NO, he’s not a cyber-stalker. Or a group of psychology students doing a project. Or the government in disguise. Pablo Banila is a real person, but he’s not the crazy lowlife that people thought he was.
When the first Pablo Banila article came out in 2bU two weeks ago, we were swamped with hundreds of letters and blog comments from readers. The sentiments expressed in the mail were varied; they ranged from “Pablo Banila gives me the chills too,” to “He’s a psycho who not only views my Multiply site, but Friendster as well,” to “He’s actually a genius who was just misunderstood.”
Most of the readers were curious about his identity and wanted to know who he was, while a few thought an article about him was a waste of precious newspaper space. “Argh, you gave him more attention!” said a friend, wringing his hands. Another said, “Unbelievable, you made him famous! But in any case, he still gives off bad vibes and he’s still flooding my viewing history page with his gazillion accounts.” A blog reader was more blunt, saying, “Big deal. Slow news day?”
But in either case, Pablo Banila certainly caught your attention—and apparently, the article caught his too, because he e-mailed 2bU to give the real deal on his identity. He had explained his intentions in a UP Multiply blog at http://yoopee.multiply.com/journal/item/4805, but only a handful of internet users knew about it (compared to the millions of sites that he “visited”).
Pablo Banila—Paolo Bantolo in real life—has been called many names in the past couple of months, and a lot of them weren’t too nice. “Creepy” was the first thing that came to mind when Multiply and Friendster users first saw the avatar that showed a guy with matted chin-length hair and a sign that flashed, “Yes, Pablo Banila has a crush on you hahahaha! That’s why he viewed your homepage, cute nun!”
The reactions that the avatar elicited were interesting. Initially, people truly believed that the mysterious Pablo Banila had a crush on them, gender notwithstanding—until they visited his site and realized that they were duped.
“Before I opened up a guestbook, there were three general reactions from three kinds of people,” said Bantolo in an e-mail interview. “First, from the genuinely curious—people asking me if they do know me; in other words, people who did not bother reading my profile, the naked confession of everything I am.”
He added, “[The next were] from the genuinely infatuated—schoolgirls and baby boys telling me that I can be their boyfriend anytime! The rest were people with a sense of humor. Interestingly, most of my most passionate haters honestly believed that I had a crush on them until the grand opening of ‘Pablo Banila’s Never-ending Guestbook Party.’ [Then] they found out it wasn’t only them.”
The truth is, Pablo Banila never really visited every website where his avatar appeared—his bots did. An anonymous reader who identified himself as a retired hacker explained, “Pablo Banila actually is a programmer who uses a program called ‘web crawler.’ Web crawlers were originally used by search engines such as Google and Yahoo to automatically browse web pages on the internet. [This is done so they can] save the data on their database and make an index list of the web pages on the Internet.”
The reader added, “This is all done using a program. A program with a standard DSL connection can browse 10 sites every second, 600 sites every minute and 36,000 sites every hour—roughly 864,000 Multiply sites every day.”
Others who were already in the know admitted that he was a computer genius, if only slightly off his rocker. News that he came from top schools (Bantolo graduated from the Philippine Science High School and went on to study Computer Science at the University of the Philippines Diliman before transferring to New York University; he is currently a graduate student at California Riverside) only fueled the speculations about his being a crazy genius.
Others expressed their admiration and marveled at how he was able to pull off the scheme; others, like Multiply user “emocantbevanity” said, “He’s such a weirdo … why can’t he just get a life or something? Is he that much of a genius, that’s why he became a weirdo? Oh well, moral lesson—don’t be a genius and learn to socialize with other people so you wouldn’t become the country’s biggest weirdo!”
“I never thought of my viewing activity as stalking,” Bantolo said. “It was casual web surfing. What made the difference was my classic welcome message that penetrated the unawareness of the unspoken hope the viewing history promises in an avatar of a Lesbian in Shining Armor. I can honestly say that I wanted to meet new friends, and, ultimately, build a bridge of chance towards my one true love.”
According to Bantolo, he chose Multiply and Friendster “for the high demographic of Filipinos. And because I have not tried making new friends in other networks—but I will! Pretty soon!”
He added, “I wish I could click on millions of headshots for hours in a day, for that would’ve been like playing my favorite game, Counter-Strike; but that’s just impossible in my already inhumane schedule as a working student.”
And as for stalking—as soon as it was established that the only pages “Pablo Banila” visited were the homepages of the sites, which are essentially open to public viewing (as Multiply and Friendster have contacts-only lock options)—his viewing activities can hardly be counted as harassment.
Multiply user “agnestherese” said, “Pablo Banila is hardly a stalker. He only views homepages, not blogs or photos. I think that those who make such a big deal out of it, more specifically all the hate blogs, are self-centered or maybe just hurt when they found out that Pablo Banila has a crush on them … and everyone else.”
“Public domain is public domain,” Bantolo explained. “If they felt harassed in any way, it was because I kept exercising my right to view their public profile.” He further attributed the public’s fear and irritation to his “scarecrow headshot.”
He said, “People read about accusations, libel and death threats against me written on my guestbook. I am hated in exactly the same way other human beings discriminate against blacks, Muslims, and homosexuals.”
Bantolo added, “I performed the same routine using stereotypical images of innocence (young, attractive and female) at the same duration and received virtually no reaction.”
Actually, the entire issue is moot and academic, as “Pablo Banila” has already retired and given up his homepage-viewing days. But many users, unaware of what happened, remained in the dark for the past few weeks. As a final note, Bantolo quoted the California Penal Code’s definition of stalking:
Any person who willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly follows or harasses another person and makes a credible threat with the intent to place that person in reasonable fear for his or her safety is guilty of the crime of stalking.
“Credible threat” means a verbal or written threat, including that performed through the use of an electronic communication device.
He clarified, “I am not making a ‘credible threat’ nor do I intend to ‘place any person in reasonable fear for his or her safety.’”