CORRECTION: Former TV news anchor Mike Snyder was working independently when he posted online comments about Museum Tower in Dallas, not as part of his partnership in an Irving-based communications company. His role was incorrect in this column.Twenty years into the age of online profiles and comments, one rule remains:Not all Internet users are who they say they are.Behind that cute dating profile might be a sweaty trucker on the cafe Wi-Fi. That reader comment on a news story is really from a white supremacist trained to troll.For the latest lesson of Never-Trust-Anyone-on-the-Internet, we have the clumsy cybergoofs of former TV news anchor Mike Snyder of Arlington, now a communications consultant paid to create fake Facebook accounts and post online comments for a Dallas condo tower in a potential legal tangle with the neighboring Nasher Sculpture Center.If you read a comment on D Magazine or the Dallas Business Journal by “Brandon Eley” or “Barry Schwarz,” that was Snyder.In politics, it’s “sockpuppeting,” defended as anonymous free speech.Communications professionals call it other names.“The use of deceptive identities … constitutes improper conduct” under the ethics code of the New York-based Public Relations Society of America, the leading professional organization.A word is underlined for emphasis: Professionals “should not engage in … anonymous Internet postings.”In a story first reported Sunday in The Dallas Morning News, Snyder defended commenting in anonymity but also sent an email apologizing to Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings.Snyder, a co-founder of a strategic communication company, was hired to drum up support for the public Dallas Police and Fire Pension System, investor and owner of a 42-story condominium tower reflecting so much sunlight that it’s basically slow-roasting the Arts District and the sculpture center next door.(The company, Irving-based Ropewalkers, published a resignation letter from Snyder Monday and said he was not working on its behalf.)Instead of swaying readers, Snyder embarrassed himself and the pension fund.Look, I know people use fake names. But usually, they risk only making themselves look silly or cowardly.“You don’t ever want anyone assuming another identity on your behalf,” said Samra Jones Bufkins, ethics officer of the Dallas PRSA chapter and a University of North Texas lecturer, to KLIF/570 AM.At TCU’s Schieffer School of Journalism and Strategic Communication, associate professor Jacqueline Lambiase blamed untrained “posers” switching careers.“A lot of people out there just put up a shingle and say they’re practicing public relations, when what they do has nothing to do with PR,” she said.She called the social media spin machine a “subculture” and said she has heard of practitioners running 70 or more fake Facebook accounts, not to mention paid comments and pay-for-play reviews on travel or dining sites.“If you’re a true PR practitioner, you should be doing no cloaking,” she said.“You should not be running any sockpuppetry. You should not be setting up bots to make comments.“It’s just a no-brainer.”It looks bad in the light.
Bud Kennedy’s column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays. 817-390-7538 Twitter: @BudKennedy