Tag Archives: ethics

Are We Talking Ethics or Grudges or Just Funny?

Let me begin by making two important points.  One, other than a brief handshake at a conference once or twice, I’ve never met any of the main players involved in this TechCrunch/Crunchgate thing.  Two, I have no personal knowledge about the facts, as they exist or as they have been described, other than what I’ve read online.

Having said that…

A Quick Recap

image TechCrunch, a very popular website, had an intern or part-time employee who may have asked for or been offered some manner of compensation from companies seeking coverage on TechCrunch.  Such an act would be bad mojo for a new media web site trying to be taken seriously, and make lots of money in the process.  Mike Arrington, the founder and presumably majority owner of TechCrunch, wrote an apology and sacked said intern.

Loren Feldman, of 1938media, wasn’t all that impressed with Mike’s mea culpa.  It was noted in Loren’s post, and may be relevant to the discussion, that Mike and Loren apparently had a falling out in the past.  I don’t know the details, and they don’t matter at this point.

All of which led me to wonder, as I read the posts discussed below, how much of this is ethical activism, how much is some inside joke between two of the popular geeks, how much is grudge-fighting, and how much is just good old fashioned humor.

It gets confusing.

And while we’re talking about confusion and disclosure, let me note that I have written negatively about a lot of stuff Mike has said and done.  On the other hand, I have written in support of other things he has said or done.  See, I’m fair and balanced and transparent and confused.

Back to Mike and Loren…

Some of the things Loren says are spot on:

Why is TechCrunch even covering Yazzem? As a commenter points out, talking about “M&A”, “advertising” and “premium features” as part of a $15,000 deal between two companies with no web traffic clearly isn’t news.

And much is hilarious:

The Gillmor Gang may or may not be a TechCrunch production. It consists of non-technical people yelling at each other about technology and runs for what feels like eleven hours. Visuals focus on odd angles of nostril hair, bad cell phone call-in audio, and lighting that makes them look like lizards. Their most popular video is a 90 second YouTube clip where keyboard cat plays jazz organ after Mike acts like an idiot, a Google employee throws his Skype headset down in disgust, and I roll my eyes uncomfortably.

There are good points, and there are funny lines.  There is also hostility and belittling.

Maybe there’s a topic here we should discuss.  If I could stop laughing.  And cringing.  And laughing.  And cringing.

I Know You Are, But What Am I

Before I read all about this latest blogospat (or whatever it truly is), I did note with some interest that TechCrunch was throwing rocks at InfoWorld for not being as quick or as good at apologizing.  Maybe this is the best defense is a good offense thing, but I would think that’s a story Mike could have let pass right by without comment.

And Now for Something Completely Similar

All of this led to a post yesterday by Loren in which he takes some more, admittedly generally funny, shots at TechCrunch and then provides a list of over 100 companies whose mentions at TechCruch were deleted.  Including such juggernauts as Microsoft, Facebook, Intel and Yazzem.  Thank God Bebo wasn’t on that list.

See, I can be funny too…

Which, Finally, Leads to My Point.  Hey Wake Up!

I love a good blogospat.  I’ve written about some of the best of them.  I’ve been involved in a few.

But beneath all the punches and humor, isn’t there an important issue here?

People talk about blogs.  They love ‘em or they hate ‘em.  They are either the evolution of journalism or the new neighborhood papers for persistent nerds.

All of that is wrong.  Well, except for the nerd part.  That’s sort of right.

Blogs don’t really exist.  Not in the way most people describe them. Blogging is merely a content creation and management platform- like WordPress or Blogger.  Content is still content, and media is still media.  If someone wants to be taken seriously, whether as a blogger, a musician or a chimneysweep, he or she has to respect the rules of the game, manage their brand and nurture their credibility.  Whether you publish on dead tress, blogging platforms, email or signs behind airplanes is irrelevant.

So I think it’s fair and appropriate to debate TechCruch’s (and InfoWorld’s) actions in the wake of material credibility issues.  But if what we are really doing is having some personal grudge-match or engaging in extreme and generally hilarious satire (Disclosure: I think the funniest move ever made is Idiocracy, so I love satire as least as much as the next geek), let’s just say so.

I’d like to either promote distributed media (my pre-owned cars word for what some erroneously call blogging) or bury it in absurdity.

