What if an A-List Blogger Decides to
Take You Down?

Michael Arrington

Michael Arrington of Tech Crunch shares the sunshine with all.

If that seems like an odd question, it is.

Still… what if?

We’re in a strange (if not brave) new world. For all the good it’s brought us, there’s a potentially dark underbelly that needs to be considered.

It’s nice to look at successful blogs, Twitter accounts, and websites and marvel at the new found power of independent content creators. It’s exciting to see them garner the same kind of attention that was once only available to well-funded media organizations. But with recognition comes responsibility. I think it’s time to give some thought to what it means to use it well.

Consider two recent incidents.

Bloggers Unleashed

In one, social media guru David Armano took to his blog to reprimand someone who ripped off his work.

In the other, Jason Fried at 37 Signals used his company blog, Signal vs. Noise, to blast a third-party service he felt had damaged his brand.

Putting aside whether or not Armano and Fried were “right” (I think both basically were), their posts raise questions that affect everyone who uses the Internet and social media to advance their goals.

For all of the shortcomings of old media, it had at least one thing going for it: editorial review. Ideas and critiques had to pass more than one set of eyes before finding print, and author and publisher shared the burden of responsibility. The system didn’t always work, but it was something.

Does Self-Review Work?

Now, A-list bloggers enjoy all the audience of newspapers and then some. Without, in most cases, checks and balances. What’s more, they have immense influence. It’s a by-product of the way the social web works. You might like Maureen Dowd, but you don’t feel like you know her. With bloggers it’s more personal, more real.

Thus far, most top bloggers seem to be exercising decent judgment (leaving out blogs about politics and celebrities – those are different animals). Even the examples I cited above were handled well enough. The handshake agreement we have with new media seems to be holding up.

Which makes now the best time to have an open discussion about keeping it that way.

I’m not calling for censorship or regulation, and I never would. And I don’t begrudge the authors – they’ve earned their status. That doesn’t mean, however, that we shouldn’t consider just how much power we’re willing to give them.

Two Ways to Temper the Rant

At a minimum, I’d argue that it’s time for the web media community to consider two basic principles when it comes to content.

For producers, think before you publish (this goes triple for the A-listers). If you’re going to directly critique an individual or business, sleep on it first. Don’t let the ease of publishing get in the way of good judgment. If you can address an issue or solve a problem with direct contact, do it. Not everything needs to be made public. A few negative words in the age of Google can do real and irreparable damage.

For consumers, stay skeptical. Don’t assume that even the best and most popular bloggers are right all of the time. Do your own research if need be. Don’t assume the writers know more than you do because, in many cases, they don’t.

We may not actually need to have this conversation yet, but someone will eventually cross the line. The more attention we pay to the ethics of new media publishing now, the better off we’ll all be when it happens.

About the Author: Neal Shaffer is the founder of Slant Six Creative, a creative communications studio based in Baltimore, Maryland.

Photo by J.D. Lasica

Print Friendly

Smarter is Better Solutions for Smarter Content Marketing

Here’s what we’ve got for you:

  • 15 high-impact ebooks on content marketing, SEO, email marketing, landing pages, keyword research, and more.
  • A 20-part Internet marketing course that lays out a comprehensive path for your own online strategy.
  • An organized reference guide to the “best of the best” of Copyblogger.com, and how it all profitably fits together.
Free Registration

Take The Conversation Further ...

We'd love to know your thoughts on this article.
Meet us over on Google+ or Twitter to join the conversation right now!

Comments

  1. I think it’s all about manners. If an argument is well articulated and isn’t reduced to name calling or inflammatory statements, and is backed up with well proven points, then that’s fine. An A-lister going on a rant, however, may do more damage to himself than to the party he’s attacking.

  2. Nice article, you make good points, those with the power and influence should be careful not to abuse their status, be kind to us regular folks.

  3. I assume that the individual featured in the photo accompanying this post has nothing to do with the post.

    Or not.

  4. See, this is the beauty of the internet. We have a fully functioning marketplace of ideas. Those that are strong and well reasoned arguments will rise to the top, and those that are weak will be negated by fellow bloggers, commenters and other participants.

