The whole subject of anonymity comes up again with this Whole Foods/FTC kerfuffle pertaining to the Whole Foods acquisition of Wild Oats:
John Mackey, co-founder and chief executive of Whole Foods, posted anonymously about his company and the acquisition target Wild Oats Markets on the Yahoo stock market boards beginning in 1999 until last year. Using the pseudonym "Rahodeb" -- an anagram of his wife's name, Deborah -- he routinely bashed Wild Oats, posting nuggets such as "OATS has no value and no future," The Wall Street Journal reports. That particular post was made in February 2005; this year, Whole Foods agreed to purchase Wild Oats for $670 million in February.
Mackey then proceeded to try and spin this up on his website FAQ, taking out his one foot from his mouth in order to insert the other one:
From 1999 to mid-2006 I made a number of postings on the Yahoo! financial bulletin boards concerning Whole Foods and Wild Oats under the user name "rahodeb." The FTC discovered my identity as rahodeb through one of the millions of litigation documents that Whole Foods provided to them. They are quoting rahodeb in some of their legal documents and no doubt seek to embarrass both me and Whole Foods through these disclosures. I want to make the following points about rahodeb here:
- I posted on Yahoo! under a pseudonym because I had fun doing it. Many people post on bulletin boards using pseudonyms.
- I never intended any of those postings to be identified with me.
- The views articulated by rahodeb sometimes represent what I actually believed and sometimes they didn't. Sometimes I simply played "devil's advocate" for the sheer fun of arguing. Anyone who knows me realizes that I frequently do this in person, too.
- Rahodeb's postings therefore do not represent any official beliefs, policies, or intentions by either Whole Foods Market or by me.
- At no time did I reveal any proprietary information about Whole Foods on Yahoo!
- All of rahodeb's postings should be read in the full context of the discussions that were taking place on the bulletin board at the time the postings were made. Reading them out of context may lead to serious misunderstandings.
- All of rahodeb's postings also need to be understood in the context of the time that they were written. Because the competitive market has evolved so much in the last 5 years, older postings mean far less today than they did when they were written.
To be sure, there are specific advantages and disadvantages associated with anonymity. Giving courage to those who - otherwise - would not have been comfortable speaking up is part of the social media DNA. That said, when anonymity becomes an excuse for cowardice (especially when malicious intent is present), it is clearly unacceptable.
In Mackey's case however, this was neither. Rather, it was just plan and simple stupidity. He got caught red-fingered and try as he might to rationalize or weasel his way out, I fear this will not end well for him...