Social Media: The Whale War and Freedom of Speech

Whale Cottage and I have been the subject of a most vicious defamatory and destructive Twitter campaign in the past week, with unsubstantiated untruthful allegations made, aimed at damaging the reputation of our company and of myself.   The Twitter campaign fabricated information for the benefit of causing a sensation.  Initially the account was set up as an impersonation of myself, by appearing to be my personal Twitter account.  Twitter closed the account down temporarily last Friday, until the perpetrator changed the Biography on the Twitter page.  Not only was it malicious in content and libelous, but it was also threatening in its aggressive tone.

I have written this blogpost with the purpose of acknowledging that we are aware of the campaign, that we know who drove it, and that we believe in what we do and what we stand for.   We do not want to signal through silence that the abusive campaign contained any truth, other than the colour of my jacket that I wore at the OYO lunch on Friday, referred to in one of the Tweets, bringing the perpetrator and his companion into the foodie blogging community!

So how did this campaign arise?  About 2 weeks ago I wrote a review about Crush!3, as I have also done about the first two issues of the Crush! digital food and wine magazines, of which Michael Olivier is the editor.  A number of food bloggers and our readers posted comments on the Blog, the majority being in agreement with our point of view.  We have regularly requested input from Olivier in response to our reviews, but have received none.  In fact, his reaction has been to block us on Twitter, to not respond at all to communication, and to not acknowledge my presence at a recent industry function, even though we have been acquainted for many years.   On Saturday 16 October, the Crush! team of editor Olivier, and contributors Sophia Lindop, Andy Fenner (JamieWho?) and David Cope (of The Foodie blog) , who also owns the PR company called Established & Partners, with Chef’s Warehouse and Cookery School as sole client, it would appear, and Caveau/HQ/Gourmet Burger, Rudera Wines, Cape Classics and Hippo Hotel as ex-clients) had dinner at Lindop’s house to celebrate Crush!3.  On Twitter one was informed about the dinner through the attendees’ Tweets.  A Tweet by Fenner “Having a whale of a time with the @Crush_Online team” first caught my eye that evening,  which was reTweeted by Cope (but since removed), and echoed by the Crush! designers on the @Crush_Online Twitter account “also having a whale of a time. Flap Flap”, a few minutes later.  

An hour later a full-scale campaign began, with a total of 99 disparaging Tweets sent over the period of a week, one more demeaning than another.   A number of clues allowed us to link the campaign to Cope, information which we have handed to the police.   An abusive collection of e-mails was received from Cope as well, and there were clear parallels in what he wrote by e-mail and in the Tweets of the abusive Twitter account.  When we alluded on our blog to the Crush! team, and Cope in particular, being responsible for this childish campaign, there was no response from Olivier to deny it, and thereby he has condoned it.  We invited him to comment on our exposure in this blog post, and were surprised to receive a response from him for the first time since Crush! was published (we are delighted that Olivier acknowledges our input, but surprised to read that he values it, given his reaction to it, as detailed above): “I am not aware of any campaign, by any member of the Crush team, to defame you or Whale Cottage.  We would not embark on a defamation campaign when we are trying to build an online community willing to engage with us in an open, honest and constructive manner.   At Crush we value all constructive feedback and the fact that you have taken the time to read Crush and to make suggestions.  Crush magazine is in its third edition and determined to establish itself in a new market.  Needless to say, the Crush team would not like its brand linked to campaigns that aim to defame. I would therefore appreciate it, if you could forward any material that uses the Crush brand without our permission”.

Our Whale Cottage Blog has been controversial (no surprise that we were nominated and voted a Top 10 finalist in the Most Controversial Blog category in the recent 2010 SA Blog Awards).  We have exposed the dishonest claim by Carne restaurant that all its meat is organic (claim since removed from their website); we have awarded Sour Service Awards every Friday, never popular amongst its recipients; we have exposed the conflict of interest in the running of tourism matters in Hermanus; we have been critical of many restaurants that we have reviewed; and we have been critical of Crush!, but have acknowledged that it is improving.  This does not always make us popular amongst those businesses that we have written about.   We are proud of this Blog, and present the truth as we experience and see it.  We are not afraid to tackle any topic. Our reward is the 40000 unique readers reading our Blog every month, and our more than 1300 Twitter followers.

