Saving Deceit…and the Problem With Blogs

If you meet enough people in your lifetime you eventually come to the conclusion that there is a scale upon which all people can be placed with "Tossers" at one end of the scale and "Savers" at the opposite end.

Extreme Tossers are the least sentimental among us. They toss stuff out readily, surround themselves with only minimal reminders of who they are, never kept a scrapbook in their life, and can’t figure out why anyone would save that picture of Aunt Ruth grinning beside them at their 10th birthday.

Savers, on the other hand, can’t imagine under what conditions they would ever toss that faded picture of toothy Aunt Ruth. They also keep old magazines, old catchers mitts, every bill they’ve ever received and even old answering machine tapes. You’ve got neat and organized Savers and messy disorganized Savers.

I’m somewhere in between. I hardly am an extreme saver, but I do like to keep artifacts that have what I think is substantial meaning. And that’s why I can’t figure out whether to keep or delete a comment that showed up on this blog in THIS post.

The comment, posted by someone at a Gmail e-mail account and calling themselves "Tom" reads like this:

this the same Chateau Montelena from the new movie Bottle Shock? My
wife and I happened to catch the movie at the Maui film festival when
we were on vacation and I think it’s about Montelena’s first sucessful
vintage? The one that beat out the French in the 70s to win the
Judgement of Paris, right? The movie was great…sort of like Sidways,
but more about the wine. I can’t believe the French bought it
back…how ironic! I guess it just goes to show how far California
wines have come….check out the trailer if you’re interested in wine."

When it was posted I glanced at it and moved on. Another comment on Fermentation. Then Fred Koeppel of "Bigger Than Your Head" alerted me and his other readers to the fact that it was a fake comment; that similar comments have been showing up across the Net and on blogs. Someone promoting the movie Bottle Shock is placing these kind of fake comments on blogs and forums across the Internet.

I can’t figure out whether to delete this fake, commercial-inspired comment on my blog or delete it. Here’s the problem: The comment is an artifact that represents a central element of a tool, The Internet, that we all use. It represents the inherent untrustworthy nature of the Internet where content is not controlled by a group who’s reputation is based on the trustworthiness of the information they present. It is an example of why blogs do not and should not receive the same kind of reputation for trustworthiness that Old World, pulp-based newspapers and magazines thrived upon and still do in large measure.

"It’s only a comment!" I know this. But even the most trivial things can drive home the point.

The Internet has exploded with websites and services that provide reviews, recommendations and opinions that more and more people are going to first to make decisions. How many of the reviews on Amazon and Yelp and TripAdvisor are fake, generated by folks that have an interest in the product or service under consideration? How many of the reviews at Cellar Tracker or Snooth or other similar sites are inadvertently filled with fake comments? How many people are completely fooled and influenced by this most unfortunate kind of trash?

This is the difference, by the way, between blogs and publications like The Wine Spectator, Wine & Spirits, Wine Enthusiast, Connoisseurs Guide to California Wine and The Grapevine. These publications are edited closely by a team of people with experience. Blogs are, generally, not.

I think I’m going to keep this fake post (with a slight alteration). I’ll save it despite my natural tendency to want to delete its type and despite my place on the scale that places me nearer the Tossers. I think I want to be reminded that this blogging space that I love being in and that I think is fundamentally changing the way wine is presented to the world is a tool that readers can’t entirely trust.

For what it’s worth, I got curious about the fake comment and made an effort to track down the person or (more likely) the firm responsible for the rash of fake comments on Bottle Shock that are now showing up on the net. If I discover the source I’ll do my duty and update this post with what I find.


36 Responses

  1. Robert - July 31, 2008

    I’ve always thought that there were a load of “tossers” in the world, but maybe I defined it differently:
    Still applies though

  2. Strappo - July 31, 2008

    Well, really, it sounds like a corporate-generated comment, doesn’t it. Something by a copywriter or PR hack (sorry, Tom).
    As an Extreme Tosser these things don’t trouble me at all. Everything goes into the trash. Quickly. Especially Aunt Ruth.

