A Blogger Outs Himself; He’s a She

It’s not easy to get Carolyn Elefant riled.  She’s an easy going person, disinclined to hyperbole.  But Carolyn’s on a rant when it comes to James Chartrand, “the so-called front man at Men With Pens,” a blog dedicated to offering copywriting services online.

Call me old fashioned, but I believe that my word is my bond, something that you can trust.

I’ve met Carolyn, and she is indeed a she. Not so for James.

As Chartrand explains over at Copyblogger, she created a male persona because as a woman, she faced so much gender bias that she couldn’t earn enough to support her family.  But as a male, Chartrand found the financial success that eluded her as a female.

So what’s wrong with this picture?  Well, nothing, except if you consider that Chartrand used her blog to preach the importance of transparency at posts like this or this.  Yet, Chartrand apparently didn’t believe that the rules of transparency applied to her.
While some may accept her gender-bias rationale and forgive James (whose real name remains a mystery), her trespasses,  the point is the ease with which someone can become something they’re not on the internet, and the willingness of others, many others, to blindly accept it. 

I’ve had many an argument here and elsewhere in the digital world about whether they know the people with whom they are interacting online.  People tell me, absolutely insist to me, that they do know who they are talking to.  A whole industry has grown to promote the use of the internet to “network” and create “trusted relationships” with others.  They teach us to market to potential clients and other lawyers by creating trust.  Trust is the predominant, and most abused, word in online marketing.

It’s hogwash.  Utter, sheer,unadulterated hogwash. 

Anyone can become anything they want to be online, whether in the blogosphere, on twitter, anywhere you go.  A faked picture, some sweet sounding words, and a great humanitarian is born.  You love him (or maybe it’s a her). You want to be his friend.  You trust him. You haven’t got the slightest clue who you’re dealing with.

Ironically, the ones doing all the preaching about trust, the marketers, are the most notorious for faking their identities.  One kid who lost his first job, a job that last a mere 8 months, touts himself as a highly experience corporate lawyer who wants to be paid to teach others how to be rainmaker.  Teach?  Make your own rain first.  Another lectures lawyers about the power of twitter when he’s yet to put in his first day’s work as a lawyer. 

Does that do it for you? Well, how about another who has a business teaching lawyers to blog for profit, but neglected to mention that he started the business after he was disbarred for sticking his fingers into a trust fund for minors. Or there’s the gal who is drumming up business on twitter for as long as she can between her plea and sentence for real estate fraud.  Or another gal who claims to have given up her million dollar law practice, where she only had to work a few days a week, to become a 24/7 marketing guru at ridiculously high prices because she had a calling from God.  You can’t make this stuff up, except online.

The reason these people come to the internet, the blawgosphere, twitter, is that they know that there are millions of people here who will trust them blindly.  They can puff themselves, lie about themselves, create personas they would never get away with in real life.  And lawyers, supposedly those who are knowledgeable and sufficiently cynical, eat this stuff up.  They believe.  They will argue that their belief is absolutely justified.  They adore these charlatans.  They attend their lectures and conferences. They pay these charlatans.

As an aside, I’ve been occasionally accused by some dopes of covertly blawging to promote myself, despite my anti-promotional public stance, because of the link on my sidebar to my website.  On my website is my complete resume, with dates and details about who I am and what I’ve done. Every inch of it is completely verifiable.  It’s not there for promotional purposes, but transparency.  Anyone and everyone who is interested can learn anything they want to know about me.  I am what I am, no better or worse.

Some of the loudest, most prominent people addressing the blawgosphere aren’t who they say they are.  Not even close.  James Chartrand is a woman.  It doesn’t matter if you can understand why she chose to change her gender, the point being that she could, she did, and she became something she isn’t.  Whether you want to see it as a white lie, it’s still a lie.

Is there somebody who wants to be your guru?  Got a product or service to sell?  Says they can teach you how to get rich and famous like them?  Have tens of thousand of sycophants, all believing they hold the magic secret to success?  Do they emphasize how it’s all about trust?  Check under the hood.  Look very closely.  You may not like what you see.

32 comments on “A Blogger Outs Himself; He’s a She

  1. Dr. SunWolf

    **I see voir dire questions here.** [Of course, I generally see voir dire questions, whether cooking, walking, reading, driving, or watching mindless television.]

    Potential jurors have either got examples of Scott’s blog about being internet-burned, or they know someone else who has been duped. Since a lot of a Juror’s Trial Task is evaluating the credibility of witnesses, real world experiences illustrating the ease of stranger-deception are great examples for the panel. Further, it will bring out a range of individual reactions to internet-dupe: from whatever-it-happens to get-these-people-off-the-street.

