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.