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For Internet trolls, Freedom of Speech is not Freedom from Accountability

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anonymity on the internet Every few years, when a well-known and roundly reviled Internet personality is outed by investigative bloggers, a vocal minority attacks the unmasking as a violation of free speech.

The argument, trotted out most recently by defenders of Michael “Violentacrez” Brutsch upon his 4,700-word public shaming by Gawker as “the Biggest Troll on the Web,” boils down to this: “No one deserves privacy, but we deserve anonymity.”

As a highly active Reddit user, Brutsch spent years sharing salacious pictures of underage girls as “jailbait,” voyeuristic photos of women in public and much, much worse, including pictures of dead teenagers. Now that his unsettling hobbies have cost him his job, supporters are claiming that the outing by Gawker’s Adrian Chen is a threat to free speech across Reddit, which bills itself as “the front page of the Internet.”

This idea, that bloggers are somehow threatening free speech by outing anonymous Internet users, shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the First Amendment. It is not an impenetrable shield for anonymity, nor does it make any American immune to accountability for our actions.

The First Amendment protects us from our government, but rarely from each other. In other words, the same law that gives Brutsch the right to say despicable things also gives Chen the right to call him out for it.

In fairness, being confused about the Constitution’s protection of free speech is understandable. The First Amendment is so short, it could be reprinted verbatim in two tweets, and yet it is quite possibly the most complex and carefully parsed law in the land.

The First Amendment is a protection granted by the government against the government. But outside journalistic circles, it typically gets simplified down to the idea that we can say whatever we want without repercussions. Of course we can’t.

Free speech always carries implications far beyond the legal system. It can get you ostracized by your friends, families and peers, not to mention making it difficult to find a job or seek public office. That’s always been the case, but it used to apply only in rare cases of whistleblowers and political dissidents. Today, the Internet has opened the danger of accountability to millions who live in a digital universe where being anonymous is the norm instead of the exception.

In times gone by, anonymous authors and snarky gossip columnists made the decision in advance to hide their identity specifically because of the content they were creating.

Today, that model has been flipped. Many Internet users begin within the comforting cloak of anonymity and then, seduced by the lack of consequences for their actions, start saying things that they would never say in public. Some devolve further into trolls, clutching that anonymity cloak as if it made them invisible. When it is suddenly stripped away, they realize just how precarious of a situation they’ve made for themselves.

Their only hope at that point is to recast themselves martyrs of free speech. They see their impending accountability and use it to terrify their legion of anonymous Internet peers. “Today, they came for me. Tomorrow, will they come for YOU?”

That’s an argument that occasionally has legs. When a record label sues an Internet service provider for the names of its users in hopes of finding an illegal downloader, we all get nervous. Companies rarely have the right to know about what we each do in the privacy of our own homes, and all of us are right to be concerned.

But in the case of Internet trolls like Brutsch, we’re not talking about being exposed for our private actions. We’re talking about being exposed for our public actions. We’re talking about accountability.

And it should be noted that Brutsch did relatively little to hide his identity. He attended public Reddit meetups and put himself up for questioning in a Reddit “Ask Me Anything” Q&A session. Brutsch’s wife and son are reportedly active on the site, as well, and have linked their accounts to his. His voice even appears on podcasts. Chen didn’t subpoena anyone to learn who Brutsch was or rifle through the man’s garbage; he just put a few obvious clues together once he got the right tip.

When word got out that Chen would be publicly identifying Brutsch, some Reddit moderators retaliated against Gawker by removing links to the popular blog from the areas of Reddit that they curate. The Politics Subreddit moderators went so far as to say they were punishing Gawker for its “serious lack of ethics and integrity.”

These moderators are well within their rights to evict Gawker. However, in the process, they send a pretty hypocritical message: “You suppress our guy and we’ll suppress you.” Since when do Redditors wage their battles by limiting access to information?

Reduced traffic is a consequence Gawker and Chen were likely prepared for. There’s no law guaranteeing them fair treatment on Reddit, just as there is no law guaranteeing outed trolls like Brutsch fair treatment anywhere else.

Photo Credit: Bigstock

Working in Social Media at 27: Yes, I Am Over The Hill

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I’m 27 years old, and that’s me pictured at right pouting. Why? Because according to Cathryn Sloane, I am too old to be a social media manager. In her post yesterday, “Why Every Social Media Manager Should Be Under 25,” Cathryn writes,

“You might argue that everyone, regardless of age, was along for the ride, or at least everyone under the age of 30. I’m not saying they weren’t, but we spent our adolescence growing up with social media. We were around long enough to see how life worked without it but had it thrown upon us at an age where the ways to make the best/correct use of it came most naturally to us. No one else will ever be able to have as clear an understanding of these services, no matter how much they may think they do.”

Of course, outrage ensued. Nearly all of my social-media-savvy friends commented on this story on Facebook, with most linking to it and some even writing their own blog posts about it. On the New Media Expo Facebook page, there’s currently 50 comments on our share of this story…and counting.

In other words, people are not happy.

A New Understanding

Cathryn is right that every generation has defining events and overall themes. These events or themes shape the way you think. I would go even further and say that this is not age-related. When you belong to a certain group, you have experiences that shape the way you think. I’m from a rural area, so I’m going to think differently than someone from a large city. I’m female so I’m going to think differently than a male. I’m tall so I’m going to think differently than someone who is short.

I’m 27, so I’m going to think differently than someone who is 67.

