The Daily Kanban, launched today by The Truth About Cars' former editors E.W. Neidermeyer and Bertel Schmitt, is off to an interesting start with this little expose.
TTAC is no stranger to controversy, ranging from Schmitt's controversial departure earlier this year to a brief blacklisting from Ford of Canada for a negative review of the Lincoln MKZ. These allegations, which caught the eye of Matt Drudge and led to so much traffic for the new site that it was offline for most of the morning, lend to a theory that GM's public-relations staff — or someone at GM — spend just as much time counteracting negative attacks online as they do selling Impalas.
Thing is, as Schmitt charges, is that GM is doing it anonymously through multiple IP accounts owned by the auto maker and screennames that range from the obvious (NAdude, supposedly GM's Vice President of North America Mark Reuss) to the insane (gm-uawtool).
Rudimentary knowledge of how ISPs work suggest that it's not necessarily someone on GM's PR staff using a GM-owned IP, or even that someone on the team is physically typing each comment. Maybe there are a bunch of pranksters using GM computers, or maybe GM staffers are pretend hard-asses online. But we're not the ones to make that call.
Schmitt states that GM has an internal policy that those commenting online must identify themselves as GM employees, and TTAC's own commenting policy encourages readers to properly identify themselves. Both these ideals were apparently thrown out the window for missives against BMW, Ford, the Canadian government and even one of GM's biggest shareholders, Kirk Kerkorian.
Schmitt says that he was able to see IP addresses from TTAC's commenters and that after banning one commenter who told another that (s)he had "sand in your vagina," thousands of other comments under multiple handles had the same IP address. They're all allegedly traced back to GM.
Certainly a GM staff on his or her lunch break has the right to accuse someone of having sand in their vagina so long as they're not telling us about the new CTS along with it. But Schmitt says more digging showed a small network of commenters using GM-owned IPs about the company itself and about competitors.
The comments themselves ran the gamut of one would expect to originate at RenCen: Defense of the bailout. “GM DOES NOT OWE US TREASURY $40 BILLION.” If the Treasury lost money on its stock purchase, tough. If bondholders lost their shorts, even tougher, they should have read the fineprint. Occasionally, there are barbs against the competition one would not hear when the spokesfolk is on the record, they range from “You can easily recognize the latest Ford’s from the smoke and flames pouring out from under the hood” all the way to “BMW uses slave labor and burns gays at the stake.”
Even more interesting are alleged attacks on Kerkorian, who owned 9.9% of GM back in the day. Schmitt writes that comments coming from GM-owned ISPs called the billionaire a "dick" and an "idiot." As for the Canadian government, which kicked in some rescue funds around the time of the economic crisis, Ontario Premier Dalton McGinty came to be known to one commenter as “feminine hygeine product-bag Dalton McGinty running the clown show at Queen’s Park.”
Most of the more inflammatory comments came around 2008 in the lead-in to the big bailout. Schmitt says that in the years since, the number of comments allegedly coming from GM slowed down, but oddly there were several that had the proper identification from GM employees that an internal policy calls for.
Personally, I don't know about all of this, since there's a lot linked together by IP addresses and one internal source who makes rather bold, unsubstantiated claims. If GM ISPs are used for hogging comment sections on blogs, however, maybe the auto maker should re-evaluate its computer-usage policies for the company as a whole instead of crafting policies for specific departments.
Those commenters, however, are welcome on Jalopnik so long as they identify themselves as such.
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