Many thanks to all for the thought provoking discussion regarding ‘VREAA Removes A Post’ (4 May 2010), both in comments posted here, and elsewhere. [Comments from some other sites are archived, here.] Instead of responding to all the various ideas in a piecemeal fashion, I thought I’d respond in this post.
Perhaps the most important topic raised is the issue of freedom of speech, and journalistic freedoms. Many commenters were dismayed by my decision to take down the post, and I can understand their responses:
- “Please don’t cave in to realtor pressure, you are simply reporting a story” -Mark
- “Giving in to bullies is not really a good way to go about reporting on issues.” -Snowrunner
- “Take Down ?!? Its part of the history!” -asalvari
- “Pretty ridiculous that you caved in to the realtor’s demands.” -Adrian
Many encouraged me to put the post back up, but I have decided not to do that.
Let me emphasize that in principal I agree with the argument that there is nothing illegal about the post, and that it was by and large simply reporting. I documented activity that had occurred in the community that was reflective of sentiment regarding the Vancouver RE market. That is something that I have done in many other posts at this site. In fact, a central focus of this blog is documenting stories that reflect the personal and social effects of the RE bubble, and the fact that some individuals had felt moved by the market circumstances to post posters and stick stickers certainly is noteworthy from that perspective.
If I was an anonymous reader of this blog, I’d quite likely also have tried to encourage the blogger not to be intimidated and to take a stand on this issue.
However, a good number of commenters saw that this was a more complex matter for me, the blogger. I greatly appreciated the supportive comments that showed a somewhat nuanced understanding of how it would feel from the blogger’s perspective. Not by co-incidence, some of that support came from individuals who themselves have experience of blogging:
- “Cut VREAA some slack. I suspect he doesn’t have the time or $ to take a big legal stand.” -VHB
- “I applaud your wise decision to move on and post another day.” -Larry
Refusing to remove the post may have provoked an actual legal proceeding. Recall that I received two e-mails from the realtor that made direct threats of legal action. The second e-mail had come even after I’d clarified that I was not responsible for the stickers in any way. I will add here that the realtor works as an agent for a fairly large realty company. It is highly likely that, if their company decided to back them in this action, they would have automatic access to legal resources, whereas I do not.
As various commenters pointed out, if the realtor did proceed with this action, even if they had no grounds at all (as I believe is the case), it would potentially have cost me my time and my money.
It would be, at the very least, a nuisance, and, at worst, would take up my personal resources. I really don’t think the case would have gone very far, but it could still have proven to be a significant interference.
- “Be careful” – freedom
- “Tread lightly on the legal stuff.” -Larry
With all that in mind, I did the risk/benefit analysis, and decided to remove the post.
- “If vreaa chooses to not put the pics up again I completely understand: a nuisance suit is still a nuisance suit! Who has time for the hassle?” -Absinthe
Another consideration that contributed to my decision was the risk of being scapegoated. Recall that I’d had absolutely nothing to do with the poster or sticker campaign itself. But if the realtor was angry enough about something, and had nothing better to do, they may have pursued the action anyway, if only to blow off steam. Again, this would have all come out in the wash, but I didn’t want to be a by-stander drawn into a brawl that I had no part in.
Now, if I was a public figure in the Vancouver RE market, or if I was someone who made my living from journalism, or if this was a blog where the central focus was freedom of speech, I would possibly have responded differently.
- “Contact BC civil liberties association and get a quote or two for the press.” -Rocker Guy
- “I’d throw this story to some local guerrilla political messaging blogs and let them take it from here.” -jesse
As it is, I decided to respect the realtor’s request, and decided not to go head-to-head with them about something that I ultimately just didn’t see as worthwhile taking a big stand over.
Many commenters appealed to me to release the name of the realtor who sent the e-mails, or the e-mails themselves.
- “One case of Molson’s finest delivered free to anybody who can come up with that reators name.” -joeblow
- “I think someone threatening to take legal action against you should be named. Again, it’s newsworthy and readers of the site would want to know.” -midbach
I haven’t seen fit to do that, even though I suspect it would be within my legal rights to do so. I made that decision simply because I don’t want to be a party to escalating any form of uncivil discourse or action. I know that the vast majority of readers would not act on that revealed information in any untoward way but, this is the internet, and I wouldn’t want to take the chance. Witness this comment exchange:
- “You absolutely have to give us the realtors name, and there would be nothing illegal about that. This CREEP would wish he’d never been born.” -sluggo
- “What, are you going to put stickers all over his signs?” -Dave
In this regard I should re-iterate that none of the realtors whose signs were imaged on the web, nor any well known realtor bloggers, were the source of the e-mails.
