**UPDATED** – Chris Locke and Kathy Sierra released a joint statement on this particularly nasty matter. Locke publicly condemns the people behind the threats, insults and images and both hope that this won’t put anyone off a free and open discourse.
For me, I’m still disappointed that Locke had the level of involvement that he did with the sites in question. Leadership is about more than doing things that amuse you, and Locke was a leader of the conversational marketing revolution.
Way back when, when dinosaurs roamed the world and the Internet was in its infancy, the World Wide Web was a dangerous place to be. Flame wars would erupt over the smallest things. People would be slammed viciously and repeatedly for saying the wrong thing, or at least the wrong thing for the person who was reading it.
Evolution – a step forward
But, over time, the brutal harshness of the Internet matured into the more cordial and pleasant environment we find today. Blogs emerged from the ruins of Usenet, partly to escape the flamers and trolls, and so it’s no real surprise that bloggers now regularly (over) indulge in prolonged bouts of back slapping and circle jerking. It’s easy to forget that in the online community, as in HG Wells’ classic The Time Machine, there is a dark side beneath all this camaraderie.
Wells wrote of 802,701 AD and the difficult co-existence of the Eloi and the Morlocks. The Eloi are graceful, fun loving and peaceful, while the Morlocks prey on the weaknesses of the Eloi. The Morlocks are, however, afraid of fire.
Two steps back
Kathy Sierra of Creating Passionate Users (a definite Eloi) has just lit a fire to ward off the Morlocks. We’ll see how many people make their way to the fire, and how many of them are Morlocks.
From my perspective, the whole incident is extremely disheartening. One of the Morlocks, to continue the analogy, has been alleged to be Christopher Locke, AKA Rageboy.
Locke is a co-author of one of the more important business books of the last few years, the Cluetrain Manifesto, and stands accused of a laundry list of crimes both ethical and federal. Crimes that include misogyny, intimidation, sexual harassment and issuing death threats.
This is especially worrying because I try to incorporate as many “Cluetrain” theses in my work as I can. These include: speak to people as if it’s a conversation. Be authentic. Use as little spin or messaging as possible. Allow the community to develop on its own.
Fall from grace
The allegations against Locke, coupled with his non-denial, damage the legitimacy of the authority behind his thinking. In turn, this puts into doubt all the thinking I’ve done to build on or implement on, the Cluetrain Manifesto, leaving me with a crisis of confidence. When someone you look up to and respect falls from grace your immediate reactions are disappointment and a great deal of soul searching.
Perhaps I should’ve known better. In Cluetrain’s first chapter, Locke eulogises the glorious flame wars of the early net as great intellectual duels – like great Norse warriors who, instead of war hammers and mystical javelins, use words as their weapons. Words such as:
“Jim, you are a complete idiot. Your code is so brain-damaged it won’t even compile. Read a book, moron.”
“Jim, you are a complete idiot. Your dog is so brain-damaged it won’t even hunt…”
Unfortunately, these seemingly harmless quotes give readers a rather disturbing insight into Locke’s psyche, and to the psyche of many people’s online personas. The Morlocks’ psyche. Damaged. Self-loathing. Underachieving. Vicious.
When people actively involved in the blogosphere talk about how welcoming and supportive the community is, they have clearly met with the Eloi. When their bosses, colleagues and clients push back and express a fear of joining the wider conversation, they are clearly being influence by the Morlocks and the reputation.
It’s almost the definition of irony that such an advocate of online conversational marketing should be preventing organizations from joining it.
Don’t let Eloi, Morlocks, Trolls or Flamers stop you from joining the social media revolution
To anyone who has thought about joining the social media revolution but decided against it because of trolls and flamers, here are my reasons for being actively involved in the “conversation”:
- People are already talking about your organization, your products and your competitors. Why not influence that conversation?
- In any given community, one per cent creates, 20 per cent participates and the other 79 per cent observes. You’re not trying to convince the extremely vocal one per centers but the 79 per cent who are watching the conversation.
- If you are being flamed and heavily criticized, joining the conversation takes guts but (eventually) means that the flaming and criticism will die down. Caveat Emptor – it may get worse before it gets better, but it will get better.
- As an organization that invests in talent, why not allow that talent to lead the conversations you’re already involved in?
Despite all this, I still stand by the Cluetrain Manifesto as a seminal book and one that influences my work or thinking each and everyday.
One last caveat
Don’t let idiots or bullies dissuade you from expanding your online presence. Don’t let the one per centers put you off having a true conversation with your customers, employees or owners. Embrace the conversation – it won’t kill you.
And, as we all know, whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.