Strangest Social Media Story of the Year

Robert J. Ambrogi is telling tales. This one involves a soldier supposedly dishonorably discharged for gang rape, a critical blawger, and a whole slew of unsuspecting lawyers participating online – myself included.

As Mark Bennett puts it,

Clearly, Wayne Conley has more than one screw loose.

I met Wayne Conley when I wrote this post (and others), calling Melina Benninghoff a dumbass for allowing her former client, Wayne, to destroy her reputation by stealing content from real bloggers.

Bennett’s criticism angered Conley, who accused Bennett and other lawyers of destroying the California lawyer’s reputation. Ambrogi explains how Conley reacted,

Conley embarked on a vendetta against Bennett and others, posting comments on his and other blogs and on Twitter under fake identities, writing fake reviews on Avvo, and even threatening to seek Bennett’s disbarment. His greatest “success” came under the Twitter handle “asshatlawyer,” an account under which he was able to engage in head-to-head battles with several lawyers.

I briefly mentioned Benninghoff on Blawg Review 228, which somehow got me in Conley’s sights as well when he followed me and nominated me as an “Ass-Hat Lawyer.” (n.b. Slaw is hosting Blawg Review 249 on Feb. 1, 2010).

I wasn’t alone though, because a few other lawyers got caught up in it too. Scott Greenfield provides his description of what happened,

…by following lawyers, many, many lawyers, their vanity kicked in and the notion of accumulating followers without having any clue who they might be overcame whatever judgment these lawyers might have. Asshat Lawyer followed them and they followed back. Woohoo! Another follower! How important I am!

I know for myself that I follow-back anyone who looks human and is not a spammer. A headshot, link to a real website, and legitimate content are usually proof enough for me.

Or as Rex Gradeless, the Social Media Law Student, recently said,

remember this Rule when using social media – not following, could be disastrous IMHO

So, what do you think? Follow-back everyone? Or perhaps now follow more carefully, knowing there are people like Conley out there, who are not just interested in spamming, but in engaging in pointless conflicts?

Regardless, Ambrogi claims this story might be the strangest social media story of the year, and he just might be right.


  1. I follow a lot of people, but I look at them individually and do not automatically just follow back. If they look like spammers, I will block them (e.g. if on Twitter) and report them as spam. For me to follow back, I have to believe there will be a benefit to the relationship; otherwise, I let them follow but don’t follow them back. For example, there are a lot of social media marketers following me. I’m not interested in hearing pitches, but if they want to read what I am posting, let them feel free.

    I think I stumbled on one of the conflicts you describe once and wasn’t quite sure who or what this was. What you describe is troll behaviour, and I do tend to block trolls as well. Reminds me of the Amanda troll who plagues those in social media PR, a highly organized troll who is apparently created/run by more than one person.

  2. Do not follow more people than you can sensibly read and respond to. The rest is just numbers, entrancing though they may be.

    Be discerning in who you follow: the idea is (or should be) to learn, after all, and most people don’t offer useful stuff most of the time.

    Numbers aren’t money; and almost certainly won’t translate into money, even down the line. And even if they were, or would, life’s too short to put up with the chatter just for fortune / prestige / fame / power — those perennial sirens.

  3. Similar to Connie, I have a criteria that I walk through for each follow. I developed it because I do believe that the essence of social media is that you should follow people, build friendships, trust etc.

    If someone follows me I do the following.

    1. I check their general twitter profile. Are others following them? What is the ratio they have of follwers to following?

    2. I scan their tweets? Are they informative, or just re-tweets, or what appear to be marketing / auto-generated?

    3. Do they have a website? Does it look like a legitimate website that has a opinion or concepts that I might learn and find useful?

    4. Does the website have an ‘about me’ or ‘about us’ page? Here, I am looking for information about them. I want to know a little about who I am following.

    5. General Internet search, do they post elsewhere, have comments and opinions or not?

    Based on this, I make a decision and either return the follow or not.


