Mario Burgos

Clear thinking and straight talk from the top of a mountain.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Anonymous Commentators Beware

This blog has had its fair share of anonymous comments over the years. A great number of the personal attacks against me have been done anonymously. And, every once in awhile, I've tipped my hand and shown that there is no such thing as being truly anonymous on the web (i.e. everyone leaves a digital fingerprint via an ip address).

Well, it looks like one New Mexico company, Eclipse Aviation, has had enough with anonymous attacks and is going to see if they can unmask their critics (subscription):
Eclipse Aviation has asked a California court to force the unmasking of anonymous commenters who posted on Web sites covering the company.

A subpoena issued last week by the Superior Court of California in Santa Clara County orders Google to provide names, addresses and other information for about 28 commenters to eclipsecriticng.blogspot.com.

Eclipse CEO Vern Raburn said in an interview that the intent was not to shut down the blog but to find out whether some of the anonymous posters were current or ex-employees or people otherwise legally bound by nondisclosure agreements with the company.

"We're not trying to suppress dissension or criticism," he said. "We're just trying to find out where it's coming from."

Eclipse is building a $1.5 million twin-engine jet. The startup company has gained a high profile in the aviation industry and has been accused of failing to deliver on some promises.
So, why is Eclipse getting so aggressive in their pursuit of the anonymous commentators? My guess... they don't like the fact that the second return under a Google search of "Eclipse Aviation" is Eclipse Aviation Critic. This, in turn, has led them to want to confirm whether or not some of those leaving nasty comments are disgruntled ex-employees.

I can empathize with Vern Raburn. My guess is that he has been reading those comments and seething. I would also venture to guess that in his mind, he's got a pretty good idea of who left those comments, and he wants to see if his hunch is correct. From a PR perspective, this is a HUGE mistake.

Mr. Raburn is adding fuel to a lightly smoldering fire. The amount of potential negative earned media this move is going to bring Eclipse far outweighs any success they can have in the court. Eclipse was far better off countering the negative comments with positive comments of their own on the site in question. If you're attacked in one medium, you should attack back in the medium. Opening up a new arena for the conflict (i.e. the courts) is a huge mistake.

Unfortunately, now they have opened a Pandora's box. If they continue, I'm willing to bet this story gets legs. It has a very real potential of shining a much bigger media spotlight on the negative comments, and is likely to bring a certain level of notoriety to the anonymous commentators. In the end, identifying and then suing some disgruntled former employee(s) for violating a non-disclosure agreement is going to cost them more in negative earned media then it will ever benefit them as company.

Is attempting to enforce the non-disclosure agreement the right thing for Eclipse to do? Maybe. Is it the smart business decision for a company still experiencing the growing pains of rapid growth? Absolutely not!

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