I have asked myself whether one changes tack in the face of such an abusive and emotionally violent and terrorising Twitter campaign.  Some people I spoke to used the PR adage that all publicity is good publicity.  Others said that social media memory is short, and that Cope would run out of things to fabricate, which is what happened.    But the overwhelming response was that I should change nothing about this Blog, and that I should continue with what we do.  This is wonderful support.   Some very special readers and followers were brave enough to react to the campaign publicly, and I am most grateful to all of them.  We are also grateful to our Twitter followers who saw the petty campaign for what it was, and unfollowed or blocked the abusive Twitter account. 

One of the characteristics of social media is that the boundaries of what one can say are blurred, with no clear guidelines of what is acceptable, and what is not.   There is no consistency in the different social media platforms and their codes of conduct.  Freedom of speech seems to be the overwhelming principle of this new method of communication, often at the expense of the truth.

Freedom of speech brings with it responsibilities, and cannot ignore the law, which dictates that one cannot disparage and defame others.  Good journalistic practice – yes, Bloggers, Facebookers and Twitterers are “New Age” journalists – is that information presented must be checked for accuracy, and that one cannot make statements about others unless they are proven.  The word “alleged” should precede any label one would give the action of any other person one is writing about, unless they have been convicted of the action they have been accused of.

This raises the question as to what the limits are for social media users, and what responsibility sits with Social Media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Blogging.

Blogging seems to have few restrictions, as there are numerous blogging platforms.  Many bloggers use WordPress, but the company does not specify a Code of Conduct.  The servers hosting the blogs may have a code of conduct, but these are not normally visible to the blogger, especially if one works via a webmaster.

Facebook’s Code of Conduct is lengthy, and appears to be the most protective against disparagement and defamation.  It is also very reactive to complaints in taking action immediately, not a surprise when one sees ‘The Social Network’ movie about the establishment of Facebook.  It states the following in respect of protecting one’s rights, the closest it gets to addressing what one may or not say:

“1.     Protecting Other People’s Rights

We respect other people’s rights, and expect you to do the same.     

1.     You will not post content or take any action on Facebook that infringes or violates someone else’s rights or otherwise violates the law.

2.     We can remove any content or information you post on Facebook if we believe that it violates this Statement.

3.     We will provide you with tools to help you protect your intellectual property rights. To learn more, visit our How to Report Claims of Intellectual Property Infringement page.

4.     If we remove your content for infringing someone else’s copyright, and you believe we removed it by mistake, we will provide you with an opportunity to appeal.

5.     If you repeatedly infringe other people’s intellectual property rights, we will disable your account when appropriate.

6.     You will not use our copyrights or trademarks (including Facebook, the Facebook and F Logos, FB, Face, Poke, Wall and 32665), or any confusingly similar marks, without our written permission.

7.     If you collect information from users, you will: obtain their consent, make it clear you (and not Facebook) are the one collecting their information, and post a privacy policy explaining what information you collect and how you will use it.

8.     You will not post anyone’s identification documents or sensitive financial information on Facebook.

9.     You will not tag users or send email invitations to non-users without their consent.”

Twitter has a Code of Conduct too, but seems very loath to take action against Twitter abuse, believing in freedom of speech, and Twitterers’ rights to expression.  It does not disallow disparagement, a major weakness of its Code.  It also does not demand honesty in Twittering, which means that anyone can say anything about anyone else on Twitter, without it necessarily being truthful.  It abdicates its legal liability in any dispute between Twitterers, yet does call for local country laws to be respected: 

·         Impersonation: You may not impersonate others through the Twitter service in a manner that does or is intended to mislead, confuse, or deceive others

·         Trademark: We reserve the right to reclaim user names on behalf of businesses or individuals that hold legal claim or trademark on those user names. Accounts using business names and/or logos to mislead others will be permanently suspended.

·         Privacy: You may not publish or post other people’s private and confidential information, such as credit card numbers, street address or Social Security/National Identity numbers, without their express authorization and permission.

·         Violence and Threats: You may not publish or post direct, specific threats of violence against others.

·         Copyright: We will respond to clear and complete notices of alleged copyright infringement. Our copyright procedures are set forth in the Terms of Service.