    Great blog. Got me thinking.

  2. Leah Herbst

    I had never heard of James Cartrand before yesterday, and will probably forget about him before long but I think a big difference between him and the other people you mentioned (or, rather, didn’t mention) is that information about them and what they’ve done or haven’t done is readily available to anyone who googles a person they are thinking of hiring. No one could do that with James because he was, and still is, using a fake name.

  3. SHG

    You are partially right, but mostly wrong.  Some can be googled, if anyone cares to take the time to do the legwork.  Most won’t, and will accept representations at face value.  But others, and parts of certain claims, can’t be determined by a googling, whether quick or extended.  Tell me how much money some lawyer earned in 2007?  You can’t and there’s no way to find out. So if they say they made millions, how can you challenge it?  What about the nature of work they did?  You can’t tell what deals they worked on from google, so you have to go on faith.

    On the other hand, James Cartrand had quite a bit of existence online, even though there was no such person.  Given some time and effort, an entire reality can be created, even if by nothing more than reference between one blogger and another.  It’s hardly as simple as you think, and it’s dangerous to make such broad assumptions. 

  4. Dr. SunWolf

    Neither. {My mind’s more like one of those random cartoon maps, spreading haphazardly from a center, with everything leading to other things, to still more other things …}

  5. Nicole Black

    The more I think about it, the more I’m inclined to agree with you and Carolyn.

    At first, I (not surprisingly;)) saw this issue as a womens’ issue–ie. as an example of how women are sometimes treated differently simply because of their gender. While this is a good example of that phenomenon, that’s really the least important aspect of this situation.

    As Carolyn suggested, I think that it ultimately boils down to an issue of transparency and trust-especially given the blog and the subject matter “Chartrand” was blogging about.

    And, as you indicate, the Internet really is the Wild Wild West. In many cases, you don’t know who you’re talking to. So do your homework before handing over your hard earned to someone you only “know” as a result of online interactions.

    I need to mull htis over a bit more–and am now thinking that maybe it’s worthy of being featured on my Saturday morning Ustream broadcast. Who knows?

    Thanks for the food for thought, Scott, as always…

  6. SHG

    I think you’re quite right.  Someone on twitter just questioned whether “Jame’s” lie is excusable because of its gender basis.  I think that its gender bias root is a mitigating factor (it’s hardly the most evil lie in the world), but it’s not an excuse either.  As soon as we allow ourselves to ignore honesty and character because we come up with a good rationalization to lie, then there are no constraints on what lies we tell. 

  7. Tad

    One of the great benefits of internet communication is the ability to abolish traditional but ultimately meaningless labels about who we are. Which means that we can indeed pretend to have genitalia we don’t really have, or a better chin or smaller hips. On the internet, you can’t be judged by your accidental physical appearance or sex or race, but solely on the strength of your ideas. Discrediting someone with ideas that people are interested in because he doesn’t have the right resume is as silly as discrediting someone because it turns out they have to sit down when they pee. If somebody’s got a big bag of nothing, their imaginary persona will not save them, in contrast to “real life” where a very good looking empty suit can be granted all manner of favors and success for nothing more than being really nice to look at. The internet is knocking down shallow, superficial prejudices and forcing ideas to compete on equal terms. As a guy who makes a living with his ideas, I’d think you would applaud that.

    I’ll assume you’re not a really good looking guy with an impressive pedigree whose ideas are average at best, feeling threatened by the loss of your advantages. I assume you’re open to the idea that its really about ideas and not physical appearances and genders and races and all the other garbage someone can get away with lying about on the internet.

    You can’t fake your ideas, and those are all that really matter.

  8. VBalasubramani

    I don’t see James’s conduct as that problematic.

    People write using pseudonyms all the time. People also brand themselves. James went beyond this obviously, but it just seemed “like a branding thing.”

    As for the posts exhorting transparency, are we really complaining about transparency in a post that’s titled “How to Promote Your Business and Win Clients”? LOL…

    Did James lie about her qualifications. Her experience? I’m not a regular reader of that particular blog, but from what I know the big lie was around identity. And I don’t think James’s identity mattered one bit to the people who hired her. (I could be wrong about this, but although James created parts of an elaborate persona, it’s not as if James said “I worked 10 years at P&G”.)

    The entire industry is quacky. Is James tweaking his gender such a big deal. Naw.

    That’s not to say I would engage in the same conduct. I would not. I think things are slightly different for legal professionals.

    I wouldn’t look to “excuse” the lie and that’s not really what James did, but “James’s customers” that are complaining (the readers, those that hired her) should ask themselves what their real basis for complaining is? They hired someone they never met or vetted, and now it turns out the person they hired is a woman and not a man. Find something real to complain about…. In reality, it seems like others are complaining but James’s customers are happy as clams.