  3. Robert - July 31, 2008

    Actually, should mention I had similar issues the other day on my blog. Not a “fake” post as such, but a non-constructive, non-engaging, free ad. If I leave it up, am I endorsing it?
    The comment read (notice total lack of personalisation):
    I hope all is well with you. I have enjoyed reading your blog and find it to be very informative.
    I started my own blog which focuses on …
    My response (having decided to keep it and not delete as well):
    “Thanks X.
    Somehow I have managed to mislay your advertising contract.
    Would you like me to invoice you for this advertising on a pay-per-click model, or will this be a monthly subscription?
    On a more serious note, I am more than happy to visit the sites of people who comment here, but etiquette does suggest you might want to be participating in the discussion (the conversation) rather than simply leaving your URL around. That looks, smells and feels like spamming I’m afraid.
    I shall leave this up only so I can make this point, but in future, I suggest you might like to take a more community approach or risk all that effort being for nothing.”

  4. Strappo - July 31, 2008

    Robert, I am proud to say that I am covered by both definitions.

  5. Strappo - July 31, 2008

    Robert, I delete those immediately. Always. Or should I say “toss”.

  6. Josh - July 31, 2008

    The term for this sort of behavior is “astroturfing”.
    By the way, if you enjoy wine you should really check out Pinotblogger: the Capozzi Winery blog!

  7. Randy - July 31, 2008

    Definitely unethical. It’s not astroturfing, it’s comment spam.
    It takes a page right out of the blog spammers playbook (and I wouldn’t be surprised if it used some of the scripts and tools that spammers use to place comments on blogs for their ridiculously off-topic products.
    The fact that it blankets blog entries with certain keywords doesn’t make the practice more ethical. It’s spam, pure and simple.
    That PR firms are engaged in this kind of behavior means at least one good thing, however: they think enough about blogs to target them with their message.

  8. Thomas Pellechia - July 31, 2008

    I agree with Randy.
    On my blog, blatant spam either gets zapped or ridiculed, and this kind of stuff is blatant spam.
    To me, whether to keep or delete is answered by what you view your blog to be: is it a place for serious (and sometimes quite humorous) dialogue or is it a place where the abuses of the Internet are accepted along with serious dialogue (Incidentally, I may be the only one remaining who spells dialogue with the ue ending!).
    The abuses of the Internet are what taint dialogue, not to mention the Internet. I think they should be called out and zapped whenever possible. I know there are too many of them to stop it, but the world surely would be more reasonable if scum would be prevented from rising.

  9. Phil Trubey - July 31, 2008

    As an investor in the movie in question (Bottle Shock), I am appalled. I was alerted to this over a week ago when fake emails got sent to owners of various wine blogs. Now that same PR firm has moved onto fake comments.
    You know, posting honest comments and honest emails – like say treating blogs like real media! – would be so much more effective.
    Anyways, I have tried to cut through the last few weeks marketing rush and metaphorically wring the neck of the firm responsibile for this travesty, but have had no luck so far.
    All I am reduced to is pathetically apologising after the fact whenever a technorati search pulls up a post such as this.
    So, on behalf of the 99% of the Bottle Shock team that aren’t a bunch of juvenile losers, I apologise.

  10. Catie - July 31, 2008

    I keep getting the following email:
    “I have enjoyed reading your blog and find it to be very informative. I started my own blog which focuses on ________ (fill in blank: Florida golf courses, Florida condominiums, athletic shoes, lottos, etc). We should exchange links as our blogs are very compatible…”
    Compatible? But…but…I blog about wines in Walla Walla, Washington!
    Oh and by the way, I still have all of my travel and youth group scrapbooks from when I was in grade school, concert ticket stubs, dried roses, and several photos of Aunt Ginny, but even I keep deleting these email.

  11. Arthur - July 31, 2008

    These Bottle Shock comments as well as tons of others seemingly related to the topic (and I’ve had quite a few)end up getting caught by my spam filter. Akismet rocks.
    I have seen so many of these obnoxious posts (on my blog and others) that I roll my eyes when I hear “appearances” on the radio by actors from the movie’s cast.

