Thursday, August 27, 2009

"It would be an obscene misuse of power."

Hoo boy! Today was an interesting day on the internets, ya'll! You know what I'm talking about: the dooce-Sundry throwdown on Twitter! Oh, snap!

In this corner:
Heather, aka @dooce, of Salt Lake City, Utah.
Twitter followers: +1.1 million
The most popular personal blogger on the internet, Heather has been covered by all the major news outlets, published two books, and was recently named by Forbes magazine as the 26th-most influential woman in media. When she opens comments on her blog posts, she may get anywhere from 300 to more than 1,000 comments.

And in this corner:
Linda, aka @Sundry, of Seattle, Washington
Twitter followers: 2,700
Linda is also a very popular mommyblogger, but let's face it, no one is quite in a class with dooce. She does a lot of freelance writing all over the internet, has a fitness website, and may get 50 or more comments on her posts.

Background (What there is of it)
Dooce started complaining on Twitter a day or two ago that she had a broken washing machine and couldn't get any customer service. Now, given the very nature of Twitter and its 140 character limit, not much other information was provided. But Heather's posts very quickly escalated to her repeatedly posting: "DO NOT BUY MAYTAG." Now this might not be of much concern had it come from someone like me, with my measely 293 followers. But when you have more than 1 million people following your every word, it really translates into a call for boycott. But don't take my word for it — just do a Twitter search and look at the hundreds, maybe thousands of responses Heather's followers sent to Whirlpool on her behalf. Therein lies the power of dooce.

Enter Sundry. And here's how the conversation went this morning:

Sundry: @dooce I hope you post the whole story soon, because from the peanut gallery where I stand, this no-context corporate bashing is harsh.

Sundry: @dooce Sounds like you've got Home Depot AND Whirlpool in a panic to help you, while 1M+ followers are being told to boycott Maytag.

Dooce: Um, @Sundry, hardly a "panic" to help me. I'm still waiting on a phone call, what, 12 hours later. And oh yes, that post is coming.

Sundry:
Would now be a bad time to mention this weird noise our dryer is making? I think there might be a sense of entitlement stuck inside it.

Dooce:
Right, because paying $1300 for a washing machine and expecting it to work is entitlement. We should ALL demand better customer service.

Sundry:
(and this is my favorite!) @dooce This isn't consumer justice via social media. This is an unusually influential person slandering a company with no explanation.

Sundry: @dooce I don't doubt that you've had a shitty experience. But 140-character posts rallying 1M people to NOT BUY MAYTAG? Come on.

Dooce: You tell me SPECIFICALLY how anything I have said is slander, @Sundry.
Sundry:
@dooce Bad word, my apologies. It's the blind call to boycott that bothers me. And now the people complaining to Whirlpool on your behalf.

Oh, and then the shitstorm really began!
And the word "bully" started getting bandied around. Literally THOUSANDS of comments circulated on Twitter and everyone jumped in with their opinions. From Team Heather came comments like, "They're just jealous of how many followers you have." "Keep fighting for the little people!" "You have every right to voice your opinion on twitter same as anyone else!" Team Linda countered with: "Dooce could've handled this better." "Did the bullying include 'I'm 26, bitches!'?" and whole lots of people quoting Uncle Ben. The Spiderman one, not the rice one.

And now I'm sure you're all just dying to know where I come down on all this.

I believe what Heather did was wrong. If Meredith Viera or Diane Sawyer went on Today or GMA and called for a boycot of a company based solely on their personal experience, they'd probably be fired. Why? Because it would be an obscene misuse of power. When you make Forbes Most Influential Women in Media list solely on your internet presence, then you have a responsibility to use that tool differently than the "little people" do.

As commenter Chan said on Linda's blog: "How ironic that when Heather plays David to Maytag’s Goliath, she gets an avalanche of support, but when you play David to HEATHER’s Goliath, you get an avalanche of hate." Indeed, a large dose of vitriol, 140 characters at a time.

Should Heather use her celebrity to demand customer service from an uncooperative coorporation? Perhaps. I'm not going to deny her that. I mean, what good IS celebrity if you can't use it to get you things? But I whispered "Don't you know who I am??" isn't quite the same as an all-caps "DO NOT BUY MAYTAG" message to more than 1 million people.

