Never Dupe Your Readers

I normally stay out of the fray when somebody in our industry does something stupid — because it happens so often — but what Jason Calacanis did to his readers on Twitter last night and this morning is as clear an example of pomposity and disrespect as you’ll ever find:

Jason, with a good-sized Twitter following of over 90,000, began sending out tweets with details about Apple’s new tablet before it was officially announced this morning. He claimed to have been given one by Apple, for press purposes, and began reeling off details in separate tweets, such as:

“Does Jason Calacanis really have an Apple Tablet? What do you think of his specs? : http://(link to Jason’s company: mahalo)”

“Also, the apple tablet is really amazing for newspapers. Video conferencing is super stable, but nothing new.”

“Yes, there are 2cameras: one in front and one in back (or it may be one with some double lens) so you record yourself and in front of u.”

“Off to bed, but I assure you I’m not joking and the specs are real…. Most of all that this is best gadget ever made and NOT overhyped.”

You get the picture.

Several media outlets including TechCrunch, the Wall Street Journal, and thousands of individuals picked up Jason’s tweets and that’s how I found out about them (I don’t follow Jason). Upon inspecting the tweets, I immediately knew how this was going to end: badly. As someone who’s followed Apple closely for most of my life and also someone who doesn’t really give Jason Calacanis credit for much of anything besides incessantly promoting himself, I knew Apple would never give a guy like that a device in advance under any circumstances, for any reason.

Sadly, and predictably, however, Jason was able to fool thousands of others. He’ll be the first to try and convince you his tweets were too absurd to be construed by any reasonable person as true, but we’re not just talking about country bumpkins who were duped here. Look no further than Robert Scoble’s first comment in the comment thread on CrunchGear (or any of his comments on Twitter). He doesn’t appear to think it’s a silly joke upon first read. Neither did Neil McIntosh at the Wall Street Journal. And neither did many thousands of Jason’s “followers” throughout the world.

Let me see if I can make this as clear as possible:

Never dupe your readers.

Never dupe your readers.

For someone who seems so dead set on being a lot more influential than he actually is, it’s the height of irony that Jason would do something like this. The fact that it occurred only on Twitter and was a lot more believable than it could have been if it were really just an altruistic joke really tells us all we need to know about the motivations here. It went something like this:

  1. There’s a huge Apple event coming up and nothing stirs press like a huge Apple event.
  2. I have an ego, a Twitter account, and a company to promote (probably in that order) so I’ll post some fake, but borderline believable stuff and see what kind of linkage/followership I can get.
  3. If things get out of hand, I’ll make my tweets increasingly outlandish and just claim it’s all a big joke and anyone who believed it is an idiot.

Well, mission accomplished, I suppose.

This sort of thing makes me shake my head because I’ve seen it before and it just never turns out well… and it’s never forgotten. I remember a few years ago in our little corner of the tech industry — web design and development — two reasonably well known colleagues started a high-profile fight on their blogs, each accusing the other of “borrowing” various design elements and outright creative theft at times. It went on for a few blog posts and some of us began taking sides in the comment threads, trying to defend the good names of our friends. After a day or two, both people revealed that the whole thing was not real and meant to “illustrate a lesson” about creative license. As you can imagine, we were all pretty livid. Not even necessarily because it was a waste of our time or anything, but because we had been purposely duped by people we trust. It didn’t matter that the intentions were not evil. Nobody likes to be duped.

Which brings us back to our story about Jason and the ruse he pulled on his followers. I’ve felt this way for a few years now, but there are many people in our industry who think they are a lot more important than they really are. Some examples that come to mind are:

  • The majority of tech writers. If you’re in the minority who are actually really good journalists, please don’t take offense to this statement. You’re doing a great job. But some of these “lifelong pundits” who’ve never created a damned product in their entire life and want to tell you their thoughts on “gestures” or “lifestreams” or “the future of {insert-overhyped-technology-here}”? Please consider writing in a diary instead.
  • Relentless self-promoters. This is the group Jason fits into. I’ve only met Jason once, when I worked at ESPN and he worked at Weblogs, Inc. I posed a question to him on a panel about when Engadget would start to put more advertising on their site. He claimed never, which of course turned out not to be true. I respect Jason for one thing: selling Engadget to AOL. That’s a great accomplishment. That’s about it though. Everything else I know about him is based on what he puts out there for everyone to see: someone who loves the sound of his own voice, will say anything to get ink, and has very little regard for the truth.
  • People who measure themselves by false metrics such as Twitter followers, Facebook friends, LinkedIn connections, or any other data that doesn’t actually measure the amount of good you’re bringing to the world.

If you want to be influential, lead by doing, not by talking, and certainly not by duping. If what you create is really good, other people will talk about it for you.