  12. Chicago Pinot - July 31, 2008

    Hi Tom! Can you suggest (or if you have time, write) a good blog post that describes proper blog etiqutte for promoting your blog?
    I am new to the blog world, and want to be a good blogging citizen, while at the same time, doing all I ethically can to bring more viewers to my site.
    Thank you for all the great content on Fermentation!
    Douglas aka Chicago Pinot

  13. Jack at F&B - July 31, 2008

    Tom, that comment is Spam. Delete all spam.

  14. Philip James - July 31, 2008

    Tom – this is a problem that Disqus and other blog comment companies are trying to solve. If a user leaving a comment logs in to such a service then their comments are tied to their account across many blogs and its easy for the writer to build trust. Its also harder to spam, or at least easier to ignore the spammers.
    Snooth uses “trust” in the way the Snoothrank scores are calculated. We take into account several different aspects of each users interaction with the site and so its not as simple as creating a fake account and reviewing some wines highly.

  15. Morton Leslie - July 31, 2008

    Sounds like the bottle shock folks are a bit desperate. I gave the script to a director friend when I was approached by the producer regading investment. As my friend explained it to me, B.S. (no pun intended)has a much smaller audience than Sideways. Bottle Shock is a wine story with some fictional characters and sex thrown in appealing to people interested in wine. Sideways was a universal theme of two men approaching middle age searching for their identities, set in the wine country, but appealing to a general audience. Perhaps the B.S. folks are beginning to realize this. Good news, they only have to crack $5,000,000 to make investors whole if they stuck to the budget.

  16. Josh - July 31, 2008

    Gotta disagree that this is “comment spam,” though I do agree it is unethical.
    Comment spam is a bit of text that isn’t customized hardly at all and spammed to as many blogs as possible with little change.
    This particular comment actually had some though put into it, and was customized to appear to be genuine conversation. That, by definition, is Astroturfing.
    It’s lame, its sucks, but if it were done just a little better (no url for example) it wouldn’t be that easy to distinguish from what many blog commenters do to try and encourage folks to follow comments links to their blogs.
    None other than Gary Vaynerchuk employed exactly the same methods. I don’t see too many people complaining about him now…

  17. Patrick Sullivan - July 31, 2008

    I work for a supplier and I have sympathy for Thomas Pellechia. He is now in a tough pickle because of someone who thought that posting a fake comment on behalf of a client is a good thing. I’ve seen this happen to other suppliers and they have been caught in the act too. It really isn’t a good thing because authenticity is what makes us (and our brands) credible. Kudos to Thomas for stepping up to clear the air. This is my first post to any blog about wine because I am so paranoid of being accused of having an agenda to push my company’s wines, but this topic is too near to my heart, so I felt compelled to post my support of the other commenters. I am not aware of our company engaged in posting fake comments, but any large company could have someone in it who thinks they are helping out, but with disatrous results. It is, unfortunately, a risk anyone who has a PR component to their business shares and needs to mitigate to keep the net clear of rubbish and to maintain the trust between our brands and our consumers.

  18. Phil Trubey - July 31, 2008

    Thanks for the kind comments, Patrick. BTW, you misread the comment headers – it was me, Phil Trubey, who is a Bottle Shock investor and posted that comment you are commenting on. Frankly, these comment header and footers will fool anyone unless you look very carefully at them.
    Anyways, to some other people’s points, we are not desperate, just clueless. I tried explaining to a producer what the problem was and how it is hurting us. It was tough sledding. Part of my problem now is that the producers and marketing team are so busy with conventional marketing like press interviews, TV appearances and the like that “blogging” (which they know nothing about anyways) just doesn’t rank up there in priority.

  19. Christina - July 31, 2008

    This is a response to Catie – I too, just lately, have started to receive those “I have enjoyed reading your blog and find it to be very informative…” posts. I have been deleting them as soon as I get them.
    Tom, I still have receipts from the day the winery opened. I tend to be quite sentimental.

  20. Thomas Pellechia - July 31, 2008

    Do you mind telling me what pickle I am in. I have no idea what you are talking about.

