Sunday, March 14, 2004

Online Crisis Comm - Is putting out fires online even possible?

What do you do when you are embroiled in a crisis and controversy over something you post online? The world has become sooooo fluid and wired, what you write online can be traced back immediately, and haunt you immediately.

Probably the most famous case thus far is Gregg Easterbrook being fired from ESPN over postings about Kill Bill, and his anti-Semitic comments about Harvey Weinstein and Michael Eisner. Was ESPN right in firing Easterbrook? That's not the point of this posting, and its been debated ad naseum already.

However, in a recent article in Africana.com, John Lee had posited that two more popular blogs out there - Gawker and Wonkette - were subtly racist. If you do not know who John Lee is, here's a quick primer - as an original member of MOD (Masters of Destruction), John Lee is a Brooklyn native that was one of the best hackers out there. Probably one of the most comprehensive articles about Lee is from a 1994 article in Wired.

Okay, being accused of racism by John Lee is pretty heavy. Lee is an icon in the world of computers, and has always been a fighter to close the digital divide. And, he does lay out some compelling arguments.

So, what is a Website / blogger to do? What should Nick Denton do to ensure that two of his more popular blogs aren't playing nasty, but are free of racist comments? Well, if the responses from Choire Sicha of Gawker.com and Ana Marie Cox of Wonkette.com in the New York Daily News are any indication (look in the middle of the article), Denton should thinking spin, spin, spin. Then again, Denton has a posting that is highlighted on his own blog, that can only be taken as Anti-Israel, and possibly Anti-Semitic. Either way, the posting seems to be one big joke - screw other countries and religions, because they aren't important.

Sicha thought he would be cute and write off his comments as "sarcasm." Always a good argument - I'm not racist, I'm just being cute or funny or sarcastic or ironic. And, a quick search of Gawker and Wonkette have shown that there's been no response from either parties to John Lee's allegations.

What should Denton's bloggers do? What is there to do in a case like this - since the blogosphere is now so intertwined - tooooo intertwined, some say - and Internet journalism is almost immediate, what could a corporation do to put out crisis fires? It's not like the old days of crisis communications, where the PR firms had a least a few hours to put together a timeline and plan - now firms must think even further ahead, think of what crises might be out there, and have fire extinguishers everywhere.

On another side, what's a corporation to do when an individual employee blogs about controversial issues? I was trying to find some news on Go Daddy the other day - I registered my domain with them - and the first thing that came up in Google News was Intellectual Conservative. Yes, I know that is soooo ripe for jokes, but we'll forgo those for now. The co-founder / co-author of the IC Web site, Rachel Alexander, is an employee at Go Daddy, where she is an attorney.

There are other examples of this - Microsoft has addressed the issue with employees, and usually those said employees use the typical disclaimer of "my views are my own, not my companies, don't take it as the gospel from company X, and thanks!" No, I don't have a disclaimer on my blog, since, well, I own POP!

As an attorney, I am sure Rachel knows better than to write anything that could be detrimental to the parent company. But, as a consumer, I stumbled across her Website, and, as I am more on the middle-left than the hard-right, as Ms. Alexander seems to be, I was quite simply disgusted by her views. Am I going to pull my business from Go Daddy? Probably not, as I like to support local Arizona-based businesses, despite some of their BIG shortcomings.

What should Go Daddy do? What should a corporation do when employees blog their own possibly controversial viewpoints? Should corporations fire employees for blogs, or have any say over what employees do in the own time? The PR person in me says that with the always-on nature of the Web, companies do need to have a little more oversight of their employees. In the case of Ms. Alexander, does she really need to identify her current position at Go Daddy? Does this give any weight to her postings, or is it unnecessary information? Methinks it's unnecessary.

Go Daddy might want to have a talk with her, and have her pull the identifying information - what an employee does on her / his own time is their own business, as long as it does not hurt his / her employers.

Just my thoughts for the night, trying to catch up on blogging ...

Public Enemy's Don't Believe the Hype seemed fitting - sometimes all that crisis is is controlling the hype of the media.
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