These differences do not wholly define us, nor do they make us better or worse than someone else. But let’s not pretend that these differences aren’t there at all, and age definitely leads to a different way of thinking. We don’t always understand why someone older or younger than we are acts a certain way. This lack of understanding is not a problem unless we fail to acknowledge it.

In fact, I don’t like the term lack of understanding. I would instead say that with each generation, there is a new understanding of the world. Not better, just new. We need to be honest about that.

Generation Y has a new understanding of social media. When we dismiss this fact, we fail to see the whole picture.

How Generation Y is Different

Social media is nothing new. At the heart of it, marketing is marketing, whether you are doing it on Twitter or on in a print ad campaign. But when marketing to different age groups, you wouldn’t do it the same way. Think of an extreme case, like promoting a product to a 70-year-old grandparent versus a 7-year-old grandchild. If you use the same technique, you will probably fail because these people are at different points in life and want different things. But these people also want different things because of how and when they grow up. If you take that 70-year-old person and rewind until they are once again seven years old too, he’s probably going to respond to the same marketing differently than the 7-year-old from current times.

As the age gap narrows, these differences aren’t as stark, but they’re still there.

So a member of Generation Y is, in general, going to have different needs than a member of Generation X. In fact, studies have show that there are stark differences between Generation Y and other generations.

  • Less than half of 16- to 24-year-olds were employed during the summer of 2011. This is the smallest percentage since 1948, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Unemployment at such high rates during young adult years is a unique experience for this generation. (Stats source)
  • About 5.9 million Americans aged 25 to 34 lived with their parents as of 2012, according to the U.S. census. This is a whooping 25% increase from 2007. Studies also show that Generation Y adults are putting off marriage longer than their Generation X and Baby Boomer counterparts. Again, this “delay” of an independent life with family responsibilities is unique to this generation. (Stats source)
  • On average, 18-24 year olds send or receive about 109 text messages per day. This number drops to about 42 for 25-34 year old, and then drops even lower for Generation X and Baby Boomers (about 26 for 35-44 year olds, about 14 for 45-54 year olds and under 10 for older cell phone users). And keep in mind that this is just looking at cell phone users, not averaging in zeros for people who don’t have cell phones. So, one of the main ways Generation Y communications is not nearly as readily used by older generations. (Stas source)

These are of course just three examples of how Generation Y is different. Why does this matter when it comes to the age of social media managers? Because these differences aren’t learned and can’t be unlearned. They are natural and inherent. Many members of Generation Y don’t remember what it’s like to not have a cell phone in hand and they aren’t on the same life paths that members of older generations were on when they were leaving high school and college.

A Discussion, Not a Debate

I’m not afraid to admit that Cathryn is right: at 27, I’m already over the hill. How do I know this? Because whenever I’m visiting my family over holidays, I take the time to talk to my younger cousin, Katie (pictured at right), who is now 17 years old. Technically, we’re both members of Generation Y, but I find picking her brain is fascinating and enlightening.

Did you know that when her and her friends want to plan something special, they don’t send out evites? Okay, maybe not so surprising…but how about this: they usually don’t create events on Facebook either. It’s not for lack of checking Facebook. They’re just not into it for anything casual. They instead start a text message chain and invite people and track RSVPs that way.

Did you know they don’t have email? Part of the reason they definitely don’t do evites or any other party-planning that requires email is not because they see it as out-of-date. It’s because most of them do not have email addresses that they check with any level of frequency, just throw-away accounts they can use to sign up for stuff, but they never check.

Did you know that there’s an immense amount of social pressure to be “seen” with the right people online? If someone who’s not part of the “in” crowd in high school likes your Facebook status, your other friends will automatically NOT like your status unless a third person steps in and also likes the status? It’s seen as a social stigma if you and a single other undesirable person like the same status.

I’m not ashamed to say that I did not know any of that stuff until Katie told me – and I don’t understand it. I grew up liking evites and Facebook events. I grew up liking email. I grew up without social pressure online. I am different than she is. I wouldn’t know these things without a discussion because they don’t come naturally to me.

And that’s what we need: not a debate or all-out war over who understand social media better, but rather a discussion so we can education ourselves about how different age groups view social media differently.

Opening the Doors

When you write definitive and defensive posts about how your generation is better, you close the door to this discussion. Similarly, when you leave comments on said post that are patronizing, you close the door.

I think Cathryn’s post was poorly written and her argument was full of holes, yet every commenter who called her a child, claimed that she needs to grow up, or otherwise dismissed her opinions based on her age just proved her point that the older generation does not know how to effective communicate with the younger generation. We can’t respect your experience if you can’t respect our fresh point of view.

Where Cathryn ultimately fails in her piece is not in suggesting that companies need to consider hiring younger workers for social media management spots. I actually agree with her on that one to some degree. I do think that omitting younger people from this industry based on lack of professional experience is the wrong approach. Practical experience with social media should be worth as much as professional experience.

No, where I think she goes wrong is in asserting that there is nothing to be valued in professional experience at all. Being in the workplace, no matter what your job, teaches you valuable skills like team work, leadership, and organization. I know several people way past the age of 25 who do a lovely job as social media managers. What they lack in social media immersion they make up for in real-world education.

The solution is to open the doors to discussion in the world of social media. As a business owner, it’s important to hire people who “get” social media. This might translate to mean hiring a 60-year-old candidate who has been active online in a professional sense for several years and was a marketing professional for decades before that. Or it might translate to mean hiring a recent grad who has a passion for social media and understand your consumers. Better yet, it might translate to mean hiring a team comprised of people from several different backgrounds.

In any case, in the new media industry, we need to open the doors to discussion more often. Instead of talking about why we’re better and what we can teach one another, let’s talk about why we’re different and what we can learn.