I’m happy either way.  Let’s just pick one.

Is It Time for Anonymous Bloggers to Cowboy Up?

I’ve been trying hard not to comment about the ridiculous Skankgate business.  But today my resolve was broken by the final straw.

cowboyupHere’s the background as I understand it.  Some anonymous blogger calls some model a skank (among many other things), the alleged skank considers suing said anonymous blogger and subpoenas Google (who hosted said blogger’s blog for free) for said blogger’s particulars.  Google notifies said anonymous blogger of the subpoena to allow said anonymous blogger to challenge the subpoena, which said anonymous blogger does and fails.  Under court order, Google provides said anonymous blogger’s name to the alleged skank.

Then, rather than defend the alleged skank’s claim, either under some truth as a defense theory, by playing the much misunderstood First Amendment card or otherwise, the no-longer anonymous blogger decides to sue Google for $15 million.

Are you kidding me?

Read carefully.  It’s not the person who was called a skank who’s suing Google.  It’s the person who said it, somehow claiming that Google should have ignored the subpoena in the name of preserving that person’s ability to say seemingly anything behind a self-granted cloak of anonymity.  It’s like the schoolyard bully suing a teacher for pulling him off a weakling.  In other words, it’s backwards.  And illogical.

Some seem to be confusing anonymity with immunity.  Some might say this suit is some combination of offense as a good defense, a bad aim and a money grab.

My issue is not the truth or untruth of what was said.  Who cares- there are laws to deal with that.  My issue is with someone who wants to make all sorts of allegations about someone else, but is unwilling to stand up and say “yeah, I said it.”  And it’s not like this situation involved a single skank reference amid scads of other content and opinion.  According to a  report at Wired, the no-longer anonymous blogger:

published only five posts, all devoted to attacking [the alleged skank], a 37-year-old who has reportedly modeled for Australian Vogue, Georgio Armani and Versace. In the posts, [the alleged skank] was called a “psychotic, lying, whoring . . . skank” and an “old hag,” and was depicted as a desperate “fortysomething” who was past her prime.

As far as I’m concerned, if you don’t want to take credit for it, then don’t cross any legal lines when you crap all over someone.  I have the same respect for anonymous bloggers who attack people as I do for the those who write on bathroom walls.  That sort of thing makes Twitter seem like the Encyclopedia Britannica.

Robert X. Cringely notes in a PCWorld article that “if anonymous speech on the Internet is no longer anonymous, some people will simply stop speaking.” To which I and the rest of the sane world say “so freaking what?”  The mathematical value of some anonymous, tossed-up Blogger blog or some scathing anonymous blog comment is very close to zero.

And, again, no one is saying you can’t be anonymous- the hair trigger First Amendment police tend to get confused about this.  Even the generally reliable Techdirt seems to be misinterpreting the right of free speech as an absolute right to be anonymous, which it is not (though Techdirt did come down on the side of logic with respect to the suit against Google).  If you want to write anonymously, no one can or should stop you, and the very legitimate protection of anonymous speech requires scrutiny before removing the cloak of anonymity.  But if you defame someone, you can’t simply hide behind your self-granted anonymity.  To argue otherwise is to turn the law- and common sense- on its head.

Privacy expert  Dan Solove says:

The Internet shouldn’t mean that people have unbridled freedom to do things they wouldn’t do before without repercussions. We have an unprecedented power to broadcast something to the entire world. Never before in history have you had the power to do this without the aid of the mainstream media.

An interesting footnote.  Upon learning of the no-longer anonymous blogger’s identity, the alleged skank says, “I just dialed her up. I said no more lawyers, it’s OK. I forgive you.”

I say if you want to talk trash about people, cowboy up and say it to their face.

Sins of Omission: The No Jerks, No Assholes Rule

People are pretty cool in small numbers.

But put a bunch of them together and some of them will invariably start to act like jerks.  In young people, this jerkage often manifests itself in one or more acts of exclusion.  Sometimes it’s sitting apart from one designated outcast or another at lunch.  Sometimes it’s the issuance of semi-secret invitations to “I Hate So and So” clubs designed to create an sense of inclusion for some at the expense of others.  Sometimes what starts out as exclusion evolves into outright harassment or physical assault.

