Blogger Jeremy Hermann had a pretty darn scary experience a while back when his Alaska Airlines flight suddenly lost cabin pressure and had to make an emergency landing. He managed to capture some photographs of the event and wrote about it on his weblog, a story that’s been picked up by a variety of other bloggers.
But here’s where it gets interesting: In addition to supportive comments, Jeremy also received some critical and insulting comments on his weblog, comments whose logged IP address, according to Jeremy, makes them seem to come from within the block of addresses allocated to Alaska Airlines itself.
Though IP addresses can be spoofed, hackers can break into networks, and logging systems can glitch, the doubts about the identity of the commenter, who identified himself as “Ralph”, were insufficient to stem the flood of anti-Alaska Airlines commentary in the blogosphere.
Some bloggers are a bit circumspect (Robert Scoble, for example, says that he’s “still not sure an Alaska Airlines employee wrote those comments”), but most bloggers are just jumping in, feet first. For example, Jeremy Pepper writes “Alaska Airlines employees have gone nasty comment happy”.
Mike Stopforth notes: “Alaska employee or employees taking the �initiative� to defend the good name of their employer. However, if this is the case, Alaska�s representative/s have underestimated Jeremy, who is resourceful enough to be able to find out where �anonymous� comments, like the ones from Ralph and Jet, originate from. This is potentially a PR nightmare for Alaska.”
I’ll use Jeff Jarvis for the last example here: “Jeremy tracks nasty, anonymous comments on his blog to an Alaska Airways IP address. When will they ever learn, when will they everrrr learn?”
So what’s the big deal?
The big deal is that I remember a kinder, gentler era when people – and companies – were considered innocent until proven guilty. As this story demonstrates, we’ve long since left that sort of naivety (trust?) behind and now if someone alleges something, that’s enough for the rest of the online community to jump into action.
Even if you don’t agree with the way that the bloggers themselves portray the situation, what can you make of the hundreds of comments from people who even believe that the inane and incoherent ramblings of an alleged Alaska Airlines employee are an official statement from the company?
This is citizen journalism at its worst, actually, the kind of terrible “yellow journalism” memorialized in Citizen Kane that characterized the early 20th century and should have been long since laid to rest here in the beginnings of the 21st.
Now we seem to have communication by innuendo, a sort of digital game of telephone where one person writes about an experience then it’s retold, reinterpreted, morphed and commented upon without regard to that pesky thing called truth.
Whether or not an Alaska Airlines employee posted comments to the blog, I’m troubled by how quickly an allegation became characterized as a fact, and then became the basis for everyone offering up free public relations advice to the Airline.
Is this really what media and communication is going to look like with us bloggers leading the charge? And do we really want to go there?