They don’t like it up ‘em

joneshead.jpgforbes.gifAs Corporal Jones used to say in Dad’s Army, "they don’t like it up ’em".

 Who are we talking about now?

Companies.  You know, rich people.  The sort that read Forbes.  Very upset, they are. About bloggers.  Yep, us. We, the people, have the temerity to stand up to corporate power.

Daniel Lyons has a preposterous article in Forbes (free registration) which whines a lot, in that annoying way that you see in movies when the tough guy is suddenly very afraid and pleads for his life. Apparently, bloggers sometimes criticise brands:

Blogs started a few years ago as a simple way for people to keep online diaries. Suddenly they are the ultimate vehicle for brand-bashing, personal attacks, political extremism and smear campaigns. It’s not easy to fight back: Often a bashing victim can’t even figure out who his attacker is. No target is too mighty, or too obscure, for this new and virulent strain of oratory. Microsoft has been hammered by bloggers; so have CBS, CNN and ABC News, two research boutiques that criticized IBM’s Notes software, the maker of Kryptonite bike locks, a Virginia congressman outed as a homosexual and dozens of other victims–even a right-wing blogger who dared defend a blog-mob scapegoat.

You can see his point, can’t you? What’s the point of being disgustingly rich if you can’t control the media, eh?

Lyons goes on:

The combination of massive reach and legal invulnerability makes corporate character assassination easy to carry out. Dry treatises on patent law and trade policy don’t drive traffic (or ad sales) for bloggers and hosts; blood sport does.

Call me cynical, but I haven’t noticed UK PLC or Corporate America sticking to "dry treatises" in their massive advertising campaigns to coax us to buy their products.  Nothing wrong in sexy blood sports when Mr Murdoch or Mr Forbes owns the channel.  Media sharks circling their victims when they smell blood: that’s what the punters want, right?  But what if the lunatics take over the asylum? What indeed.

No wonder companies now live in fear of blogs. "A blogger can go out and make any statement about anybody, and you can’t control it. That’s a difficult thing," says Steven Down, general manager of bike lock maker Kryptonite, owned by Ingersoll-Rand and based in Canton,Mass.

People can make statements and ‘you can’t control it’. You mean – citizens being able to express themselves to other citizens without rich people getting to decide who will be heard?  Blimey.  No more "Permission to speak, sir?".  Pass the port, Henry, we’re really screwed now.

Even mighty Microsoft, for all its billions, dares not defy the blogosphere. In April gay bloggers attacked Microsoft over its failure to support a gay-rights bill in Washington State (the company is based near Seattle). "Dear Microsoft, You messed with the wrong faggots,"wrote John Aravosis, publisher of AmericaBlog, which threatened to oppose Microsoft’s plans for a big campus expansion unless the company caved in. Microsoft reversed itself two weeks later, saying it supports gay-rights legislation after all.

A touching story: I’m missing the part where this is bad.  Perhaps if I were a billionaire businessman I would understand what was wrong with ordinary people putting pressure on Microsoft to act as a good local corporate citizen.

Lyons has some advice for businesses who come under fire from the bloggers: play dirty. Here is what he recommends:

BASH BACK. If you get attacked, dig up dirt on your assailant and feed it to sympathetic bloggers. Discredit him.

ATTACK THE HOST. Find some copyrighted text that a blogger has lifted from your Web site and threaten to sue his Internet service provider under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. That may prompt the ISP to shut him down. Or threaten to drag the host into a defamation suit against the blogger. The host isn’t liable but may skip the hassle and cut off the blogger’s access anyway. Also:Subpoena the host company, demanding the blogger’s name or Internet address.

SUE THE BLOGGER. If all else fails, you can sue your attacker for defamation, at the risk of getting mocked. You will have to chase him for years to collect damages. Settle for a court order forcing him to take down his material.

That doesn’t sound like good advice to me. That is a recipe for a company doing itself serious harm. In fact, it reminds me of another of Corporal Jones’s famous remarks, invariably uttered as he ran around like a headless chicken: "Don’t panic! Don’t panic!"

I suppose I knew that the rich and powerful would fear the day when ordinary people are able to speak the truth and have access to information that is not mediated by the control of, er, the rich and powerful.  But I didn’t expect them to be quite so open about the danger this presents to them.

They don’t like it up ’em.

More at Micro Persuasion, James Robertson, Below the Fold, Dan Gilmoor, AccMan Pro, Doc Searls.

7 comments on “They don’t like it up ‘em”

  1. I’m a big fan of blog technology. I’m not a fan of an unfettered free for all. Which is what exists right now. Question the validity of Web 2.0 in some circles and wait for the invective.

    There is a very real risk that companies with brands to protect will simply run for the hills or engage in guerilla tactics of their own. Their problem is that in any organisation, large or small, there is always dirty laundry – somewhere. The question is not whether it gets out, but the manner in which it is aired. There’s a HUGE difference.

    Have you been defamed or libeled? It’s very stressful. Forbes wasn’t talking about ‘truth,’ it was talking about lies. It is a valid issue. The Kryptonite case for example was a valid target. But that doesn’t give a licence for a free-for-all or untruths. That’s what Forbes is highlighting. Advertising is an altogether different issue methinks.

    But to be 100% on this, I should say that like anyone, I am writing this post with bias. My (European-skewed) bias.

    Owen replies: Interestingly, the examples that the article gives are (I think) all ones in which the blogosphere’s criticisms were valid. On the whole, I don’t think a worthless smear would get very far in the blogosphere – the wisdom of the crowd picks up the well-made arguments, and ignores the groundless allegations. In some ways, the blogosphere has a lower entry hurdle than the mainstream media – anyone can sit in their bedroom and say what they like; but everything you say undergoes a much more varied and rigorous critique than it would in the press, and a blogger will only get momentum behind a view if it stands up to scrutiny.

  2. It depends on expectation. I’d rather read a well crafted, easy on the eye exposition of an issue any day over a rant. I think it’s in the world of rants that people experience the most difficulty.

    I agree the barrier to entry is trivial and it puts traditional print/online media in a bind. But speed and accuracy rarely make good bedfellows. It’s why editorial exists. I didn’t appreciate that until I became part of the 4th Estate. Today of course, I love the immediacy but it doesn’t prevent the need for an editorial approach. And it can be frustrating. But it’s the price I chose to pay for authority.

    I realise there are specific issues over accuracy in the US. In a world where media driven PR was invented, it’s hardly surprising.

    My perception is the UK tabloids are in the business of delivering entertainment first and accuracy second (most of the time.) But that’s not the perception of blogs from the business person’s perspective. Businesses I speak with recognise it carries risk. It holds them back. Which is a great pity as I know many have great stories to tell.

  3. Tim, ownership is not control. The people at the top, sat on the board, are the rich people complaining.

    The owners of those companies that are listed don’t really have as much control as would be good. If we did get voting rights alongside our pension contributions and insurance plans, maybe the controllers would be less myopic?

  4. BASH BACK. If you get attacked, dig up dirt on your assailant and feed it to sympathetic bloggers. Discredit him.

    They come up just short of telling companies to rally people to send threats to and stalk the blogger.

    In my case, Dawn might decide to dig up “unseen food residue” on me. haha. đŸ˜‰

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Owen Barder

Owen is Senior Fellow and Director for Europe at the Center for Global Development and a Visiting Professor in Practice at the London School of Economics. Owen was a civil servant for a quarter of a century, working in Number 10, the Treasury and the Department for International Development. Owen hosts the Development Drums podcast, and is the author Running for Fitness, the book and website. Owen is on Twitter and