It’s perfectly ok to talk about your own product and do some promotion when appropriate, but what it’s never ok to do is dupe your readers. Don’t make the same mistake yourself. If you want respect, be respectful first.

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91 Responses:

  1. Mike D. says:

    John Booty: The “clearing the bar” analogy makes no sense in this case, unfortunately. When you offer to pay $250,000 to get onto a list that essentially nets you about a million inactive or otherwise unengaged subscribers (the Twitter suggested user list), you’ve already indicated that you don’t care about the “quality” of your followers. If you further write a post talking about how these sorts of stunts increased your follower levels, you’re again saying the same thing: “I want followers and I don’t care where I get them”. In other words, there is no bar.

    When a scientist uses technical terms a layperson doesn’t understand in a medical journal, *that’s* a bar. When an author writes a novel at a college reading level, *that’s* a bar. But when someone exploits his position by breaching trust with (even part of) his audience, that’s just bad judgement.

  2. chas_m says:

    The summary of the criticism of this article boils down to this:

    “We think it’s okay for someone to be a self-promoting (read: egotistical) lying douchebag, as long as its obvious to clever people.”

    That’s as good a summary of what’s really wrong with America (and Americans) as anything I’ve read.

  3. […] much more on this earth that is much more your own than your own words – spoken or written. Never. Dupe. You’re readers. It’s just foolish. (via Daring […]

  4. JPWP says:

    Calacanis’ raison d’être is to generate monetizable attention at *any* cost. Those who don’t know that, don’t know him. Seems pretty obvious that, in this case, his costs have and will be extremely high.

  5. […] Never Dupe Your Readers | Mike Industries Never dupe your readers. (tags: personal_publishing) […]

  6. bob says:

    From reading all the comments, I’d say Jason C. has all the class.

  7. ” but we’re not just talking about country bumpkins who were duped here. Look no further than Robert Scoble’s first comment in the comment thread on CrunchGear (or any of his comments on Twitter). He doesn’t appear to think it’s a silly joke upon first read. Neither did Neil McIntosh at the Wall Street Journal. “

    So it’s not that Jason duped people, it’s that he duped reporters who should have known better.

    Funny, when were talking about top commentators and news organizations, I think it’s no longer a problem with a faulty source, but the person who made no effort to verify or look at statements with a cynical eye.

    I think Jason (be it by design or accident) did a public service by showing us all how empty headed, gossipy, and amateurish many of the people who are collecting paychecks to report on tech are.

    But at least this was a situation where the truth would be known in under 24 hours. How many press members (tech or otherwise) are duped by sources with agendas? How many press members have agendas of their own that causes them to be duped, or worse activly dupe the public.

    Who out there is the tech press has been acting level headed, not going overboard with praise or scorn. The whole business should be ashamed of itself . The National Enquirer seems to have more credibility right about now.

    Just as readers use the willing suspension of disbelief to better enjoy a story, they need to try suspending their automatic belief in news and non-fiction (and not just for reports they don’t agree with).

  8. Strangely, I’m reminded of Penny Arcade here. A few years ago, Jerry Holkins realized that he needed stop using his posts to enhance the jokes in that day’s comic. PA’s readers know that all sorts of ridiculous assertions can be made in the comic, and it’s nothing but comedy, but once Holkins started “playing along” in his posts, people started to misinterpret and take him seriously. As he put it:

    “…adding comic information out here in the “clean zone” of the post is indistinguishable from lying to you, and I’m sorry.”

  9. Josh says:

    I think Calacanis is being a bit obtuse. People aren’t taking the opportunity to abuse him because they’re Apple fans. They’re doing it because he’s a f***wit.

  10. Jonathan says:

    Actually, sometimes it’s a good strategy to dupe your readers.

    http://tr.im/Ml6s

  11. Awesome post, Mike, and a great job calling the post-facto intellectual dishonesty behind Jason’s stunt.

    For better or worse, you can be sure that whatever the next event there is worth making “All About Me,” Calcanis will find a way to get behind the wave and ride it, something that I blogged about here:

    Meme Schemes and Attention-Seekers
    http://bit.ly/5SzN5I

    To be clear, I have seriously mixed emotions on this one, inasmuch as while I find much of the gamesmanship distasteful, it is indeed a game, and by a bunch of measures, Calcanis is good/great at it.

    No less, you will find few in the blogosphere that would do anything other than cheer these types of shenanigans, which says plenty about the way new media works (put me in the bucket of people in glass houses…).

    Then again, was the old media way really that much cleaner?

    Mark

  12. peterb says:

    Jason who?

  13. […] Never Dupe Your Readers "If you want to be influential, lead by doing, not by talking, and certainly not by duping." Well said, Mike. […]

  14. basetta says:

    you’re totally right and calacanis has been already removed from my twitter feed.

