Those who post anonymously to online forums may want to rethink this practice - especially executives who write about their own company.
That's because John Mackey, chairman and CEO of Austin, Texas-based Whole Foods Market Inc., this week found himself answering questions about eight years of anonymous bulletin board posts that were cited by the Federal Trade Commission in a lawsuit filed against the company last month.
The lawsuit, filed June 6, seeks to prevent Whole Foods from acquiring competitor Wild Oats Markets Inc. because the FTC contends that the acquisition will be anticompetitive. Whole Foods announced in February that it plans to acquire Wild Oats for US$565 million.
The Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday that a footnote to the lawsuit mentioned that Mackey often posted on Yahoo's bulletin boards under the name "rahodeb." In those postings, the Journal noted, Mackey disparaged the management of Wild Oats and questioned why any company would be interested in acquiring the Whole Foods competitor. He also talked up his own company's stock and operations, the article continued.
Mackey on Wednesday acknowledged in his blog that he made several postings on Yahoo Inc. financial bulletin boards between 1999 and 2006 about Whole Food and Wild Oats.
The FTC, he wrote, discovered his identity through one of the litigation documents Whole Foods provided to them. He asserted that the agency included the blog posts in the lawsuit to "embarrass both me and Whole Foods."
He went on to disclose that he posted anonymously because it was "fun" and that he never intended any of the postings to be associated with him. He said his posts were sometimes personal opinions, and other times aimed at playing "devil's advocate" with readers. The posts do not reflect "any official beliefs, policies or intentions by either Whole Foods or by me," he added.
His blog continued, "At no time did I reveal any proprietary information about Whole Foods on Yahoo! All of rahodeb's posts should be read in the full context of the discussions that were taking place on the bulletin board at the time the posts were made. Reading them out of context may lead to serious misunderstandings."
Kevin Keller, a blogger at the popular technology blog, GigaOM, noted that the Mackey incident underscores the danger of "thinking the Internet would enshroud him in anonymity like an invisible cloak. The more time we spend on the Net the more we realize there is no such thing as anonymity anymore."
Still, he noted that Yahoo's stock boards are "either touting a stock in hopes of sparking a short squeeze or ratcheting the price high enough for a profit; or they're hedge funds mercilessly dissing a stock toward $0."