Earlier today, Robert Scoble opened a discussion about this issue on Friendfeed. You can read it here – be warned, there are some 744 comments, and like any huge thread on Friendfeed, it’s a laborious process to follow.
This is the incident in a nutshell. Laporte had a new Palm Pre on his show, and Arrington asked if he paid for it. Leo replied that he did not and that it was a ‘one-week review unit’, which means that after seven days you’re meant to return it. Laporte then, rightly or wrongly, assumed Arrington was implying that his opinion on the Pre was compromised, and went ballistic.
Thanks to this very popular YouTube snippet of the incident, it was quickly all over the internet and large conversations began to take place on Friendfeed, Twitter, Laporte’s IRC chat room, and Techcrunch itself.
The latter was where most of the damage was done – many commentators, mostly anonymous, chose to attack Arrington repeatedly, and many threats and allegations were made. Arrington has heavily edited his ‘Ouch’ post on several occasions, but still intact is his reference to an incident that occurred at a conference in Munich earlier this year, where somebody walked up to him and deliberately spat in his face. After the spat with Laporte, who has a very strong following, Arrington was the recipient of a lot of negative and overly hostile comments on his blog and around the internet. (He mentioned at one point that TechCrunch deleted over 600 of these comments).
Here’s the thing: Arrington and Laporte are both well-seasoned pros and should have known better. I think they share equal blame for their behaviour on the show, and it’s to their credit that they’ve mostly resolved their differences (although Arrington has done a few strange things in the aftermath, such as deleting TechCrunch’s Friendfeed account, which has subsequently been recreated in an unofficial capacity.)
The problem here isn’t these guys – it’s the reaction. And it isn’t that the public doesn’t have a right to respond and comment on issues like this. That’s unavoidable, and if you’re a public figure, which Arrington is, certainly in the tech world, then you have to expect the good with the bad. If you do something that makes people unhappy, then expect to be called out on it. I don’t think Mike would assume otherwise.
The problem lies with anonymous feedback. Anybody can be a big hero and call somebody else a POS when they’re hiding behind a proxy and an alias. What does that prove? What does that mean? Nothing.
I’m all for having a strong opinion, and voicing it. As long as they’re not defamatory or outright lies, I’m 100 per cent behind freedom of speech when it comes to those opinions. But if you have something to say, then you need to stand up and be counted. You need to accept that for your comment to matter – for it to mean something – it needs to be backed up with a verifiable account. We need to know it is you making that statement.