world. Not being able to take action against harassers – bullies, effectively – and defamers simply because they hide behind anonymity on the web is extremely frustrating.
Somebody even went to the lengths of purchasing the domain name lukebozier.com, which I hadn’t reserved myself (nor did I ever see the need to). They plastered the site with a screen grab of me on a national television show and pasted the headline ‘Luke Bozier is an inept moron’ above it. When I tried to remonstrate with the perpetrator via email, they simply posted my emails on to the site, which increased the traffic to the site and therefore the fun the moron who did it was having.
If somebody had stood outside my house with a sign saying ‘Luke Bozier is an inept moron’, I could have them arrested or moved on with very little difficulty.
But online, there was very little I could do legally. Despite there being laws against such kinds of harassment, the police are fairly inept when it comes to modern crimes involving technology. The anonymity of the web makes it very hard to enforce the laws that do exist.
At times I wanted to pull out my hair. For the first time in a few years the thought of suicide came back to haunt me. I just wanted the endless stream of bile and bullying to stop.
I’ve always considered myself to have a thick skin, but in the week following the launch of menshn I was hospitalised because of the stress. The cardiologist at University College Hospital was stark: cut out some of the stresses in your life or have a heart attack before you’re thirty. I was treated with valium and recommended for a course of anti-depressants. I was shattered and destroyed.
Fame – even in the relatively small dose I enjoyed – was nothing but a curse.
The police in Britain are carrying out their investigations into the hacking of my private email account as well as my blog and company website. Serious crimes were committed, but hackers are clever and have ways of hiding their tracks. Having said that, there are a number of clues. There may have been developments by the time this book is published. For now all I can say is that I have my suspicions about who is responsible.
My instinct is that the person or people behind the hacking of my emails took a dislike to me around the time menshn launched. The combination of technical ability, malicious intent and a psychopathic hatred of me and my politics could only really be found amongst this group of hateful hackers. Obviously, that’s just instinct.
It wouldn’t surprise me if there were some element of Westminster involvement as well. The list of people who wanted to see my political career end is a long one.
Whoever is behind the gross invasion of my privacy that led to such destruction in my life, they carried out a really sophisticated plan with a great deal of success.
It’s the sort of thing that, if a newspaper had employed hackers to do, would have led to Parliamentary enquiries.
But just how did they do it?
I always took the security of my online accounts – emails, Twitter, Facebook and the like – very seriously. Clearly not seriously enough, but I went to lengths to ensure that every single one of my accounts had what I considered a safe password. I didn’t use anniversaries, names of loved ones and the like. I usually used a combination of letters and numbers, both uppercase and lowercase.
For example, instead of ‘Password123’ I would have used ‘vO3nbL7qz’ or something similar. You can easily have passwords like this generated for you via various online services. Then you just have to make sure you memorise them, but I’ve never had a problem doing that. Once you memorise them, your passwords are effectively unguessable.
So guessing my password was completely out of the question.
Another way into an email account is by successfully guessing the security questions which you set up when you first open an account. That’s how I regained access to my Yahoo email account when my password stopped working (i.e. when it was hacked and the hackers changed the password). It was a very old email account – some ten years or so – and the questions which I’d set had no connection or baring on my current life. That was out of the question too.
The email address itself was one which I hardly used and wasn’t commonly known. One of the questions I ask myself is: who exactly would have known of the existence of that address. It wasn’t tied to my Facebook account, or my Twitter account. I didn’t use it to contact friends except one or two – and the friends in politics who knew about the address I have named to the police as part of their investigation. I used it to login to Amazon and other sites like that which routinely send out spam or annoying emails.
Anyway, whomever it was is on a list no longer than two handfuls of people.
So without being able to guess my password or the answers to the security questions, how did the hackers gain entry to my email account? That’s the mystery, but that’s what they did.
Once inside, the hackers changed the backup email address – a spare address you can set for emergencies when you can’t remember your password – to email@example.com instead of the firstname.lastname@example.org address I usually use. However, they didn’t change the security questions, which points to amateurishness. A thousand or so emails had been moved from my inbox to the trash folder, though this could have happened if the hackers had used a piece of software – similar to Outlook – to download the contents of the inbox to their computer.
Yahoo’s activity log showed that three logins had been made overnight on Saturday 24th of November 2012, between midnight and 5am. So the person or people responsible had to either be in a different timezone or awake all night. Hermits who have little more in their lives apart from their computers and Internet connections sometimes stay up all night.
Once the hackers had got into my emails, they then had access to a range of other sites which I’d registered that email address to. The main one – and most valuable – being the company I used to buy all of my web domain names, including the one I use for my blog and my company websites. With access to this, the hackers were able to take over control of my domains and transfer them to other anonymous registrars anywhere in the world.
Once they’d transferred the domain names, they could post whatever they wanted on my websites.
Access was secured now. It was just a question of sifting through my emails and extracting all of the most revealing, intimate, damaging and questionable nuggets about my sex life and sexual history. Those were all weaved into one HTML page with a narrative written alongside, including the somewhat amusing:
“Phwoar, I think we’ve discovered the true identity of Louise Bagshawe’s ghost writer for her raunchy novels.”
The page was then uploaded to my blog and company website for the entire world to see. When exactly my blog stopped being my blog and started being a death sentence for my old life I’m not sure. I didn’t check it daily. Nobody had brought it to my attention in the days leading up to December 6th when I was in New York. I can only assume the switch happened in the few hours leading up to me discovering it myself. If it had been up much longer, the news would have reached Twitter in no time.
It all seems quite simple looking back. Simple yet deadly. It’s disgusting that people feel they can get away with vicious, life-destroying behaviour. Discovering that I’d looked at a few non-sexual photos of teenage women, or posted pictures of myself on casual sex websites doesn’t excuse the fact that a huge crime has been committed against me. It’s beyond me how deluded and mentally damaged a person must be to think that it’s either fun or useful to destroy someone’s life in this way. But then, the world is seemingly full of deranged people, just desperate for someone to hate. I pity them really.
The legal framework dealing with online harassment really needs updating. In light of what happened to me, private citizens need more tools at their disposal to seek justice against harassers, and to stop them from making their lives hell.
It’s a really strange, modern phenomenon. In previous times, harassment would happen slowly and build up over time. Because of the social media effect – thousands of people hiding behind their computer screens – the effects of online stalking and online bullying are felt more quickly. Bandwagons are created in no time, and people jump on them. They relentlessly attack and defame their victims, driving them to desperation.
When a victim finally goes to the police or lawyers, they’re simply told: there’s not much we can do if it’s online.