  15. Ben says:

    I was very disappointed when I saw the real announcement. Jason, you lost my respect. I’m not following you on twitter or at any of your various blogs. I hope a lot of people do the same.

  16. Chris says:

    Jason may be in the wrong… but there’s no excuse for shitty journalism.

  17. Keith L says:

    So… No solar, then?

    (kidding…)

    Want to know what’s funny? The people who are using this comment thread to promote themselves. Typical.

    Good post and good responses by most.

  18. Aylw says:

    If the ‘industry’ can be thrown for a loop by some guy having fun on HIS OWN TWITTER ACCOUNT (TWITTER, for god’s sakes!), perhaps it’s the industry that needs to take a look in the mirror, not this Jason douche.

    That goes double for people who’s feelings were hurt because they got so riled up while looking for info about some toy they wanted. Unfollowing Jason won’t help you. Growing a pair and USING YOUR BRAIN will.

  19. Stephen says:

    I find it amusing that someone as supposedly tech-savvy as Jason didn’t know that Apple filed a patent (via MacRumors) in 2008 that detailed how they would incorporate solar panels under the iPhone’s touch screen.

    Also, the critical flaw in Jason’s argument that what he said was in his test iPad would cost way more than the iPad’s $499 price tag is that NOBODY KNEW EXACTLY HOW MUCH THE IPAD WOULD COST when he Tweeted those specs the night before Apple’s announcement!

  20. […] está teniendo cierto eco en los Estados Unidos, ya lo comenta ampliamente algún artículo como Never Dupe Your Readers, sirve como ejemplo para cualquier persona con dos dedos de frente e interesados en temas de […]

  21. Mike D. says:

    Stephen: Nice find! Very interesting. Also, yes, I should have pointed out the unknown price-point thing… that struck me as odd the first time I heard it used as an argument.

  22. […] from a commentary about Jason Calacanis’ fake pre-launch tweets about the iPadNever Dupe Your Readers, Mike […]

  23. Torsten says:

    “This sort of thing makes me shake my head because I’ve seen it before and it just never turns out well… and it’s never forgotten.”

    It turns out well for Jason. He has done this kind of stunt several dozen of times – and he has still 90000 Twitter followers.

  24. Mike says:

    What Jason did was only cruel because he described the exact dream iPad we all wanted. One day we’ll get it I’m sure.

    With that said, Jason is always spot on with the next trend in tech and he really knows where this industry is going. I will always be a fan because he makes me look good when talking to others :p

  25. I don’t trust him anymore.

  26. Mike D. says:

    Mike: He “makes you look good when talking to others”? What the hell is that? Sounds more like a hair club ad than an assessment of an individual.

  27. Paul Boutin says:

    I’ve stopped following JC about 6 months ago for the exact reasons you talk about. Ego, ego and ego. It gets boring real fast.

    I friend of mine I follow fell for the prank which I started reading. After tweet 2 I knew it was a fake, it also confirmed why I stopped following JC. Let’s all stop talking about him now…

    By the way, he must have called in his troups in this comments thread… damn..

  28. I don’t listen to TWiT when Jason Calacanis is on the show. Same with Ryan Block. Neither of them add anything of any real substance – just ego and flash. I disregarded the re-tweets of the “leaks” as attention seeking.

    That all said, the hype about the ? iPad was generated by the same people that bought this shit as reality. Apple never released information and people just went crazy. As a realist and cynic, I expected something less than desirable (iPod HiFI?) and was rewarded with something pretty slick.

  29. Cam says:

    Jason uses the price point, and weight of the iPad as reasons the specs he tweeted should not have been believed:

    “There is no way it could be designed for $499 in a 1.5 pound package!!!”

    The problem with that is the price of $499, nor the weight of 1.5 lbs, had been announced at the time of the tweets.

    Just sayin…

  30. Considering says:

    Playing a joke/prank on your readers — whoever they are — can be risky, and I (think) Jason screwed up on this one. But I don’t believe we should throw the parody and social commentary baby out with the badly-implemented (in this case) bath water.

    In my opinion Jason made two big mistakes:

    1) He mistook the nearly context-free Twitter for blogging. We’re meant to read it as a stream… it flows by during the time we’re reading it and even THEN we rarely see everything. Anyone following more than a couple dozen people is extremely unlikely to read everything tweeted by those they follow. And it’s ludicrously unlikely when the context here is “tech bloggers talking about iPad at that time”.

    2) His defense, echoed by many others,is that only idiots (or drunk-on-koolaid types, etc.) would have been duped, so– if your “mistake” was only a mistake to STUPID people, it doesn’t actually count as a mistake, right?