I saw kudos to Linda for pointing that out.

28 comments:

Anonymous said...

I agree with your post here, but I would have appreciated being credited for the David-Goliath comparison. Your comment on Linda's site, and this post, were published after my comment over there with almost the same wording. Plagiarism, whether by replicating exact words or concepts, diminishes your credibility in a post about the responsibilities of power. -chan

Steph the WonderWorrier said...

I think this just continues to blow all of this out of proportion, honestly. Bloggers are still not that famous world-wide to be so incredibly influencial as people seem to be talking about here. Even if she IS #26 in Forbes Magazine... well, honestly, I wouldn't have ever known that had she not posted about it. And I'm thinking a bunch of other people out there wouldn't have either. And, what does that really mean? Don't you think she's even being a bit tongue-in-cheek when she talks about it? I think she has a good way of looking at herself, with a sense of humour about her surreal life situation.

Also, I think that us Dooce followers could figure out that it was Heather's humorous tone saying "Do Not Buy Maytag", and not a true boycott.

Also, I recognize I'm reiterating what I wrote at Sundry, but I'd also like it if her followers were given credit and if this whole thing could stop being portrayed as "helpless sheep will do whatever a famous blogger says on Twitter".

I don't know, I think this is a stupid situation that has gone way too far, and don't think Dooce did anything really WRONG... things just blew up today in a really weird way.

Kalisa Hyman said...

Chan ~ Touche. Credited. With my apologies.

Kalisa Hyman said...

Steph, I've been reading Dooce for at least five years, so I am familiar with her tone and her humor. The point is not what her readers or "followers" do, or that anyone considers them "sheep." The point is HER actions.

It seems your comment is looking at #26 as nothing more than a title, when in reality being #26 means she yields a HUGE amount of power on the internet. It is my opinion that she handled that remarkably irresponsibly today.

Anonymous said...

Thank you. I appreciate that. -chan

Steph the WonderWorrier said...

Kalisa - I think we're going to have to respectfully "agree to disagree", but it's true -- I really don't think her power over the Internet is that influencial over "the whole world". There are way too many people out there who do not fall into her demographic, and enough people over and under certain ages who would in no way even know who Dooce is, or what blogging is, or have anything to do with Twitter. I just don't think what she said was a big deal, I think it was a regular human being venting about something. She may be famous in some circles, but I don't think she's truly that influencial overall in the very big picture.

I just think she should still have the right to Tweet whatever she wants. And I do think the argument is more about her followers at this point, since this entire argument is making it look like "the world will do exactly as Dooce decrees" -- well, no, we won't. We can be readers and fans, but what she says will not make us do one thing or another.

Please don't take any of this disrespectfully and I'm glad we have this forum to discuss different opinions on the matter. I've not ventured to your blog previously to this, but I'm sure you're a great person and blogger, it's just a matter we see from different perspectives. :-)

Anonymous said...

poor poor maytag.
give me a break, why are you americans so in love with companies?!

Headless Mom said...

I watched all this from afar today...I find it fascinating what the internet can do. I agree with you on the point of Viera or Sawyer. I love Heather, but I agree that she should take her power with a little more than a grain of salt in issues like these.

Don Hammack said...

I'm not the 26th most influential person on my street (Heck, I'm No. 2 in a two-person household), but because my face appears in the newspaper from time to time above something I've written, I'm very conscious of what I post online. Much like you talked about how you don't post about truly personal stuff, I try to be that sensitive about things on the Web.

Last weekend, I vented about a company that holds a virtual monopoly in the world of ticketing (name rhymes with WicketBastard). That was easier, because I'm not saying anything that's not said by virtually everybody that deals with them, and boycotting them is not an option (unless you just choose not to go to events). Otherwise, I'm very vague about such negative comments. I'll tell people one-on-one about it, but I don't go there in my little world of social networking.

I'll also throw this in. I'm a pretty plugged-in InterWebs guy and I've never heard of Dooce. That makes me a big loser, a typical mail or some combination of the two. (Some would say that the two are indistinguishable, actually one in the same, and all men are. If the glove fits, you can't acquit.)

Kalisa Hyman said...

Don, you're obviously not reading enough Mommybloggers then.

Fanny said...