·         Unlawful Use: You may not use our service for any unlawful purposes or for promotion of illegal activities. International users agree to comply with all local laws regarding online conduct and acceptable content.

·         Verified accounts: You may not use the Verified Account badge unless it is provided by Twitter. Accounts using the badge as part of profile pictures, background images, or in a way that falsely implies verification will be suspended” 

      The abusive campaign has created food for thought for many Bloggers and Twitterers, many wondering how they would react if they were targeted by such a 140-character onslaught on a daily basis.   There are no clear rules.  There also is no precedent in South African law as to any Blog post, Tweet or Facebook entry having been the cause of a defamation claim to date. In the USA, a young Twitter user last year sent a disparaging comment about an apartment rental agency to her 20 followers, and she was sued for $50 000 by the agency.

We welcome your point of view on Freedom of Speech in Social Media Marketing.

POSTSCRIPT 27/10:   The abusive campaign recommenced this morning, the first Tweet denying David Cope’s involvement, a little too obvious!   Another Tweet refers to a lunch I have booked at Tokara this weekend, a violation of my privacy relative to the restaurant, meaning that this information has been leaked by a staff member of the restaurant.

POSTSCRIPT 12/11:   We have established that food blogger Clare Mc Keon/McLoughlin from Spill Blog is passing on information to David Cope for the abusive Twitter campaign.

Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com  Twitter @WhaleCottage

39 replies on “Social Media: The Whale War and Freedom of Speech”

  1. Interesting article Chris. I was amazed at the venom directed at you on Twitter and I would like to say that whoever attacked you like that is the most spineless pathetic person(s) I have ever had the misfortune to come across. Grow a pair and put your real name down if you want to attack someone. I hope you sue the crap out of him.

    I dont always agree with what you have to say about certain topics, but I come back to read your blog because it is at the very least informative.

  2. Tom Robbins says:

    As far as I know the same SA libel laws that apply to print media apply to online media. I also understand that even emails (which many believe to be private) are legally considered published information, so in the public domain. If so this must apply to social media too.

  3. Thanks for your input and support, and for reading our blog Hennie and Tom.

    Chris

  4. Absolutely disgusting cowards. Pity you didn’t take a “screenshot”, then you would have had all the evidence before they deleted it!

  5. Thanks for your support Juli. I do have copies of all the Tweets, and have handed them to the police.

    Unfortunately the abusive Twitter account has not been closed down.

    Chris

  6. Joe says:

    Chris, I don’t follow Twitter or Facebook at all, I’m too much of a technological dinosaur. But I heard a birdie whistle a different tune regarding your own Tweets, and a possible lawsuit from Associated Press. Care to elaborate?

  7. Dear Joe (or David?)

    There is no lawsuit that I know of from “Associated Press”!

    Chris

  8. Joe says:

    Come now, Chris. Last year, when I came up for Carne you accused me of being Giorgio Nava; this time around I’m “David”? Which is it to be? Or do you battle to grasp the fact that you can’t keep on pulling the wool over every member of the lay public’s eyes with your “controversial” blog?

    And please tell me you’ve amicably sorted out that unsavory matter with the H&L editor’s family…

  9. Sam says:

    Well done for writing about Xxxxx Xxxx (name removed at the erquest of Hetzner), he is a spineless coward, if he was man enough he would have told you himself that he had a problem with the observations on Crush. It is a shocking reflection on his clients Chefs Warehouse and Caveau/HQ. People should know the kind of people involved in these enterprises (Chefs Warehouse/Caveau/HQ) I for one will not be supporting these establishments. FYI a lot of the items in Chefs Warehouse are a lot cheaper in other shops.

  10. Jean says:

    I am amazed that Michael Olivier is allowing his name and magazine be damaged by the association with Mr Cope, very bad for business.

  11. Dear Joe (or David)

    We have been censored 3 times by the payment defaulter in writing about the matter relating to the non-payment to ourselves, but you can read the full story by going to the Times Live website (sister publication to the Sunday Times).

    But we are getting off the topic here.

    Why are you not bold and honest enough to give your real name and photograph? Do you have something to hide?

    Chris

  12. Thanks for your support Sam. Thank you for the names of Xxxxx Xxxx’s (name removed at the request of Hetzner) other clients. I wonder how they feel about him as their PR consultant – consultants are meant to be diplomatic, and not causing any controversy!

