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Astroturfing will bite you in the ass, and get a mention in the New York Times.

We've done this before (remember the hidden [in plain sight] persuaders debate?). You all know that creating fake identities on boards and chatting up your product will bite you in the ass sooner or later. But it all depends on the community you are trying to pimp your stuff on. Metafilter is self-policing community (that I've always hoped Adland could emulate), where members thought a question posted to Ask Metafilter just didn't look right....

The thread was called out: Is this transparancy? and soon the Givewell board issued a statement of apology.

Founder of a Nonprofit Is Punished by Its Board for Engaging in an Internet Ruse

Mr. Karnofsky, writing as geremiah, posted a question to Ask MetaFilter, a question-and-answer page that is part of MetaFilter, a community blog.

“All the Web sites I’ve seen just have huge lists of charities with some basic financial data/ratings,” Mr. Karnofsky, as geremiah, wrote. “I’d ideally like to hear from someone who has put some time into examining/comparing charities and can recommend someone who’s good. Any ideas?”

Roughly a half-hour later, after three other people had posted comments, Mr. Karnofsky, writing as himself under the name holden0 but without disclosing his relationship with GiveWell, answered his own question and recommended GiveWell’s Web site.

“This was a horrible lapse in judgment,” Mr. Karnofsky wrote in a Dec. 31 post on GiveWell’s site. Reached by phone on Monday, he said he was not authorized to comment.

If all press, including bad press, is good press well then Givewell has it made, since now you can even find an entire Metafilter Wiki Page about Givewell.

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tod.brody's picture

Do you think this is as bad as when Sony Pictures invented fictitious critics who they then quoted in their ads?

Dabitch's picture

Oy, no that incident was just plain beyond bad. It's similar though.

tod.brody's picture

2 Sony Executives Disciplined For Faked Praise in Film Ads

You know, it's hard to believe that they actually got to keep their jobs.

Wendall's picture

I can just picture this guy sitting in a corner with hand puppets, saying in a high-pitched voice "oh yeas, everyone loves you & your website, Mr. Karnofsky".

Dabitch's picture


There's plenty of blog postings on this putting negative light on Givewell. And right as Givewell was having such a great run in the mainstream press, too. Talk about shooting yourself in the foot.

What happens when you get caught with your ethics down

Even though you might be able to do what Holden did and get away with it, don't do it. It's unethical.

And if that isn't enough to persuade you, just take a look at the savage treatment Holden, GiveWell, and anything connected to them have received in the past few days. It's probably safe to say that the reputations of Holden and GiveWell are meaningfully and perhaps permanently damaged. It's hard enough to raise funds without getting stuck with baggage like that.

The Net is a great tool, but you've got to use it right!