Why Didn’t Pepcom Recognize Leo Laporte?

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Right now, the Internet is buzzing with CES news as bloggers check out the latest consumer technology offerings. Last night, though, there was a break in the tweets about tech as people expressed outrage over popular podcaster, radio show host, and blogger Leo Laporte was denied access to a pre-CES press event called The Digital Experience put on by PR company Pepcom. Apparently, they didn’t know who he was. Leo’s pretty much a go-to guy in the tech field, so as you can guess, most of his fans were baffled.

Sad panda picture Leo posted on his blog after being denied access to The Digital Experience at CES 2012.

In a quick audio clip, Leo says that he was denied access because they didn’t have credentials – proof that he qualifies as press in the tech field. I don’t know if that was a mistake on Leo’s end by not sending in paperwork or a mistake on Pepcom’s end by misplacing the paperwork. My attempts to contact Pepcom have gone unanswered.

Because Pepcom is being tight-lipped about what happened at The Digital Experience door, I’ll be clear about one thing: I don’t think an a-lister in any industry has the right to demand, “DON’T YOU KNOW WHO I AM?!?!” when they haven’t followed the registration process for an event. It’s rude, and more importantly, event staffers need the numbers ahead of time to make sure there’s enough food and they’re following fire code laws. That said, I really doubt that this is what happened. This isn’t Leo’s first time at a major event, and he’s not known for being a diva. I think this was simply a case of crossed wires (appropriate for a tech event, right?). I think there was a mix-up with the registration and Leo was mistakenly left off the list.

No matter who was to blame, though, what really matters is that Pepcom staffers – those at the door representing the company – should have without question allowed him access.

See, if you’re a business owner, especially a PR agency, you’re responsible for knowing who the content creators are in your industry. Access for Leo would have meant a ton of additional press for their event, and for all of the companies at their event. Word on the street is that the companies involved paid $15,000 to have a booth at The Digital Experience, and when you’re shelling out that kind of dough, you want access to the best media personalities and analysts in the industry. The fact that Leo instead went somewhere else that evening was a huge blow to those companies.

It can be difficult to know everyone in your industry, especially when you’re new. I’ll never forget the look of shock and horror on a friend’s face when I asked, “Who is Chris Brogan?” several years ago. As a relatively new blogger, I legitimately didn’t know. So I don’t really blame the people working the door for not knowing.

The first person I blame is the person who put together the list. If the people working the door were newbies, they should have had a group of people under the header, “These people didn’t complete the registration process correctly, but they need to be allowed access anyway because they’re a-listers and we want them at our event.” Okay, maybe the header needs a little work, but you get the idea.

At the very least, there should have been protocol – someone at Pepcom who well acquainted with people in the tech industry should have been on call to give approval (or not) if someone arrive who wasn’t on the list. Especially when they arrived with a camera crew who was on the list. It was obviously a mistake.

The second person (or team of people) I blame is whoever was running Pepcom’s social media accounts.

It’s bad enough that this was exploding on Twitter and Pepcom didn’t respond. After Leo’s initial tweet, tons of his fans tweeted about it. When looking to see if Pepcom responded…I couldn’t even find a valid Twitter account for them. Their site says @PepcomEvents, but there’s no profile under that name, and @Pepcom is a egg profile with no tweets. Maybe I’m missing something? How are you a PR events company without a Twitter account?

Update: I’ve been told be a few people that @PepcomEvents was their Twitter handle, but when they started getting all sorts of negative attention over the Leo incident, they changed it so people couldn’t find them and eventually just completely disappeared. I can’t confirm this because, once again, Pepcom ignored my emails and phone call…but…WOW. There are no other words. Just wow.

What they do definitely have is a Facebook page…which says nothing about the Leo Laporte incident. in fact, they very quickly deleted every post mentioning it as it was uploaded to their page. You can see now that their wall is squeaky clean with no negative posts at all.

But this is the Internet. Once something is posted, it doesn’t just disappear. Facebook user Adam J. Kragt was smart enough to start taking screenshots as posts were being deleted. Pepcom took that post off their wall of course, but you can still see the images here.

People were mad. In his audio clip, Leo sounded more disappointed than angry, but in any case, this was a huge Pepcom mistake, and they didn’t do anything to correct it. Social media gives us the awesome ability to screw up in public…but it also gives us the chance to easily and publicly apologize and make things right. As soon as he was denied access, Pepcom should have reached out to him on Twitter or Facebook and corrected the problem. Somebody was obviously monitoring their social media accounts (at least, on Facebook), so why didn’t anyone try to fix the mistake? Why did they instead try to hide it by deleting negative posts?

Will this blow over? Yes. I’m sure an equally big scandal will rock the Internet soon (if it hasn’t already during the writing of this post). People will be saying, “Pepcom who?”

But what really matters to Pepcom, to any business, is the button line – the money. And if I was a company involved with their event or thinking about getting involved with it, I wouldn’t be so quick to jump on board next year. I would be more inclined to spend my sponsorship budget on other events where major players in the industry aren’t turned away at the door. Leo has said that he won’t be going back to their events and I’d be worried, as a sponsor, that others would follow in his footsteps. So while the general public will probably easily forget, the people who write the checks won’t…and when they search for press about The Digital Experience, this post is what they’ll find.

** Update by Rick**

When I read Alli’s post, I pretty much agreed with her entire Post. One thing that struck me is that Leo’s TWiT is one of the most high profile press entities at CES. He has one of only two networks I am aware of that have a booth at the front of the show. The other is CNET.