  9. Carolyn Elefant

    That is Scott’s point, though: people are all too willing to buy into these charades. All James had to do was invoke the banner of sexism and everyone bought in because they’d rather believe that fiction (or maybe it’s fact – who knows?) than admit to being duped.
    Here’s the bigger concern. If James doesn’t want to be transparent with customers, so what? I agree with Venkat on that – it’s the customers’ problem, not mine (though lawyers should realize that the method that James used won’t fly for us, and I’m concerned many don’t).
    But Men With Pens is also a blog. And when bloggers abuse trust or engage in deception, they invite regulation. The FTC is already breathing down bloggers’ throats, while bar associations are trying to regulate blogs because they’re viewed as advertising. I don’t think that honest bloggers who show restraint should suffer because of the loud handful who abuse the privilege. That’s going to chill blogging.

  10. SHG

    No need to assume.  I’m the guy on the far left in the picture in the upper left hand corner.  Obviously, I’m pretty darn good looking.

    As for the rest of your comment, uh, no. What you’re attempting to argue is what I call the Publius Syndrome.  Very few ideas are so profound that their source doesn’t matter.  Almost all rely to some extent on the credibility and values of the person offering the idea.  When people offer their views on the law here, it matters enormously whether they are a lawyer or not, the field in which they practice, their experience.  Whether one would describe your views as Utopian or simplistic isn’t important.  They are still mistaken.

    Even more problematic is your belief that the ability to reinvent oneself “is knocking down shallow, superficial prejudices.”  Some prejudices are shallow and superficial.  Honesty is not.  Why would I (or you) applaud dishonesty?  Because it’s an easy way out of real life?  Because it’s a backdoor to dealing with the ugliness of life?  Sorry, but I applaud integrity, honesty, accuracy and responsibility.  But that’s just me. You are welcome to your own ideas.

  11. Venkat

    this is key >>>

    people are all too willing to buy into these charades

    Let them fall on the swords of their own charades..why does anyone need to step in (even community pressure-wise) and save them? There’s a lot more egregious duping going on out there!

    As to spillover effects to lawyer advertising or blogging that’s a possibility I guess.

    I like and respect anyone who has the “my word is bond” position. I’ve never met in person either Carolyn or Scott, but I get the impression that you’re both ethical, forcefully honest people. I like that. But I’m just not sold that James needs to be held to the same standard.


    This is not a “women’s issue exccept to hypersensitive paranoid whiners who think everything revolves around their own screwed up perception of life.

    This is about lying, period. It amazes me to watch the liars on the internet use this as a “oh my God, this is terrible” moment. There is so much lying going on that even the liars don’t see that they are lying.

    Those with the inability to create a career off the net, come here, to try and convince others that they know “something” that others don’t, that they have the secret to technology or making money, or both.

    It’s all bullshit.

    If you don’t have a reputation off-line, your attempt to create one online will fail, eventually.

  13. bsajdak

    I think the bigger concern is that as lawyers we are competing and interacting with those non-lawyers who are not bound to the higher standards of our Rules of Professional Conduct. Lawyers see this type of conduct by non-lawyers and are tempted to emulate it (and Scott has examples of lawyers doing just that in the post).

    As lawyers we need to speak out before its too late. The lawyers Oath sets a higher bar for us and yet too many are trying to sneak under that bar. Too many in this profession hide behind the shield of “Everything I said was the truth” — even if that truth is misleading. Funny, I don’t remember that as being part of the Oath I took.

    More troubling is when this shield is used in the real world (vs. the internet) by lawyers. Wisconsin’s Supreme Court is splintering over this very issue. If we don’t speak out, the conduct becomes acceptable — and that’s a slippery slope.

  14. SHG

    As to “there’s a lot more egregious duping going on out there,” that’s just a normative view. So you prefer one lie over another? That’s fine for you, but others are allowed to disagree. 

    As for your blame the victims argument, if people learn that someone is a liar and still decide to stand with them (or behind or beside or anywhere near them), then they’ve made their choice.  But the internets are still too new and incomprehsible to many, and they have yet to learn as much about the players as you.  They are unaware of the pitfalls and unduly trusting.  And the liars often build a web of supporters made up of other liars to create the appearance, to a naive outsider, of solidity and integrity.

    Let’s first have some truth and then let people decide whether they want to do business that way.  I don’t suggest that people can’t be as stupid as they want to be.  This is America, dammit, and that’s the American way. But dumb, naive victims don’t excuse lying, deceiving perpatrators.

