TechCrunch & The Dark Side Of Communities

by on 02/06/2010 • 49 Comments | Online Marketing

Michael Arrington couldn’t care less about the TechCrunch community. And he’s not even hiding the fact anymore.

Yesterday Michael Arrington took to TechCrunch to post an apology to his readers. After an investigation, it was discovered that 17-year-old TechCrunch intern Daniel Brusilovsky accepted compensation (rumored to be in the form of a Macbook Air) in exchange for coverage about a startup. Because TechCrunch takes its editorial standards as seriously as they take colon cleansing, the intern was immediately terminated. Though it’s said that Daniel only accepted compensation one time, TechCrunch has gone ahead and deleted every post he published to the site. They’re all gone.

Or, said differently, TechCrunch is covering its ass while continuing to sell YOU out and to sell out every company Daniel wrote about that did NOT offer him a Macbook Air for his troubles. You can accept that or you can demand better.

Two things really irk me about yesterday’s drama.

Michael Arrington Sells Out His Community

Michael Arrington is responsible for the community over at TechCrunch the same way that I am responsible for the community at Outspoken. Is his job way harder than mine? Absolutely. However, that doesn’t mean the rules change. I have a responsibility to everyone who reads this blog to be as transparent as possible and to protect its (and your) integrity. And when something happens that affects YOU, I think it’s my job to not only handle the situation, but to be 100 percent upfront about what happened as I ask forgiveness. Arrington has, instead, chosen to protect his buddies. The rest of you can shove it.

Arrington offers a fake mea culpa while erasing evidence as to who the guilty company could be and offering readers no insight into where exactly they were mislead. To me, that’s dishonest. That’s Arrington deciding that his connections are more important than his readers. I don’t read TechCrunch, however if I did, I would have stopped after yesterday. I don’t need to invest time into a community more focused in protecting its backdoor buddies than being upfront with its audience. You shouldn’t either. That’s not what online communities should be based on.

Michael Arrington Sells Out 26 Other Startups

TechCrunch will not reveal the name of the company that gave Daniel the Macbook Air and deleted every post written by Daniel to make it harder to trace. However, the Internet does not forget. Over at 1938media, sleuthing commentor Kosso was able to look through the Google cache of TechCrunch posts written by Daniel and found the following companies received coverage:

  • Appsfire
  • PanelFly
  • MacStories
  • Palaran
  • WooThemes
  • Skribit
  • Ning
  • Isorocket
  • DropBox
  • TextPlus
  • Graphic.ly
  • Posterous
  • Personera
  • Rocketbox
  • LinkedIn
  • Owle
  • Yazzem
  • Apple
  • Square
  • BeamMe
  • Vokle
  • CubeTree
  • TwitVid
  • TokBox
  • EtherPad
  • Yammer
  • Seesmic

One of these companies gave a 17-year-old kid (yes, he is a kid) a computer in exchange for TechCrunch coverage. And because Michael Arrington won’t tell us which it was, every company on that list is now called into question. They are all potentially guilty. All of these startups that are fighting for attention, for investors and for users have a light cast on them that they may have the ethics necessary to bribe a 17 year old. If I was on that list and innocent, I’d be furious. I’d be furious that TechCrunch was playing with my livelihood that way and would be up in arms for the site to publish that MY company was not associated with what happened. Instead, TechCrunch posted a silly Google story later in the day to try and take the heat off. Diversion Fail. The startups on that list deserve better.

Instead of protecting its readers, the big boys of tech are protecting each other. And Michael Arrington’s hoping you’re too stupid to notice. Of course, the name of the startup is going to come out. It always does. So, really, it’s everyone’s best interest to just give it up.

I’m not a TechCrunch lover, but I’m not a basher either. My issue comes as someone who manages communities for a living and places value in real transparency, not hail mary transparency. As part of that role you have a responsibility to both your audience and to the people that you write about to be as open and as ethical as you can. Because at the end of the day, all you and your brand have is your reputation and what you stand for. If you learn anything from this, it’s to be brave enough to stand for something more. Put your community first and when you mess up, whether it’s your fault or not, be up front about what happened. Protect the community and the people that have invested in you, not your secret handshake friends. Sad, Arrington.

