[Rumor]Microsoft 'Gestapo' interrogate whistleblowing Reddit

a guest Jun 15th, 2013 266 Never
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  1. Hey Redditors,
  2. You may recall a post in /r/gaming last week that involved a user named 'mistysilver'. Mistysilver claimed to be a marketing contractor in Redmond. She also claimed to be aware of a 'reputation management' campaign, run by Microsoft's Xbox One marketing team, which partially involved attempts to introduce positive discourse about the Xbox One to Reddit (among other social media platforms). She also claimed to have seen actual Microsoft employees downvoting Reddit posts and trying to steer the conversation away from Xbox One criticism. The original post is here, although you may need to check out the comments to see the full text (several commenters reposted the full text after deletion):
  3. Alternatively, this article on Business Insider summarizes the story:
  4. The post caused quite a stir, and several journalists (including myself) posted the story and attempted to interview mistysilver. She initially refused an interview, but after several Reddit PMs she informed me she had been (predictably) fired, and agreed to an email interview. Through her emails, I attempted to confirm several aspects of her story. In this endeavor I was partially (though not completely) successful. She also explained the story of how she was fired, and gave some more interesting tidbits about Microsoft's future marketing plans. I will post some portions of the email text below (the portions I have permission to post), but first I will post the details of her story that I was able to confirm:
  5. Firstly, I convinced her to divulge her real name and marketing company. I found her profile on a cached version of the company's website, and she allowed me to call the cell number on the profile to confirm her identity. The woman who answered the phone confirmed she was mistysilver from Reddit. As a result of this exchange, I can confirm that mistysilver really does (or did) work for a marketing firm in Redmond.
  6. Although her profile is no longer appearing on that company's website, I decided to double-check her story about being fired. I called her office and asked to speak to [employee name], and the receptionist said that she is no longer working there as of Monday, June 10th. Mistysilver claims she was dismissed on the 8th, so her claim to have been fired seems to check out.
  7. There was speculation in the previous Reddit thread that she worked for Waggener Edstrom. I can confirm that this is incorrect, based on the above-mentioned points.
  8. I was not able to confirm the following:
  9. The exact reason for her dismissal. The company predictably refused to divulge details on an employee dismissal, so I am unable to confirm, beyond a doubt, that her Reddit post is linked to her firing. Nevertheless, she provided a great deal of detail about her firing via email and on the phone, and I am willing to give her the benefit of doubt on that one. The timing matches up (she was fired within days of making that post), and frankly it would be more surprising if someone who leaked sensitive company information on Reddit kept their job.
  10. Whether she truly saw those Microsoft employees on Reddit in the first place. This is the most damning part of her story, and it seems to be unverifiable. I asked her if she took any photos of the incident, and naturally her answer was no. Ultimately we have a situation where someone is recounting an experience of a few minutes in length, in the office of a client company, and I can't think of any possible way to verify the story. All I can get is her testimony, I'm afraid.
  11. Email interview
  12. I asked why her Reddit account was only a day old at the time of her post, and why we should trust the testimony of an account with no other posts. Her reply:
  13. My account is obviously a 'throwaway' that I created for the express purpose of posting that story. I have my own regular Reddit account, yes, but I have posted enough information about myself on that account that I would be absolutely identifiable if I used it for that story. What's more, I admitted in my post to having done some Reddit reputation management myself in the past. If things took an unexpected turn, I did not want to face backlash from the Reddit community myself.
  14. I asked her how she (initially) expected to get away with leaking sensitive company information:
  15. I deliberately obfuscated some of the facts in my story so that it would be impossible for anyone at Microsoft to identify me. I hinted I was at a certain set of buildings when I was actually touring a different part of the campus, for example. I noticed a few angry Microsoft employees posted in the comment section, saying I was going to easily be caught based on the information I posted. However, I made sure to alter enough minor details to ensure that wouldn't be possible. What's more, there were a huge number of contractors touring the campus on that day and I was pretty sure it wouldn't be possible to distinguish me from any other.
  16. I asked her why she broke her NDA (although as we can see, she believes she did not):
  17. A few others accused me of being unprofessional or breaking an NDA. This is actually not the case. Although I have signed an NDA with Microsoft, it revolves around my company's own project that has nothing to do with the Xbox. What's more, there is nothing in my NDA (or indeed, any standard NDA) that would prohibit me from saying what I did. What I said amounted to "Microsoft is engaging in reputation management", which in the marketing industry is like saying "The sky is blue". This is very standard practice, and among marketers (certainly with Microsoft) the information is considered too trivial to even be worthy of putting in an NDA. The only reason I am maintaining secrecy is because of the surprisingly strong reaction Microsoft have taken to it.
  18. I'm not sure I agree with her interpretation of what constitutes 'breaking' an NDA, but onward.
  19. I asked her what she thought of her post's subsequent explosion on Reddit:
  20. I am surprised my post exploded so much, because what I described is very much standard practice in social media marketing. Microsoft, Sony, basically any company does this. I went through all that training myself in my first social media job. The reason I posted it was because not many people on Reddit actually seem to be aware of how often their platform is used for this. I saw some random user specifically accusing Microsoft of astroturfing, and he/she was told to 'put on their tinfoil hat'. This surprised me, and I thought "Don't most people know this kind of thing is done?". That is basically what spurred me to make the post. I made the post right before going out. I was really surprised to come home, hours later, to find thousands of comments and a deletion!
  21. I asked her what Microsoft think about her actions:
  22. From what I've heard, Microsoft are going absolutely CRAZY about this. It really surprises me, because honestly they are normally quite open about their marketing and reputation management practices. We all know they do it, it's no big secret. Most companies do it. Why Microsoft suddenly want it to be a secret now is something that puzzles me.
