As newspapers like the Seattle PI open up massive communities to online conversation, they fail to educate the masses on the basics of online etiquette. The following are two examples of a well renowned media voice allowing slander to be thrown across an online forum with what appears to be little or no regard to the affected parties.
I do not believe that either of these examples would ever be allowed to reach a print version of the Seattle PI, as the online discussion reminds me of granting web visitors white hoods and torches so that they can use an anonymous face to say things they would not say in any other environment. In my opinion as a supporter of blogging and social media, this pushes the very definition of slander and libel and also leaves me with a shallow feeling that a respected news source would rather have a bloody “he said, she said” fight with no accountability just for the ratings.
The first example covers a technical recruiting company in the northwest- Jobster. At the end of 2006, information was leaked out of the start-up company and several blog posts were made by the CEO indicating the company would be restructured. When everyone came back from the holiday break, a not-so-standard layoff occurred with roughly 60 employees (apparently they all knew it was coming.)
I read several blog articles regarding what was happening over a week long drama at that office. The employees and remaining staff were all thrown off-balance by a significant change to their daily lives, affected individuals were left dealing with losing a group of family and friends (Jobster was not a typical company, people actually liked one another there.) Yet the “news breaking” column of John Cook allowed dozens of unsupported comments to be made by nameless visitors. The commentary includes personal bashes of the CEO and of claims made about the internal workings of Jobster by people claiming to be employees.
I thought that it was distasteful and was an accidental editorial mistake, thinking the Seattle PI could not be that ignorant of the fact that they were aiding competitors and angry x-employees to put up potentially damaging commentary. I do not know Jason Goldberg (except for having read his blog), but I wonder if any decent person would say those things in an actual live audience or claim a business model didn’t work if it could be argued by proper business analysis.
Fifty years ago, we allowed people to put on white hoods and burn people to death under whatever pretense they cared to imagine.
Is the digital age of social responsibility falling flat on its face?
I was holding a deep hope that this was a mistake by the Seattle PI. I’m sure it had happened with other media players across the nation, but a few weeks later the Seattle PI did it again with a very similar story about another layoff at HouseValues. The commentary seemed to be less targeted against a personality, but still the CEO received numerous attacks and the remaining business was hammered by anonymous commentary.
“I am a former employee” does not hold any accountability. Claiming to be someone (or something) without providing some credible evidence or way to check your claim is bad business. If I logged on today and claimed to be Bill Gates, someone would be checking. I would hope that someone across the media footprint of the world is looking at this type of situation and asking if this blind conversation is newsworthy, or if this anonymous stone throwing is merely a way to sell a little more advertising while a fictional fight has more gasoline thrown on the fire.
In previous years, a “credible source” for a reporter extended beyond someone being able to type in some random commentary and hitting “submit”