In Attack Mode, Tim Bray ponders using his blog for evil (or good, depending on your point of view, I guess):

Suppose I posted a piece here whose title was that person’s name, laying out in succinct but forceful detail the nature of the bad behavior, solidly illustrated by pointers to online examples. Suppose I offered a calmly-worded opinion that nobody in their right mind should consider hiring, or doing business with, or dating, this person. Suppose some other people who shared my opinions saw fit to point to the attack and perhaps chime in a bit. Given the way search engines work, I’d say that such an attack would be extremely damaging, and very hard to recover from. Would I do this? I don’t think so, unless it was a matter of life or death. But I sure do think about it sometimes.

Well, Tim... You're not alone. I've thought about it more than a few times. I suspect that many of us have. But there's a line there that's best not to cross. I can't say exactly where it is and how close I've come to it on occasion but it's there.

The few times I've used a person's name in my blog post titles, it ends up having an effect I didn't quite expect. Luckily Andy had a good sense of humor about it.

I usually save my blog lashings for companies rather than individuals. And looking back over my posting history, I do this quite often. Microsoft, Google, Yahoo,, Santa Clara Municipal Utilities, Citibank, Atlas OnePoint, Sun, RedHat, etc.

I attack companies partly because I know how big companies tend to work--it's often hard to place the blame on any one person. However, and this is the weird part, when some attacks Yahoo on their blog I find myself taking it more personally than when someone attacks me. Personal attacks just don't bother me that much.

Posted by jzawodn at November 09, 2004 12:27 AM

Reader Comments
# JJ said:

Well, sometimes people do that by themselves. I have seen trolls spewing fire and brine in my blog under their own name, and having those comments show up in Google searches.

on November 9, 2004 04:22 AM
# Tim Converse said:

I did exactly this, a couple of months ago. I posted a person's name in the subject line and wrote extremely negative and specific things about him. And all about a person I had never met.

In general I agree with Tim Bray about this kind of thing, but that particular instance I feel completely fine about it and have no regrets.

And I agree with Jeremy that it's better in general to blame companies than individuals --- in some cases, though, when a CEO acts totally unilaterally, it would be unfair to the company as a whole _not_ to focus the blame.

on November 9, 2004 08:29 AM
# Anon said:

But what if the person IS the company? I worked for one CEO/company owner that I found out too late was an embezzler, laundered money internationally to a terrorist-friendly nation, and also committed many other high and low crimes. I blew the whistle to the company board, and the CEO manufactured evidence to implicate ME, although the board didn't believe him (but I got fired anyway). I've been waiting for the statute of limitations to expire so there can be no blowback on me, in the meantime he's served on several prestigious Internet advisory boards that would not have appointed him if they had known his true background. I don't know one single person who is so severely in need of an outing. I have all the evidence I need to hang him, somewhere in storage, all I have to do is dig it up. I think I should proceed with the outing, I really should contact the FBI but then I'd just get ensnared in the problem again.

On the other hand, I have a psychoexgirlfriend that is trying to commit fraud, selling a project without telling people she's already sold it to others, who have encumbrances on her patented product. Those prior investors walked away from the project once they found out she was impossible to work with, but their contractual encumbrances still exist. Any new investor who buys in and makes her product succeed will suddenly find they don't own what they've invested in developing. I decided not to blow the whistle, only because it would be unethical due to the personal issues between us. However, she continued to harass me, probably out of fear of what I knew and what I could do. So I laid it out for her, I told her my blog has enough Googlejuice that if I just wrote her name on my blog, it would become the #1 Google result for her name, and if she didn't cease all contact with me, I would blog everything I knew, so it was all up to her how I would proceed. She ceased all contact (for now). Sometimes the threat is enough.

Perhaps that's what Tim Bray was doing, issuing a warning shot, the offending person could read the story and know he should straighten out OR ELSE.

on November 9, 2004 08:39 AM
# jr said:

The problem with blogs is pretty much the same with any form of published work. You do face the ever present threat of legal action if you post something up that is considered damaging or libelous. I generally don't go on the attack of anyone I figure has bigger lawyers than I can afford.