  23. I asked her whether she was from Sony or otherwise involved with them. Her reply:
  24. Quite a lot of people accused me (either jokingly or seriously) of being from Sony. Whilst that would make for a fantastic story I must admit I am, unfortunately, a regular marketing grunt in Redmond (an unemployed one now, too). There were certainly some hilarious posts, though! One user discovered that 'misty silver' was actually the name of the color of an old Sony Eriksson phone, which blew my mind. I chose the name 'misty silver' out of thin air, and yet still managed to choose something that sounds connected to Sony!
  25. I asked her whether she intended to get a PS4 or Xbox One:
  26. I did not make my post out of Sony fanboyism (or fangirlism!) either. To be honest I am a PC gamer, and I own neither a PS3, Xbox 360, or a Wii/Wii U. I made the post simply because I thought the /r/gaming subreddit would find it interesting. I am not trying to advocate Sony's (or indeed, Nintendo's) console as an alternative to the Xbox One. I am unlikely to buy any of those consoles myself, and will probably just stick to playing on the PC.
  27. Finally, I asked how she got fired. This is a quite long and actually really interesting story, and she has allowed me to post it in full:
  28. In short, I've been fired. It all started yesterday, as me and some other SMMs were called in for a Sunday afternoon shift. This is fairly common, as various online marketing campaigns we are managing often need snap work. As soon as I got there, I knew something was wrong because my boss seemed really nervous and wouldn't look at anybody. Once everyone had signed in, he came and dropped the bombshell: our company had been identified in a 'whistleblower scandal'. At first, I didn't think it had anything to do with me. I figured I didn't do anything grand enough to qualify being called a 'whistleblower'. But I soon found out it actually was related to the Reddit post.
  29. My boss introduced us to two managers from the Xbox division, who had apparently come to talk to us about it. They wanted to speak to several of the employees privately, one at a time. We joked a little about this as they spoke to the first of my co-workers, because these guys were like caricatures. If it weren't for their Midwestern accents, the way they talked and behaved could've gotten them a role as Gestapo in a WWII film - they didn't even take their sunglasses off inside! This just seemed all very silly, and we joked about them a bit while we waited. Once it was my turn to be interviewed, though, I found them to be very serious. They asked me a lot of pointed questions, and their manner was fairly rude. They talked about 'online leaks related to the Xbox' and, although they didn't mention precisely what the 'leak' was, they did mention Reddit so I'm pretty sure they were trying to find who made my post. They didn't think the 'whistleblower' was me, however, because they were convinced it was a man.
  30. After all of the interviews were over, we finally got to work on our clients for a bit while the Microsoft guys spoke with my boss. After a while, they left and my boss spoke to some of the other employees in his office. I don't know what they said, but afterward he came around to speak to us individually. He told me that one of my co-workers, David, had been implicated and would be fired. I felt a twist in my stomach, but knew I couldn't let this happen. So I asked to speak to my boss privately - and owned up. I showed him the Reddit account and explained the whole situation.
  31. We talked about it for a while. Although my boss sympathized and said I technically had not broken our NDA nor lost our contract, I would still need to be fired because "That's the way it has to be". I packed up, left and am now no longer working at that firm.
  32. I had several friends in the business call me in the evening, and had some really interesting chats about the whole ordeal. Basically Microsoft is more sensitive about their RM activities than usual because they are just about to start an unprecedentedly large campaign, on Monday, across a wide variety of media platforms. Apparently I made my post with the worst possible timing. They've invested a huge amount of resources into this, and, understandably, the last thing they'd want is negative press right before they begin.
  33. Although I have performed RM (reputation management) in the past myself, I do not agree with the techniques Microsoft are employing. At my previous job I would sometimes do RM for clients that was relatively benign; like posting some positive reviews for small businesses like plumbers and other traders. It's a good way to stimulate online discussion and help to launch a social media presence for someone like that. Microsoft's usual RM strategy, however, is to absolutely flood the Internet with so much positive material that it influences the market on a mass scale. It works really well, too. The Internet may be abuzz with anti-Xbox posts right now, but it will be a matter of weeks before that has changed completely. They will post so many positive comments from 'regular folks' that the media narrative about the console will change. Numerous bloggers will suddenly change their tune and start supporting the console.
  34. Worst of all, people who ask serious questions about the console's security and functionality will be ridiculed. This is the part I really don't like. Right now, people are having a debate across social media about the potential security dangers of the console. In my opinion, that's an important issue that ought to be discussed in a free and open manner. The problem is, Microsoft will artificially stifle that debate under a wave of positive hype and ridicule directed against those who asked questions. The debate will be stopped dead in its tracks, and/or driven to the fringe. In my opinion it is unethical practice to try and shut down free and open debate - to silence discussion of important issues. That's why I stand behind my decision to make that post. I stand behind what I did, even though it got me fired. I sincerely hope that, as a result of what I've done, the gaming community (not only on Reddit, but the gaming community worldwide) will resist Microsoft's latest artificial flood of positive hype. I hope they will continue to ask important questions and debate the serious issues. That's all anyone can do, really - keep going after the truth, even if millions of people online seem to disagree with you. We live in an age where those 'people' are not necessarily real people, and can't let that artificial hype influence our own opinions.
  35. That is everything I have been able to learn from mistysilver thus far, but I'll keep you guys updated if I learn more. Once I've got more info I'll run a proper story, so fire away if you guys any further insights on this issue to contribute.
  36. tldr; The woman who leaked the story about Microsoft Reputation Managers last week is real, she really worked at that firm, her story may be true, she was really fired. Microsoft apparently upping their RM game.
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