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About the Author

Lisa Barone

Lisa Barone co-founded Outspoken Media in 2009 and served as Chief Branding Officer until April 2012.

Get social with Lisa at Twitter

49 thoughts on “TechCrunch & The Dark Side Of Communities

  1. I 100% agree with you on everything that you are saying about TC. But, from Arrington’s post it looks like Brusilovsky only asked for a the laptop, but it doesn’t say if he ever got it, and further it doesn’t say who reported it to Arrington, it could have been the startup it self. I only bring this up to hold this post at a higher standard than I do all the post at TC.

    • After an investigation we determined that the allegation was true. In fact, on at least one other occasion this intern was almost certainly given a computer in exchange for a post.

      That seems to imply that he did receive it, no?

      • It doesn’t imply that he received it in this instance. The only certainty from that statement is that the allegatioin (his asking for a laptop in exchange for a blog post) is true. It’s not confirmed that the exchange actually took place.

        The second part of the statement says the intern was “almost certainly” given a computer in exchange for a post. Again, it’s probably as close to the truth as one can get but “almost certainly” doesn’t equal “absolutely.”

  2. I personally don’t care if the kid asked for a laptop. Or if one of the companies gave him a laptop. The cover-up certainly stinks, though.

    But what I keep thinking about is all those innocent companies – particularly the smaller ones – that just lost a really authoritative link by having their post deleted. Think about the links people! </seo geekery>

    • Ha, screw the link. ;) It’s that most of these companies are probably looking for funding, for users, whatever…and they were just brought into the lineup of bullshit because Arrington won’t just say who it was. If Outspoken Media was on that list, I’d be writing a series of post about how we had NOTHING to do with that and how irresponsible Arrington is for risking our reputation that way. The ego in this is out of this world.

    • I’m so proud of Dawn right now, she officially has a mini Rhea in her head (terrifying, I know!). She has passed the final Jedi test and is ready to be inducted into the Circle of Link Whores. :)

      Seriously, it’s a good thing we have Lisa to keep us sane, e.g. not 100% whore. We both took the most obvious SEO shock out of this, all I could think about were those hard earned links just gone. That’s ridiculous. Ok, I’ll stop making Lisa’s post icky and go back to my SEO hole.

  3. It’s blatantly big corporate bullshit. I love how the article says:

    Our attorneys have advised us not to disclose the name of the individual because the person is not a legal adult. We also think that, given the intern’s age, it may not be appropriate to make their identity public.

    Yet even with all the “power” TC has to try and control the story, here your article is, with the name of “the individual”. So I totally agree that eventually the name of the company that compensated is going to come out.

    And the harm to all the other companies that have had their coverage wiped out is beyond tragic.

    I stopped reading TC months ago – shortly after Michael did such an outstanding job on calling them out for the Colon Cleanse nonsense. It’s just so sad that so many others still flock to the TC site, and Arrington’s arrogance appears to only grow.

  4. How the fuck is he selling any of those company’s out. If they did not pay to get covered on TC then they are not owed a damn thing. If they had not immediately fired that kid and removed his posts I would have been pissed. How can I trust any of his other articles after such corruption and don’t start by saying hes a kid… 12 years old now know something as simple as “don’t take bribes to write reviews”.

    • He’s selling them out by making them all guilty by association.

      He’s not a legal adult, therefore he’s a kid. He’s also a kid compared to all the grown men who were supposed to mentor him to be better than that. He’s not guiltless, by any means, but I’m willing to cut him some slack. I know I did a lot of stupid things at 17 when it was a lot easier to bully me around.

      • are you really going to condemn 26 companies because you don’t know which on is guilty? That’s pretty bad we even give more wiggle room if it were 26 people and one was accused of murder.

        • If you’re an investor who was about to drop significant funding into one of the startups mentioned…are you going to throw money at someone who may be blown out of the water in a week or are you going to sit back now and watch what happens first, keeping your wallet in your pocket? Guilty by association.

