Friday, January 26, 2007

What About David Versus The Blogger?

Serendipity's a wonderful thing. I wrote a post yesterday about the impact activist bloggers are having on the media. In that post, I indicated some uneasiness with the lack of controls governing the blogosphere.

Even so, it was hard to get too worked up over Spocko's campaign against the crude and offensive material being broadcast by KSFO-AM out of San Francisco. In that confrontation, Spocko was clearly the underdog hero pitted against Disney's ABC Radio. The corporation's legal team demanded that Spocko cease-and-desist his diatribes against KSFO, proclaiming their client's right to free speech while ignoring the blogger's First Amendment right to free speech. When it's David against Goliath, it's pretty easy to champion the resourceful little guy.

But here's where serendipity enters the picture. This morning's Dallas Morning News had another story about an activist blogger; this time, pitting himself against a small company.

The News reported on a chocolatier based in Plano, Texas, and the anonymous blogger who posted a series of ten blogs, complaining that the chocolates the company produced are not worth the cost.

The chocolatier, Noka Chocolate, has only five employees and a 1,400 square foot space in a strip shopping mall. Its owners are a young Canadian couple who set up operations in their one-bedroom apartment three years ago. They produce very exclusive, top-of-the-line chocolates sold in Neiman Marcus. "The chocolates – which were given to VIP guests at the Bellagio Hotel and Casino in December and served at NBC Universal's pre-Emmy party in August – are clearly some of the most expensive in the world."

Just two pieces of Noka's truffles in a specially designed box cost $45.

Beginning on December 9th, an anonymous blogger, who calls himself Scott and who operates out of a blog called, began a series of blogs in which he criticized the company for its prices and process. The negative posts attracted an audience and at least one of Noka's regular clients cancelled an order as a result.

"'It's a cautionary tale to a certain extent,' said Robert Cox, president of the Media Bloggers Association, based in New Rochelle, N.Y. 'Any company who's reading about this could find themselves in Noka's position. ... Getting negative blog buzz, it could be a disaster.'"

Scott refused to identify himself, to give his age, or to speak by phone with the reporter doing the story.

I have a serious problem with this. Because of his refusal to answer questions, there is no way to tell if Scott has some kind of private agenda. Is he a competitor of Noka? Does he have a grudge against either Noah Houghton or his wife Katrina Merrem? Ten posts attacking one little company seems like overkill to me. This young couple has been working for three years to build their business when suddenly--out of nowhere--comes some ANONYMOUS person slamming their product, their company and their future.

This is precisely why I expressed uneasiness at the close of my post yesterday. When the case involves a small, independent blogger and a large corporation behaving badly, you can feel sympathy/empathy for the blogger. However, when the case involves a struggling young business, it's suddenly much easier to see the danger posed by a blogger taking potshots from behind a screen of anonymity.

There is no greater advocate of free speech, or of privacy rights, than me. But my freedom to speak should not permit me to harm another without some form of due process.

Up until now, everyone has been focussed on First Amendment rights to free speech. Perhaps any argument on this subject should also include Sixth Amendment rights. Remember the Sixth Amendment? It provides for the accused to have the right to confront the witnesses against him.

In 1998, the U.S. Congress passed the DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act). Over the coming year, that act is likely to come under scrutiny as the publishing industry's pending lawsuits against Google come to trial. I, for one, hope that those lawsuits will provide an opportunity to review the DMCA. That law allows a person to contact an ISP to demand the removal of posted copyrighted material. IMHO, the law should be expanded so that when someone hiding behind anonymity posts potentially harmful material on the Internet, the alleged victim should be able to demand that either the material be removed or the poster identify himself as the author so any hidden agendas be identified.

Wikipedia was forced to change its operating protocol to identify anyone posting a new entry for precisely this reason.

That's just one woman's opinion.


Rashenbo said...

A very interesting post you have here. I enjoyed reading it and I think that bloggers and the ethics and motives of bloggers is a good avenue for discussion.

Thank you for sharing.

Maya Reynolds said...

Rashenbo: Thanks for your comment.

I think I'm going to continue this discussion one more day.



Sherrill Quinn said...

Excellent post, Maya. The anonymity of the Internet--including email--sometimes takes away people's natural edit button and they "say" things they wouldn't ordinarily say if they were talking to the person face-to-face. And, I think, it takes away the fear of being sued for libel and/or defamation. Freedom of speech is a right that should be protected, but there can be costs associated.

Maya Reynolds said...

I agree, Sherrill.