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First Death Threats, Now Spit: TechCrunch Blogger Arrington Calls Time Out

By Renay San Miguel
Jan 29, 2009 1:44 PM PT

Michael Arrington helped make the technology blogosphere a must-read for many. Now, the influential TechCrunch blog founder says the blogosphere is showing its appreciation by encouraging some to abuse him.

First Death Threats, Now Spit: TechCrunch Blogger Arrington Calls Time Out

Arrington announced Wednesday he will take some time off after he was spat on earlier this week as he was leaving a Munich conference. The incident, and his reaction, is renewing more discussion about the level of vitriol on the Internet, the burnout rate of tech bloggers and the sour economy's impact on the startup company scene.

The spitting incident seemed to serve as the proverbial last straw; Arrington also disclosed that last summer someone with a criminal record "who owns a gun" had threatened him and his family via phone call, e-mail and blog post. Arrington was forced to hire private security at a cost of US$2,000 a day.

Not Worth It

"I write about technology startups and news," Arrington said. "In any sane world that shouldn't make me someone who has to deal with death threats and being spat on. It shouldn't require me to absorb more verbal abuse than a human being can realistically deal with."

"But I can't say my job is much fun any more. Startups that don't get the coverage they want and competing journalists and bloggers tend to accuse us of the most ridiculous things."

Arrington expanded on that last point during an interview with the Wall Street Journal Online from the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, which Arrington is attending before taking a break from blogging. Tech blog competitors are responsible for creating an environment that encourages attacks by accusing him and TechCrunch of unethical practices in exchange for exclusives, Arrington said.

The Blogosphere Reacts

The WSJ article said Arrington pointed to Valleywag and the Journal's own All Things Digital as two of several blogs that have raised issues with his reporting in the past. The editors at both blogs denied any connection to the attacks on Arrington. Nick Denton of Gawker Media, Valleywag's parent company, told the Journal that the episode says more about Arrington's "emotional volatility" than the state of Internet civility.

The blogosphere itself had split into various factions following his Wednesday posting. Many were appalled at the spitting incident and said that no one should be subjected to that kind of behavior. Others said Arrington was reaping what he had sowed; he's known for highly opinionated writing that takes to task bad startup business models, overzealous public relations professionals and clueless CEOs. "He's worked hard for the minimal fame he has in a niche market and now he's whining about the downside around it?" wrote one anonymous commenter at Silicon Alley Insider.

The snark leveled at Arrington by some tech bloggers after his Wednesday posting soon was reaching critical mass, which plays into arguments from those who say the entire incident takes the Web to a new low. "The Internet is becoming a venomous place. Maybe this is just old usenet flamewars spilling out into comments fields on blogs," said a reader at The Industry Standard. And there are some who say the abuse points to the desperation many startup companies are feeling as venture capital dries up in a bad economy. If Arrington won't write about their company, maybe they'll take it out on him via anonymous attacks.

One Blogger's Take

Marcelo Calbucci sees the situation from both a blogger's and an entrepreneur's vantage points. Calbucci has founded a Seattle-based startup, Sampa, and also writes about events and happenings in the local technology entrepreneurial scene via his blog, Seattle 2.0.

"He's a very polarizing person," Calbucci told TechNewsWorld, "and this is how he went to the top; by not being nice all the time. And sometimes pushing some buttons. Most of the time he is very honest in his coverage."

If the attacks on Arrington are tied to disgruntled startup executives who didn't like what Arrington said about their companies, the media need to keep something in mind, Calbucci says. "A startup is like a baby for an entrepreneur. You don't call someone's baby ugly, so you take it pretty personally. It's not personal when Arrigton says 'this product sucks.' He's not attacking the person, he's attacking the product. But a lot of entrepreneurs project themselves onto the product, and they're so attached to their ideas they cannot distinguish between the two."

The excuse that the economy is driving more entrepreneurs to desperate attempts at coverage doesn't fly with Calbucci. "In good times, things like this are more likely to happen," he said. "At the peak of Web 2.0 you really had to fight hard to get a good story. People were more likely to be edgy -- 'If they're not writing about me, our story's not going to get out.'"

The View From an Acquaintance

"I know Michael and he's a nice guy," Tim Bajarin, president and principal analyst of Creative Strategies, told TechNewsWorld. "But he is very outspoken and he's gotten to the point in his career where what he says really matters. It matters whether people might invest in a company."

Bajarin sympathizes with Arrington; no one likes to see a violent reaction based on their blogging. But it goes with the territory, he adds.

"One of the perils of blogging is that you are really putting yourself on the line, because you are writing about your opinions. It's inherent in the concept, the fact that individuals use them (blogs) as platforms, not so much as reporting but more as a true opinion, a viewpoint.

"There's no question to me that the blogosophere evokes reactions from people, one way or another, and I don't think that will change. The bigger question is how do you keep it civil, and I don't know how you police that one."


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What effect is social media having on the current discussion of sexual misconduct?
It's enabling many more people to engage in serious discussions.
It's functioning mostly as an echo chamber.
It's giving everyone a voice.
It's creating much more divisiveness.
It's enabling a cultural re-education.
It's making my news feed so unpleasant I'm staying away.