The Seattle PI and the KKK

Services for Real Estate Pros with 123 Social Media
How anonymity destroys the very nature of community.
seattletimes2.jpgOne of the proud things that led me to blogging is that it allows a forum to share my voice and opinion with the world. With over a decade of experience communicating online through various e-mails, bulletin boards, forums, and blogs… there have been hundreds of times where I ask myself not if I can do something, but should I?
When I am walking down a street, my voice is kept in-check by my interpretation of how people may view my actions and words. I do not use derogatory terms and I do not curse. I pause for a moment before stating thoughts that may be damaging or hurtful, as once said they are a reflection of who I am and what I believe.
In the past thirty days, one of my favorite print news site – The Seattle PI, has opened a discussion via the blogosphere and has done something that I ethically do not support. I am a proponent of free-speech, but the value of a statement is weighed by the supporting experience of a person’s history and whether or not they are willing to take responsibility for what they have said.

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.

seattletimes1.jpg 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”


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Barry Hurd
123 Social Media - Seattle, WA

Thank you to everyone for some great commentary. I am really glad to hear some of the voices here on AR speak about "right and wrong"

Due to my profession, I've always been in a marketing or networking role where I had the ability to send a massive message out to people. Unlike many people in my field, I found myself often asking if there was a moral or ethical message being sent by my words.

In serious cases, I've seen things taken to court. However the worse mistakes of blogging are not taken to court... they are taken to heart. 

Jan 30, 2007 06:40 AM #14
Maureen Francis & Dmitry Koublitsky
Coldwell Banker Weir Manuel - Bloomfield Hills, MI
Coldwell Banker Weir Manuel

However the worse mistakes of blogging are not taken to court... they are taken to heart.

I love that, Barry.  It is so true. 

Jan 30, 2007 06:52 AM #15
Brad Patshkowski
Heritage Home Loans a division of Mann Mortgage LLC - Spokane Valley, WA
Home Loans Spokane, WA
Unfortunately, we live in a world of cowards, and people have no sense of ownership, even of their own words and actions.  I don't think there is a way to stop this behavior without deminishing our amendment rights.  I agree with you 100% and the right thing to do is what you are doing now, and that is be the advocate for the rest of the responsible minority.  Good job!
Jan 30, 2007 06:56 AM #16
Steven Holcomb
Keller Williams Realty - Plano, TX
Esq. - BBA, JD, GRI


I thoroughly enjoyed your thought provoking post.  Recent stories of fabrication in the media or failure to thoroughly check stories make this a problem throughout all avenues of the media and in today's instant news market.  Hopefully, media outlets will hear from you and others about the potential abuses and problems.

Jan 30, 2007 07:27 AM #17
The publication you're talking about is actually the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, not the Seattle Times.
Jan 30, 2007 07:32 AM #18
Barry Hurd
123 Social Media - Seattle, WA

LoL, so it is. I corrected those links.

I stand corrected.

Too many days of typing the Seattle Times. Sometimes branding can be a disadvantage too. ;)

Jan 30, 2007 08:01 AM #19
Harper Team
J Rockcliff Realtors - San Ramon, CA

I've said it many times before - Who you are speaks louder than words. It continues to amaze me that many people have no clue how others perceive them. What you put your name on or associate with reveals part of your character (or lack thereof).

There are situations where anonymity is appropriate, but mostly it seems it is used by people of little character and integrity.  

Jan 30, 2007 08:52 AM #20
Maggie Dokic | Miami, FL | 305.81.HOUSE (46873)
eXp Realty LLC - Miami, FL
GREEN, CDPE, SFR, Pinecrest | Palmetto Bay |

Barry, thanks for a thought provoking and well written post.  I love the way you express yourself.  It's a sad commentary on our society that this is happening but I guess that just comes with the territory.  Let's hope there will always be folks such as yourself keeping watch and doing something.


Jan 30, 2007 09:07 AM #21
Kaye Thomas
Real Estate West - Manhattan Beach, CA
e-PRO, Manhattan Beach CA
Mama always said if you can't say something nice... keep your mouth shut.. There are many ways to get your thoughts  across without crossing the line of civility.  As others have noted it seems that whenever a site allows anonymous commenting it can get pretty nasty..  whether you hide behind a sheet or a fake name you have no character if you won't stand up in public ,in front of one and all, with your real  identity when stating your opinion.
Jan 30, 2007 09:48 AM #22
John Occhi
Mason Real Estate - Temecula, CA
SRES,CPRES.ePRO - Temecula-Murrieta CA Real Estate


You make some very good arguments - the flip side is that the beauty  pf the internet in the anonymous nature of it - however I agree there has to be check points and rand hatred cannot be allowed or tolerated.  When it comes to media reporting comments, even if they choose to keep their sources secret, they still have to know that the information is correct.

Now Have a Blessed Day,

John Occhi, Hemet CA REALTOR

Jan 30, 2007 11:27 AM #23
Michele Connors
The Overton Group, LLC Pitt & Carteret County - Greenville, NC
Your Eastern North Carolina Realtor

The corruption seems to come at us at such a fast pace. The internet will become the worst enemy at some point- most likely with the next generation that uses anonymity as a blanket policy for interacting on the web. The schoolyard bullying is nothing compared to the slander that seeps in to the many facets of the is what sells the papers and magazines. Smut.

The television media is another source that is so worried about beating the competition they often rely on sources that are not credible. It is like the media is now the jury and their lean on things out weighs the judicial system...I am like TLW- dont get me going---great provoking post!

Jan 30, 2007 11:30 AM #24
Monika McGillicuddy
Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Verani Realty - Hampstead, NH
Southern NH & the Seacoast Area


I guess I keep it real simple...for me I wouldn't write anything in a blog that I wouldn't say in person. Either about a person or an opinion about something...doesn't matter...if I write it about you...I'll say it to your face. 

