Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Ethics in crowdsourced taxi journalism (Uber buzzes Lacy)

Up and down.
But in the end it's only round and round.

(Pink Floyd, "Us and Them")

Everyone has weighed in on "Ubergate," including Loren Feldman, but I have kept with my usual non-trendiness and am just now catching up on the brouhaha.

Then again, 99% of the world's population doesn't care about Uber or Sarah Lacy, so I'm not alone.

If you're part of the 99%, here's a quick catchup, starting with Buzzfeed:

Over dinner, [Uber's Emil Michael] outlined the notion of spending “a million dollars” to hire four top opposition researchers and four journalists. That team could, he said, help Uber fight back against the press — they’d look into “your personal lives, your families,” and give the media a taste of its own medicine.

Michael was particularly focused on one journalist, Sarah Lacy, the editor of the Silicon Valley website PandoDaily, a sometimes combative voice inside the industry. Lacy recently accused Uber of “sexism and misogyny.” She wrote that she was deleting her Uber app after BuzzFeed News reported that Uber appeared to be working with a French escort service. “I don’t know how many more signals we need that the company simply doesn’t respect us or prioritize our safety,” she wrote.

At the dinner, Michael expressed outrage at Lacy’s column and said that women are far more likely to get assaulted by taxi drivers than Uber drivers. He said that he thought Lacy should be held “personally responsible” for any woman who followed her lead in deleting Uber and was then sexually assaulted.

Then he returned to the opposition research plan. Uber’s dirt-diggers, Michael said, could expose Lacy. They could, in particular, prove a particular and very specific claim about her personal life.

Talk is talk, but Lacy was not amused when she heard about the conversation:

I first heard of this when [Buzzfeed writer Ben] Smith called me for comment over the weekend. I was out late at a work dinner in London and stepped out into the cold to take the call. A chill ran down my spine that had little to do with the weather, as he described the bizarre interaction. I immediately thought of my kids at home halfway around the world, just getting out of their baths and groggily pulling on their pajamas, and how the new line that this company was willing to cross would affect them.

This is not the first time that someone has compiled an "enemies list," of course, and it won't be the last. The question is what you do with that enemies list.

To be frank, there will always be an enemies list - or, at a minimum, a frenemies list. Uber and Lyft may have similar views about overturning the old taxi cartel, but they're obviously going to fight each other - at least until the merger talks begin. (You can't be Sirius, John, suggesting a merger?)

Perhaps Uber would be better off if it took a more positive approach toward its critics, or perhaps not. But negative publicity can't really help your company, unless for some reason you're intentionally courting it.

On the other hand, based upon an admitted reading of only a single article, it appears that Pando Daily (Lacy's outfit) has a longstanding animosity toward Uber. As a writer, I'll admit that I love nothing better than to return to a cherished battle and fire yet another salvo at a particular target. But repeated volleys have diminished effectiveness over time.

Years ago, TechCrunch weighed in on women who complain and complain and complain about sexism.

Are more women not in management decisions by choice or because the chose not to be or because of a glass ceiling? Until we have some new way to look at this issue, I’m done discussing it because the discussion doesn’t ever get us anywhere new. Bloggers saying this needs attention are playing to a crowd or just haven’t been doing their homework....

But suffice to say for all those people who jump up and down about the problem in the Valley: Statistically you are the envy of the world. Statistically, women have enough leadership roles at lower levels that you should be able to move up if you are talented and you want to....

One of the best speakers I’ve heard at Summer Davos was also one of the most successful people, and he came from a far more challenged background than the average American. His advice in an off-the-record mentor session was this: “The most successful people in the world never complain. I’m tired of people saying their opportunities were taken away from them by others.” Amen.

Now I'll grant that this is a different issue than digging up dirt on someone. Which is just as well, because the 2010 TechCrunch article wasn't written by Emil Michael or Michael Arrington or Bill Cosby. The article was written by someone else.

blog comments powered by Disqus