"How ironic that when Heather plays David to Maytag’s Goliath, she gets an avalanche of support, but when you play David to HEATHER’s Goliath, you get an avalanche of hate."

Actually, no. Do a search for @Sundry, and read the replies. There are fewer than 20 negative responses to her comments, and hundreds of compliments, people saying they're in her "camp", on her "team" and the like. Sundry got a *lot* of support for her position. I know it makes the whole Look How Dooce Wronged Someone party taste a little less delicious, but it's at least worth recognizing.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the synopsis, I didn't know what Dooce was talking about in her last post.

Anonymous said...

Honestly, I didn't think it was very difficult to understand what was happening with Dooce since she had posted about the situation, albeit in 140 characters, before the other day when the shit hit the fan. And then herself and her husband explained what happened.

Personally, after many weeks, and three call outs and they STILL can't fix the problem? I don't care if you're Oprah -- you're allowed to say how much a certain company sucks and why. If all is truthful, I see now harm in that. I think people like to jump all over Heather because of her popularity and because of that reason only. How DARE she give her opinion... when her life is giving her opinion. It just seems silly that this is even an issue.

Rich said...

Wow. Chan kind of seems like a dick.

Eileen* said...

Totally agree w/ you Kalisa. I read all your posts on Sundry, and I posted too. It's just a misuse of power, she knows what she has, and who listens to her. Oprah says go get a book, and bam - they are all sold out, Heather is like a mini Oprah in a way, and KNOWS it. An opinion is different then all out saying to a million people "don't buy maytag" it's not that hard to see the slight error she made!

Kalisa Hyman said...

Part of me is fascinated by what this says about the power of social media. Part of me just enjoys the hell out of a good debate.

Leanne Palmerston said...

You have it wrong about Sawyer and Viera on two counts:

1) they can't give their personal negative opinions to the general public because they are journalists and have a certain behaviours which are unethical

and

2) If they declared "Maytag Sucks, Don't Buy Maytag" to the general public they would lose advertising revenue and likely their jobs

Dooce is a plain old citizen. Yes, she has a lot of influence but she's still a plain Jane like the rest of us. She's allowed to speak her mind. And, when you pay over a thousand dollars for a machine it really ought to last at least until the warranty is up and if your customer service is being all kinds of unhelpful, you get to tell every single person you know: don't buy from them lest you get burned, too.

It's as simple as that.

Kalisa Hyman said...

Nope, I disagree with you. Dooce is not a "plain Jane like the rest of us." Know why? Because she is a PROFESSIONAL BLOGGER. Her family's sole source of income is provided by her writing on the internet. So yeah, I think that DOES put her in the same class as Viera and Sawyer.

Leanne Palmerston said...

Professional blogger or not, she's still a blogger. Heck, I make $5 a month on one site, does that make me a professional blogger who has to watch my mouth? No.

Viera and Sawyer are journalists. Armstrong is not. That's fact not perception. Viera and Sawyer are specifically trained and hired to report facts to people in a manner that is unbiased. (or at least, that's how journalism is supposed to work)

Dooce writes a public journal that is used as a form entertainment. The money she makes is her own business and does not involve a social contract between herself and her readers that she will act in any specific manner.

Totally different things there.

Kalisa Hyman said...

Well I don't think that makes you a professional blogger unless your whole family is living off that $5 a month.

You know not every journalist reports breaking news. A lot of them report general interest stories, restaurant and movie reviews. Those don't have bias? They're opinions, just like Heather's.

Journalists and Heather both make a living off their writing. They both write for and publish too a general audience. Only difference I see is that journalists write about other people's lives and Heather writes about her own.

If, in fact, professional bloggers are free to write whatever opinions they have without answering to anyone, then why did the courts just issue a ruling saying that bloggers who review a product must disclose whether they received the product for free? Because they have a RESPONSIBILITY to their readers. Much like...journalists.

Bria said...

It wasn't "the courts" who have recently spoken on the issue of blogger product reviews. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) revised the guidelines concerning the use of testimonials and endorsements in advertising. You should read them, especially if you're going to refer to them to support your arguments.

Kalisa Hyman said...

Well either way, it doesn't really matter who said it, the argument is still the same: bloggers have a responsibility to their readers. And yeah, the more the readers, the greater the responsibility.

Bria said...

