Week in Review: Everyone is Still Talking About Museum Tower, Sock Puppets and Tortious Interference

MuseumTower-rendering-2.350w_263hI have been mulling on this story all week, ever since last Sunday when it ran in the Dallas Morning News: Fake Social Media Profiles part of  Dallas pension fund’s public relations fight with Nasher (sub req). 

Aside: What has happened to capital letters in headlines?

Brandon Eley and Barry Schwartz were the names on the two fake Facebook files former newscaster Mike Snyder set up and used as “sock puppets”, just like Shari Lewis’ cutie pie Lamb Chops in the 1950’s. By the way, there really is a physician in Dallas named Barry Schwartz, an ObGyn — did Mike’s Barry tell gyno jokes and host couth lessons for fourth year Parkland residents?

puppets-lamb-chop-290x400The term “sock puppet” refers to the creation of fake commentary on blogs, using fake names that act as pro or nay-sayers. According to the Urban Dictionary, a sock puppet is “a fake personality, usually a ‘friend’ or ‘sister,’ created by a drama queen/king for the sake of defending him/herself against others in an online forum.” People do this for many reasons: to promote, defend, or just dang it be right and look more popular. Not that it’s a justification, but some of these blog threads can get mighty nasty, super snarky, and half the commenters have “avatars” and fake names. Some take online forums way too seriously, mostly people without substantial employment.

It’s been said that we never really leave high school.

Sometimes it is done for defamation. In fact, in the lawsuit brewing between Grand Estates Auctions and Concierge Auctions, Concierge has charged that Grand Estates sought to defame the competitive auction house by setting up fake email accounts to publish “false and defamatory” stories (what we call troll comments, by sock puppets) about its competitor and steer business to Grand Estates.  Course, Grand Estates says Concierge allegedly misrepresented its sales numbers and used web crawlers to inflate its Internet traffic. My point: welcome to the internet age and web-related problemos.

The sock puppetry was pretty dumb. But I have a feeling this happens a lot more than we realize, often without us even knowing it. Social media experts offer a multitude of services — you can actually hire people to comment on sites on your behalf, vote on your behalf in web popularity contests, buy Twitter followers, buy reviews, do everything to slather your name all over the web. I get three to five emails a day from people who want to post on this site, as if we are desperate for content, “free” stories and in return, they just ask for an embedded link. SEO experts write and publish all day trying to boost a clients’ google rankings, bring up positive press, squash down negative. Steve Thompson and Gary Jacobson’s reporting was stellar and diligent, we need more. I may be wrong, but they only got one side’s emails through the open records request, from the Pension fund.

Are there any “sock puppets” on the Nasher side — and if so, how many fake comments did they write? Because I don’t think either side has been Ivory Snow pure in this battle.

More concerning to me was the scary legal letter sent to Christina Rees. And her employer. Perhaps I am just a bit more sensitive about blogger’s personal rights, journalist’s sources and freedom of speech these days, but the threat of tortuous/tortious interference on a real estate transaction from a Facebook posting both fascinated and frightened me. What if someone were buying a home and they asked my opinion of it before closing? What if I said, well, I wouldn’t buy it: dislike the lot size, the neighborhood stinks, and it has only one bathroom for the price you are going to pay.

Could the seller and seller’s agent sue me for tortuous/tortious interference if the buyer backed out of the contract because I gave my opinion and it was negative?

I could care less how it is spelled, I just want to know what IS tortious interference in a real estate transaction?

If I am a seller, and my buyer needs access to my house for inspections to further the contract he has on my home that I have signed and agreed to, and I block such access, I am interfering with the forward progression of the contract — correct? I risk being sued for tortious interference. So tortious interference requires that the plaintiff has a contract with another party, the defendant knew or should have known of that contract’s existence, the defendant intentionally induced the other party with the contract not to perform the contract, and the defendant’s action caused the plaintiff to incur damages, right?

Here’s the gist of what Steve and Gary wrote:

“The public relations battle between the pension system and the Nasher comes down to condo sales. Nasher supporters hope that an outcry over the glare will slow sales, forcing pension officials to modify their tower.

For pension officials, it’s critical to move public opinion on the glare issue far enough to sell the units, most of which range from roughly $2 million to $4 million. Otherwise, the pension fund’s $200 million investment will be a loser.”

Is the “outcry over glare” tortious/tortuous interference? Looks like we have come down to “glare” versus losing a $200 million investment. In Detroit, by the way,  public-sector retirees are going to court to argue that the city’s Chapter 9 bankruptcy filing should not take a bite out of their pension. The pension funds are  underfunded by anywhere from $700 million to $3.5 billion, got that way because of some bad real estate investments made in 2005-2006. Now this really shocked me: some of those investments were made in Dallas — boy I’d like to know where:

“How did the pensions blow it? Their failed investments include housing developments in Sarasota, Fla., and Dallas, both of which imploded during the housing-market crash, and a loan guarantee for a hotel-and-condo project in downtown Detroit. “

Dallas imploded like Sarasota?

Jason Aleem RedfinGlare versus a $200 million investment for police and firefighters: other day I was with Redfin broker Jason Aleem, who you will be hearing more about on these pages. (LOVE Redfin!) He told me of working a possible deal on a unit at Museum Tower with Kyle Richards from Briggs Freeman Sotheby’s and he said was taking a little extra pride on this deal, if it worked, because Jason’s dad is a Dallas firefighter.

Whose pension is wrapped up in that building.

I am almost beginning to think maybe Jim Schutze is right: this is getting to be a rich people’s battle of egos. At a very rich high school.


10 Comment