Was the Big Bad Blogger story “creative”?
Posted by butalidnl on 27 January 2011
The story of the Big Bad Blogger (BBB) who tries to extort restaurant owners to pay him (her?) or else he/she will write a bad blog about their restaurants (Please Don’t Give Blogging a Bad Name ) has been gathering all kinds of comments from bloggers. Here is my take on the issue.
If true, the activities of the BBB and the PR firm are a crime. It is a crime to extort someone. Threatening to write negative blogs in order to hurt a restaurant (whether or not it is effective) constitutes a crime. In essence, it is the same as the Mafia’s threat to burn your shop if you don’t pay them “protection money”. Thus, both BBB and PR firm should either be fined, imprisoned, or closed down by the police or a court of law.
At the same time, it is a crime which is relatively hard to prove. BBB could claim that he was acting independently and that the PR firm was just taking advantage of his blogs, or the PR firm could claim that it made no such offer, and that it was misunderstood. So, it is a crime which is plausibly deniable, and thus difficult to prosecute.
An adage in chess goes: “The threat is more dangerous than the act itself”. A wise criminal would rather use threats than to actually do what he threatens to do. The US mafia collects “protection money” from shops on the basis of the threat of arson or something else bad happening to the shop. They would rather collect money on the basis of the threat rather than actually burn down the shop.
In the same way, BBB and the PR firm could merely have threatened Georgia (the restaurateur) with coming out with a bad blog review. Ms Salcedo’s story could be literally true, or it could be a creative way of relating a real threat. I suspect it is “creative”, and that BBB didn’t actually write a negative blog about the restaurant. Yet. So, Ms Salcedo comes out with a “blind article” , or what I would call a creative piece, to warn everybody about BBB/PR firms’ activities. In this way, Salcedo comes out with her own counter-threat, which is: “if BBB does write that bad blog review, he will be exposed, and his reputation will be ruined forever.” And I think that it worked – the fuzz over the BBB article has been so great, that I think it has prevented BBB from actually doing what he threatened, and thus the article has served its purpose well. It worked better than an article which had actually named BBB or the PR firm. I congratulate Ms Salcedo for a job well done.
The Economics is Wrong
The economics of the BBB story is wrong. Restaurant owners are expected to be so scared of bad blogs that they will pay big money to avoid this. This just does not compute. After all, how much could a bad blog review cost a restaurant anyway? I think people will more likely immediately heed a GOOD review (by going to the restaurant) than a bad one. And if a bad review is written, most people will want to get a second opinion on the matter, before deciding not to go. Because something else must have prompted someone to think about going to a certain restaurant in the first place – and this prompt is not immediately negated by a bad review. So, unless the restaurant is really bad – and this will show by it having a lot of bad blog reviews – a single bad blog review shouldn’t hurt.
I think what will more likely damage a restaurant is if there are NO GOOD BLOGS about it. This should raise all kinds of red flags – why is nobody blogging about this particular restaurant? But, then this would impossible for a single extorting agent to do.
And then there is the matter of the value of a blogger’s reputation. How much does this BBB scheme potentially earn? and how does the potential loss of the blogger’s reputation cost? I don’t think it adds up – the blogger (which we assume should have a substantial following) would stand to lose a lot of money if he gets “busted”. And the extortion racket could even get him put in jail. It doesn’t pay to do this.
We should also realize that, for a price, restaurant owners may pay for good reviews. They will not make it too obvious: perhaps offering free meals or other giveaways. If they are desperate enough, they may actually pay cash for a good review. But if this would be the only good review of that restaurant, it would not be a good idea for the blogger to write it. So, the “paid” blogger will only dare to write a good review if the restaurant itself really deserves a good review.
Assuming that Ms Salcedo was a bit creative in writing her BBB article, what does this mean to bloggers? to the general public? For bloggers, the warning is real – there are probably bloggers out there whose efforts to “monetize” their blogs are bordering on (or actually crossed the line) on the criminal. The blogging community should be constantly on the watch for these people. Today it is food blogs, but it could also be of other kinds of blogs (e.g. travel blogs, on hotels or resorts), so watching out for crooked bloggers should be done constantly.
The public could learn something from this whole incident. They should realize that bloggers’ opinions are only as good as their reputations. A negative blog (or even a positive blog) about a restaurant should always be taken with a grain of salt. The public should not immediately take the blogger’s word for it. They should always consult other sources (including other bloggers) as to what THEY think of the restaurant in question.
If a person bases his food decisions on the opinions of a single blogger, it is his/her own fault if they get wrong advice.
In the end, I think that it does not really matter if Salcedo’s article was creative or literal. I suggest that we treat it as creative, and not get too worried about it. For whatever it’s worth, this article has probably succeeded in deterring the prospective BBBs out there; and that is a good thing.