I had our Deb go take a couple photos of Leo’s booth. Here is the TWiT booth at the very front of the South Hall at CES.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pretty hard for any attendee at CES including the PR flacks to miss.

Corporate Supporters Back Away from SOPA

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SOPA-stop-online-piracy-act-logo

After the official list of SOPA supporters was published and a post on Reddit about GoDaddy supporting SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) created a PR nightmare for the company, it looks like the list of corporate supporters is getting shorter.

For those of you not familiar with the SOPA and GoDaddy debacle, here’s the short story.

After GoDaddy showed up on the list of SOPA supporters, a single post on Reddit asking people to move their domain names elsewhere, caused GoDaddy to withdraw their support. On December 23rd, GoDaddy made the announcement:

“Go Daddy is no longer supporting SOPA, the “Stop Online Piracy Act” currently working its way through U.S. Congress.

“Fighting online piracy is of the utmost importance, which is why Go Daddy has been working to help craft revisions to this legislation – but we can clearly do better,” Warren Adelman, Go Daddy’s newly appointed CEO, said. “It’s very important that all Internet stakeholders work together on this. Getting it right is worth the wait. Go Daddy will support it when and if the Internet community supports it.”

You can read their entire letter here.

GoDaddy isn’t the only company speaking out and asking to be removed from the SOPA list of supporters. Law firms and companies who were listed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce as SOPA supporters are not only asking to be taken off the list, but are also saying they have no idea how they ended up on it in the first place.

One company’s message on Twitter was “Don’t believe everything you read on the Internet!”

Does it look like to you SOPA and its “corporate supporters” is crumbling before our very eyes?

A Huge List of Companies Supporting SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act)

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SOPA-stop-online-piracy-act-logo

Allison recently wrote about SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and why it scares her. For those of you not familiar with SOPA, it’s a new legislation in the United States that is seeking to punish people for posting pirated content.

You can read Alli’s entire post on SOPA and how there are loopholes, that in her opinion will get abused, here. Some are calling this the worst thing to ever happen to the internet.

Congress published a list of companies who are supporting SOPA, among the list are Walt Disney, Marvel, CBS, ESPN, Viacom and VISA…just to name a few.

Here is the entire list of companies supporting SOPA. Gizmodo has published this list, along with ways to contact each company, if you so desire to tell them how you feel about this new legislation.

SOPA Supporters

How do you feel about SOPA? Is it dangerous and ridiculous or necessary?

Why SOPA Scares the You-Know-What Out of Me

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He's probably not a *real* pirate, right? Let's send him to jail just in case.

For the past few weeks, and especially over the past few days, everyone is talking about the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), new legislation in the United States that seeks to punish people for posting pirated content. I didn’t pay much attention at first. The name sounds nice, after all. I don’t support illegal downloading, and I certainly don’t want people illegally distributing the content I create. So my first impression, when I started seeing people tweeting about it, was that people were mad that they’d have to pay for things they should have been buying in the first place.

Today, I had coffee with Thursday Bram. She was in town (I live in the Washington, D.C. area) to hear Alexis Ohanian, co-founder of Reddit, speak to the Young Entrepreneur Council – and he was in town first and foremost to speak out against SOPA. So I thought I better come home and actually read about the legislation, to see what the big deal was.

Holy cannoli. I almost had to change my pants. This video does a good job, in my opinion, of outlining the legislation and its problems:

Let me preface what I’m about to say with this: I’m not a lawyer and I normally don’t get super political. So if you believe I’m thinking about this the wrong way or don’t correctly understand what I’ve read about SOPA, please leave a comment telling me that. This is just how I’m interpreting things, and it is giving me an upset stomach, so I’d love to be wrong.

If passed, this legislation will scare people from sharing any link or user-created content at all because if the government (and those controlling the government though lobbyists) doesn’t like it, you can be shut down. I’m reminded of futuristic dystopian works of fiction like V for Vendetta and 1984, where government controls the message at all times. That might sound a little dramatic, but those type of imagined futures don’t happen overnight. They happen bit by bit, starting with legislation that seems like it’s meant to protect us (or so we’re led to believe). Legislation like SOPA.

Basically, what SOPA does is create a way for content creators (anyone from a large movie studio to an individual artist) to fight piracy, which is a good thing. But it also creates tons of loopholes for content creators to shut down anything they don’t like or understand that they feel infringes on their rights. We’re trusting people – people who have a lot of money at stake – to ignore these loopholes. It’s like putting a big chocolate chip cookie and some carrots in front of a three-year-old and saying, “Honey, we trust you to only eat the carrots while I’m in the other room.” Yeah right.

The loopholes in this legislation will get abused. That’s a guarantee. They’re too tempting.

And not just that, but frankly, a lot of the people in charge of the government and even businesses don’t really use the Internet. They have interns who answer their emails and support staff who update their websites. We’re putting our faith to make good decisions about our industry in the hands of people who have no clue what this industry is about. That’s terrifying.

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) is supposed to protect us. Its “safe harbor” clauses give websites the chance to fix problems before being sued. Websites who make an effort to discourage copyright shenanigans don’t have to worry about getting being blacklisted. Essentially, if you try to do the right thing, you’re given the benefit of the doubt.

SOPA doesn’t give you a second chance. I’m not advocating that a piracy site should get one, but I am advocating that a social sharing site, including forums, blogs that allow comments, social media networks, bookmarking sites, and so forth be given the chance to rectify any infringement problems, rather than just being shut down because a reader/user/member/etc. posted something that a content creator doesn’t like. This is the kind of government blacklisting we’re seeing in places like China. That scares me.