    Chris

  13. I agree Jean, even though his statement denies this. Michael has been following the abusive Twitter account, and knows that I have linked Crush! and Xxxxx Xxxx (name removed at the request of Hetzner) to it, but he only reacted yesterday evening when I e-mailed him about the blog post. His statement is an about-turn, and is contrary to his actions.

    Chris

  14. Jean says:

    Maybe someone should let the advertisers on Crush know what is going on, I know they don’t have many so it won’t be a long list !

  15. David says:

    If I were a betting man I would give even odds of Chefs Warehouse and Crush not being around in 6 months time. The magazine is not very good and Chefs Warehouse is the biggest rip off i have ever seen in Cape Town.

  16. Lolita says:

    Never stop writing Chris. And don’t change a thing about your blog. The only thing I hate about your blog is the fact that I only stumbled across it about 6 months ago!

  17. David Cope. says:

    Chris,
    I can’t believe I’m even reading this putrid nonsense, let alone bothering to respond.

    The irony of you posting something like this is ludicrous when YOU are the one publicly making completely unsubstantiated defamatory accusations against me. Yet, sadly, it seems people are naive enough to listen to you.

    All I can say is I await with great joy the moment you have to apologize to me (if you have a shred of moral decency) when you discover I have nothing to do with Whalespottersa or any other ‘campaign.’

    Am sure you’re loving the few extra visitors to your blog though at my expense. Hope you feel good about that. Well, no, actually I don’t.

  18. Thanks Lolita

    Your support is greatly appreciated.

    Chris

  19. Dear David

    I am surprised that it has taken you ten hours to respond on my blog, when you were so dismissive about my blog post earlier today: “just trying to ignore all that fabricated nonsense really” on Twitter at 12.20 pm today.

    I linked you to this campaign a week ago, and you did not bother to respond then – why did it take you so long to “defend” your honour?

    What is interesting is that you mention the name of the abusive Twitter account – no comment has referred to it by name nor have I mentioned it in my blog post! You obviously have the name firmly imprinted in your brain.

    If you are a man, you’ll apologise publicly for the damage you have caused. It is interesting to see that you are unable to write anything about me or to me in a decent communication style, despite your PR consultancy job, in which you should understand diplomacy. This has been the case for the past few months. I am not aware of anything that I have done to make you so angry and abusive towards me.

    Chris

  20. Elsje says:

    I’m quite surprised about the response to the Whalespotter tweets.

    As far as I know there hasn’t been a shred of evidence to show that any member of the Crush team is responsible for the purported defamatory remarks. It seems they have been convenient scapegoats.

    Of course the tweets are puerile and in bad taste, but maybe it would have been wise to ignore the comments completely. Alternatively, if you know (definitely, not a mere hunch) who the culprits are, take appropriate legal action against them.

    The problem with this type of discourse is the anonymity it allows. “Hennie”, “Julie”, “Joe”, “Sam”, Jean”, David” “Lolita”, “David Cope” or even the dreaded Whalespotter could all be your alter egos (or anyone else’s for that matter). There’s no way of telling who’s who and if any of the utterances above (or referred to previously) can be ascribed to the supposed source. It all could be a gigantic swindle.

    Chris, you are proud to have a well recognised and controversial blog. You have dished out a lot a criticism (fair and unfair) over the years and seen (maybe even enjoyed) the targets of your blog wriggle in your accusatory gaze. It was bound to come a knocking on your door one day.

    The master ensnarer has been caught in her own trap by responding to this folly.

  21. Dear “Elsje”

    Interesting comment from you, especially as far as the identity, or lack of, of the commenters goes. Surprisingly no “Elsje Lazarus” can be found via a Google search! You cannot have read many blogs if you are surprised by anonymous commenters on blogs – this is the norm. However, as the owner of the blog I can see the full e-mail address of each commenter, which the blog readers cannot, only the name they choose to reveal showing in the Comments section.

    If you had read the blog post carefully, you will have read that I alleged that Xxxxx Xxxx (name removed at the request of Hetzner) was responsible for the campaign – he is a member of the Crush team, being a contributor to the magazine, and that the campaign was created at a dinner party of the Crush! team. You will also have read that the evidence is with the police. Also you will have read why I decided to comment on the abusive campaign.

