Uber is an international San Francisco-based ride sharing service, founded by Travis Kalanick and Garrett Camp in 2009. It links riders and drivers via Smartphone. In a world of locally historic but highly change-resistant taxi companies, it offers one-tap, cashless pickups, with clear pricing and fare splitting permitted.
In principle, what could go wrong—except for the companies that didn’t think of it first?
Ah… enter an ambitious recent hire, senior executive Emil Michael, who decided to “target” journalists who publish negative information about Uber.
In many representative democracies, that’s a well-supported legal right of media, when supported by at least some fact stream. Admittedly, the fact stream could amount to no more than cherry picking the dissatisfied customers. Still, it’s part of the game.
But of course, if those people turn out not to exist, the journalist could be facing an action for defamation. Put another way, journalism is allowed to be biased, but it is not supposed to be fiction.
Well, Michael didn’t see journalism that way. He particularly wanted to fix one critic, Pando Daily founder Sarah Lacy:
Michael floated the notion of spending $1 million on looking into “your personal lives, your families,” according to BuzzFeed.
“Nobody would know it was us,” he reportedly added. Michael’s remarks were made at a private off-the-record dinner in New York Friday. (Mashable)
What? Oppo research on a journalist? Classy.
Mashable called the comments leaked by Buzzfeed, “one of the most disquieting remarks ever to emerge from the hothouse of Silicon Valley.” Especially when we consider the apology Michael provided:
The remarks attributed to me at a private dinner — borne out of frustration during an informal debate over what I feel is sensationalistic media coverage of the company I am proud to work for — do not reflect my actual views and have no relation to the company’s views or approach. They were wrong no matter the circumstance and I regret them.
So he acknowledges that he said those things but insists that they don’t represent his own views?
It would be fairer to say that they probably don’t represent the company’s business approach. So he should perhaps have been content to leave it at that—whatever his private feelings about journalists’ digging around (feelings to which he is entitled, actually).
Anyway, don’t the folks at Uber know that people who spend their lives writing about other people’s lives rarely do anything very interesting themselves, or only by accident? Sometimes they have to get killed on the job to rate any attention at all. ):
Here’s Lacy’s side:
I have known many of Uber’s key investors and founders personally for six to ten years. Over that time I’ve seen an ever-worsening frat culture where sexist jokes and a blind eye here-or-there have developed into a company where the worst kind of smearing and objectification of women is A-ok.
Ruining her life? Manufacturing lies? Going after her family? Apparently it’s all part of what Uber has described as its “political campaign” to build a $30 billion (and counting) tech company. A campaign that David Plouffe was hired to “run,” that’s looking more like a pathetic version of play acting House of Cards than a real campaign run by a real political professional. Because step one of an illegal smear campaign against a woman is: Don’t brag about it to a journalist at a party.
The woman in question? The woman that this Uber executive has vowed to go to nearly any lengths to ruin, to bully into silence? Me.
Talk about the Law of Unintended Consequences…
The ruckus seems to have ended in a draw. Michael later apologized to Lacy and another editor.
It’s all unfortunate because Uber, despite this, may be shaking up the taxi industry in a way many of us urbanites need.
So the message here is: Our every thought is just so not ready for prime time. And the Internet can cause a relatively obscure person like Michael to take a volcano of heat for an occasional bad attitude or clumsy remark.
See also: Is our every thought ready for prime time? No, but social media make us think so.
Will the Internet change defamation law? Internet lawyer: At one time, “only famous people had libel and slander issues.” Not now.
Denyse O’Leary is a Canadian journalist, author, and blogger.