    If Fried or Armano had crossed any significant barriers past the realm of taste or fairness, checks exist to balance that out. Take your post, for example, or the commenters on their very own site.

    This is why I think, you make a great point about consumers remaining skeptical. We need to increase our input to stay informed. Read other bloggers; if the blogger you are reading allows comments (and most should) be sure to read those as well. The clever and strong arguments will survive and resonate, the poor ones, struck down by the marketplace’s checks and balances.

  5. I guess my take on it would be – if I were a really famous A-list blogger, I’d want to be careful *not* to step on someone’s toes publicly.

    What goes around comes around eventually, and it will make you look bad to the wrong person, someday, no matter how cool you are today.

  6. The beauty of new media is that those attacked have ample opportunity to defend themselves, especially through comments on the subject blog attacking them. If done properly (h/t to Writer Dad), the 2 (or more) sides of the story are revealed and the event is put in a context where folks can form their own opinions. And this is exactly what the First Amendment is all about– the free and open discourse of all ideas and opinions, in the belief that Truth is forged from this often fiery furnace. The darker underbelly of this new media is the same found on the old– censorship.

  7. This is an incredibly timely article because it really has become as quick as pushing a button to state your mind – the good, bad and the ugly. The responsibility we have now to monitor (not censor at all) what we share with the global community is so important. Ranting handcuffs the ability to work out a situation with more formal communication. It distances us from the other person and the situation. It is very difficult to communicate directly by phone or in person — it cause us to relate to the other person and the situation at hand. I have always said it is better to respond that react, and taking the time to sleep on it is always beneficial. We tend to inflict when our feelings are new and raw.

    As difficult as confrontation is, it is a must. It is too easy to talk about someone or something “out there” than someone you have made an attempt to work things through. I am not saying in any way we should compromise when someone has done something incredibly wrong, or that we should “just suck it up.” Rather, I believe that we should not allow the convenience of technology to deteriorate the situation.

    The people who try to communicate and get a peaceful resolution without taking someone or something down, are the ones I respect the most. Those who quote time restraints or difficulty in making a phone call as the mere reasons not to attempt to find a resolution, are the ones I respect the least.

  8. Who’s the drunk looking guy in the photo? (a caption would be nice).

  9. Thanks for the feedback, everyone. This is exactly the kind of discussion I was hoping to have. A couple of points:

    Regarding the notion of comments as being sufficient to air out all sides, I don’t agree. It’s good that the mechanism exists, but comments don’t carry nearly as much weight as main page content — particularly in the long tail. I’d classify that system as “very good, but not quite great.”

    @JF.Sellsius: if you read carefully, I explicitly reject the idea of censorship and regulation. This is about responsible use of power in new media — something we handle ourselves, not something I’m advocating others handle for us.

  10. I was worried when I started reading this, that you were going down the road of regulation, but was very happy to find that wasn’t the case.

    Timely post and well written Neal. One other option before hitting publish is to ask some readers to check it out first privately via email.

  11. I think that’s Michael Arrington of TechCrunch in the photo.

  12. Great food for thought.

    Being skeptical is the hallmark of a critical thinker, and in today’s social/tech age, it’s even more important then ever, with so many voices out there.

    Besides someone really “crossing the line”, we should also look out for hoaxes being perpetrated through the use of social media — kinda like the Youtube “Lonelygirl” thing taken to an extreme.

  13. For years I have refused to comment on the work of fellow SEOs. There is just so much room for differing styles and opinions. It wasn’t until this year that I finally ranted about one link-builder, basically because he kept creating multiple accounts (several each day, that I have to delete) at http://www.zoomit.ca , and after a few months of this I was fed up. If the guy couldn’t take months of hints and second chances, and just keeps stepping over the cliff no matter how many times I save grab him and remove him from danger, then enough is enough. But I would not think of taking someone down for anything less than such extreme abuse.