Worse yet is the vast amount of gray area when it comes to infringement. SOPA will squash creativity like song mash-ups, spoofs, covers by amateurs, and more. Even stuff that is technically allowed by law could be at risk because people will be scared. Today, they’re taking down videos of someone covering a pop song. Tomorrow, they’re showing up at the small-town bar we’re you’re singing karaoke. Like I said, complete government control doesn’t happen overnight. Baby steps lead us down that path, a path where free speech is no longer allowed as we know it.

And to take things a step further…what about opinion pieces like I’m writing right now? It’s a leap, but if SOPA passes, could someone in the future read this post and categorize it as content that promotes piracy just because I disagree with an anti-piracy bill? Okay, yes, that’s quite a leap, but when writing this, I’ve been very careful to say multiple times that I don’t support piracy, just in case. Baby steps.

Let me not forget to mention how ridiculous the penalties are for someone suspected of promoting piracy in any way. A content creator can completely cut you off financially in as little as five days, which is not enough time for most people to defend themselves. You could even go to jail.

That’s right – jail. Up to five years. Because I posted a link to a YouTube video that uses background music without permission. Because that seems much more reasonable than just asking that the video be removed. Cue the black hood and handcuffs as I’m being dragged away by men in suits and sunglasses.

He's probably not a *real* pirate, right? Let's send him to jail just in case.

SOPA means that anyone who owns a website or creates any kind of online profile has to walk on eggshells. Part of the problem is that this legislation is so open to interpretation, that even if you aren’t doing anything wrong but just look like you might be doing something wrong, you could be at risk. Guilty until proven innocent is not okay in my book. There are a lot of innocent people out there who could get unjustly accused.

This legislation could even affect what you send via email, from what I understand. That requires a heck of a lot more email monitoring than I’m comfortable with. I’m not naive enough to think that something I send via email has no chance of getting read by anyone else, but I am un-paranoid-y (that’s a technical term because I can’t think of a better word) enough to think that right now, people don’t have a reason to care about my emails, so they probably don’t get read by “the man.” Under SOPA, email providers will have to care, and if you’re sending something that looks like an illegal link, the black hoods will come out again.

Up until now, I’ve been pretty outlandish with some of my what-ifs, but something that is very real and that absolutely will happen if SOPA is passed is that really cool start-ups won’t have a chance to succeed simply because they don’t have the manpower to fight lawsuits or police what users are creating to the high standards that will be legally required. Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, GOOGLE for crying out loud – these are all companies that couldn’t have happened if SOPA had passed before they were founded. People out there are wondrously creative and smart, and we’re going to miss out on a lot of really cool stuff because it will be too hard for these companies to gain any traction under SOPA. Take a moment to think of the crazy number of jobs that won’t be created. Sounds really awesome for the economy, right? Even some big-name companies might call it quits if it because too cost-intensive to comply.

A world without Twitter? I think I have to change my pants again.

And you know what? SOPA has all these bad effects WITHOUT STOPPING PIRATES. Even if every single pirate safe haven online gets shut down, people will find a way to get what they want if they don’t have the money for it. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try to stop piracy, plagiarism, and general mean-spirited mischief online. It just means what we need to do so in a way that doesn’t blanket-punish all the good kids in class because one student was talking during nap time.

Get out there and write to your congressmen and women. Blog about it. Support companies speaking out against it. Educate people who are, like me, in need of education about the topic. Let it be known, even if it passes, that you don’t agree.

My name is Allison Boyer, and while I don’t speak for the rest of the staff here at BlogWorld, personally, I don’t agree.

I think I’ve ranted long enough, so now I want to hear your opinions. Has SOPA made you soil your undergarments? What are you doing about it? What do you think would be a better answer to online piracy?

TechCrunch and AOL: Is Selling Your Blog a Mistake?

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When AOL bought TechCrunch back in 2010, it seemed like the perfect pairing. Some were skeptical, but Mike Arrington really seemed pumped about it and encouraged the TechCrunch community to be too, particularly in the post Why We Sold TechCrunch To AOL, And Where We Go From Here. Oh what a difference a year makes, right? I don’t think anyone at TechCrunch in 2010 would have suspected the drama that was to come in 2011. If things don’t change, TechCrunch might even fail.

So was selling the blog a mistake?

Financially, it’s hard to argue that it was. The widely-reported sale price was $25 million (though some believe it was much higher), and while TechCrunch’s popularity means that this money could potentially be made back in just a few short years, the acquisition was still a risk on AOL’s part. So while you can always argue that something was worth more, for argument’s sake, let’s say that TechCrunch did pretty well. I mean, the deal wouldn’t have been signed if both parties weren’t happy with the sale price, right?

What bloggers know to be true, though, is that blogging is about way more than money. I think that’s the key that most companies buying blogs are still missing.

AOL is a large corporation. Their main goal is to make money. Someone like Arianna Huffington has no personal attachment to TechCrunch, and I don’t fault her for that. Why should she? Why should anyone who wasn’t there to build TechCrunch from scratch? TechCrunch isn’t AOL’s baby, it’s blood, sweat, and tears. TechCrunch was…and is…a business investment.

For many of the writers there, TechCrunch is a home. I think most bloggers feel that way. It’s easy to sell a house. It’s hard to sell a home. So when someone says, “We’re going to buy this house, but you can still live here,” it is easy to keep thinking of it as your home.

Only it’s no longer yours, not really.

It’s more like you’re renting the house. You can make it as cozy as a home, but the landlord can come in and paint the walls a color you hate, tear down the deck, or even evict you. Your lease agreement only protects you so much.