  5. Shouldn’t be surprised about this out of Arrington. He has a pretty terrible reputation as a troll / douchebag for numerous decisions and actions. He’s had some pretty bad things happen to him that nobody deserves, like the death threats and the spitting in the face… but that martyrdom can’t absolve him from the consequences of his day-to-day decision making.

    He even got special recognition from eSarcasm – http://www.esarcasm.com/9521/douchebags-of-the-year-2009/

  6. Perhaps I’m from Mars on this one, but I think this is entirely the wrong way of handling this issue for entirely different reasons.

    The world is not black and white. Some potential reviewers (the sheep) are untainted by any influences that might affect their objectivity. Other reviewers (the goats) are affected in some way by something or other that might reduce our objectivity.

    Let’s be honest, folks. We’re all goats. At the very least we may hope the warm glow we create with a favorable review will serve us in good standing down the road. Perhaps all reviews should have a disclaimer paragraph at the end that gives an honest and truthful explanation of any possible influence on their objectivity.

  7. At what level does receiving something of value from a blog subject become a bribe?

    1. Promotional coffee cup
    2. Lunch
    3. Dinner
    4. Tickets to a ball game
    5. Transportation to a press event
    6. A MacBook

    Even without receiving anything tangible, the blogger receives something of value from the subject: the subject’s time and thoughts, which the blogger converts to money, indirectly, by making an interesting blog post.

    • Reeeeally? You’re going to compare a Macbook Air + cover up to a cup of coffee and the satisfaction of writing a good blog post? A blogger who writes ethically and feels good about what they do is NOT the same as a 17-year-old who gets a free computer to whore a new startup.

      • I agree it is not the same. On its face, most of us, including I, would say a MacBook is too much. I would set the cut-off point after lunch or dinner. (What about TechCrunch?)

        I am not sure most people blog for the love of writing. I think most do it for self-promotion or to promote their companies. To make money, directly or indirectly. They probably like writing which is why they may emphasize that form of promotion over others.

        • We all have motives. No one blogging under a big brand is blogging for the love of writing. I get that. However, some of us also have integrity and you usually know the line when you cross it.

        • Not that I would want to hold up our elected officials as paragons of integrity, but according to Answers.com, the Ethics in Government Act of 1978 sets the following limits:

          People covered by the act must report income derived from various sources, gifts, assets and liabilities, including some transactions, and certain positions held in businesses and in nonprofit organizations. Gifts of food, lodging, transportation, and entertainment are to be reported if gifts from any individual in a calendar year total $250 or more. Other gifts must be reported if gifts from any individual in a calendar year total $100 or more.

          That said, I do wonder about the traffic in co-promotion in the Attention Economy … and whether “gifts in kind” of promotion can or should somehow be factored into assessments of integrity.

  8. I am just shocked that anyone thought they have journalistic integrity on any level. Between the various TechCrunch writers investments and involvement with the companies they cover there is already a pretty big ethics gap. Of course when I was 17 I was throwing dishwashing soap in the pool of my basketball coach… writing a crappy blog post for a MacBook Air would have been the better move.

    As far as this being damaging to the companies that the young writer in question covered. I don’t know… The outrage, our memories, and all the drama around this will die down in two days and will be filed next to the outrage people had for the Jersey Shore and the Snooki getting punched incident.

    So what I am saying is I am comparing Arrington to Snooki… I think.

  9. Nice post, Lisa.

    You may want to take TechCrunch off your Home page in the “As see in…” section, though. It isn’t something to be proud of anymore.

    JohnG

  10. I know Daniel personally, and I know him to be a good guy. It sucks that 1) he made a bad mistake; and 2) Graphic.ly (my company) got our funding post deleted.

    You can trust me to say that given 3-4 other publications wouldnt run our story because we gave it to Techcrunch first is not worth a macbook air, nor is tempting a 17 year old kid into making a blunder.

    We didnt go directly to Daniel for our story, we sent it into [email protected] and Daniel reached back out to us. I was happy that Daniel did that, given our friendship, but we in no way sought him out. To be included in this mess, is unfortunate, and frankly, disappointing.