  14. Jon, I’m pretty sure you’re kidding, but check out the new caption. :-)

  15. @neal

    From my experience, main page rebuttals (from the one taken down) serves more to diffuse the conversation, whereas comments at the source focus it. In addition, if you are a C lister (who was taken down), your main page rebuttal will be inadequate and lost in the Google ocean. Just my opinion, in light of your headline which suggests how one responds to an A-lister “take down”. I apologize if I steered you down a tangent.

    “This is about responsible use of power in new media — ”

    The responsible use of power, unfortunately, is ever bound to censorship. If an A-lister puts you down using his new media power, that power can also be used to regulate your reply in defense on the venue where you were attacked (the A-list blog). To suggest (and I dont think you are) that one ought, instead, rebut an attack on a main page somewhere else, as the better way to air out all sides, long tail wise, is a form of censorship– “Go over on your own blog, Mr. C-lister and defend yourself against my A-list take down.”

  16. This is a fantastic post about a very important topic. While I’m not a huge fan of “A-list” thinking, the point here is dead on, If you have an audience, you have a responsibility. It can be difficult to manage at times, but it’s a reality. Same goes not just for posts but comments etc.

    I think the example you referenced of mine was probably the only time I’ve done it and I wrestled with what I was going to do before I did it. In the end, I decided that I could not be a doormat “after I gave the person the opportunity to clear up the situation in private” and so I pointed it out on the blog.

    It wasn’t an easy decision to make. And it’s why I think this post is very important. I appreciate the fairness you approached it with and for raising the issue because it’s probably one that will continue to gain steam as more people increase their influence through participating on the social web.

    Actually, this goes for anyone with subtantial influence. So called “B” or “C” influencers may have people who follow their words in the hundreds. That’s significant as well.

    This is good reminder. Thanks.

  17. ps. If the one put down by the A-lister is afforded the opportunity to defend on the A-list blog, and does it successfully, the A-lister will give pause next time he/she decides to wield their new media power against you. This helps foster responsible self-regulation, IMO.

  18. “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
    ~Attributed to Voltaire

    I believe this is at the heart of the issue – whether we like it or not.

  19. @David Armano -

    Thanks so much for chiming in. Your post was the inspiration for this, and I went through several stages of thinking before arriving at the point of view expressed here. It’s a tough issue but you said it best when you said that “if you have an audience, you have a responsibility.” That’s something we all need to come to grips with. I’m hoping that getting the conversation started now will pay dividends down the road.

  20. I guess it is specific to the industry you work in but I don’t take the judgments of an author on their personal blog to be any more than their personal opinion. Still, it is an unequal fight if one of the parties has a platform to air their views and the other person is left only to comment.

    In fact, I think the a blogger taking swings at a colleague can be seen as a bully sometimes. I’ve seen bloggers who take potshots at others soil their own reputation more than that of their targets.

  21. Neil,

    Despite a few detractors I see here, you are right on the money. And, in truth, even though not an A-lister (V-lister?), I started my blogs pissed and let it flow, until I found my voice of moderation…still working on it and all over the map on topic, et al. All that being said, as a recovering newspaper journalist, you couldn’t be more right about the absolute need for standards or approved approaches — even if they aren’t written, but clearly understood based on common sense and community moderation. I’d rather do it that way than wait for the first Gazillian dollar lawsuit to threaten speaking freely and writing freely in these wide open mediums.

    I say, if you have your facts straight and can back up your position…fire away.

    If you’re pissed because the tech support guy from Apple gave you bad information or didn’t answer the phone and you think Apple needs to have their brand dented because of this injustice… back away from the keyboard. It’ll only take one false move or one poorly chosen word in your stream of consciousness rant to get yourself in a heap of legal crap if a company sees an opportunity to make an example out of you.

    A-Listers that I read like Armano get this. And they also get that their issue isn’t just something that impacts them, it could adversely impact others…a social relevance to a broader audience. They’ll also take the time to inform their positions by asking questions and getting perspectives outside their own brains…like any sound, well-reasoned journalists would.

    So keep it up and let’s all work together to keep each other on the rails.

    To summarize: less bitch, more stitch.
    Cheers,
    Mark

  22. On the dark side: if your marketing strategy is SEO focused, egg it on, respond on your site and challenge the other blogger to respond again. Very powerful links, usually.

