It’s (Not Even) About Ethics In Automotive Journalism

Advertisement or just plain old "car content"? Or is there a difference?

Advertisement or just plain old “car content”? Or is there a difference?

The first time I ever watched “The World’s Fastest Car Show,” I was on an airplane. I can’t remember the airline, but when I took my seat on the flight, an episode showing a shootout to crown “The World’s Fastest Sedan” was playing on the seatback screen in every row. At the time I didn’t think twice about it, assuming it was simply an advertisement for the winning Dodge Charger Hellcat. I’d previously seen a similarly-produced segment featuring the Lincoln MKS “competing” for the affection of a bunch of actors portraying luxury car buyers, and that was unmistakably advertising. After all, everything that runs on those seatback screens pre-flight are clearly paid-for advertisements.

So imagine my surprise this morning, when Jalopnik’s Editor-in-Chief Matt Hardigree tweeted a link to a Kinja Post from “The World’s Fastest Car Show” which stated that the segment I had seen on that airplane was “banned” from Motor Trend’s YouTube channel.

[Continue Reading]

The Internet shills: Automotive News confirms GM’s war on words, visits its command center

The war room - Picture courtesy autonews.com

A month after the Daily Kanban broke the story about GM operatives who were systematically, albeit a bit clumsily, subverting the comment section of a large U.S. car blog, GM decided to get, if not in front of the story, then at least behind it. GM gave David Barkholz of Automotive News access to its “social media command center,”  from where GM runs its war on words. [Continue Reading]

A week after: GM responds to serial shilling allegations, while car blogs remain silent

We see, hear, write, do nothing - actually, we aren't really here

A week after we broke the story about GM’s serial shilling, the media writes, GM answers, but the blogosphere looks the other way. Over the years, more than 3,000 anonymous comments were left on Thetruthaboutcars.com from what looked like GM computers. When I started researching the story half a year ago, PR professionals and seasoned experts of the social media business assured me that I was onto “the holy grail” of the business. They predicted that the story would trigger a fire storm. They were right and wrong. The story was picked up by Drudge and Instapundit, both good for an avalanche of attention. The story was discussed on Edmunds. As far as the auto blogosphere goes, the story does not exist. Instead of being righteously outraged, the blogosphere is embarrassed, and it sheepishly looks the other way. [Continue Reading]

Former TTAC moderator comes forward, says he witnessed on-line shilling by GM, other OEMs

Picture courtesy Tanzania Central Bank

Summer 2009 was a heady time for auto blogs and their readers. Michigan auto and parts companies were falling faster than their share prices. The termites of foreign and domestic competition, intransigent executive management, careless lending, and poor product ate away the foundations of General Motors, Chrysler, and, to a lesser-extent, Ford, until the debt crisis bubble pop brought these mighty corporations tumbling down.

Understandably, playing defense against their myriad opponents—former customers put off by shoddy quality, PR minions of crosstown- or cross-state rivals, bloggers who had a voice and found an audience for some hard truths, and lowly trolls who infect any story with a comments section with their barely-literate ramblings—beleaguered employees started fighting back in the comments sections of various auto blogs, including The Truth About Cars. [Continue Reading]

The RenCen Commentaries: Three Car Monte, and how the game is played

Three car Monte - Picture courtesy politicaloutcast.com

In my six month research into the undercover trolling brigade that used GM computers to leave thousands of comments on Thetruthaboutcars.com, the website both Ed Niedermeyer and I used to run, I talked to a few social media experts that worked for large corporations. Their reaction was universal: They were appalled by the amateurish approach. “But when you are bankrupt, you probably have to do DIY cheating,” quipped an industry executive who had survived carmageddon without government oversight.  In a future article, we will cover how the pros cover their tracks. Today, we write why they usually don’t have to, because the risk of public pilloring is nearly nonexistent. [Continue Reading]

The RenCen Commentaries: A smear campaign in Wikipedia, and mating with monkeys

The target of the smear - Jack Baruth at work

The target of the smear – Jack Baruth at work

 

In February 2009, when GM’s bankruptcy went into its terminal phase, someone with access to GM’s computer network developed an odd fascination with bicycle racing, and with the life of former bicycle racer and TTAC contributor Jack Baruth. Baruth is currently Editor in Chief of TTAC. At the time, TTAC  looked unfavorably on the bailout. The person with the GM computer started to make unfavorable edits to Jack’s Wikipedia page. [Continue Reading]

The RenCen Commentaries: How GM staffers subvert the blogosphere

Server Room - Picture courtesy exsmarketing.com

When I started writing for Thetruthaboutcars.com in 2008, I had access to an automated statistic that told us from which ISP our readers dialed-in. According to the stats, surprisingly many people accessed TTAC from their computer at General Motors. On the list, GM ranked right with AT&T and other biggies. TTAC founder Robert Farago, who was on some kind of a GM crusade, was proud that TTAC was so closely read at GM. GM did not stop at reading though. Some of TTAC’s most prolific commenters were and still are working for GM. Thousands of comments left at TTAC originated at General Motors, and from the same IP numbers as used by GM’s PR department. [Continue Reading]

The RenCen Commentaries: Background and Analysis

GM_Entrace_Niedermeyer Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt

When Bertel first told me he had traced a large numbers of comments at The Truth About Cars to I.P numbers owned by General Motors, the revelation didn’t immediately floor me. TTAC has long prided itself on its knowledgeable and industry-savvy commenters, and various industry insiders have been known to leave comments there. On a certain level, getting comments from inside any automaker is simply a sign of TTAC’s influence in the industry.

But as the scope and specifics of Bertel’s findings were made clear to me, I quickly came to the conclusion that they deserved a public hearing. After all, the evidence suggests that multiple employees of a publicly-owned company anonymously trolled and shilled on a critical website, all from company headquarters. If nothing else, people seem confused about the ethical complexities of online advocacy, and a conversation about the issue appears in order.

[Continue Reading]