When you sell your blog, it doesn’t matter what kind of off-the-record promises were made. Tomorrow, the company that purchases your blog could make decisions that you don’t like, and when that happens, you don’t have any control to stop it. That’s the risk you take when you sell. True editorial independence no longer exists. Even if you have this freedom, it is only because your overlords are allowing it. Your kitchen walls are still that beautiful shade of red you adore because the landlord is allowing it. Tomorrow, the house’s owner could be in a yellow mood. They can change their minds.

And they will, if they think it’s the best choice for their business investment. They haven’t “grown up” with the blog, so they don’t always make the best choices in terms of the community or design or even content. They make the best decisions in terms of money, or so they think. Personally, I feel that any blog ruled by money won’t succeed, at least not to its full potential. That’s not necessarily for me to say, though.Everyone defines success differently.

If you sell your blog, you don’t get to make the decisions anymore. You can dole out advice or even make threats to discontinue your involvement with the blog…but you can’t stop the train once it is moving. Selling your blog is that first chug-a-lug without you as a conductor.

Bloggers can be a stubborn bunch – and I’m definitely including myself in that statement. What a corporation suggests might not be a bad idea, but changes can be scary. It’s really easy to feel the urge to push back whenever anyone suggests that you’re doing something wrong or could be doing something better, especially if you’re already pretty successful. “That’s not how we do things around here.” Well, it is now. When you sell, there are changes that will be made. Even if you think you’re doing the best possible job, outsiders with a different perspective won’t always agree.

So is selling your blog a bad idea?

Yes – if you think it’s going to continue moving forward the exact same way as it is under your leadership. TechCrunch will never be the same. No sold blog is the same afterward. No matter what the terms of the sale, things are going to change. Those changes could be good, if you give them a chance. They could also be horribly wrong, and you could see your baby fail. In my opinion, you shouldn’t sell unless you’re prepared to walk away, enjoy the money, and fondly remember your blog how it was, no matter what it has become.

TechCrunch is not “Too Big To Fail”

Author:

TechCrunch certainly has been dominating headlines recently. I’m having a hard time keeping up.

The quick run-down for those of you also having trouble staying up-to-date: Mike Arrington quit. Or was fired. Or was forced out. No one seems to have a straight answer on that one, but in any case, he’s gone, but he already is sparring with new editor Erick Schonfeld and talking about his next project. Writer Paul Carr quit in what is either a blaze of glory or grandstanding, depending who you ask, by posting his resignation letter on the blog. Schonfeld accepted his resignation in what is either a justified response or unprofessional virtual middle finger, depending who you ask, by posting a response on the blog. Arianna Huffington lashed out at the Wall Street Journal for “shoddy journalism” when covering the TechCrunch drama. By the time I’m done writing this post, who knows what else will happen. There seems to be no shortage of people who want to make news.

The opinion I find most interesting in this crazy story, though, is that of MG Sigler, who has been writing for TechCrunch since 2009. He remained silent for a while, watching the craziness unfold over the past few weeks, but finally felt the need to post his point of view on his personal blog in a post entitled “What Needs To Be Said” – and I find myself agreeing with much of what he writes.

But there’s one part in his post that I keep reading again and again, and it highlights what I think everyone involved is missing:

“Many of you are watching TechCrunch unravel before your very eyes. That sucks. It sucks for me too. But TechCrunch is also too big to fail. One way or another, it will live on. Try as hard as AOL might, they can’t totally f*** it up. That’s just the truth.”

The bold-facing is my work, not Siegler’s. The censoring is mine too, for the record, though that’s not as important. What is important here is Siegler’s assertion that TechCrunch is too big to fail. That seems to be the mindset of most of the people involved in the TechCrunch drama, and even most of the people around the web talking about TechCrunch.

I assure you, TechCrunch is not too big to fail, the same way the Titanic was not unsinkable. Nothing is too big to fail. Ask MySpace. Ask Borders. Ask Circuit City. Ask the Romans.

Was TechCrunch’s sale to AOL a good thing? Is all this drama Arianna Huffington’s fault? Was Erick Schonfeld’s backdoor deal shady or justified? These are all topics we hope to cover in future posts here at the BlogWorld blog, but what I know for certain right now is this: A lot of energy is going into this drama. Imagine if that energy was instead harnessed and channeled into making TechCrunch more successful.

Public problems like we’ve seen with TechCrunch would kill lesser companies. TechCrunch has survived because of their size, and they’ll continue to survive even as employees and ex-employees continue to bicker. But for how long? Certainly not forever, no matter how big they are. Just because they are surviving right now doesn’t mean their survival is guaranteed. When you are wrapped up in your own drama, you lose sight of what you’re doing – providing news and opinions to your community. No community sticks around if they’re ignored. Even the most rabid fans will only put up with shenanigans for so long.

And furthermore, is “just surviving” good enough? Isn’t the goal of any company not to survive, but to thrive?

The fact of the matter is that most TechCrunch readers really don’t care about all  this BS. Sure, it’s entertaining to watch all the drama happening for the same reasons people rubberneck at a car accident, but if TechCrunch can continue to provide the content its community wants, most people don’t give a you-know-what who’s working there. You’ll have hard-core Mike Arrington fans or Paul Carr fans or Huffington haters who will boycott the site, but even the readers who are being vocal will continue to read TechCrunch if the blog focuses on giving the community what it wants.