    Chris

  22. Fitzy says:

    Chris I love your blog, only just cottoned onto it though. Love controversy as it is always entertaining but I too ran a blog for a while and incorrect allegations got me into serious trouble. I am only 26 though so immaturity got the better of me! I did apologise though and tried to dampen the situation, I just read Elsje’s comments and she’s quite right.

    Out of pure curiosity how do you in fact know it is Cope? I dont have facebook or Twitter unfortunately but just been on twitter and there is no way to find out other peoples identity, you seem to be convinced! I have not met Cope but have met Sophia and briefly Michael and they are the most amazing, inspiring people.

    I will still follow your blog and indeed guide people towards it but since this is a controversial blog I thought I’d stir the pot 😉

  23. Elsje says:

    Chris, you know full well that even an e-mail address offers no proof to the existence or true identity of a person. It’s easy enough to create an e-mail account in the name of Barack Obama, Xxxxx Xxxx (name removed at the request of Hetzner) or whichever guise you may choose.

    I am surprised by your response to the Whalespotter saga, not the existence of anonymous remarks or that the “name” of the poster may be completely fictional. I believe you have played into their hands by responding publicly.

    The problem is that the worth of debate by social media is diluted – you could, in a worse case scenario, be the author of all the posts above (and even of “Elsje”). As mentioned above, there’s no telling who’s who – the old adage of “on the internet, nobody knows you’re a dog” still applies.

    Good luck with your legal action, I hope it brings this matter to a close.

    Regards
    Your friendly neighbourhood “Elsje”

  24. David Cope. says:

    “I linked you to this campaign a week ago, and you did not bother to respond then – why did it take you so long to “defend” your honour?”

    Er, Chris, I emailed you privately MONDAY last week denying any involvement and asking you to call me should you wish to discuss. Enough said.

    Further goes to show you’re only after more publicity with your incorrect assumptions and false-accusations.

  25. Dear Elsje

    You are welcome to contact me at hennie@batonage.com if you would like confirmation of my identity.

    Thanks
    Hennie

  26. Jean says:

    So Mr Cope has denied that he was behind the tweets ? He obviously couldn’t “Cope” with you outing him. Personally Chris I think you should take it as a compliment that you have ruffled so many delicate feathers, its the Crush team who have let themselves down in a big way by using such crude language. Keep writing excellent blog, its the only show in town ! PS whatever happened to Carne and House & Leisure legal actions ? O that’s right they backed down !!

  27. Wow, what a wave of comments to this blog post.

    “Elsje”, believe you me I would not fabricate such an abusive campaign!

    I know Hennie (thanks for allowing “Elsje” to contact you Hennie) and Tom as bloggers, and Xxxxx Xxxx’s (name removed at the request of Hetzner) address is linked to The Xxxxxx (name removed at the request of Hetzner), so I can verify his comments as well. I do not know the other commenters, but have presented their point of view.

    I have deleted an abusive (third) comment by “Joe”. I will only accept constructive criticism which adds to the debate about social media and freedom of speech, which is what this blog post is all about.

    Chris

  28. Hi Fitzy

    Thanks for your input and sharing, and for the referral to the blog.

    I don’t do “controversial” every day, and I hope that you enjoy my uncontroversial review of the Buitenverwachting Asparagus Menu today.

    Chris

  29. Wilhelm Kühn says:

    Hi Chris

    As discussed telephonically this morning, I strongly doubt that any of my staff members leaked your visit to Whalespotter (or anyone else).

    I have discussed this matter with all staff members who have access to the reservation book and none have made a peep about your visit. The reservation is noted as “Chris” – any unauthorised staff member who may have stumbled onto the reservation system would not even know that it refers to you.

    The privacy of guest visits is paramount at Tokara (as at Jardine) – all our contracts of employment contain a confidentiality clause to protect the interests and information of our guests.

    For now I can only guess that it may have been an informed guess – you have visited, but not yet reviewed, the new Tokara and it would be expected that you would visit us soon – and that none of my staff members were in cahoots.

    Please let me know if you receive any information regarding Whalespotter’s source – I am just as concerned about a possible breach of confidential information.

