Holmes Report Blog

The Holmes Report blog focuses on news and issues of interest to public relations professionals. Our main site can be found at www.holmesreport.com.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Lawsuit Abuse: It’s amazing that a decade or more into the Internet age there are still companies that believe the best way to respond to a chat room criticism is via a lawsuit. Still, it’s understandable when lawyers do it. Lawsuits are a medium they understand, and no one expects them to know anything about protecting a corporate reputation.

But when it comes from a PR professional—as this missive to Canadian journalist, sci-fi writer and blogger Cory Doctorow did—it’s hard to understand. If “Dennis Zhidkov" really is a PR manager for Star-Force, Inc., it’s hard to imagine that he saw no other way to deal with Doctorow’s criticism of his company’s products except to threaten him with legal action.

Perhaps Zhidkov thought he was dealing with a nervous nine year old, because his hyperbolic attack—“your article violates approximately 11 international laws. Our U.S. lawyer will contact you shortly. I have also contacted the FBI , because what you are doing is harassment”—is so over the top the only possible reaction an adult could have is hysterical giggles.

McDonald’s learned the hard way that when you threaten (or worse still take) legal action against your critics, you not only amplify the original criticism, guaranteeing a wider audience and enhanced credibility, you damage your own reputation, because no one loves a bully, even if he happens to be right on the facts. That’s doubly true in the online world, where free speech is a prized commodity and any attempt to stifle discussion is an offense even to those who might otherwise agree with you.

I have no idea whether Star-Force products are as bad as Doctorow says. I do know, thanks to Zhidkov, it's not the kind of company I would want to do business with.

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