If they continue to instead focus on the drama, that readership will eventually fade and the site will fail. People don’t go to TechCrunch to see public outbursts. It’s only entertaining for so long before it starts to get annoying. When a company is too wrapped up in internal affairs, it is like a slow trickle of water, which might not seem very powerful until you remember that a relatively small river is responsible for the Grand Canyon.

In my opinion, saying that any company is “too big to fail” is basically saying to the community, “it doesn’t matter what we do because you will never leave us.” I don’t think that’s what anyone at TechCrunch intends to say, but the message is there every time people makes the decision to post nastiness about one another on TechCrunch rather than posting real news. Any community will leave if pushed away for too long. So I hope that TechCrunch stops pushing. Otherwise, the giant will begin to crumble and overtime, it will fall.

Do the Huffington Bloggers Deserve to Get Paid?

Author:

Today, I am saying something that I thought I’d never say: freelance writers don’t deserve payment. Before I start getting hate mail, let me explain. I don’t mean all freelance writers – just the ones in this story.

Earlier today, former Huffington Post blogger Jonathan Tasini filed a class action lawsuit against The Huffington Post, AOL, and co-owners Arianna Huffington (pictured at left) and Kenneth Lerer on behalf of thousands of writers who have blogged for the online publication over the last several years. He’s asking for $105 million, about a third of the site’s sale price in the recent AOL deal, which comes out to about $11,500 per writer (if split evenly, though I’m sure it would be based on post count). To date, they haven’t seen a dime.

The Huffington Post does have a staff of paid writers as well, who are not as part of this lawsuit as far as I know – this lawsuit it specific to the blogging “staff” (or better put, the blogging volunteers).

According to Tasini, the bloggers working for the site “are merely slaves on Arianna’s plantation. We do all the work and she won’t share a dime.”

Here’s the key point he’s missing, though: slaves are forced into labor. Not a single blogger at The Huffington Post was forced to write anything or, as far as I know, led to believe that they would ever get paid. I actually looked into getting a blogging job with them several years ago and decided against it for that exact reason – they weren’t offering payment.

What The Huffington Post offered bloggers was exposure. They gave writers the ability to blog about topics they enjoyed at a site where there was built-in traffic (i.e., the site already had traffic, it wouldn’t be like starting a new blog where you’re relatively invisible). In my experiences, “exposure” is rarely worth the work you do, but that’s a choice everyone has to make for themselves. I’ve certainly taken jobs at lower rates than I would normally accept because I knew it would be good exposure or look good in my portfolio. Doing so doesn’t mean that I have the right to sue later because I see someone making money from my work.

Look at it this way: Let’s say that I’m building a restaurant and I find someone willing to sell me beautiful tiles for $100 when it would typically cost several thousand. Years later, if that restaurant is a massive success and business is booming, in part because people like the decor, that tile seller doesn’t have the right to come back and demand more money. He named his price. I paid it. Transaction over. That’s capitalism – buy for the lowest price possible, sell for the highest price possible.

The Huffington Post bloggers, by agreeing to their contract, named their price: nothing. The Huffington Post paid it. Transaction over. Do I believe that it is right for a writer not to get paid for his/her work? No – unless you agree to work for free.

I’m not a lawyer, so I don’t know how this will end, but I actually hope that the writers don’t get any money. It’s not fair, in my opinion, to agree to do something for free and then send and invoice later. What if, for example, I accept a guest post from somebody and later they come back and demand payment? It’s not a far stretch from this lawsuit, and that scares me as a site owner.

What do you all think about this lawsuit? Do you believe that the Huffington bloggers deserve to be paid?

Photo via Flickr from Pete Wright

Should I Post My Personal Opinions On The BlogWorld Twitter Account?

Author:

Where to start with this one? How about the inspiration for this post? First, I sent out two apparently controversial tweets this morning:

surprise, all those iPad buyers are Mac Fanboys and girls http://bit.ly/bZt9y5 gotta give it to Apple they have a loyal community

and

LOL and a great follow up story, the ipad doesn’t work http://tcrn.ch/aGmSWy LOL suckers /ipad rant off

That set off a storm of comments from what I would like to think are supporters of our event. One of them actually unfollowed us/me because of it. I’m going to try and provide the time line in reverse chronological order here but please forgive me if I mess it up somehow:

victorcajiao

@blogworld I see. Maybe you should Mac hate under your own name. Many new media peopley use Macs, and we would (cont) http://tl.gd/oim80

donmcallister

@blogworld I’m sure the majority of us Mac users don’t know the back story but I’m with @victorcajiao on this one.

StefaanLesage

@victorcajiao @blogworld i would have to agree with victor. Pretty strange reading that from the official blogworld Twitter account

victorcajiao

@blogworld so that’s Blogworlds official position on us being loyal to Macs ? If so the count me out of supporting @blogworld.

BlogWorld (AKA me)

@victorcajiao no thats my official opinion and im surprised at your reaction i’m not free to share my opinion?

victorcajiao

@blogworld no you can share it. I don’t have to participate. Goodbye @blogworld

StefaanLesage

@blogworld yeah, but wonder what would happen if all mac users stay away from blogworld

johnfbraun

@blogworld @victorcajiao Probably best to separate personal opinion from official BlogWorld communication, which is what I though this was.

StefaanLesage

@blogworld @victorcajiao you are free to share personal opinions from your personal twitter account, be careful with branded / company acc

StefaanLesage

@johnfbraun @blogworld @victorcajiao i agree with my us colleagues. Create / use a personal Twitter acct.

GeekCred

Wow @blogworld, I’m not an Apple fanboy, but way to go and damage your brand by shamelessly disrespecting your customers. Fail… “sucker”!

