Gawker Just Went From Toxic To Radioactive

I don't know how prostitution works in the US. I really don't. But I know a little bit about how it works in the UK. Generally what happens is that you visit a website like 'Adultwork', call up a sex worker, organise a time and a place to meet, pay them in cash, have sex, and then leave. You don't send a sex worker selfies or mail them money upfront. Why would you do that? For those wondering, I learned all of this from a Channel 4 documentary, I haven't tried it myself.

Waking up this morning I was greeted with my phone buzzing to the news that Gawker, the US-based 'content aggregate network' or whatever they call themselves, had really, and I mean really messed up again. Well that's no surprise. Ever since Gawker ruined a multimillion dollar advertising campaign for Coke, they've been pretty toxic. Let's get this out the way - if I was a media buyer I would advise my clients to avoid them like the plague.

The gist of the story is that Gawker have published a piece which helps a sex worker in blackmailing a man whose "brother was a high-level official within the Obama administration". The two had planned to meet for some consensual gay sex. However when the sex worker found out who this man was (.i.e. who his brother was), he demanded help in fixing an administrative and difficult housing dispute. Naturally the John realised this could never end well and made his polite excuses. So the sex worker who Gawker are calling Ryan decided to take the story to the presses.

Regarding protection of identity, Gawker writes "The escort—who does not want to reveal his identity for professional reasons", and leaves it at that. But this is what they did. They abetted in the blackmail of an innocent man. They exposed his sexual orientation to his family and children (I believe this is called gay shaming?) And they ruined his life and ruined his reputation. All for clicks. All for hits. All for the lolz.

Simply put, Gawker has always been dangerous. That's not an opinion. This isn't an editorial. That's a fact. However this steps over the line in so many ways. There's no excuse to blackmail someone and hide it behind the flimsy excuse of journalism. There is no excuse. Over the next few days we're going to see a huge backlash against Gawker. Thousands of emails will be written. Tens of thousands of tweets will be sent. Brand managers all around the world will know about it. The only question that remains is a simple one - Brands, do you want to continue advertising on Gawker and having your products associated with blackmail, gay shaming and the pointless ruining of lives? Or do you want to draw a line and say "Enough is enough. This is where we say no more."

Sometimes terrible secrets need to be exposed for the collective good of mankind. Journalism can truly change the world. But this wasn't journalism. This was aimless and unnecessary malice.

Tweets picked at random in response to Gawker announcement


Update Friday July 17th 21:20 CET - Gawker has pulled the story and Nick Denton announces here why. The cliff notes are that the story isn't interesting enough.

Gawker is no longer the insolent blog that began in 2003. It does important and interesting journalism about politicians, celebrities and other major public figures. This story about the former Treasury Secretary’s brother does not rise to the level that our flagship site should be publishing.

The point of this story was not in my view sufficient to offset the embarrassment to the subject and his family. Accordingly, I have had the post taken down. It is the first time we have removed a significant news story for any reason other than factual error or legal settlement.

See also: Gawker brought back bullying - then removes post against editorial staff's wishes