Dilbert’s demotion continues

There appears to be a growing epidemic of cranky creative types taking to the Internet to defend themselves from amateur critics.

Some are shameless in their self-promotion – others operate under the veil of anonymity.

Until they get busted, that is.

This is what happened to Dilbert creator Scott Adams last week, in a public humiliation story line that would suit a certain workplace drone comic strip character of his own creation.

Adams was revealed to have been using an online pseudonym to bash message board users who did not have nice things to say about him.

In a world in which more and more celebrities are breaking down the digital barriers between famous and fan, the incident served to underscore the temptation, ease – and risk – of becoming your own biggest booster online.

The backstory

An individual posting as PlannedChaos recently rushed to the defence of Adams on the website MetaFilter, where users were panning the much-derided cartoonist, calling his intelligence into question.

Gawker, in a post last Friday, outlined some of the suspiciously vigorous vindications.

Exhibit A: “He has a certified genius IQ.”

Exhibit B: “Is it Adams’ enormous success at self-promotion that makes you jealous and angry?”

Exhibit C: “It’s fair to say you disagree with Adams. But you can’t rule out the hypothesis that you’re too dumb to understand what he’s saying.”

Alas, the MetaFilter users eventually called PlannedChaos out, and Adams confessed that he was indeed behind the mask.

But that wasn’t the last of it.

Adams published a lengthy justification of his actions on his own website Monday afternoon in the form of a Q&A with PlannedChaos.

“According to the wise and fair denizens of the Internet,” Adams wrote, “this behaviour is proof that I am a thin-skinned, troll… ego maniac… misogynist,” and other. “That list might sound bad to you,” he continued, “but keep in mind that I was starting from a pretty low base, so I think my reputation is trending up.”

He then proceeded to offer some “proper context” for the scandal.

“Obviously an alias can be used for evil just as easily as it can be used to clear up simple factual matters. A hammer can be used to build a porch or it can be used to crush your neighbour’s skull. Don’t hate the tool,” he wrote. “The next thing to consider is that in my line of work, some types of rumours can cause economic damage to hundreds of people in the so-called value chain. The stakes are high. I know from experience that when a rumour flares up that says, for example, I’m affiliated with one particular interest group or another, the people who hate that group will stop reading Dilbert comics.”

You can read Adams’ entire rant here. But not everyone’s buying it.

“Keep digging, Adams,” says Gawker’s Adrian Chen.

Mary Elizabeth Williams of Salon offers a more analytical take.

“Anyone can be anyone on the Internet, and for many, anonymity offers a freedom and safety necessary for self-expression,” she writes. “But when someone deliberately misrepresents himself, because he claims his own adoring ‘invisible friend’ is an ‘unbiased messenger,’ when he lies about who he is because it’s ‘fun’ playing the ‘vigilante,’ it’s a profound statement of cynicism about the nature of online community and contempt for his readers.”

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