TechCrunch & The Dark Side Of Communities

February 6, 2010
By Lisa Barone in 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
  • 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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