The Line Between Right and Money

Watching one of those new gadget segments on NBC this morning, because ABC is no longer available on Cablevision until they resolve who will get the lion’s share of the next cable price increase, one of the newest “cool things” was a beach safe.  It’s a box to store one’s valuable while at the beach.  I turned to Dr. SJ and said, “that’s a good idea.”  Dr. SJ, as is her wont, disagreed.

“I don’t want to live like that.  I won’t carry a safe with me wherever I go. At some point, you have to believe that people aren’t that untrustworthy.”

She can be so naive.  For those of you who have foolishly subscribed to Simple Justice, you have endured what I have endured with the deluge of spam comments from backlinkers who bought Angela Edwards’ list of high pagerank URLs that have “do-follow” comments.  You’ve read the arguments these backlinkers, as well as Angela herself, make in support of what they are doing.  On a forum where spammers congregate, Angela offered more of vision.

Since I’m getting so many emails about it, I thought I’d bring it back up publicly. Folks get concerned when a website doesn’t like links and calls anything done for a backlink “spam”.

This particular site that you brought up, Sonia, is owned by a criminal defense attorney in New York, Scott H. Greenfield. This person, so up-in-arms by what he’s calling “high quality spam” (meaning that the comments are great and on-topic, but he doesn’t like the motivation for WHY the comments are being made) who called me a “scary sick woman” for having my backlinks program had this to say about the Lori Drew case, where the mother of a high school girl caused the suicide of 13-year-old Megan Meier after disguising herself as a teenaged boy on MySpace and luring the girl into a “cyber relationship” and then later telling her “The world would be a better place without you.”


New York defense attorney Scott Greenfield had criticized the November 2008 jury verdict on his blog, Simple Justice. “Under the [jury] verdict in the Drew case, the internet is replete with misdemeanants. People provide less than 100% accurate information in filling out their profiles all the time,” Greenfield wrote in a Nov. 28, 2008 post. ”This makes many, even a majority perhaps, of Americans criminals. It’s bad when a law is interpreted in such a way that most people are criminals.”

Again, if a site is “bristling” at leaving links, don’t leave links on the site. It’s not respectful. But the “spam argument” is ‘in the eye of the beholder’. If a site allows a link then it is to be assumed that folks are allowed to leave a link on the site, regardless of their motivation for doing so. The folks who commented on Greenfield’s blog weren’t even being “inaccurate”. They were simply putting a link into the allowed spot for one.

Angela V. Edwards's Avatar To her credit, Angela does tell her acolytes not to leave links at a site where they are not wanted, as “it’s not respectful.”  Of course, Angela’s advice comes just a tad late. She doesn’t find out before she sells the URL whether her mercenary endeavors will be unwelcome, leaving the “owner” to suffer her advances first, fending off the throngs of backlinkers.  It’s easier to say I’m sorry than ask permission, but the harm is already done.

But it’s the failure of her comprehension that speaks loudest.  First, she equates “high quality spam” with “great and on-topic” comments.  That many, though hardly all, of the comments left by her backlinkers were better than the typical spam comments that blawgers ordinarily receive, doesn’t make them great or on-topic.  It merely makes them better than the awful crap typically received.  This may be her spin, or the assumption of someone for whom language remains a mystery, but the implication is that comments, even if quasi-relevant, are themselves a sufficient payback for the backlink.

The failure of this self-justification is clear:  The deal is cut by the backlinkers alone, without asking the blawger’s permission or approval.  They find it sufficient, and I have no say in the matter.  Or more precisely, Angela finds it sufficient and collects money by selling my URL.  No cut for me, Angela?  Don’t I get to wet my beak too?

Her other argument is more intriguing, relying on a little research on Angela’s part to learn what I’ve written on the Lori Drew case.  I’m glad she had to work, if only a bit, to learn something, and would hope that the fact that she found such a substantive point might somehow help her to grasp that this blawg (or marketable URL, in Angela’s world) is about substance.

Angela points to my Lori Drew quote to suggest some sort of hypocrisy on my part.  I can understand why she might think that, given her limited comprehension and twisted perspective.  Granted, this is a somewhat nuanced argument, so it’s understandable that it would be beyond the grasp of a spammer. 

Angela simplistically equates doing wrong with criminality.  She does wrong, as do her followers.  That doesn’t mean I believe she should be imprisoned for it, but it also doesn’t mean that anything not prison-worthy is fine.  There are norms of behavior that don’t rise to the level of criminality but are still unacceptable.  That Angela can’t understand this is at the root of the problem, and is clear from her rationalization of her behavior.  The crux of her position is:

If a site allows a link then it is to be assumed that folks are allowed to leave a link on the site, regardless of their motivation for doing so.

As another backlinker, who also happens to be a lawyer, Victor Medina, noted:

It’s as though people are arguing that they should be allowed to come into your Dunkin Donuts franchise and pass out Starbucks coupons just because you’re open for business and the door is unlocked.