    What personally rankles me, is who is really at fault? Daniel for accepting the bribe, the company who provided the bribe, or in a greater sense, the false creation of hero worship and the false sense that these writers are somehow special and deserve free crap to write stories? The belief that Techcrunch is somehow journalistically more pious than other publications is just, well, crap.

    In truth, it feels that Michael’s response was an attempt to apease the FTC and its weird blogging rules than worrying about if Daniel took a bribe or not.

    I dont absolve Daniel of any guilt or culpability, but he is not a bad dude. He wouldnt have taken the bribe if somehow he didnt think it was ok. And, that, is the fault of our community and his employer.

    • That’s for commenting, Micah. I’m with you on all counts. It’s very unfortunate for the innocent companies who now have their names associated and it’s also unfortunate that, somehow, Daniel thought this was okay. He’s 17. He gets to make these kinds of mistakes. What’s sad is that a company was willing to let him and that the mistake he made has to become so public.

      And Arrington’s mea culpa was done for legal, not because he actually cares. I don’t think anyone thinks otherwise.

  11. Something that no one’s really mentioned much (but that some TC commenters did call out at least) was that by deleting all of Daniel’s posts Arrington did identify the the kid, rendering his faux concern over naming someone who’s underage more than a bit fake. I’m shocked… about as shocked as finding that all of the commenters fawned over Arrington doing the obviously right thing as if he had made a hard and courageous decision instead of the ethically obvious one.

  12. lisa – you are absolute right about this:

    “Of course, the name of the startup is going to come out. It always does. ”

    And you’re absolutely right that the companies that didn’t pay off TC are harmed by TC’s refusal to disclose who it was. Great take on this.

  13. So he could care less? So therefore he cares about it?

    It is “couldn’t care less”, how am I supposed to take you seriously when you mess up in your very first line? Do you even read what you write? What does that say about your integrity.

    If you are a 12 year old child, or have just picked up the language then I apologise. Overwise you should not be writing entries attacking anyone.

  14. I really don’t have a problem with a kid getting a laptop in exchange for coverage. Hell, bloggers do it all the time.

    The only solution needed was to disclose that compensation was received and let it be.

    Michael is a dipshit for deleting everything. The kid now has a story he could sell to the press, and everyone else has one more thing to throw against TC.

  15. I see your point, but I respectfully disagree.

    For one thing, a startup etc. gets the most benefit from coverage when an article is posted. That is when the links and comments happen. After that its just archival and Google searches.

    Second, if a TC review is the only good thing such a company has then its in bigger trouble, or no longer in business.

    Third, what the intern did was very damaging to TC. TC gets on its soapbox so often that it would be hypocritical for them not to take every measure to ensure their reputation – perceived or otherwise.

    As for Daniel, I’m sympathetic – he screwed up. Badly. Very badly. However I am reluctant to blame TC for bringing his mis-conduct to public attention. I wouldn’t have known abut this mess if not for this very blog post. I would not have known of Daniel without the comments here.

    I think the blame is with you.

    I’m guessing that while TC didn’t want to name him (maybe they did?) they decided that the posts could not remain. The side-affect of that is that the author became known, but thats just unfortunate. Thats not their fault.

    TC may have been heavy handed. Not sure I think they are, but I’ll concede that they might have been. However, no one can ever accuse them of not doing their utmost to protect and ensure ethical standards – and that is all they (rightfully IMHO) care about and why they’ll be around much longer than others.

    So in the end, nice guy who made a mistake – or not, blame Daniel.

  16. There was something I didn’t enjoy about your article.

    “All of these startups that are fighting for attention, for investors and for users have a light cast on them that they may have the ethics necessary to bribe a 17 year old.”

    Very few people really have the time to try and figure out who may have tried to give the guy a laptop.

  17. I’ve always found this question to be an interesting dilemma and one which comes up quite often. Does cheating in one area nullify all other formerly valid work – whether it be police work (where later a piece of falsified evidence was discovered in one of a detective’s cases), or Michael Jackson’s music because he was a pedophile or Adolph Hitler’s status as a hero in World War One because of the Holocaust he engineered in World War Two.