  4. I agree this was the strangest social media story I’ve seen while on Twitter. There are a few strangely personal conflicts that have popped up between attorneys I follow, but this was just outrageous. As for following, I agree with Simon’s comment that you should limit to a manageable amount. Using lists or a Twitter client really helps, as I recently rediscovered and subsequently unfollowed a few accounts when I started reading an unfiltered feed on my phone.

  5. Social media survival – more broadly – web survival (outside of closed environments) seems to require that we stand the traditional “keep your friends close but your enemies closer” aphorism on its head. You can’t give them electronic “access”. The operating rule seems that it should be something like “keep your known friends close, your “non-friends” at a distance, and your enemies outside your firewall.

  6. I’m with Simon on this one. I’m very selective about who I follow on twitter not because I was ever concerned about getting got in a bizarre web like this one but simply because I can only follow so many ideas at a time without losing the entire benefit of twitter in the first place.

    Similarly, while I don’t command an army of thousands of followers, I know that the 200+ who do follow me aren’t simply doing so as some sort of automated response reflex. They actually are interested in what I have to say and probably read my tweets fairly regularly.

    Quality over quantity has the unintended side benefit of also shielding me from these kinds of social media attacks

  7. My comment had nothing to do with actually following people on Twitter. The tweet meant to suggest people should follow the rule linked to.

    The rule linked to was: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”.

    Thus I meant to convey: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you when engaging others online or it could be disastrous.” (i.e. treat people with respect).

    Strangely, the tweet came out during this bizarre situation and some presumed I meant “follow everyone on Twitter”.

    This being said, I disagree with Simon because, with the right tools, you can filter your fire hose and organize those you are following. Also, if you’re getting spammed, block them – spam gone. The more people who block a spammer, the faster they are removed from Twitter. (i.e. reporting spammers is the fastest way to get rid of them). Those who spam my account are blocked. You should all do the same.

  8. Thanks for the clarification, Rex; it’s incredibly easy to misconstrue a message in 140 characters.

    The epilogue of this ordeal was that several lawyers on Twitter alerted others about this user. I did exactly as suggested above – and blocked the individual. Twitter also seems to have suspended the account, suggesting some controls are working.

    The issue of filters seems to be addressed by the new list functions. I’m still populating mine, but it has allowed me to get topic-specific updates from users without actually following them. Aside from concerns raised by this scenario, I can’t see any reason for not reciprocating.

    The Golden Rule does still seem to apply for trolling. But it could apply to following as well, because I periodically unfollow those who do not follow me. I suspect others do the same to me, as I am not incredibly diligent about following-back.

    As for Amanda Chapel, reports of her demise are largely exaggerated. Seems she’s still Twittering away.

  9. It’s rare that I follow back someone who follows me, mostly for the reasons Simon provides. Twitter is great precisely because it’s asynchronous, and there’s no obligation (technological or social) on the followed to follow back.

    I don’t take the slightest offence if someone I follow doesn’t reciprocate, because I don’t expect that the content of my Twitter stream will be of interest to more than a few people. In turn, if I don’t follow you back, it’s usually because the content you provide, no matter how good it might be, doesn’t hold enough interest for me. Or because of any of these other reasons, which I blogged last year and recently revised for a magazine article:

    1. Your Twitter account doesn’t give your real name or link to a Web page.

    2. You’ve been on Twitter for more than an hour and you don’t have a photo posted yet.

    3. You’ve posted hardly any updates before following me, giving me no reason to follow you.

    4. You’ve protected your updates, meaning I can’t see anything you’ve already posted until you grant permission, really giving me no reason to follow you.

    5. You’re following 5 to 10 times more people than are following you.

    6. Your posts are mostly links to your own blog or your press releases.

    7. More than half your updates are retweets of people I already follow, making it kind of pointless to follow you and get the same news twice.

    8. Not one of your last 20 updates contains a link I feel like clicking on.

    9. You’re selling something (product, service, cause, belief, or pornography).

    10. You’re Ashton Kutcher.