Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Patrick Byrne's Merry Christmas

Illustration courtesy of Wall Street Folly

(Note: A few weeks after appearance of this item, Overstock's "director of social media" Judd Bagley confessed to being the anonymous slimeball who runs Overstock.com antisocialmedia.net smear site. See this item and others tagged "Judd Bagley.")

Overstock.com CEO/conspiracy theorist/short-and-analyst suer/journalist-taunter/Worst CEO-wannabe Patrick Byrne spent Christmas day "focused," not on his company, God forbid, but on vilifying his critics on a stock message board.

Byrne responded with a carefully worded non-denial when asked about evidence that his new "director of social media," Judd Bagley, runs a website called antisocialmedia.net that posts vicious lies about myself and other critics of Byrne and Ovestock.

"Technically, I do not 'know' who out there is behind it (the person who is behind it has made an effort to shield me from that knowledge), though admittedly, I have a very good idea," says Byrne. This kind of corporate doubletalk is an immense, waving red flag. Regulators, I hope, will pay attention.

The attack site's latest targets are a couple of Internet critics of Byrne, publishing their supposed personal details in a brazen attempt to silence and intimidate. One is a software engineer who just happens to dislike Overstock, and the other is an Internet anti-fraud activist who has actually received a lot of publicity for his good work. The identity of the software engineer was obtained through pretexting, according to an account posted by him on a Yahoo message board.

The obvious purpose of such cyberstalking is to silence people who don't happen to think Overstock is a very good company -- a sentiment shared by the market over the past two years. What makes these tactics even more curious, particularly if they are being employed on behalf of Overstock, is that anonymous Internet stalking is prohibited by a recently enacted federal law.

Critics of Overstock are not, however, stooping to the tactics that have been employed against them. After it was noted that Bagley apparently had once likened abortion to "slavery," it was suggested that this be disseminated on the Internet. After all, most Overstock shoppers are women, etc. etc. That suggestion was rebuffed, and correctly so.

However, at about the same time another Internet detective found that someone at Overstock.com had rewritten Overstock's entry in Wikipedia, turning it into a corporate press release. That is relevant, and raises troubling issues of transparency and disclosure.

CORRECTION: In a previous post I identified Judd Bagley as a "Jeb Bush speechwriter." He actually worked for a minor Florida agency. My apologies to Jeb Bush.

(I've had to substitute a Google Cache link for one of the links above. A few weeks after this post appeared, InvestorVillage deleted all of the posts from the Internet skeptic who had been giving Byrne such a hard time. This display of partisanship -- rare outside the worst stock-pumper message boards -- was doubtless prompted by complaints from Overstock.)

© 2006 Gary Weiss. All rights reserved.


Wall Street Versus America was published by Penguin USA on April 6.
Click here for its Amazon.com listing and here for more information on the book, from my web site.

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