Some people just aren’t satisfied being a face in the crowd.  They need to be special.  And they will go to great measures to appear so.  Sometimes these actions have tragic results.  There is no debating that they cause unnecessary harm.  All in the name of being different.

Who gives a crap about being different?  And even if you do, acting like an asshole is a really stupid way to try be different.  Assholes are the white sheep of the herd.  They are a dime a dozen.  It reminds me of a joke I heard at the Safari Room in Winston-Salem back in the seventies.  Do you know why you see more white sheep than black sheep?  Because there are more of ‘em.  In my inebriated state, I thought that was the funniest joke ever.

But it turns out it wasn’t.  And neither is unkindness towards others.

nojerks This age old desire to be different manifests itself in various ways.  Sometimes in positive ways, like hard work, good deeds, etc.  Other times it manifests itself in hurtful ways.  If you knock someone down, you have created a sense of separation.  They are down, you are still up.  It’s not as noble as separation via positive actions, but it’s also not as hard to accomplish.  Obviously, we should denounce those who knock others down to create this false sense of separation, but shouldn’t we also denounce those who stand by and let it happen without taking a stand against it?  These silent conspirators think they are benefitting from the system, but in reality they are pawns too.

There is an irresistible impulse for a crowd to rank itself based on one criteria or another.  The allegedly powerful rank themselves near the top of the list.  The truly powerful pick the criteria on which the list is based.  It’s a messed up system where a few benefit at the expense of many.

People who let others be assholes are like those who wear sunglasses indoors.  They either have vision problems or are assholes themselves.

And this problem isn’t limited to the school yard.  The internet is full of new playgrounds.

The school yard bullies grow old, if not up, and some of them migrate to the various online applications, where the world wild web and perceived sense of anonymity further emboldens them by increasing the victim pool and making all the victims seem faceless.  But they aren’t faceless, and those of us who witness this sort of behavior online and do nothing are just as culpable as those who stand idly by while it happens at recess.

I see this crap happening all over the internet, in one form or another.  There are minor-jerks who work tirelessly to create some sort of caste system within the various online locales.  There are those who want to create false measures of value and watch as others fight for a place in their self-serving hierarchy.  There are medium-jerks who want to dominate the so-called social networks with their private conversations like actors in some theater of the ego.  And there are major jerks who are simply rude and hateful to others.  I have noted many examples of all of the foregoing, as has anyone who has spent significant time online.

And it’s wrong.  And it should not be tolerated.  I say we enact and communally enforce a no jerks, no assholes rule.

Who’s with me?

Up in Smoke

upinsmoke

I’m not the least bit surprised that I disagree with Dave Winer about the Michael Phelps thing.  In fact, if I ever find myself agreeing with him about anything of significance, I’ll assume that one of us has lost his mind.  I am a little surprised that I (mostly) disagree with Thomas Hawk.  I’ve read Thomas’s blog for a long time, and have met him (I had dinner with Thomas and his wife after a photo walk in San Francisco a year or two ago).  He’s a smart guy, who, like me, out-kicked his coverage in the wife department.  He’s right most of the time, particularly about intellectual property issues.  But he’s wrong about this.

I’m no prude, as anyone who knew me in high school and college can readily attest.  But I have no problem with Kellogg taking Michael Phelps off their cereal boxes.

Whether or not, chemically or philosophically, smoking pot is “like having a beer” is irrelevant.  Even if smoking pot and drinking beer are like speeding or not wearing seatbelts, it is not good corporate or social policy to encourage it.  Many sponsors and their all important customers would feel the same way if Phelps had gotten drunk and been photographed stumbling around with a beer in his hand instead of a bong.  Why?  Simply because he has become a role model for kids.  And with that comes a whole lot of money and a little responsibility.  The fact that some random guy gets a pass for smoking pot while the guy whose face is plastered all over the place can’t is neither illogical nor unfair.  Would Thomas feel the same way if some grade school teachers were photographed smoking joints in the school parking lot?  Doubtful.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not saying that smoking a little pot is a world-stopping, toss ‘em in jail and throw away the key event.  I’m not even necessarily disagreeing that pot should be legalized.  On the one hand, I don’t think many people would argue with the proposition that it’s healthier not to drink to excess, smoke, or drive too fast.  On the other hand, there is no reason to allow companies to push cigarettes and alcohol and not marijuana.  At the end of the day, I reconcile the somewhat inconsistent status quo under the slippery slope theory.  Just because unhealthy amounts of alcohol and tobacco aren’t illegal doesn’t mean that other unhealthy things should be legal.  It’s not a mathematically perfect world.  Plus, as far as I can tell, there don’t seem to be hordes of narks hitting the streets every day looking to put the occasional joint aficionado in the pokey.