I've only posted up a negative article about one person, who had actually managed to do a fair amount of damage to himself on a public board I also run, but you're nobody until somebody becomes obsessive about you.

on November 9, 2004 09:04 AM
# Hashim said:

recently this happened in the small circle of hip-hop blogs I read. Byron Crawford claimed Oliver Wang (a noted hip-hop journalist, blogger, and Asian-American) called him a "nigger." Those in the kow were in on the joke, but others thought he was serious.

Right now that post is #4 in google when you search Oliver Wang's name.

on November 9, 2004 10:01 AM
# Tim Converse said:

Heh - I do like the juxtaposition of this post (celebrating Jeremy's forbearance in not slagging people by name) with his post of a couple days ago entitled "Dear Moronic Coworkers". Yep, that's right, Jeremy didn't name anyone, so he didn't break his own rule. (I'm a co-worker, though not a member of the particular moronic group that Jeremy singled out ... _this_ time, anyway. Whew!)

on November 9, 2004 11:28 PM
# Pat Mullen said:

It would probably be best to blog only what you would say to the subject's face.

on November 10, 2004 11:44 PM
# tom norian said:

There are plenty of corrupt sorts of buisness and political people that it would be nice to know the "scoop" on.

For example, if there were a modern day Tammany Hall type deal sure would like to be able to see the rumors and innuendo online. (and there are some similar lose organizations who people deeply knowledgable on CA politics could fill us in on if they dared)

Or, think of Mob bosses and drug dealers, I'd think law enforcement folks jobs would be made easier if there were truly anonomous places for folks to vent their stories.

However, Libel sure isn't nice either and its probably likely that we'd have a lot to fear if libel was allowed.

Plus, sometimes we're wrong and its hard to take things back. So, probably better off following Moms rules unless you've been black mailed or extorted...and if you're dealing with that sort of "mob" type, you probably wouldn't dare.

There is probably a web based opportunity for some Soros founded "open society web aggregator "to walk the thin line of reporting on Rumors and anonomous statments on people.

It might be nice to have a whislte-blower/avoid-this-guy site done by some seasoned investigative reporters. Some of the libe issues could be mitigated by a person with ability to intially vet fact for fiction, a precise use of qualifying words in the reporting of allegations, and an army of attorneys to protect them for the most guilty will likely be the most able to fight back.

on November 11, 2004 04:38 PM
# Shantanu Oak said:

I think attacking people with a blog is unethical and it's like misusing the power of media.
Isn't it contradictory to say....
>> when some attacks Yahoo on their blog
>> I find myself taking it more personally.
>> I usually save my blog lashings for companies
>> rather than individuals. And looking back over

Your attack on Santa Clara Municipal Utilities was impolite.

on November 13, 2004 06:20 AM
# Jason Stirk said:

I remember a few years ago someone did just that - a record of every piece of correspondence they entered into with some guy who was spamming people with his CV. I don't remember all the details, but I do remember some of the stuff the spammer was saying was pretty funny/insane. Pretty much he maintained that he was a multi-million dollar IT entrepreneur, yet was spamming the HR departments of all of these businesses trying to find work. Of course... That makes sense!

Not quite sure how it all finished up, but at the time there was some serious Google juice in action ensuring that any search for this guy ended up at this site. I'd say his chances of employment have been severely limited since.

on November 13, 2004 11:16 PM
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed here are mine and mine alone. My current, past, or previous employers are not responsible for what I write here, the comments left by others, or the photos I may share. If you have questions, please contact me. Also, I am not a journalist or reporter. Don't "pitch" me.


Privacy: I do not share or publish the email addresses or IP addresses of anyone posting a comment here without consent. However, I do reserve the right to remove comments that are spammy, off-topic, or otherwise unsuitable based on my comment policy. In a few cases, I may leave spammy comments but remove any URLs they contain.