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Forbes, Blogs, & Corporate Warfare

I finally got round to having a look at the Forbes article by Daniel Lyons on blogging that everyone's been talking about: Attack of the Blogs.  Mostly what it's really about is not so much about blogs at all but about good old corporate warfare being waged on a new battlefield by anonymous bloggers who are just the usual corporate shills. Lyons writes:

Some companies now use blogs as a weapon, unleashing swarms of critics on their rivals. "I'd say 50% to 60% of attacks are sponsored by competitors," says Bruce Fischman, a lawyer in Miami for targets of online abuse. He says he represents a high-tech firm thrashed by blogs that were secretly funded by a rival; the parties are in talks to settle out of court.

There is probably no firm basis for these statistics, but what information this passage seems to convey is that this is not about someone like me getting upset at, say, Northwest Airlines, and writing about it. Much of the objectionable activity is strictly business. (Lyons does not, I think, necessarily speak for the magazine as a whole. David Ewart at Forbes wrote quite favorably about my own blog not long ago.)

There is one moment of high comedy in the Forbes blog articles: In the Who Is Pamela Jones? sidebar, the writer strikes a deeply conspiratorial note. (Put on your tinfoil hat for this one!)

In February an intrepid reporter, Maureen O'Gara, decided to uncloak the mystery after she found a phone number Jones had left with staff at the federal courthouse in Nevada where a related SCO suit was filed. O'Gara traced the number to an apartment in Hartsdale, N.Y., 10 miles from IBM headquarters in Armonk. O'Gara spoke to the building superintendent and later found Jones' mother in Connecticut, but she never got hold of the shy blogger herself.

The implication is supposed to be that the pseudonymous blogger obviously works for IBM in their Armonk Corporate Headquaters. As a longtime Mac user, I am about as anti-IBM as they come, and may I also point out that the Armonk school district line runs right through my yard. So I live a whole heck of a lot closer to IBM than "Pamela Jones." But more to the point, Forbes's Daniel Lyons seems deeply ignorant of the nature and geography of Westchester County: Westchester is a forest of heavy-duty corporate affiliations. Not only is Westchester fairly heavily populated, but this is the kind of place where people who run and own corporations like to live. It is also a bedroom community within commuting distance of New York City. Does Lyons have even the remotest clue how many corporate headquarters are within commuting distance of that address? And never mind that, that the address in question is in commuting distance to Madison Avenue? The whole NYC PR and advertising infrastructure? (I find it a little unsettling that a writer for The Capitalist Tool is unaware of where capitalism in the US is headquartered.) But again, this has not much to do with blogging.

Where the article is relevant to the behavior of actual blogs not run by corporate shills masquerading as bloggers is the  matter of anonymous gang attacks orchestrated by blogs and that actually cross the line into criminal behavior. I agree with him that this is a problem and have written about the subject at length in the past. It seems to me that the worst of that kind of behavior should fall under Racketeering laws. My local DA's office didn't agree, or at least declined to pursue the matter when I raised it.

The funny thing is, either Daniel Lyons is ignorant of the history and origins of the techniques he decries, or he thinks that the real problem is that the attacks are targeting businesses -- Lyons uses as an example one that sells anthrax detectors and fat substitutes -- not just individuals like, say, me. Not only do Forbes, the Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post all link to one of the bloggers who is one of the principle architects of this kind of attack, the Forbes site even contains a review of that blogger's site in which the reviewer remarks that the worst thing about the site is that "the 'now playing' feature doesn't stream music." (There is even some circumstantial evidence that that blogger was one of the sources used for the article, unless you accept the idea of Jeff Gannon as victim, which I have a hard time with.) Face it Dan: you guys get off on conservatives on a rampage, no matter who it hurts.

I suggest Lyons do a little more digging, or, if that's not what he's into, stop trying to blame attacks by one company on another on blogs.

Oh, and by the way Dan, do you think that maybe some of those corporate shills maybe learned their tactics from the blogs Forbes's reviewers have been steering them towards?  You write:

Web logs are the prized platform of an online lynch mob spouting liberty but spewing lies, libel and invective.

But a few of us have seen this before. I do not disagree with your poor beleagered businessman, who cried,

"Some of these bloggers have just one goal, and that is to do damage. It's evil."

I know. I have walked in those shoes. Sometimes bad ideas evolve in parellel, but I think this one has a lineage. Go trace it. Look up, for example, the verb "to freep."

Last year, I wrote to the Wall Street Journal suggesting they cut their link to the blog I was being attacked by (an orchestrated group attack that involved, for example, death threats, threats of rape, etc.). The WSJ didn't do it because they didn't care. And the business community, given voice by Dan, now wants me to pity the poor purveyors of anthrax detectors?

If I can just deal and get on with my life, why can't corporations be expected to do likewise? I have my own tactics and strategies which seem to be pretty effective, and if corporations want to pay me, I'll let them in on the secrets. But please don't send me corporation offering eight-hundred bucks a month to suck up to them. If I choose to please corporate executives, it will be for my own reasons, not for theirs.

You corporate people keep your nasty little wars to yourselves and don't try to involve the rest of us.

(See also Xeni Jardin & friends at Boingboing. Also Cory at Boingboing.)