Michael Arrington is a man who would prefer to keep the things people whisper about him out of the public eye. So the blogging-capitalist, whose "conflicts of interests" run longer than his resume (literally), came out gunning for Whisper CEO Michael Heyward during a TechCrunch Disrupt panel earlier today.
Heyward did not do himself any favors and Whisper investor Roelof Botha did not lift a finger to help. (Botha's firm, Sequoia Capital, led a $21 million investment in the anonymous app last September and another $30 million round in March.)
The conversation completely unraveled when Arrington put up a slide of the Whisper post that outed Gwyneth Paltrow's alleged affair . . . right after Heyward brought up Tyler Clementi, the Rutgers University student who committed suicide after he was cyber-bullied by his roommate.
Whisper was credited with breaking the news about Paltrow's infidelity, something Vanity Fair would only hint at. Heyward claimed the information was fact-checked, but he didn't say how.
Their exchange is part of a larger discussion right now about the potential negative impact of anonymous apps. Every social network has to deal with cyber-bullying concerns, but it gets harder to police when secret-sharing is built into your business plan.
Whisper's competitor Secret works off of your contact list, increasing the likelihood of gossiping about a mutual friend or acquaintance. Heyward said Whisper does not allow proper names, except in the case of public figures. Arrington, he said, would not be considered a public figure, only people with "global relevancy."
Heyward's meandering answer gave Arrington enough rope to ask whether Whisper had put together a hit list of public figure "targets," which would not be unusual for a news organization. It doesn't seem like Whisper has a hit list, but watch the video above to see for yourself.
Earlier on the panel, Heyward somehow managed to admit that infidelity caused his parents' divorce. And that his mom would be mad at him for saying that on stage. That was in the context of trying to explain how social media's "24/7 highlight reel" (of how awesome your life is) causes people to be less empathetic. Heyward's argument about carrying the burden of identity was compelling, but his delivery was painful and naive:
"Maybe in a 100 years from now, we're gonna live in a world where Whisper doesn't even exist in its present form, where we're all so intimately close with one another that nothing is taboo, nothing is weird, you know? We just come on here and everyone is just like, 'Hey, this is what's going on with me today. I'm a, oh, my parents are cheating on each other.'"
At the end of the panel, Arrington told Heyward that he disagreed with him on the Paltrow "part of the business," adding:
"I just want to say that you did great. And you're genuine and you clearly believe the stuff you're saying. And that's a lot more fun for me than somebody who comes up and just is an expert in deflecting stuff."
Well, as long as everyone's having fun!
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[Video via TechCrunch]