  23. Few can resist rubbernecking at a car wreck and fewer still can resist a good public fight. It isn’t clear from Fried’s post if he ever tried to talk to “Get Satisfaction” prior to his post and just solve the problem behind closed doors. Would anyone have read a post about how effectively the two companies collaborated to resolve differences?

    You raised a question about the lack of an editor. In some ways this discussion should be about journalistic process and integrity… If Armano and Fried are not making themselves accountable to someone (a friend, peer review, a board, an editor if you like) then I think they are making a fundamental mistake that will eventually catch up with them. I can’t believe they would fire off a such a well crafted rant without asking someone if they were off base or inaccurate. In a corporate situation like Fried I’d bet they had a very animated discussion on the topic before the post went live and fully weighed the risks, if any.

    I’m not a journalist but I do blog and if the facts check out and it’s consistent with the editorial tone of the source, then why not. But if your always going for your gun first then what does that say about our online culture??? “Damn, it feels good to be a Gangsta” (Geto Boys)…

  24. I think if a big blogger goes on a rant that is unfounded or unjustified they will lose a lot more than they could possibly gain.

    Here’s the scoop: With television for example, we are all viewers and most of us have no connection. But with blogs, many many blog readers also have blogs themselves and this is why we, the readers, will be less forgiving when a blogger goes on a rant that isn’t respectful.

    Bad bad move.

  25. Good advice not just for A-listers. I write a blog in and about a small town. I see my readers in the grocery store and at the coffee shop. If I go off on a rant, it would reflect poorly on me and perhaps unfairly malign one of my neighbors.

    Mine is a very specific case, but when it comes down to it, we’re all part of some small community somewhere.

  26. I wish an a-list blogger would try to take me down, as a z-list blogger the publicity would probably move me at least to s or t. (in other word did the 37 signals guy do the other company a favor by generating publicity)

  27. Seriously…Jeff. Laughed. I’d like to downgrade my previous pronouncement from V lister to more likely a Z lister. Brothers in the bottom of the alphabet. Cheers.
    M

  28. It’s finally refreshing to see someone calling this out, since I’ve seen it too many times, A-list Bloggers in particular who abuse their power of the audience to slam someone or some company in the public arena. With the rise of Social Media and the power of “self publishing” it’s too bad that some abuse this privilege.

  29. Its not about writers knowing. Its how they express it and how they make people understand their point of view and stir a conversation.

  30. There are definitely pros and cons. I think one thing that this era of transparency will be marked by the ability for these “A-List” bloggers to be shown for what they really are. If they overstep that boundary and are seen as being to much of a primadonna or trying to wield their “power” around and hurt someone else, this kind of behavior will be exposed. It will be twittered and re-twittered. It will be blogged about ad nauseum.

    The transparency thing should democratize things more. It works in the case of someone exposing another who infringes on their brand, but it also should work when that exposure is wrongful or from simple arrogance.

    Let’s be honest, these people aren’t that special. :)

  31. Maybe I should try and rile an A-lister to get some coverage … >:)

  32. Nice article. I was just thinking about this concept the other day and how much unbalanced power a blogger can have.

  33. As soon as an A-List blogger starts throwing their weight around, companies on the receiving end had better step up and set the record straight or get out of the way. Make no mistake, folks, the web is fast becoming a popularity contest whether we like it or not!

    On the other hand…A-List bloggers are only on the A-List because we put them there. ;)

  34. This is a well-written article. It’s great that you brought up such a topic because I’ve seen this happen with a lot of companies.

    I wonder if publishers (especially if they’re “A-listers”) really think about the repercussions of such posts. On the Internet anyone and every company can be a victim of this. No one is immune to this.

    Grievances should always be resolved behind closed doors and between the two parties first before airing the dirty laundry.

    It’s similar to sending an irate email and regretting it afterwards. Once you’ve pressed “send” or “publish” it’s difficult to take back.

    If you’re a victim of this leaving comments on the original post isn’t really 100% going to get your reputation back. Not every web visitor will read all the comments.