The decision about smoking pot, like the decision about drinking, wearing seatbelts and a whole lot of other stuff, is a serious decision that everyone has to make for themselves, when they are mature enough to consider it thoughtfully.  Young kids who look up to people like Michael Phelps don’t need any more value eroding messages.  TV has that covered.  It’s a personal decision and, in the absence of excess, one that’s probably more about philosophy than morals.  Even so, we don’t need to put those decisions on the Coke vs Pepsi level.  Again, I’d feel the same way if we were talking about alcohol or tobacco.

I don’t eat any of those Kellogg products.  But if I did, I certainly wouldn’t stop because of this.

Would you?

It's About Choices and Accountability

Nobody ever won an argument by simply saying “I’m mad at you” over and over.  If someone is already being critical of your words or actions, they probably don’t care if you’re mad at them.  They’re probably mad at you too.  Jumping up and down might make you feel better, but it doesn’t get you any closer to understanding and reconciliation.

Yet here comes Mike Arrington, once again, telling us that he’s “pissed off at every single person involved” in the Federated Media/Microsoft cacophony.  I would use John Battelle‘s favorite word “conversation,” but as Mathew Ingram points out, John’s definition of conversation is a little different than most.

The fact of the matter is this:

1) Some people are claiming this is a disclosure issue.  It’s not.  It’s a credibility issue.  I can see why Mike and others would react strongly to implications that there was something truly covert going on.  Maybe it wasn’t in flashing neon lights, but neither was it hidden.  Anyone who thought that Federated Media page was anything more than a collaborative billboard wasn’t paying attention.  For some reason, Mike chooses to go straight to attack mode, rather than present his argument rationally.  I guess when you own TechCrunch, that’s your prerogative, but it’s not likely to sway many fence sitters to your side.

2) Other people, mostly those who feel like they might have been caught with their hands in the cookie jar, are saying the ad campaign is a non-event.  That the whole business was dreamed up by Valleywag as a way to agitate in the name of traffic.  This mess wasn’t dreamed up by Valleywag- it was dreamed up by Microsoft and Federated Media.  In the name of making money.  While there is a distinction between the journalists and the prospectors, to claim that the prospectors have a license to shill is ludicrous on its face.  Credibility transcends all motivations, and a blogger who sells his or her services for blogomercials should realize that without it being plastered all over Techmeme.  As Jeff Jarvis puts it, if the prospectors want to type away without regard for journalistic standards, then we need to read away with that in mind.

It’s not an ethical transgression, it’s simply a bad choice.  There’s nothing evil about making a bad choice, and there’s nothing wicked about holding people accountable for bad choices.

I thought John did a reasonably good job of responding to this mess, without sounding combative or defensive.  On one hand, I can see why Mike says John threw them under the bus.  On the other hand, can you imagine the uproar if John had taken Mike’s “go pound sand” approach?  He had to walk a very fine line to minimize the lingering damage.  I don’t agree with his “conversation” spin, but all in all, he took the first important step in addressing this issue.

It will be interesting to see how this debate plays out.  There are certainly two camps.  But the journalists and the prospectors are mining for the same gold.  Gold in the form of readers who get to decide who they trust, and who they don’t.

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A Little Perspective Can Set You Free

Empathetic – showing empathy or ready comprehension of others’ states.
- The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language

I’ve been thinking some about perspective as it relates to blogging and the blogosphere, in the wake of my Guy Kawasaki post and the resulting discussion in the comments.

perspectiveOne of the things that sometimes discourages me about the blogosphere is the way bloggers talk at, and not to, each other.  It sometimes seems like a room full of people talking to themselves in louder and louder voices.  Once in a while a few of them randomly happen to be talking about the same thing and what appears to be a conversation transpires.  Before long, however, the wave of faux conversation recedes back into the ocean of intrapersonal communication.

