[T]he Securities and Exchange Commission had begun a formal inquiry into whether [Whole Foods chief executive John] Mackey violated security laws with the posts.Let's consult sock puppetry expert Lee Siegel:
Whole Foods maintains that Mr. Mackey did not break the law because he did not disclose any confidential company information.
But the consequences could be damaging to the company, if not to Mr. Mackey. Securities lawyers say the Federal Trade Commission might use the comments to scuttle Whole Foods’ proposed acquisition of a competitor, Wild Oats, a company Mr. Mackey derided in his posts. Wild Oats may also use the comments as the basis of a lawsuit against Whole Foods.
In November, New Republic magazine suspended its culture critic Lee Siegel after it determined that he had been energetically defending himself in the discussion forums of his New Republic blog, under the name “sprezzatura” (Italian for “making the difficult look easy”).Yeah, who knew the free-wheeling world of the web was going to get all straight-laced about fooling around like this?
In an interview, Mr. Siegel said that it is only human to engage with critics, particularly in a medium like the Web that encourages self-expression. He still defends his actions, saying that he was having fun, playfully praising himself while combating some critics whom he saw as fierce and puerile. He thinks that much of the inflection of his online writing got lost on the computer screen.
“As for Mackey boosting his company and putting down his rivals, entrepreneurs will be entrepreneurs, and technology is an amplification of human nature, not a cure for it,” Mr. Siegel said.You know, I'm sympathetic to both Siegel and Mackey. Why can't we play on line? Mackey should have to follow the legal rules about disclosing insider information and so forth, and Siegel should respect the policies his employer lays down, but why are we being so repressive about the use of pseudonyms? Using a pseudonym on line is like walking around in public incognito. People don't always have to know who you are. If the new rule is going to be that you must always be identifiable, what a horrible loss of freedom!
It may also be human nature to vent online, especially for people who, like chief executives, face formidable legal and public relations pressures to stay on script. That pressure, repressing people who may be otherwise inclined to speak and fight candidly, may be what forces executives like Mr. Mackey to invent fake identities.
UPDATE: Someone purporting to be Lee Siegel participates in the comments, leading to deletion and controversy, which is all explained here.