Gawker’s Power: The Symptom of a Bigger Problem

I have not been keeping close tabs Hogan (Bollea) v. Denton saga, but as of late May 2016 a trial judge denied Denton’s appeal to lower the judgement or throw out the jury verdict. And it’s come to light that tech billionaire Peter Thiel is helping Hogan fund his lawsuit.

Unfortunately, Denton losing isn’t going to be good enough.

Gawker may still survive even if they are forced to pay the full judgment. The new suitors would receive equity instead of cash and would likely not want to terminate the site (as it would destroy the equity). Gawker’s value is in the content that, while reprehensible, still generates a lot of traffic and advertising revenue.

Even if laws are passed outlawing all forms of non-consensual pornography, that still leaves everything else. And it’s not just Gawker…It’s posts on Twitter or Facebook from years past that are dredged up to ruin someone; it’s the off the cuff remark, joke, or tweet that is taken out of context or blown out of proportion; it’s personal information dumped anonymously on public repositories like Pastebin, it’s the Gawker clones that are likely (or already exist) going to fill the void should the plug be pulled; it’s that social media is a double-edged sword: it can expose media lies, but also foment witch hunts and lynch mobs against innocent targets.

Targets who believe they are defamed can sue, but winning is harder because in civil cases, unlike criminal, there are no specific laws or statues that can be invoked, and these are handled on a case by case basis, and it’s up to the judge and jury to decide if and how much damages can be rendered. The time and expenses involved can be substantial, which explains why even Hogan, a multi-millionaire from his wrestling career, still needed help.

The question that is seldom asked is, why is Gawker so powerful. Gawker’s power, ultimately, lies in their ability to ruin lives. By ‘ruin lives’, get people fired, demoted, blacklisted, etc.

More more maliciously, however, than sites like TMZ, Gawker and their ilk go after seemingly ordinary people.

Celebrities, especially actors, because their careers and lives blur the lines between fact and fiction, are better able to rebound from negative press. [1] Business professionals and academics, however, cannot as easily shed the scarlet letter, and often their careers are ruined or derailed significantly [2]. Tila Tequila wearing a Nazi costume – is she racist? Maybe, maybe not. The pubic is incredulous, and her public image isn’t completely ruined. But a professional (or even just a regular person) cracking a joke that offends The Easily Offended? Then it’s off to the stockades.

Gawker’s power is perhaps a symptom of a bigger problem: namely perfidy and public relations. Perhaps corporations, friends, family, and colleagues, need to ignore Gawker and start standing up for their own. Employers should stand behind employees and free speech instead of firing them at the drop of a hat, but in our economy the supply of labor vastly exceeds demand, and employees for the vast majority of jobs are dispensable, replaceable, and interchangeable. It’s not worth the PR risk (along with advertiser boycotts) to keep an employee who is smeared by Gawker or unfairly written-up by Getting Racists Fired, when there are endless replacements who can do the job. So companies readily fold under pressure. Universities, too, don’t want the risk, and even even noble laureates are at risk (as in the case of Tim Hunt, ‘I’ve been hung out to dry. They haven’t even bothered to ask for my side of affairs’). But all jobs are at risk. But just imagine if every corporation and university said, ‘no’ when pressed to fire or demote someone. ‘Outrage’, the lifeblood of the social justice warrior, would fall on deaf ears and so would Gawker.

Until that happens, some commonsense solutions:

Don’t use your real name on Facebook; the ‘real name’ policy is almost never enforced. If you have to use your real name, remove all employment and educational information, and remove all pictures of yourself (anything that can link the account to you). Set account to maximum privacy setting.

Never use real name on Twitter. Never mention job-related information. No pictures of yourself.

People who depend on paychecks should probably never use Twitter – that’s how bad it is.

[1] There is a reverse-hierarchy, and conservative white males are at the bottom and have the smallest margin of error of all, and are a single tweet or post away from damnation. Some could liken it to a perverted form of ‘Puritanism’, with ‘social justice’ as ‘god’. As in the case of Justine Sacco, Tim Hunt, or Larry Summers, even women and liberals are not safe, provided the are white. Even liberal Wil Wheaton was forced to repent in a lengthy pubic apology for, by guilt by association, condoning ‘sexism’ in defending ‘Bernie bros’. So in other words, if group ‘A’ says something ‘profane’, and person ‘B’ supports ‘A’, then by the left’s logic ‘B’ condones everything ‘A’ says and does, and thus in order to remain in ‘good standing’, ‘B’ must completely disassociate from ‘A’.

[2] For example, ‘Sportscaster fired for tweet‘ turns up many queries.