It’s an inefficient process, at best.  Driven, at least in part, by the egocentric perspective of thousands of generally remote and often anonymous bloggers.  In this case, when I say egocentric I am using the “viewed or perceived from one’s own mind as a center” definition, and not necessarily the “caring only about oneself” definition.

Upon reflection, I have been as guilty of this as (almost) anyone.  I blog because I like to write, and because I want to participate in conversations about topics that interest me.  It’s easy to assume that others share – or should share- my purposes.  When I try unsuccessfully to engage others in conversation, it’s easy to assume that my failure results from their unfairness, or the fact that I am on the outside of the mythical gate.  To get too caught up in that is to undertake the fool’s errand of trying to change those you don’t know, you can’t reach, and who don’t want to be changed.  And who as Hugh MacLeod points out in a comment here, may not need to change.

This epiphany occurred to me as I drove under a bridge on the way home from work the other day and saw a lone man on the bridge holding up a one-word sign that said “Impeach.”  In wondering what he really hoped to achieve by standing out there with that sign, I began to wonder what I hoped to achieve by holding up a post that says “Talk to Me” while the Scobles, Rubels, Wilsons, etc. hurry by on their way home.

Later that same day, I saw a post by Om Malik about some items he hoped to buy at some point.  I started thinking about Om.  Not in an egocentric “I wish he linked here more” way, but just about him as a person.  I thought about how many of his posts I have read and enjoyed over the years.  I thought about the fact that blogging is his job, and about how stressful jobs can be.  I thought about the fact that I have never once clicked on an online ad on any blog.  Then I bought him a CD at Amazon and had it shipped it to him semi-anonymously.  Just because I felt the need to show my appreciation.  Just because it felt right and good.

It felt even better when I saw that it brightened his day.  Whatever Om got out of it, I promise you I got more.

Today, I saw this post by Ayelet over at Blonde 2.0.  She talks about the borders between our personal and private lives, and the beauty of presenting ourselves to the world- as we are, without the need to treat our online presence as some sort of living billboard.  In other words, to be people.  And to treat each other as people.  Not avatars, and not as some dehumanized screen name.  I like everything she said in that post, but this passage really summed it up for me:

[D]on’t be afraid to show the world who you are. Not just the you during office hours, but the whole you. If a company doesn’t want to hire you based on that, you’re probably better off without them.

Amen.

My favorite blogs are the ones who show the entire person.  Blogs like Rob Barron‘s, that have made me cry at times and smile at other times.  Like OmegaMom‘s, which makes me wish that her daughter and Delaney could be friends.  Like John Watson, who finds philosophy in conversations with his kids.  Lynnster, whose musical education closely mirrors mine.  The list goes on and on- and it will.

People from my work life have discovered my blog.  I knew it would happen when I started doing it.  It’s always a little scary to put yourself out there.  But as Ayelet says, we are who we are, and there is freedom and efficiency in just letting down your guard and trusting yourself.  Who we really are is the best resume of all.  Other than a few well-meaning jokes about my little online journal, I have never once had a negative reaction to my blog.  And I have had more than a few people tell me that it makes them more comfortable to see who I am away from work.

We can’t change the blogosphere, and we can’t make others embrace our blogging philosophy.  What we can do is try to see things from other points of view.

That’s what I’m going to do.

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Here's an Idea: Just Be Nice

Rather than try to recreate the world, how about just apply the real world rules of common sense and courtesy to the blogosphere.  Everyone interacts with other people all day every day in the real world, and we don’t need Tim O’Reilly to rewrite the Golden Rule for us.

If someone is an asshole, do not empower them- ignore them.  As a general rule, you cannot rehabilitate assholes.  You can only disempower them, thereby taking away the incentive to become one.

This new code of conduct business seems to me to be more about an influence grab than it is about trying to make some self-important egghead sing kumbaya.  Not to mention the fact that since it is utterly unenforceable, the only ones who will truly embrace it are those who would be nice anyway.

Seth pretty much nailed it.  So did Mike Arrington (who I feel compelled to note has been known to club others wildly on his blog).

I’m not sure where this new movement is headed, but I don’t think it’s going to instantly make the blogosphere a kinder, gentler place for most of us.

Just act like you would in the real world and things will work themselves out.  We don’t need to recreate the wheel every time someone has a flat tire.

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