  21. Randy - July 31, 2008

    Hey Josh,
    I’ll concede that the majority of comment spam is unrelated to the topic, sometimes nonsensical, and usually mindless in its application.
    However, the definition of spam is (paraphrased) “any unwanted communication that aims to promote a commercial product or get someone to buy something”, aka a solicitation. Gary pimping his show is not comment spam IMO, since he has so many times stated (and I do believe him) that he’s not doing WLTV for money, or to promote his business. He was successful at Wine Library before he did WLTV.
    I’ve changed my opinion on this only inasmuch that the comments being posted could easily have been done by a human PR drone (sorry Tom, it’s the only way I can describe it) with instructions to shape the comment to fit the specific blog post, making sure to mention the movie name and the URL they want to promote. A summertime college intern could be set to this task.

  22. Phil Trubey - July 31, 2008

    Thomas – Patrick got confused by the comment attribution on this blog. He meant I was in a pickle.

  23. Erwin Dink - July 31, 2008

    Geez, Tom. Just delete the f***ing bogus comments and don’t bring more attention to them. There’s no gray area here. The intention of the comments betrays the artifice. I know you’re kinda thinking out loud in this post but in the process you’re giving them exactly what they want and, intentionally or not, whoring your blog.

  24. fredric koeppel - August 1, 2008

    I disagree, Edwin, this is not just a matter of millions of automatic spam messages going out on the internet. it’s a deliberate and subversive ad campaign designed to fool wine writers and bloggers into thinking that these fake responses are real, through their tone and subject matter. They constitute an unethical breach of the trust and transparency of the blogosphere, and as such deserves exposure and discussion.
    and thanks Tom, as always, for the link, but it’s, not “myhead.”

  25. Tammi - August 1, 2008

    This is a fantastic conversation about drawing the lines between what is “real” and what is “marketing” — something we deal with on a professional level every day. As one who has been in the journalism field for half my life, I recognize the struggle with making sure readers are not “duped” and trying our best to share news and information that is relevant.
    While blogging for a newspaper, I found that our political coverage was being gamed by PR folks for campaigns — planting comments all over the place, trying to influence of course. We’re also seeing it in local issues where people on a payroll or volunteers are feeding info. through influential sites and blogs.
    That said, I actually like it when people self-promote because I can choose to believe it, or not. I can choose to look into the issue, or not. And in the case of this movie, I can choose to go see it, or not. Because the bottom line is, they made me and others aware of something we didn’t know before.
    It is ultimately up to the reader to do some fact finding. Unless you, as the blog host and site owner, want to delete it and make that judgment for your readers.
    Thanks for bringing this some light.

  26. David Harden - August 1, 2008

    I blog about wine; I work in Hollywood; I used to work in Internet marketing (pre-blog, 1.0). So this is familiar territory for me. And I think there is a bigger question than, “Is it spam?”
    What if I had recommended the movie because I wrote it or produced it? What if I had recommended the movie and said I was working for a PR company that was trying to get the word out? And a third option, what if I had been working for a PR firm but held that part back? Is one mode of promotion preferable? I think so. Because I think disclosure is critical in virtual space (transparency would be better; I agree with the guy who was promoting Snooth — and by the way, I plan to offer some research on social networking in the wine world at Rational Denial in the coming weeks).
    A semantic answer to my rhetorical question: It’s definitely not spam. It’s targeted marketing. It’s not like the offending party was recommending prescription refills in Canada or pills to grow my little fellah into a big fellah. It’s a film about wine. Why wouldn’t we, the readers of Fermentation, want to know about that?
    And Tom, a quick check on IMdB says that the film is distributed by Freestyle Releasing, who would likely be managing the film’s marketing. And Jolson Creative Image PR (who ironically have a really bad website) is the PR firm. Both would be thrilled we’ve all taken this much time to discuss the promotion of their movie.
    And for what it’s worth, I’ve heard around town that the film is not very good (sorry Phil). I have no stake in the film’s success or failure.

