Posted March 3, 2008 10:19 am by with 24 comments

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Both the NYT and TechCrunch weigh in on whether a scathing blog post–and subsequent comments–led to the suicide of ad exec Paul Tilley.

To bring you up to speed on what happened:

Before his death, Mr. Tilley had come under particularly harsh criticism on the advertising blogs. AgencySpy, which is written by an anonymous advertising industry employee, was perhaps the most biting.

In a Feb. 19 posting, the site quoted excerpts from an internal e-mail message Mr. Tilley had sent to subordinates, in which he wrote: “Too many of you are only doing good work. And some of you are doing work that simply isn’t good enough.”

AgencySpy wrote that Mr. Tilley “needs to go back to management 101,” adding: “At one point, Paul thought he could make it as a game show host. Doesn’t one need to be charming for that?”

On February 22, Mr. Tilley jumped from an upper floor of the Fairmont Chicago hotel.

Did the blog attacks lead to Mr. Tilley committing suicide? Of those close to him; some say "yes", some say "no".

Still, Michael Arrington suggests that some blogs–such as Valleywag–thrive on gossip and rumor. He asks "When will we have our first Valleywag suicide?"

I shudder at the thought.

Perhaps all bloggers–in fact, all journalists– should stop and consider the personal psychological harm our words might have on an individual. While it’s easy for us to post our scathing criticisms. we’re often desensitized to the harm we inflict–simply because we’re miles away, safe behind our web browser.

I don’t think Valleywag should be singled out here either. TechCrunch could just as easily post a bad review of a new start-up–one the founder poured his whole life into–and not realize it’s attacking more than just the company with its words.

I’ve been on the receiving end of an attack, and I’ve probably written a blog post or two that’s messed-up the pysche of one or two people. I’m sorry if that’s you.

Perhaps going forward, we should all adopt a blogger’s Golden Rule: "Blog about others, as you would have them blog about you."

  • That is a very good point, although one may argue that like celebrities put themselves out there to get criticized by being in the public eye, that big name bloggers do the same by posting their feelings, reviews etc. on the net. If a person truly believes they may be unstable enough to handle harsh criticism, they may want to reconsider blogging on high profile websites. This is not to say that others shouldn’t watch what they say, because there certainly is a fine line between justified criticism and outright cruelty.

  • OK, so bloggers might put themselves up for comment, but what about those that get blogged about who aren’t in the public eye?

  • There is such a thing as tact. There is constructive criticism and then there is just plain mean old hurtfulness which is good for nothing. Although we can log onto the internet anonymously, behind each blog there is a real human being and all humans have feelings. I like the idea of your golden rule for blogging, Andy.

  • We suppose any type of slander via blog, news outlets or even verbally is detrimental to an average person’s psyche. If a small time blogger puts their content on the net about a certain subject – providing it is not about them personally, the question is – should they truly be offended by the criticism on something they may have written that is simply disagreed with? Granted, we’re not too familiar with the situation written about Mr. Tilley so perhaps that would shed some more light on the serious effects of harsh blogging.

  • Either way, it’s hard not to get personally offended….so yes, your Golden Rule seems like a good idea!

  • What was posted about Mr. Tilley wasn’t threatening nor offensive in the least. Anytime someone achieves “executive” status in their career they’re probably pretty callused to the realities of climbing the corporate ladder. If those were the words that drove him over the edge than he was probably dealing with some pretty intense emotional issues at the time.

  • Well, whether it is detrimental to a person’s psyche or not, slander is defined as “a malicious, false, and defamatory statement” and I wouldn’t consider it the same as criticism. In itself, it is meant to be hurtful. But you are right Brick, I think it would be hard not to get personally offended. Criticism also has to come from a respected and trusted source to be useful, not just some fly by night anonymous commenter.

  • True, that was not the correct word. People could perceive any personal badmouthing as slander I suppose but yes, criticism was the correct word the whole way through. You are right in saying the fly by night commenters – they have a tendency to be the most malicious of all for obvious reasons.

  • I think we all need to be less of a fragile flower online. If your posting on news, gossip or commentary shouldn’t you expect this? You need to have a thick skin if you publishing your work online. We don’t seem to care at all when celebs are constantly hounded by the media and paparazzi. We say well that the life they choose and it comes with the territory. Well so does constructive or unconstructive criticism with blog authoring.

    Now with that being said slander is unacceptable and something totally different than criticism. If someone is in the public eye, executives or not, then they have to expect (in this day and age0 that someone will be commenting about them online. They also have to be above fly-by-night commenter’s. Who cares just go on with your life. All we have control over is our personal statements and decisions. Live by that and you will be fine.

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  • Victim too.

    Techcrunch is one of the most scarest website to visit. They form something like religious cult or evil cult, and destory every failure startups. In the past, I remember Techcrunch locked and ease comments about Paul Tilley, and display his IP address. Few minutes refreshing the page, they ease with no cause.

    I stop visiting techcrunch. I knew Techcrunch was behind this bully attacks.

  • Be careful with Techcrunch

    I saw Duncan Riley & Michael Arrington showed Paul Tilley IP address on Post, got him very angry, and hide message away three month ago. He was saying something like: Get off my f*cking IP address.

    Now, I can’t find on Google. Database just vanished like ghost. Techcrunch could be play cyberbully role. First, they attacked, Jimmy whales Wikia, some startups, and people repulations on posts. Just be careful with techcrunch, not Valleywag.

  • a bit extreme…

  • We should definitely take care in what we say. Being respectful is just a part of life and personal morality. I am a firm believer in treating people with respect.

    As to whether or not the blog posts are to blame for the suicide – it may have played a part, but the blog post was not the problem. The problems were much deeper than that.

  • scary

    Many drop out techcrunch for many reason: Libel, Slander, and Defamatory. They delete posts and alter posts.

    I got pretty scared. So, I stop going there. I feel pretty safe when I visit New York Times. I like New York Times better.

  • I agree we should treat each other with respect and not launch attacks, but it takes more than something like a blog for someone to kill themselves. The blog criticism could have been the final straw and it very possibly contributed, but it’s hard to believe it’s the only cause.

  • Whatever

    If this guy killed himself over words on a blog then in all of his 40 some years he must have never been criticized or went to high school. Blogs are just like high school and so is the Internet and it’s hate machine. He had a family … the humiliation from words on a blog and the affects it may have had on his career are more important then his family? Unfathomable… had 2 be something else too!

  • He must have had another set of reasons to end his life. It couldn’t have just been the online criticism. Lots of adverse opinion about TechCrunch here, seemingly all from the same person.

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  • “Opinions are like arseholes..everybody has one!” Dont take anything too seriously, i imagine that scathing attack is coming from a sad little man or woman sitting behind there pc wearing itchy and scratcy pyjamas… not that theres anything wrong with itchy and scratchy mind you.. hehe

  • i am an advocate of freedom of the press and freedom of speech. but journalists and writers should always remember these freedoms we enjoy also carries some responsibilities.

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  • I think this is taking everything too far, but then again this is life and people just take things too far anyway! thanks for the info

    James’s last blog post..5 Tips on dealing with customer complaints

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