Worse, it’s like they’re coming into your house (since this is not a “firm” blog set up in the hopes of commerce) and demanding that they be allowed to sell your guests life insurance. It’s cheesy, it’s amateur-hour and you have the absolute right to deny them entry (or thrown them on their ass if they get past the front door). I can’t fathom how they think otherwise – and maybe I shouldn’t try.

In short, this goes to the sense of entitlement to take whatever one thinks one can get away with.  There’s no issue of propriety or integrity involved.  If one can swipe it without getting caught, then it’s perfectly acceptable.  Indeed, there is a right to do whatever is in ones pecuniary interest, as long as you can get away with it.

Another backlinker, Jim Patterson (who says he doesn’t nearly as well of Angela and her ilk as she does of herself), writes:

The real question for me is pretty basic. Does the person leaving their link behind also leave value. If not, then Yep! It’s spam!
This is an honest reflection of a fundamental difference in perspective between those on the internet who see it as a purely commercial medium and those who do not.  This is where this discussion becomes more consequential for lawyers.

The vast majority of Angela’s spammers are promoting commercial websites.  The only purpose for their being online is to sell something, and hence the only reasonable perspective they would have as to what they are doing, and why the internet exists, is commercial.  There is no reason why they would know, or care, about the norms that are expected of a blawg like this.  It’s just fodder for their marketing efforts.  Nothing more.

But some were lawyers.  Lawyers trying to enhance their page rank to get on the first page of Google so that when a potential client looks for a lawyer in their niche or area, they will find them.  This is what lawyer marketers are telling lawyers they must do to survive.  This is the means by which clients are obtained.  This is the future of a successful practice.

Is this who you want to be?  Is this why you became a lawyer?  To be a spammer to get on page one of Google?

While I can’t say that it’s been pleasant deleting posts every morning, and a few times throughout the day as well, I will survive it.  But will those lawyers who are selling their integrity for pagerank survive what they’ve done to themselves for a buck?  We are at a professional crossroad.  Angela’s people sell everything from used cars to viagra.  Are you merely another viagra seller?

Dr. SJ wants to believe that people aren’t that untrustworthy.  I want to believe that lawyers aren’t.  I want to believe that when you step back and look at what you are doing in the name of a buck, at the company you keep, that you will take a deep breath, a long shower and remember that you became a lawyer for a higher purpose than to make the first page of Google.

For those of you have been forced to endure this along with me, I’m sorry.  Hopefully, we can salvage something useful from this unfortunate situation, and enlighten some lawyers who have fallen into the clutches of the marketers.  Hopefully, some people will chose doing right over money.

8 thoughts on “The Line Between Right and Money

  1. John Beaty

    She must sell Amway. I mean, it’s the same problem: if someone offers to show me a business opportunity, that’s one thing. To come to my house on Sunday, purporting to want to watch the game, and then use that time to try to sell to my friends is another.

    No apologies necessary, for me at any rate. I’ve been fascinated to watch this unfold.

  2. Stephen

    That looks like another example of the “if there’s not a rule against it then it must be OK” way of thinking.

  3. Victor Medina

    In light of the new arguments advanced by Angela, I must modify my early statement, if you’ll allow it:

    “It’s as though people are arguing that they should be allowed to come into your Dunkin Donuts franchise and pass out Starbucks coupons just because you’re open for business and the door is unlocked – AND they told your customers how fresh the donuts are in your establishment.”

    I feel more complete now.

  4. SHG

    I think the additional to your analogy gives too much credit.  It’s in comprehensible language.

  5. Lee

    That analogy fails because Scott isn’t selling his posts like donuts and doesn’t (trust me) give a shit if anyone likes his posts or his point of view. Someone coming here and saying “great post! now let me sell my vacuums” has absolutely zero redeeming value (financial, social, emotional or otherwise) for Scott. It like a smelly crackhead coming into Scott’s Dunkin Donuts and saying “I like pizza! I love fucking pizza! Did you see the Oscars? I love the Oscars. AND PIZZA! Want to buy a vacuum?”

  6. Stephen

    Beyond getting the elbow into smelly crackheads is that version hugely different? I didn’t see any mention that the people coming into Dunkin Donuts were adding value in the original version either.

    I was impressed by it when I first saw it, it covers all the main points and I thought it was one of the more apt analogies that’s been pitched on the internet lately.

  7. SHG

    No need to quibble over the analogy.  The theory on the part of spammers is that by saying something “nice”, they will appeal to the ego of the blogger, who will then leave the post up as a testament to what a billiant blogger he is.  The opposite is that by telling the blogger how the commenter disagrees, the ego of the blogger will demand that he engage the commenter to prove he’s right.  Either way, the post remains and the commenter gets his backlink.  That’s the only point to this exercise.

    For Lee to say that I don’t care isn’t exactly true.  I care when the point is legitimate from someone whose comment is legitimate.  I couldn’t care less about whether I please a reader or not.  I’m not trying to amuse anyone or gain fans, despite what some of the idiots who don’t get blawging think.  So these appeals to ego aren’t of interest to me, while the real thoughts of real readers do.  It may not change my opinion, but I wouldn’t say that I don’t care.

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