General Motors (GM) employees have reportedly flooded the comments sections of car blogs to boost the company’s reputation, according to a report.
Bertel Schmitt, co-founder of the popular automobile website The Truth About Cars (TTAC), discovered that more than 3,000 comments on the site originated from GM’s Public Relations department.
The comments themselves ran the gamut of one would expect to originate at RenCen: Defense of the bailout. "GM DOES NOT OWE US TREASURY $40 BILLION." If the Treasury lost money on its stock purchase, tough. If bondholders lost their shorts, even tougher, they should have read the fineprint. Occasionally, there are barbs against the competition one would not hear when the spokesfolk is on the record, they range from "You can easily recognize the latest Ford’s from the smoke and flames pouring out from under the hood" all the way to "BMW uses slave labor and burns gays at the stake."
A GM spokeswoman said that the company encourages PR employees to interact with industry blogs as part of its strategic communications, but there are strict rules to guide them.
Employees must disclose that they are GM employees when they are speaking on behalf of the company, as well as when they are speaking independently, in order to avoid the astro-turf allegations that come with "planted" praise in auto-blogs.
The spokeswoman said the company is just as adamant about respectful language, alluding to the inappropriate posts documented by Schmitt.
"The same regulation is applied to vulgar language. … It is never, at any time, acceptable to use vulgar language," she said in an email.
Former TTAC Editor-in-Chief Ed Niedermeyer said that the findings did not surprise him.
"This investigation shows that comments originating from GM-owned IP numbers engaged anonymously in everything from crude trolling to arguing in favor of the bailout," he said. "We haven't found evidence of a concerted campaign, but it's clear that a large number of comments were made from only a very few IP numbers."
GM has suffered multiple PR headaches in recent months. The company owes more than $14 billion to American taxpayers for the bailout. Its stock would have to double in order to fully recover the money.
The GM spokeswoman did not respond when asked if the company intended to investigate the allegations in the report.