  27. David Harden - August 1, 2008

    Douglas, You should have a look at Tom’s July 2008 archives for a post called “Naked Wine People and Blog Promotion.” And you should also DEFINITELY read his very generous and considered review of RATIONAL DENIAL as you scroll down. (

  28. fredric koeppel - August 1, 2008

    David: Jolsson has denied to Tom and to me that they have anything to do with the fake (or “promotional”) responses to various blog posts. and i disagree that these blog responses about chardonnay, montelena and “Bottle Shock” are merely a form of targeted marketing; when that occurs, the targets usually know what’s going on, because the marketing takes the form of ads, events and so forth that are identifiable as such. These blog responses were purposely disguised as legitimate responses to blog posts when in fact they were not; and that makes them unethical.

  29. David Harden - August 1, 2008

    BTYH, Given my own call for transparency, I don’t disagree. But I don’t think there’s any question that, ethics aside, these efforts are targeted.
    Aren’t these comments just like the kids who hang out in front of my grocery store asking if I have time to talk about Greenpeace, the ACLU or Lyndon LaRouche? If you stop to ask them, almost none of them work for any of the above. Instead, they shill for some third-party company that pays them minimum wage to stand in front of my grocery store to hand out pamphlets from any old client.
    They can only do harm if you pay them any attention…

  30. Phil Trubey - August 1, 2008

    David – I believe Freestyle is not involved in the blogger effort. There are several marketing initiatives that were launched for this movie.
    On the debate as to whether the “fake” comments are OK: I don’t think they’re OK. Deceit is a form of lying. Getting the word out is fine, but be honest about what you are doing. Not only will there be a backlash when people figure out they were duped, but hey guys, isn’t lying just plain wrong?
    WRT whether the film is “good”, really, that depends on your taste. Based on the reviews I’ve read (both posted and advanced), it seems that indie oriented people, people who expect an indie to be unusual, fresh or challenging are disappointed and don’t like the movie. Mainstream reviewers, people who write for the unwashed masses generally really like the movie. I have heard from several sources that it was a “crowd pleaser” at Sundance. Meaning it didn’t win any prizes ’cause it didn’t break new ground, but it hit a sweet spot for most theater goers.
    Like any movie, see it if you think it’ll work for you. Reviews from the usual high profile reviewers should start hitting next week.

  31. kevin keith - August 2, 2008

    I had to chuckle when I saw the word toss because my wife and I watch too much BBC America (thanks Gordon Ramsay!), but you should feel at least complimented that the PR dept. of the studio responsible for “Bottle Shock” felt it necessary to reach a larger potential audience by posting a comment on YOUR blog. As they should, it’s one of the most popular wine blogs, so they would definitely reach the most folks possible. Smart on their part. And big praise for you sir!

  32. Tom Wark - August 2, 2008

    I’d have been more impressed had they simply called me up, asked if I wanted to attend a screening or asked if I wanted to interview someone associated with the movie. I’d have jumped on either opportunity.
    Instead, they assumed a fake comment on this blog would have more impact than what would have resulted from either of my two suggestions above. That’s bad thinking. And their deceptive marketing is bad form.

  33. Douglas - August 3, 2008

    David, thanks for the reading suggestions! I have bookmarked Rational Denial!

  34. Mary B. - August 6, 2008

    I got one, too. Apropos of nothing in the thread.
    ( And I took the time to compose a polite reply. My spamfilters are extremely busy, but this post was just subtle enough to get through. Very sad; I would have been pleased to do a review, or a Q&A with anyone on the movie staff.

  35. Zinny - August 18, 2008

    I don’t think it’s that big of a deal. The internet is loaded with posts and comments that have a hidden agenda. Some more hidden than others.
    I also don’t think comments detract from a blog’s credibility or make it any less credible than a paper magazine. Comments are unmoderated. People are opportunistic. It’s not like they can alter the content of the blog itself. I usually do little more than skim the comments anyway.

  36. Tekla - September 5, 2009

    Good afternoon. Censorship, like charity, should begin at home; but, unlike charity, it should end there.
    I am from Liberia and learning to speak English, please tell me right I wrote the following sentence: “Left categories may be onwards a engine business, or can be a original lace with early owners championed.”
    Thank 8) Tekla.

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