I would also re-iterate that I do not condone any actions that involve breaking the law.
Bears can express themselves and, more important, this RE market will do what it’s going to do, without anyone breaking the law.
- “Don’t descend to their level. The best revenge is making sure the facts and real information gets out there.” -Plummet
- “House prices are not going to change as the result of a grassroots movement. Leave it to the Invisible Hand [of the market]” -Newcomer
Many of the comments were thought provoking.
More than one commenter noted that, in complaining about coverage of these incidents in the community, the realtor had actually drawn more attention to the message on the poster, and stickers, and I think that is a remarkable point:
- “Great example of the http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Streisand_effect” -Wiki
Another commenter suggested that the realtor should have politely asked to have the images taken down prior to threatening legal action and, I agree completely, that form of discussion would have been far preferable.
- “I am unimpressed with anybody who brings lawyers into the picture when simply politely pointing out one’s concerns with an image could accomplish the same effect. I would certainly avoid hiring a party who is so quick to jump to their lawyers.” -VultureBoy
Commenters suggested that this whole affair was itself a noteworthy ‘data point’ in the Vancouver RE bubble. Perhaps, like the simultaneous deflating of the roof of BC Place, this will mark the final top.
- “If you want a measure of what the sentiment and a big part of the narrative around real-estate in this town it’s kind of all condensed into this one little event.” -nonymouse
- “The fact that a realtor would threaten to sue over posting pictures of “bubble” stickers on realtor signs is the surest smoking gun you need that even the realtors know this market is done.” -Rent-o-rama
Of particular interest, I believe, were the points made by commenters regarding the relative intrusiveness of the stickers on the realtors’ signs compared with the impact of aspects of the RE bubble itself:
- “Gimme a break, realtors are the ones that vandalize our hoods in the first place by putting their for sale ad signs up all over the place.” -gork
- “So it is unacceptable to put a tiny sticker on a FOR SALE sign, but it is perfectly ethical to sell an overpriced home to an overextended family…” -painted turtle
- “Shall we compare the societal damage done by someone with a few stickers in his pocket to the societal damage done by a massive housing bubble? If the first is an ounce, the second is an ocean.” -VHB
A special form of comment and a considerable amount of derision came from local realtor Rob Chipman, at his own blog, in the form of a post ‘Guerilla Education’ (robchipman.net, 6 May 2010).
I should explicitly state that Rob was not the realtor who e-mailed me the threats, and he has even seen fit to reproduce the images at his site. Rob takes me to task for both the content of my original post, and for my decision to take it down.
Firstly, with regard to post content, Rob says that I was wrong to label this action “a guerrilla education campaign” and to have said that “there are still members of the public, trapped in disinformation bubbles, for whom this will be news”. He claims: “We live in the information age. You can get all this information on your phone, right now.” For the record, the image of the poster on the lamppost shows that it included statements such as “Vancouver has been rated the most unaffordable city in the English speaking world” and “Interest rates are expected to rise, causing some mortgage payments to increase by 60% to 100%”. Well, yes Rob, you may be able to get that information from your phone, right now, if you know where to look. I would argue that a good number of Vancouverites, dependent on local media for their information, are not aware of these facts. They don’t look for them on their phones because they’re not even aware that there are important RE market issues being debated. It’s certainly not something that is easily learnt from local papers, local TV, or from the copies of ‘Real Estate Weekly’ that are delivered to our doors (uninvited) 50 times a year or more.
Secondly, Rob believes I should “stand up and preserve our freedom of speech, not fold like a cheap tent and cry foul”. Well, I’d refer him to my discussion above, and ask him to try to see this situation from my perspective. I suspect that ‘freedom of speech’ includes the freedom to decline from speaking when one has good reason.
The purpose of VREAA is to document the personal and societal impacts of the Vancouver RE Boom and Bust. It has always done this through civil discourse, as any regular readers know. The Vancouver RE cycle will wax and wane in its own sweet time, and that is going to play out regardless of these kinds of skirmishes.
- “time to move on” -jesse
Thanks again for all the discussion. I’m going to continue to post anecdotes, with occasional commentary. If you have any stories from the Bubble-trenches, please send them along.