But you're a blogger - don't you have a responsibility to your readers to accurately state something you rely on as fact? Or can you get away with citing something you have only heard about, haven't read, and aren't willing to research because you aren't a journalist? I think you have to pick one, and if you're going to stand so firmly on the "bloggers have a responsibility to their readers" argument, then you should put a little time into research when needed, and not dismiss a factual inaccuracy so lightly. Responsibilities, and all.

Kalisa Hyman said...

If this blog were my job, and I knew I had a million followers, then hell yeah, I'd be ardent about fact checking. But until I'm claiming it on my income tax, I think my handful of readers are satisfied with the amount of due diligence I am able to do.

SassyMcSmartyPants said...

Kalisa- You don't believe Oprah uses her power that way?! of course she does and she's probably #1 on the list. remember when she found out that the one dude (James Frey) had lied to her and her audience through his half-fiction book. and oh holy lord if oprah didn't make that man want to commit suicide. he was the devil incarnate of america for like a month!! and OMG the way she used her power for Barack Obama. I bet, according to your opinion on this issue, that Obama won the election solely because she used her power to publicly endorse him. Which meant that all of her zombie "followers" wondered blindly to the polls to cast their vote based on what OPRAH SAID. give the american people (bloggers and tv watchers) a little more credit.

I disagree with you and have to side with Steph Wonder Worrier on this one. I think Dooce did nothing wrong. She used her influence to get something done, like any other famous celebrity would do. Oprah wanted to shame James, and guess what, she did it. Dooce is no different. And, in the process of complaining/ranting, Heather was able to donate a much needed washer and dryer to a UTAH shelter. hello, power of influence!!

one more note- yes, Steph, Dooce did promote her #26 status through her blog and continues to do so. but, think of it this way, what powerful famous woman hasn't done a little self-promotion?! Beyonce, Ellen, Rhianna, Paris and even dang- wish she would go away forever- Heidi Montag Pratt. That's the way it works and I for one applaude them for taking care of business and holding their own. Power to the women!!

Kalisa Hyman said...

Sassy - read the post again. I didn't say she shouldn't have used her power & influence to get something done, and neither did Linda. The complaint was about calling for a boycott of Maytag without any supporting reason why. And that's not something I've ever seen #1 do.

julie said...

tired frustrated new mom who wanted her brand new very expensive washing machine to work. what's wrong with that? she struck a blow for everyone who has gottent the "customer service" run around. if she hadn't twittered she'd probably still be sitting there with a broken washer.

Debbie in Jackson said...

The emotion in these comments is truly amazing to me. It gives me new perspective on the power of social media and how it feeds our basic human need to have a voice and to be heard.

I don't really know why anyone would care much about Dooce's washing machine problems - we all have those day to day problems and we fix them and move on. In the past we would just call our mom or girlfriend and gripe a bit about the tardy repairman or laugh a lot about how when he did finally show up he was all butt-crack when he performed his repairs.

However these thoughts and frustrations remained relatively private and did not have impact that would emotionally stoke so many people. Somehow the forum Dooce used to lodge her complaints seems a bit wrong - we all say things in the heat of frustration but to put those words in to perpetuity for millions to read is without a doubt using your status to force your hand.

Would we all do that given the chance? What does it say about us if we would do that? Are we so desperate to be heard that we don't look at the long term ramifications of our words and actions? Most importantly why do we allow ourselves to be so emotionally attached to a person, whether it is Dooce or Brittney Spears that we feel that we have to take sides?

I have a hunch that Dooce could care less if her fans have washing machine problems or hell, if they can even afford washing machines. Yet somehow we are supposed to care about her expensive washer (really who puts the price of their appliances out there for public viewing?) and put our hard-earned energy into her minutia of a problem.

Somehow social media has made us think that we are all friends - people we can count on, who cry for us and will be the shoulder to lean on. When we come out from behind our computer screens I don't think Dooce is going to show up at any of her million+ followers with a box of Ivory soap in hand and chocolate cupcakes to make our little frustrations better.

So Dooce has a problem, who cares, well I guess over a million people do but imagine what it would be like if instead of caring so much about an unattainable social media invented "friend" all of those people cared that much about their neighbors?

So much emotion in these comments to defend someone who you truly can not call friend