    Anyone who lists, say, three of the more outrageous tweets Jason made as evidence for the stupidity of readers is, frankly, displaying a lack of understanding of Twitter, and viewing it through a naive/newbie “it’s like a blog, except with smaller posts” lens.

    I actually thought his tweets were fascinating and I was enjoying it as a puzzle/mystery to figure out if he was telling the truth, and wondering when or if you’d finally see the thing that was CLEARLY too outrageous. And had it been a blog or even series of blog posts, I think far more people would have enjoyed it as well.

    But to craft a joke — via Twitter — that depended ENTIRELY on readers seeing ALL of his tweets in order to “get” the joke, –I believe he is normally much smarter than that. He just made a mistake and now wants to blame the readers who seem to “get” the nature of Twitter far more than Jason does.

  31. foobar says:

    A cursory glance at his twitter page shows over half his users don’t have an avatar, which suggests they’re fake accounts. Don’t get worked up over his supposed 90K followers – they aren’t all real.

  32. Anonymous says:

    >Oh and don’t tell them about the special “brain wave” controller either.
    Those actually exist, moron.

  33. Val says:

    Just one problem Jason: the device you described, 7-10 lbs, $2000? “There is no way it could be designed for $499 in a 1.5 pound package.” But u didn’t know it was $499 and 1.5 lbs. What kind of assbackyard reasoning is that? To argue after the fact using information you learned later that your premised device couldn’t possibly fit is the most retarded argumentation I’ve seen. Wow. Schmendrick.

  34. I’m late on this, and I never really had much of an opinion on Jason or his little ruse before tonight (I’m also not a follower, but am familiar with his work), but after reading his comments in this thread, I can really think of no other appropriate word than “douchebag.”

  35. Keith says:

    I know from experience (being one of the designers in your example) that any kind of trickery played towards readers is a very risky business. Our stunt wasn’t meant to dupe anyone, we honestly thought it was constructed in such a way that it was clear we weren’t serious and in a way that proved a point.

    Yet, I’ll admit we didn’t really think it through and because of that there were quite a few folks who were upset and concerned about the situation and we both felt really bad once that sunk in.

    I do want to make two things clear.

    We didn’t intend to “purposely dupe” anyone. The intention was not to have people believing it was a real fight, it was more to lampoon and make light of some quick “copycat” finger-pointing that had been going on. I can see how that might have been assumed, but going in we honestly thought it was clear it was a joke.

    As well, it was clarified almost immediately, like within hours, in the original posts as well as via IM to individuals and in comments on other blogs. There was no Twitter for real-time clarification, and we did the best we could. I know I personally didn’t really understand why people were upset at first, and did a fair amount of arguing about that, but we clarified that it was a joke right away.

    Still, regardless of the fallout, it wasn’t a smart thing to do and all I can say in my defense is that I was really surprised at the reaction and had I known people would be genuinely upset I wouldn’t have been a part of it. Of course I didn’t want to upset anyone and, at the same time, the point of the whole thing was completely missed.

    We are certainly guilty of not thinking it through and not considering the reactions of our readers, but implying that we intended to trick or upset people isn’t accurate.

    Sometimes we can’t know the influence we’ll have or how people will react. We often tend to look at these things through our own lenses and group others according to that. I see something like this and think, “meh, wouldn’t bother me much.” But that’s me and when you’ve got an audience you need to think about how others might react. And trust me, ever since I’ve taken that into consideration with everything I write.

    To me, that’s the key here. The people who were upset were upset because they felt their trust had been betrayed. That wasn’t the intention, but it doesn’t matter. Like you say, no one likes to be duped. If you think you’re even slightly misleading you might want to think twice.

  36. Mike D. says:

    Keith: Yep, your last paragraph sums it up well. In your case, I agree, it was an altruistic attempt to illustration something, and it just wasn’t well thought out. There was really no ulterior motive and that’s why it’s easier forgiven. With Jason, however, it’s clear that it’s just one more tool in an arsenal of weapons designed to get attention.

  37. […] Davidson nails it in a recent article discussing Jason Calacanis’s iPad lies: If you want to be influential, lead by doing, not by […]

  38. Aaron says:

    Something about this line “The fact that it occurred only on Twitter and was a lot more believable than it could have been if it were really just an altruistic joke” reminded me of an article I read (http://bit.ly/aL7Qf1), which basically made the point that for some reason info on Twitter is more believable, especially if it comes from a source that has built up credibility.

    My guess is the majority of Calcanis’ readers will still find him credible, but the tech press might pause next time.

  39. […] Jason Calcanis showed how not to blog: see Never Dupe Your Readers. […]

  40. […] Mike Davidson elegantly put […]

  41. […] Mike Davidson has posted a great article in which he poses that celebrity bloggers and pundits are little more than know-it-alls who […]

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