Great post Barry! 

Jan 30, 2007 11:45 AM #25
Jeff Dowler, CRS
Solutions Real Estate - Carlsbad, CA
The Southern California Relocation Dude - Carlsbad

Great job, Barry. Really enjoyed this thoughtful post. The Internet, because of the anonymity, makes is so easy, and even encourages folks to say whatever they want without fear of repercussion.  I suspect we will be seeing more legal action in the future, and perhaps more safeguards. I agree with Monika's points, among others. Tough issues.


Jan 30, 2007 12:03 PM #26
Roberta Murphy
San Diego Previews Real Estate - Carlsbad, CA
Carlsbad Real Estate and Homes
Barry: Excellent article. I can understand a reporter protecting sources, but every effort must be made at substantiating a story. 

If in doubt, cut it out.
Jan 30, 2007 01:03 PM #27
Toby Barnett
KW Northwest - Marysville, WA
Toby Barnett

Nice picture Barry, I seen the article regarding HouseValues but ddin't see the one regarding Jobster. I did a piece on the PI, Real Estate Licensing, and one of the commentors pointed out the HouseValues article. As I read through it I was astonished by what I was reading, from a professional standpoint and personal.

The commenting cowards, as I like to call them, usually bring no good to conversations just distasteful opinions, IMO. The unregulated comments I didn't think could happen because it requires people to register to make comments. IMO, the forum has been opened by allowing the blogger to blog such topics.

When I was asked to do it I had to actually sign forms adhering to certain guidelines, maybe that is just me. Creating a controversy is a good tactic to entice readership but it has to be done within some boundaries otherwise the intergrity of the site itself can become jeopardized.

Jan 30, 2007 01:43 PM #28
Jeff Turner
RealSatisfied - Santa Clarita, CA

Barry, I never really give this much thought. Partly because I can't imagine not being up for sharing my thoughts under my own name. But it's also partly because I make an assumption that the truth is always it's own defense. That lies ultimately come to light and that  the transparency provided by the free flow of information in the blogosphere is worth the sporadic pain of those who have no real courage, just

I feel the pain of the companies you list. I do. There are easy ways to get to those who are truly slanderous and liable. Every website has the ability to capture IP addresses. AR shows the IP address in emails we send to each other. Someone who really wants to hide certainly can, but the average Joe who comments in hateful and slanderous tones is not thinking about masking their IP address before they open their virtual mouths. Capturing the IP addresses and depositing them in the comment would allow for proper action if necessary. 

Jan 30, 2007 02:29 PM #29
Jacqulyn Richey
Prominent Realty Group - Las Vegas, NV
Las Vegas Real Estate
Its just an unfortunate byproduct of the web. People hide behind anonimity because they are cowards to own up to the things they say. -Charles
Jan 31, 2007 07:29 AM #30
Barry Hurd
123 Social Media - Seattle, WA

Good points from everyone. I really do appreciate that there are so many minds here that have the ability to see some of the bigger picture. 

Michele- The corruption may be happening at an incredible pace. Sometimes the speed is almost impossible to measure. I don't know how many times I fail to keep up with how technology is changing social interaction. I just hope that enough of us are out there that we manage to keep someone decently sane in the driver's seat.

Toby- I guess he main aspect of what "urks" me is that a big media name condones such writing. If someone came along and wrote that on a bulletin board at a business I worked at- it would be removed. I hope that more quality writers find a niche to write about on major sites, as having a voice online is equal parts integrity, insight, and creativity. 

Jeff T- While IP adresses could be tracked and monitored... the problem is far more instant. In the same aspect of a real world bulletin board in the break room, I could pull down a note and have someone fingerprint it. However the damage is done when people see it and action is taken. I take a lot of responsibility in this type of topic since I am a father and I want my son to understand that inaction can often be as damaging as the original offense. 

I wonder a times if the journalistic nature of good news media is being threatened too often by the need to sell advertising. I know it has been a conflict of interest for years... but it seems that more print publishers are going to be challenged by the aspect of "Reality TV" and we will be seeing a version of "Reality Newspaper" over the next year.  


Jan 31, 2007 11:36 AM #31
Christy Powers
Keller Williams Coastal Area Partners - Pooler, GA
Pooler, Savannah Real Estate Agent
I don't know why anyone would bash someone they don't know or have never met. You can not judge a person unless you are willing to be judged first. We are all humans and we make mistakes. It doesn't matter who you are or how much money you have, it happens
Jan 31, 2007 03:00 PM #32
Richard Becker
Hi Barry, 

I have to disagree with you on this one. The decision to allow anonymous comments or not, remains with the each respective blog host. The decision to allow them or not has little to do with the First Amendment. (Though I might point out anonymous publishing was all the rave in the days of our founding fathers).

Personally, I do not post anonymous comments or allow them on my blog (mostly because I was tired of deleting spam ads). On the flip side, I do not monitor the posts. But on rare occasion, I have to edit or repost. 

However, in some cases, like the Seattle PI, I think its great they allow anonymous comments because I frequently see posts made by employees of companies that John Cook writes about (they want to comment, but not lose their jobs). Sure, some are fakes, posting as former employees, but many are not. Overall, sometimes, in cases of credibility, I see an anonymous posters write something worthwhile ... while people who leave their names appear less credible. Certainly there are times when the anonymous posting is absurd, but it's easy enough to ignore those. 

Anyway, while I may disagree with the idea, I love the discussion. Well done. Bravo. I've been meaning to write about this subject sometime and will certainly include your post as an excellent reference.

Feb 02, 2007 06:14 AM #33
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