    Definitely with publishing power comes responsibility whether the publisher likes it or not.

  35. My issue here is that there is a “no holds barred” freedom of opinion on the internet. And there is no accountability for posting misinformation. There are 2 sides to every story. If it is a business issue, business ethics should apply the same as in the “real world” where legalities like slander and liable apply under certain circumstances. Right now, there seems to be no universal law that governs “misinformation”. Bloggers or anyone else who writes negative information on another person or company, should think twice before they spread it over the net. If they are professional, they will deal with their issue in a professional manner.

  36. Excellent piece and food for thought for anyone who, in a moment of anger, chooses to lambast someone else via the internet. Part of the problem is that we can quickly forget that the blog bubble we inhabit is very public.
    I also suspect that as some people grow as bloggers, they become quite bold about things that matter to them; even trite slights.
    Some might do it (tell off another) to titilate or get a charge out of others and quite frankly, I think it takes away from the integrity of the work if one spends time condemning others.
    Recently, while surfing the ‘net, I read comments from two bloggers that gave me pause… totally pointless, rude remarks that should have been reserved for private conversations with their buddies. It makes no sense to get negative and leave a trail for all to read.
    With recognition comes responsibility and we should all remember it.

  37. Well, if that happens, I’d like to think the other A-list people I have long been recommending to my own networks and audiences without strings got my back.

    These are people who are now very valuable friends who are good at what they do and aren’t among the mass bandwagon hysterics of the mediocre masses with the hype sans the actual original content or online proof of the use of the crap they spew.

    I don’t want to become them, I want to share them. I worked too hard to figure out something that made sense to me and that I could share as tech challenged newbies safe place to stop and get some foundational work done before being whisked away into information overload.

    That is where I have been and no one was real helpful with sharing any how to stuff just as it is, always a “system.” That or a half-assed “good enough” to get by mentality to seem like a more all knowing guru master with a secret way to avoid having to do anything that other people had to do to be successful.

    I love blogs like this that are an endless source of more and more of something that they don’t readily teach yet are adamant about the need to be very good at it or don’t waste time.

    You’re a great value and deserve a thank you for all you give.

  38. Neal, Zack S and Jf.selssius captured my thoughts on your post. The beauty of the open nature of the internet is that anyone has the power to share their point of view. And I have the right to interpret/filter/sensor as I choose as a reader.

    There’s also publicity power in open disagreements (just became aware of Armano’s blog which appears to be a good read. Any business will have the responsibility of maintaining their web image by PR + marketing groups.

    Please excuse any typos I’m on my phone ui ;)

  39. Maybe I am wrong or maybe it is just the fact that I am still far from being an A-Lister myself. I do however feel that, regardless of what caused the issue of someone raging on another, is very much damaging, specially if you are a “celebrity blogger”. I do not think that even a well articulated one will do the trick because, at the end of the day, it will hurt. Maybe trying to be neutral in some cases is better than shouting it out to the public. I always try to remember than anyone can read what wrote, hence, it is pretty much open to various interpretations.

  40. Enjoying reading through these comments, and this is a timely topic in light of what is happening to the newspaper industry. It all led me to this…

    A newspaper has its own built-in editorial staff and fact-checkers to make sure content is fair and accurate. Although bloggers and online content providers often do not have such resources, we do have each other. What we are doing right now may be in its nascent stages, but hopefully our communities will be the ones to provide feedback and guidance in case we step out of line or blog in the heat of the moment.

    But that raises another interesting issue, in that isn’t writing in the heat of the moment what blogging is all about? The immediacy of writing what is on your mind right now is what makes blogging so honest, so personal, and often so riveting. I admit that one must think about what one posts and the inherent implications of saying something potentially damaging in a public sphere. But often sleeping on something takes you out of the moment when you are inspired and ripe to write something great. Maybe a good compromise is writing now and revising in the morning (aking to Keroac’s statement about writing stoned and editing sober).

    And another issue … with newspapers losing readerships and closing their doors, who will take up the mantle of taking on corruption, unethical behaviors or even bad customer service? Bloggers can serve a useful role here, and I believe that backing down can actually provide a disservice to our readers who expect our honest opinions.