    We hope to see you soon at Tokara.

    Regards
    Wilhelm Kühn
    Tokara Restaurant

  30. Thanks for the reply Wilhelm.

    The leak must be from your restaurant’s side, as your reservation staff and I am the only persons that know about my Tokara reservation. The content of the Tweet made a definite statement, it was not speculative. I could be speculated to eat at any of 100 restaurants in Cape Town or the Winelands, so that would be a far-fetched explanation.

    Chris

  31. Fitzy says:

    Hi Chris, Had a look at the asparagus one!! haha… interesting as well but I much prefer these spicy ones! But you didnt answer my q, sorry to hassle! How do you know it was Cope??

    JEAN, haha.. enjoyed your post:) I think I am the youngest person on this chat but I like using smily faces etc! I am not in support of either party but often ruffled feathers can be caused for other reasons. These allegations may be completely correct and Cope may be panicking BUT on the other hand could be completely incorrect and could in fact be devestating to their brand where they might be completely innocent and saddened by this whole situation. I know from my own personal experience that I ruined someones image incorrectly and they ended up changing my life forever. I maybe deserved it but live to regret it everyday as they were incorrect. These accusations you’ve made Chris could be much larger than you think. Given though my accussations were alot more personal though ..:(

    If you are right then I hope Cope publicly apologises.. BUT if you’re wrong I hope that you are not too proud to do the same. Are you? Sometimes what goes around comes around, maybe Chris you should take some major criticism, I do think it was slgihtly overboard though…haha.. like wow… but it will only make you a better blogger! Learn boundaries!

  32. Dear Fitzy

    Thank you for your well-meant advice. I will write to you about your other questions.

    If you read “Elsje’s” similar question, you’ll see that I replied that the police have the information, and that I cannot divulge this to you at this stage, to not jeapordise the investigation.

    Chris

  33. Fitzy says:

    Ah ok ok, understood. I did read that earlier! I’m sooooooooo curious! Well good luck and i hope the outcome is as dramatic as ever!

  34. Dear “Fitzy”

    You are a naughty boy! Your e-mail address david.fitzgerald@hotmail.com is a fake one, which makes me think that you are non other than Xxxx Xxxx (name removed at the request of Hetzner) in disguise!

    The ‘i’ is a give-away too – you typed your latest abusive e-mail to me like that yesterday too!

    Chris

  35. CandidKar says:

    Gosh, Chris – you’re starting to sound paranoid.

  36. Dear Karen

    Apologies if I sound “paranoid”, but maybe you would be too if you had such lies and abuse hurled at you over a ten day period?

    Chris

  37. Walter Pike says:

    Chris, It was nice to see you again this past week in Cape Town after a break of about 25 years since we worked together at Y&R at the end of Pybus Road where Guinea Fowl used to peck around the bottom of the carpark and where the Sandton traffic is relentless.

    I have three things to say;

    Firstly attacks from an anonymous source rarely have much credibility. Why would one not identify oneself unless the motive is suspect. It’s not as if you are the President.

    Secondly you are protected by the law which protects on against malicious attacks.

    Thirdly I learned from a very wise man once that often the most powerful defence against this type of attack is to collapse your authority and not react. By reacting you merely provide a platform on which your attacker can build, walking away and not giving your attacker any recognition neutralises him. He becomes an empty voice.

    A thought, why not create a page on this blog on which you load every attack and run a Twitter feed? Doing so would have the same effect as my third point.

    I know very little about the fight itself nor it’s merits or otherwise but I leave you with a final thought. “what others think or say about you is not of your darn business” quoting from memory so likely to be a misquote but the sentiment remains – focus or what adds value in your life, what is good, what is uplifting and ignore the crud.

    I am back in stunning Jozi enjoying the best weather in the world. Will be back in the Cape in a week or two and back again in early Dec. maybe we could shorten the interval between chatting. Although in 25 years I may still be 18 (till I die) lol

  38. It was lovely to see you twice in Cape Town this week Walter, and look forward to seeing you again soon.

    I appreciate your feedback and advice, with your vast knowledge about Social Media.

    Chris

  39. Nick says:

    Ok I’m not reading the blog often enough or chronologically otherwise I would have got the whole “Joe” thing!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.