    Two out of three cases say Tech Crunch’s reaction was total overkill. No we don’t burn all of Michael Jackson’s albums, we don’t free all prisoners from jail and (not sorry) as for Hitler? Well, as I said – two out of three ain’t bad. This 17 year old accepting a Mac Book for one review didn’t warrant the kind of reaction it got.

  18. The kid got caught. That was his big crime. Taking or agreeing to take a laptop was stupid, but not as uncommon as the false piety in some of these comments would have you believe. The PR/Advertising business has been a pimp-parade for decades (anybody watch Mad Men?). When I was running marketing for a software startup in the 1990s, it was common to get fleeced by print books and analyst firms. PR firms routinely spent hundreds of dollars taking my colleagues and me out to lunch, dinner, drinks, etc.

    You may argue that it’s different than Daniel’s situation when a major computer weekly requires you to buy a $25K ad before your product would even be considered for a review, or when a major analyst firm requires you to purchase a $100K subscription plan before you can hope to get a two-paragraph mention in one of their reports, but think about it. It’s the same thing, only in this case it wasn’t institutionalized pimpery–it was some product manager making a snap decision, trying to get coverage on an influential site. The point being that when media outlets become indispensable for a software startup’s very survival, well, this is what happens.

    It’s just so hilarious to read people’s comments about TC as though it is some sort of pure embodiment of technical excellence.

    And BTW, since when is Apple a startup? And additionally BTW, “could care less” is in wide usage in American colloquial speech and is generally considered to imply an ironic twist to the more grammatically correct “couldn’t care less.” Since you linguists are so fired up, maybe you explain why it’s “She wants to have her cake and eat it too,” instead of the more logical “She wants to eat her cake and have it too?”

    • I don’t think it’s specific to these posts. The most ridiculous comments are always the one from anonymous handles. It’s what makes the Web go ’round.

  19. I disagree with you on this one Lisa. You write that he was dismissed because he “accepted compensation … in exchange for coverage about a startup.” But Arrington’s charge (and you haven’t disputed his facts) is much stronger. Arrington says the reporter was caught while soliciting a bribe (the Macbook), which led to an investigation which indicated that he solicited (successfully in at least one case) such bribes in the past. Yes, all of his posts are now suspect and should be removed.
    As for not outing which company “almost certainly” did deliver a bribe, I don’t know what legal, ethical, and social concerns led to that decision, and unless you’ve discussed the potential implications with a lawyer I don’t know that you can be sure you wouldn’t have reached the same decision.
    As for this decision casting suspicion on the other companies this reporter covered … what? Your heroes at 1938 media essentially sifted through the garbage and found the other companies covered by this kid. They publicized the list. You publicized the list. Why? You could have mentioned that clever internet users can find the names, but you went further and listed the companies whose integrity was put into question because listing them helped you add punch to your post. It’s a list of companies who were covered by a kid later found to have solicited bribes. At least one of these is probably guilty. Many are surely innocent. Should Arrington have listed with probability scores how confident he was in each case? Sorry, the paparazzi in this case who publicized the names and then lamented the lack of decorum isn’t TechCrunch.

  20. What caught my eye here (via Twitter) was that you condemned Arrington for publishing hacked documents. I really admire that. In fact I wrote at the time that I too condemn him for that–it shows a total lack of ethics and character in my opinion. Also like you, I haven’t read TechCrunch on principal since the Twitter thing. Although we don’t have much in common on the surface Lisa, we do have that in common. Thanks for digging up more unsavory truths about TechCrunch.

  21. Daniel Brusilovsky is not your normal clueless intern. He’s had a podcast for years, he’s founded Teens in Tech and he’s long written about his love for technology.

    I’ve been acquaintances him for about a year now and have heard him speak of working with/at multiple companies near his home, so he certainly isn’t some newbie thrown into the fire.

    Yes, TechCrunch should have outed the company, but have you really come to expect that sort of ethical behavior from Arrington?

  22. You know MA never came back to me when I questioned about whether they receive Comscore for free.
    Comscore access for a lot of staff costs a fair bit, and Comscore get a lot of PR for being used in preference to other services.

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