    Anyways, excellent topic, and great comments from others here.

  41. I think this is a well-written article. It’s awesome that you brought up this topic the most people looking for..
    It wasn’t an easy decision to make. And that is reason why I think that this post is much important.
    anyways,I love blogs like this that are an endless source of knowledge & info.

  42. That picture at the beginning of this post could quite possibly be the most unflattering picture of anyone ever.

  43. Great article. I think that one of the reasons that this hasn’t been a major issue is that the people who become A-Listers have the restraint built in. This is part of what allows them to become an A Lister.

    As blogs become more mainstream this may change as the audience becomes more mainstream and some may begin to pander to the baser elements of society.

    It is worth thinking about what mechanisms can be in place to help in these situations.

  44. Diogenes of Pasadena :

    You don’t even have to be an all powerful blogger.

    Sometimes just having a mission and a voice is enough to get noticed and build momentum.

    A pissed off employee or member started a blog about the illegal things happening at their credit union. Because of it, every employee knows about and contributes to it to expose their CEO and board and their questionable activities.

    Now the federal agencies in charge of oversite are beginning their investigation (according to the blog). All because one person had something to say that mattered.

    http://priorityonecu.blogspot.com/

  45. Excellent points. The beauty of the blogosphere is that anyone can share their opinion, but it really is important — particularly for top bloggers — to exercise responsibility and set an example of what good blogging means.

    http://www.wordpress.com/cshaner

  46. “The beauty of the blogosphere is that anyone can share their opinion, but it really is important — particularly for top bloggers — to exercise responsibility and set an example of what good blogging means.”

    Well said CDot.

    Pick what seem to be the ‘right’ fights and do it for the ‘right’ reasons (i.e./ not always traffic or revenue motivated). Jason had every right to be upset and used his blog as a means of reaching out. He was fortunate that the offending firm was willing to listen and talk, as this isn’t always the case.

    Anyway, be a good Netizen and use some discretion. Someone is always watching…

  47. Thank you for this post. I’m afraid though, to echo Diogenes of Pasadena (44), you don’t even have to be an a-list blogger to do major damage. I think that small scale negative blogging can easily grow into a movement of distrust (in a brand or organization) that can realize serious problems.

    Also, well-written doesn’t necessarily mean truthful. Events, especially personal events, go through the lens of personal interpretation and therefore suffer the potential of being false accusations. This merely builds on the thoughts of Jeff Kear (40)

    My interest in this topic started because the organization i am currently working with is under some negative press from a small group of bloggers who are unwilling to talk things out in a reasonable manner. Further their anonymity frustrates the process of getting truth out into the open. Their work discredits our organization’s work and causes people who were dealing with us to go elsewhere, though they may not have personally verified the claims of these bloggers. It is a difficult and draining process, to say the least.

    The heart of man, strangely, seems to find negativity easier to believe and harder to forget.

  48. I agree, that if possible, talk about the issue first with the party you may think is culpable. Of course the exception to this is if you know that the other party will not be open to an exchange or may retaliate, then of course, start a blog. See what happens.

  49. The beauty of new media is that those attacked have ample opportunity to defend themselves, especially through comments on the subject blog attacking them. If done properly (h/t to Writer Dad), the 2 (or more) sides of the story are revealed and the event is put in a context where folks can form their own opinions. And this is exactly what the First Amendment is all about– the free and open discourse of all ideas and opinions, in the belief that Truth is forged from this often fiery furnace. The darker underbelly of this new media is the same found on the old– censorship

  50. I completely agree. Those “attacked” or criticized do “have ample opportunity to defend themselves. That is why it is important for the blog author to present the truth which will ultimately serve to justify their criticisms. Without a factual foundation, allegations amount to heresay and may even constitute slander. I also believe that those who are the subject of criticism should respond with facts that dispell the blog author’s allegations.

    Ultimately, a channel of communication might be established through which an exchange of ideas and suggestions may occur. If the blog author is attempting to expose wrong doing, then the ultimate hope may be that a remedy will occur which will ameliorate those problems posted in the blog by its author.