Hacker Alerts and Unfair Competition

The third one in a week’s time reached my Facebook account. This third one, it seemed, was justified in being circulated. Following the instruction attached to it, it was forwarded to all of my Facebook friends and associates.

Earlier in the week was another warning away from association with a particular person who is a hacker and identity thief. I had just added that person as a “friend” although we had no connections in regard to other people but a few interests that looked like potential. And there was the first one of the week that didn’t look too promising at all.

As I forwarded the third alert, a thought occurred to me. Those who belonged to the Recruiting.com blog sphere, the Blog Swap sphere, and those who are now part of the RecruitingBlogs.com sphere, many ERE users (plus a few others) have the belief that they are entitled to use any tactics they see as appropriate in order to gain the upper hand in getting traffic, attention, notoriety, and therefore revenue. In fact, one member of these groups said (in Wild, Wild West of the Online Recruiting Frontier style), “We’ll do whatever we want to do.” That includes inducing loyal members to leave under false impressions and promises that cannot be fulfilled, fomenting anarchy and disruption while placing blame on the leader, unequal application of rules, and failing to give attribution for innovations and development of others.

Some tactics used in the past are circulating proposed content for the blog swap among their numbers while delaying the publishing of the content. Then they drum up a conversation on the topic of the proposed post. Once the conversation is hashed out to extreme and dead, the post is published. There’s no real reason to read it any more. What’s more, it isn’t novel; it’s merely a repetition of the conversation so it also has no impression of being cutting edge.

Another tactic used by these groups is to diminish the validity of a blog or website by using a form of blacklisting. They find the sites that are linking to the target blog, contact the owners of the sites and ask them to remove links to the target blog/website. An alternative to this peculiar practice is to post the name of the site or blog but then include a URL that either goes to another site, such as the one pointing to the site, or else pointing to a URL that no longer works. The ultimate result is the same. There is no traffic that’s being sent to the blog or site. Again, its desirability as a link partner or business development partner is lowered because it draws little to no relevant traffic.

There’s also asking certain sites to not publish the content of a particular author. Yes, it’s outright blacklisting. To the extent that these sites cooperate, it can be effective. It’s also pretty cowardly. It indicates the one who desires to silence simply cannot compete. So rather than compete on a quality of content basis, on the basis of relevance, from the perspective of forward-looking content that pushes the envelope, there is no comparison. The one being blacklisted should survive. But the partnership dollars and traffic win every time.

There are still other tactics used by the members of these groups. One is misquoting what someone has said. Another is starting out on one track and then easing the focus onto another area that is not related to the original thought. Then the strayed train of thought is credited to the one being damned as the one going through hystrionics screams foul.

There’s an emerging tactic that’s quickly gaining ground and is similar to the Blog Swap blog strategy. It is copying what one person has said on a topic — even using their topic title — and simply paraphrase what the original post said — without acknowledging the original author.

All of these begin to approach the state of discouraging readership of certain blogs and websites which in turn depresses web traffic and business opportunities. These acts can be construed as interference with business and tortious in nature and effect, violative of the Lanham Act, according to a 9th Circuit decision. One of the good things about our United States government is the fact that it wants everyone to be able to earn a living in order to first pay their bills, support their own selves, and contribute to the support and livelihood of the national infrastructure.

So as I considered forwarding the latest hacker alert, the thought passed through my mind that this could be yet another form of unfair competition by falsely accusing someone of hacking and identity theft when they are actually just striving to build their numbers and stumbled upon a group of strangers who enjoy this blood sport. But it was sent. Today the words of a long-time friend who is very sensible and level-headed responded to the hacker alert. His admonishment read:

I won’t be forwarding this post – that in itself would be a form of spamming. It behoves one NEVER to add anyone to your facebook friends whom you don’t know.

His words ring true in many ways. These hacker alerts, when they become forwarded content on a grand scale, also become spam. They become spam because there’s little to no thought put into what’s being forwarded nor why. There’s been little to no research on the subject of the message to prove or disprove the allegation. Wouldn’t it be interesting if one of these ultimate “don’t associate with” alerts was actually about you? Have you lost associates for no explainable reason?

My friend’s sensibility also had relevance in regard to the accepting friends in a willy-nilly manner. Many in the recruiting industry are anxious to build their contact list. In order to have more contacts, they will accept as a “friend” anyone who extends an invitation to them. There is no effort at determining who the person is, developing some type of rapport with them, nor anyone associated with them, finding out where their specialities are, nor evaluating how this relationship could have future potential. They are accepted. And after the fact (and the dirty work is done), the truth is sometimes discovered.

All interesting things to consider. Far more important, however, is whether what is being advocated is actually a form of unfair competition or interference with business veiled as a friendly warning.


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