Web logs are the prized platform of an online lynch mob spouting liberty but spewing lies, libel and invective. Their potent allies in this pursuit include Google and Yahoo. Gregory Halpern knows how to hype. Shares of his publicly held company, Circle Group Holdings, quadrupled in price early last year amid reports that its new fat substitute, Z-Trim, was being tested by Nestlé. As the stock spurted from $2 to $8.50, Halpern's 35% stake in the company he founded rose to $90 million. He put out 56 press releases last year. Then the bloggers attacked. A supposed crusading journalist launched an online campaign long on invective and wobbly on facts, posting articles on his Web log (blog) calling Halpern "deceitful,""unethical,""incredibly stupid" and "a pathological liar" who had misled investors. The author claimed to be Nick Tracy, a London writer who started his one-man "watchdog" Web site, our-street.com, to expose corporate fraud.He put out press releases saying he had filed complaints against Circle with the Securities & Exchange Commission. Halpern was an easy target. He is a cocky former judo champion who posts photos of himself online with the famous (including Steve Forbes, editor-in-chief of this magazine). His company is a weird amalgam of fat substitute, anthrax detectors and online mattress sales. Soon he was fielding calls from alarmed investors and assuring them he hadn't been questioned by the SEC. Eerily similar allegations began popping up in anonymous posts on Yahoo, but Yahoo refused Halpern's demand to identify the attackers. "The lawyer for Yahoo basically told me, ‘Ha-ha-ha, you're screwed,'" Halpern says. Meanwhile, his tormentor sent letters about Halpern to Nestlé, the American Stock Exchange, the Food & Drug Administration, the Federal Trade Commission and the Brookhaven National Laboratory (involved in Circle's anthrax deal).That in itself is negative and cynical, but the really nasty stuff comes in the 'sidebar' Fighting Back, which includes:
BASH BACK. If you get attacked, dig up dirt on your assailant and feed it to sympathetic bloggers. Discredit him.The article has got comments from Boing Boing, New Media Musings, BL Ochman, Micro Persuasion and, my favourite balanced reaction, Dan Gillmor:
ATTACK THE HOST. Find some copyrighted text that a blogger has lifted from your Web site and threaten to sue his Internet service provider under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. That may prompt the ISP to shut him down. Or threaten to drag the host into a defamation suit against the blogger. The host isn't liable but may skip the hassle and cut off the blogger's access anyway. Also:Subpoena the host company, demanding the blogger's name or Internet address.
SUE THE BLOGGER. If all else fails, you can sue your attacker for defamation, at the risk of getting mocked. You will have to chase him for years to collect damages. Settle for a court order forcing him to take down his material.
Another sidebar, called "Fighting Back," actually offers some useful advice including a suggestion that companies start their own blogs. But it also urges aggrieved companies to "(f)ind some copyrighted text that a blogger has lifted from your Web site and threaten to sue his Internet service provider under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act."I think the article itself is sloppy, but there are downsides to the blogosphere which is as diverse as any other online (or offline) group; the Forbes article is one of the worst possible ways to address these problems.
Really? Well, I just "lifted" some copyrighted text. This was an exercise called "fair use" -- quoting from other people's copyrighted work to create a new one -- something Forbes does routinely in order to do its ordinarily excellent job of journalism.
Let's hope Forbes returns to its normally higher standards in the future.
Update (29 Oct 05, 1.45pm): The EFF respond to the Forbes article by pointing to their excellent Legal Guide for Bloggers, which addresses most of the issues and problems Forbes sensationalises. Tom Raftery joins the conversation, pointing out that "As the article itself points out, Microsoft has 2,000 bloggers - does Forbes really believe that Microsoft is partaking in a lynch mob?", while Doc Searls and Lorrelle on Wordpress continue with many good links. On Google/Blogger's behalf Jason Goldman spins the article around a bit seeing a few positives, but in a rather tongue-in-cheek manner, concluding "And with that I must return to clubbing baby seals so that I might use their skins to publish my slanders.". Scoble, on the other hand, thinks we're being played: "We are being played. What’s a better way to remind the online world you exist? Attack. I bet they have more traffic in this 24-hour period than they’ll have in the past month." (Actually, I'm wondering if Scoble isn't on to something: Forbes is the fifth most searched word on Technorati right now.)
[Tags: forbes | boingboing | dangillmor | blog | blogs | blogosphere | digitalculture | cynicism | citizenjournalism]