PodcastHelper

@GeekCred @victorcajiao agreed, keep your personal opinion off your “official” conference feed, wrong fight to pick…@blogworld fail

donmcallister

@blogworld Before this blows out of proportion. I would not expect someones personal opinion on an event branded Twitter feed.

donmcallister

@blogworld esp calling a good portion of attendees and speakers losers ( albeit indirectly by association)

BlogWorld (AKA me)

@DonMcAllister wow no I didnt, putting up a blog post, this is far more than a twitter conversation

donmcallister

@blogworld Sorry, you didn’t say “losers” it was “LOL suckers” yes, that was it!

GeekCred

@blogworld That kind of personal opinion does’nt belong on an event branded Twitter account; totally unpnrofessional, undermines credibility

@GeekCred sorry I disagree. our event is all about personal credibility

StefaanLesage

@blogworld let me know when it’s online.

BlogWorld (AKA me)

@StefaanLesage will do typing as fast as I can

StefaanLesage

@donmcallister @blogworld I had the same feeling about this. Made me think it’s an official blogworld statement

BlogWorld (AKA me)

@StefaanLesage a statement about what? Did you read the posts I linked to? They were both interesting and informative

BlogWorld (AKA me)

@victorcajiao Did you actually unfollow me just now Victor? I wish you would reconsider after reading the post

donmcallister

@blogworld Rick, for the record, completely respect your opinion and personal credibility, just needs to be voiced via your personal twitter

psimac

@donmcallister @blogworld I’m with you, Don. Considering many laptops I saw at Blogworld featured glowing Apple logos, this is in poor form.

DaveHamilton

@DonMcAllister @victorcajiao Some of the Rick Calvert begin_of_the_skype_highlighting     end_of_the_skype_highlighting (i.e. @blogworld) Mac-back-story on MGG 220. http://tmo.to/ecUo

DaveHamilton

@johnfbraun @blogworld @victorcajiao Agree with John 100% on this one: separate Twitter accounts for personal vs. corporate tweets.

and it is continuing.

There are so many points here. First off, did anyone responding to my tweets read any of the posts I linked to?

Like the one about Apple’s draconian PR tactics?

Or the TechCrunch story about all the complaints about the Ipads not geting WiFi reception?

Or the story showing how many ipad buyers were also iPhone and Mac owners?

But the largest point is: can I, Rick Calvert, share my personal opinions or jokes as my tweets clearly were on the BlogWorld twitter account?

Here is my @blogworld Twitter bio:

Tweets from Blogworld & New Media Expo, and its founder Rick Calvert

For the record, I have put up tons of personal opinions and thoughts in that twitter feed since I started the account Oct 31 2007.  Never, ever, have I received a reaction like today.  I did have one person complain about posting stuff other than directly related show information. I informed that person that its my account and my bio explained they were my tweets as well as company stuff.

Just two weeks ago Chris Brogan, me and several others had an interesting discussion about Twitter avatars. Chris told me I should change the @blogworld avatar to a picture of me because “you are blogworld”. I disagreed because I do see a distinction between a completely personal twitter account and a brand. But based on that discussion I just asked Dave(my partner) to create a new avatar for me/ @blogworld showing my face and the logo.

Today several people suggested I start my own personal twitter account to share my personal opinions. I am not going to do that.  First off because I started this event for me and content creators like me. I think offering a view of my thoughts and opinions is relevant to what our show is about. I do try to keep a balance between the personal and the official event stuff. I am very careful not to spam out “buy now” type messages. I try very hard to provide useful and relevant information to our community and my friends. I try to introduce and expose different friends and members of the community to each other who might not otherwise have met except for through our event.

That is what I think my / the @blogworld twitter account is for. Obviously some of you disagree. I do see the arguments for it but I am not convinced its the right thing to do particularly for BlogWorld and the type of event it is. I may change my mind and I hope others can make those arguments why I am wrong in the comments below or on their own blogs and podcasts.

Now lets talk about what personal opinions and what type of jokes are and are not allowed in a business context. Religion; I think everyone agrees that’s a no no in a business setting. Politics; I was a political blogger, that’s what inspired me to launch BlogWorld & New Media Expo in the first place. I killed off my political blog when we launched the event specifically to not offend people who might disagree with my politics. Are there any other third rails of polite business discussion?

Are Macs, the iPad, Iphone, and all Apple products untouchable for conversation and in particular dissent and mockery?

I didn’t think so but I guess I was wrong. Microsoft now that’s a fair target. Everybody hates them right?

Apple can base their entire ad campaign on mocking PC users (most computer users in the world) and that’s ok but bash a Mac and the world comes crashing down?

I’m sorry guys, I find that weird. I like the PC guy in those commercials. I was just having fun at the expense of some of my friends who maybe love their macs a little too much. I never meant to offend you and certainly didn’t mean to hurt your feelings so if I did I sincerely apologize for that but come on people make fun of me for my PC all the time.

As @victorjaio pointed out lots of new media content creators are Mac users. I know that, I get that. I know many Mac products are new media friendly, many of my friends are mac users, but seriously Apple is not a new media friendly company, guys. They are not all that supportive of their community and they know there is a certain percentage of their community that will buy anything they sell even if its phone that doesn’t work, or its on the worst mobile carrier in the country.

That’s my problem with Mac’s and Apple. Can we be friends again or have I crossed the Rubicon on this one?

***update 4.8.10****

I just found out that I am a “Hipster New Media Douchebag”

At least according to John C. Welsh. And all this time I thought I was just a fat guy in a Harley shirt.

***

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