MICHELE NORRIS, host:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Michele Norris.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
I'm Robert Siegel.
And its now time for All Tech Considered.
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If you're making a summer books list, there's a new title out from an online humorist. His email exchanges with unsuspecting victims have been going viral for years.
NPR's Shereen Meraji sat down with the author of "The Internet Is a Playground: Irreverent Correspondences of an Evil Online Genius."
SHEREEN MARISOL MERAJI: This email exchange went viral a while ago. Maybe someone sent it to you. In my head, it sounded a little something like this.
Unidentified Woman: Dear David, our records indicate that your account is overdue by the amount of $233.95. If you have already made this payment, please contact us within the next seven days to confirm payment has been applied to your account and is no longer outstanding.
Unidentified Man: Dear Jane, I do not have any money, so I'm sending you this drawing I did of a spider instead. I value the drawing at $233.95, so I trust that this settles the matter. Regards, David.
MERAJI: Basically, this David guy is trying to pay a real chiropractor bill with an elementary drawing of a spider. The woman he's emailing is not amused. The email exchange is funny to some, but to others David comes off as a bit of a bully.
Mr. DAVID THORNE (Author, "The Internet Is a Playground: Irreverent Correspondences of an Evil Online Genius"): Do you reckon it's mean?
MERAJI: That's the real David. David Thorne, he's an Aussie.
Mr. THORNE: I never initiated the conversation. If somebody is initiating it, then really it's up to them if they want to end the discussion or whatnot.
MERAJI: But for Thorne, it's best when they keep hitting send.
It all started when the chain-smoking, 30-something graphic designer, single dad from Adelaide, Australia, was bored at work. He'd instigate email arguments with co-workers, landlords, friends and school chaplains. He'd write outlandish stories on Internet forums that would get him kicked out by irritated moderators. Why? He says it because it made him laugh.
Mr. THORNE: People used the word troll, but I'm not on there to upset people or anything like that. I'm just basically gone on these forums and write little stories. I'm a designer, but it's a lot more fun writing than it is laying out business cards.
MERAJI: Thorne put his funniest stuff on his website, 27b/6.com. And when he posted that spider email exchange, he realized he wasn't the only one chuckling.
Mr. THORNE: Before the spider email, the website was probably getting 500 hits a week. After the spider email was posted, now I think it was about half a million hits a day and that service just collapsed.
MERAJI: Thorne needed a dedicated server. But hosting charges were pricey. So he gathered his online pranks and stories into a self-published book, "The Internet Is a Playground." A real publisher picked it up and it recently made The New York Times Best-Seller List.
Thorne is adamant that none of this could have happened if his work didn't make some people laugh and others shake their heads in disgust.
Mr. THORNE: If I post something and I get five comments and it was all: That was funny, that was good, and everything, then, yes, I'll jump in there under a construct's name and say that was terrible, the guy's an idiot; because that's the only way to create the factions. Factions are gold. They're just priceless, been doing that for years. That's terrible, isn't it?
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MERAJI: I tried to reach a couple of people on the anti-Thorne faction. But only one got back to me, Shannon Walkley. She was the admin assistant at the branding firm where he worked, and a repeat target of Thorne's email shenanigans.
Mr. THORNE: She filed three formal complaints, because she didn't like my sense of humor. And I'd steal things from her desk. And I think I just wore her out after a while.
MERAJI: Shannon Walkley declined an interview in an email, saying: Sorry. This is probably just another one of his tricks anyway. And I don't care about his book or his stupid website.
So is David Thorne an online humorist or a grown-up bully trolling the Web for victims? Either way you look at it, the Internet is his playground.
Shereen Marisol Meraji, NPR News.
SIEGEL: And you can read excerpts from "The Internet Is a Playground" at npr.org/alltech.