A jaw-dropping instance of the sheer naked opportunism of online viral marketers. Tom Coates, when he isn’t busy creating the future, blogs about a highly personal subject: the search for his long-lost father. There’s been a series of compelling and candid posts, far more intimate than anything I could bring myself to reveal online, and far more thought-provoking and engaging than what bounds around most of the rest of the blogosphere.
Today, he blogged about receiving a letter from his father, the first contact he’s had with him in 28 years. An commenter posted an (apparent) message of support, reflecting on his own ‘estrangement’ from his ‘father’. The commenter went by the name of Barry Scott. Yes, that Barry Scott. By clicking on the link the commenter provided, rather than the site of an ordinary guy blogging his own experience like Tom’s, it’s a viral marketing site for the cleaning product Mr. Scott so enthusiastically promotes.
There’s something deeply horrible about this. Comment spam is nothing new. Using blogs to market stuff is a bit newer (and when not impinging on others or pretending to be something it is not, not entirely bad either). But to pretend to empathise with someone else’s personal and intimate story, to abuse the goodwill they have entrusted in the reader, and to do so with an entirely fake persona, just for the sake of flogging a few extra bottles of cleaning fluid… that’s just awe-inspiringly creepy. In fact, it calls for a bit of Bill Hicks:
“By the way if anyone here is in advertising or marketing… kill yourself. No, no, no it’s just a little thought. I’m just trying to plant seeds. Maybe one day, they’ll take root – I don’t know. You try, you do what you can. Kill yourself. Seriously though, if you are, do. Aaah, no really, there’s no rationalisation for what you do and you are Satan’s little helpers, Okay – kill yourself – seriously. You are the ruiner of all things good, seriously. No this is not a joke, you’re going, “there’s going to be a joke coming,” there’s no fucking joke coming. You are Satan’s spawn filling the world with bile and garbage. You are fucked and you are fucking us. Kill yourself. It’s the only way to save your fucking soul, kill yourself.”
Actually… on reflection, maybe being evil is the wrong word. Perhaps an alternative description is stupid. Stupid, because anyone curious who clicks on the link will find out their duplicity. Stupid, because bloggers aren’t especially tolerant of people who dick about with their comments section. Stupid since it wasn’t hard to find out who did it – there are few things more determined or effective than a pissed-off blogger armed with DNS lookups, Google and a little spare time. And it was especially stupid, for targeting one of the most well-known and respected bloggers of them all.
But still, stupidity only explains the decision to create linkspam. I can’t explain the fact that they went that little bit further – they took the time to read the blog, conjure up an entire phantasm that expresses its empathy with the author, and then hitch it together with a blatant plug for their cleaning product, without any sort of consideration of what Tom might think, or any other consequences. The kind of psychopathology behind a decision like that defies any attempt at understanding, from me at least.
Update: Tom has got an apology, and seems to be willing to leave it at that.