  15. SHG

    I’m a big proponent of personal integrity for lawyers, which makes me the target of marketers who argue that I don’t “get” web 2.0, a world where it’s all about selling and integrity is for old school fuddy-duddies.  It’s nice to see that the desire to maintain integrity isn’t dead.

  16. Gideon

    If you ever read my blog, you’d know that what I meant was that I’m a concept.

    But anyway, I really enjoyed this post. It was informative and I will bookmark it for later use.

  17. Stefanie Devery

    While understand everyone’s disappointment in her, I think that putting her into the same categories as two disbarred attorneys is unfair and unjust. Further, she is not an attorney.

    I feel as though most people are not actually looking at this from her point of view, they are looking at it from theirs. People are funny. They will see that they have been “misled” and they take it as a personal attack. They will feel as though they should have known. “How could I have been fooled?” I don’t think that “James Chartrand” ever started out thinking, “How can I fool everyone? I know! I will pretend I am a man!”

    As a mother, I can understand where she is coming from. Looking at your babies and not knowing how you are going to feed them is not a feeling I wish on anyone. Doing whatever you have to make ends meet is a natural maternal instinct. When she started with a pen name she was not teaching people how to blog. She was not talking about transparency or any other topic. She was writing articles to make ends meet. I doubt that she ever thought it would get this far. I doubt that she thought that she would become “famous”.

    I think that a little leeway on this one is justified. Her information is fabulous. Her blog is well-respected and I can understand everyone’s disappointment. However, maybe we are more disappointed in the fact that we never knew that “he” was a she.

    Her information is still great and her blog is still worth reading, so really what is the problem?

  18. SHG

    Unfortunately, I lack the capacity to know what other people really think, so I hesitate to agree or disagree about what “James” had in her mind.  That said, it certainly appears remarkably disingenuous for her to blog about transparency, no matter what her reason.  If she’s a huge proponent of transparency, how does that square up with living a lie.

    Babies, of course, need to be fed.  There options, however, that don’t involve lying or being disingenuous.  Is her information still great?  Or is it revealed as a bundle of lies for others to apply but not for her?  I know I have no personally feelings of disappointment toward James.  On a personal level, I couldn’t care less.  But on a conceptual level, one must make a decision about whether honesty matters or whether, if you happen to like the excuse, it’s fine to lie your head off.  And I think this is true for everyone, not just lawyers.  Honesty matters.

  19. KP

    After reading a comment on Deb Ng’s blog made by James’ former partner in crime, I’m postive we’ve all been punk’d and Chartrand isn’t what s/he seems.

  20. Stefanie Devery

    Honesty does matter, I do not think anyone thinks it does not. However, she is not the first person nor the last to have done this as woman. There are many famous writers who have lied about their genders. I find it amazing that most of the people who are the most outspoken about “James” being a woman are men. I am by no means a feminist but I am a Real Estate attorney and most Real Estate attorneys are men. I have had the other attorney ask me to photocopy something for him, I have been asked if I am the attorney’s secretary, etc. While I do not think that all women should start pretending they are men, I do think that a little bit of leeway on this one is well-deserved. She has not committed a crime in any way. Her information is just as good today as it was yesterday.

    James never blogged about transparency. I do not know where that keeps coming from. She blogged about online relationships and engagement of your readers. Her online relationships were real. Why does it matter that her gender is now different?

  21. SHG

    First things first: Included in the post are the links about transparency.  If you’re unfamiliar, feel free to read for yourself.

    Now, to the gist of your point.  Honesty matters . . . except when you think it’s okay to be dishonest?  So the measure of integrity is what bothers Stefanie Devery?  I don’t think that’s likely to be the test that others will chose to apply.

  22. Catherine

    Um, I disagree. You seem to have a very high opinion of yourself when it comes to James’ intentions.

    Also, I’ve been a reader of Men with Pens for years and I’m wondering where you got this notion that transparency was their main purpose. You seem to think it’s somehow a big part of their founding philosophy, that they blog on it every third post, or that they constantly make it their mission. I actually can’t even remember a time I saw the word transparency on that blog. So where are you getting this notion that it’s a blog about transparency?

    It’s a marketing blog. They do writing tips, and freelancing tips, and sometimes design tips. They don’t do transparency tips.

    “Huge proponent for transparency”, you say. Where do you get that idea from?

  23. SHG

    Ah, another person who can’t read?  Aside from the fact that it’s your facile interpretation that I suggest that “they blog on it every third post,” the answer is in the links in Carlyn’s quote. Read the James’ linked posts then argue that the posts don’t say what they say.  But no point in telling us your opinion if you haven’t bothered to learn what you’re talking about first.

    I know nothing of James’ intentions. I know what James wrote.

Comments are closed.