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Potton & Burton
Rob Kidd reviews the 'horrifying and spell-binding' account of one man's battle against internet vilification.
Like many Auckland journalists in 2012 I would regularly visit the Whale Oil blog, whether in search of a story, a salacious morsel or to see myself slagged off for a story I had written.
And like others I was bewildered by Cameron Slater’s sudden, unprovoked attack on Matt Blomfield.
It was a change from his usual fodder. Blomfield was a no-one; small fry compared to politicians and big names, surely.
But as the blog posts continued it appeared Slater might have a point. It had the distinct look of a personal vendetta.
Blomfield must have done something to deserve it.
But Margie Thomson’s exhaustive investigation, with Blomfield’s assistance, showed conclusively he had not.
The genesis of the grudge and resulting online campaign appears to have been with the entrepreneur’s marketing role with Hell Pizza.
After (very successfully) doing the job for a few years, Blomfield fell out with some key players who look to have enlisted the help of Slater to take him down.
‘‘Operation Bumslide’’, they called it.
Whale Oil devoted hundreds of blog posts to Blomfield’s supposed shady dealings, thousands of words, making him out to be everything from a fraudster to a pervert.
The victim’s bid to clear his name continues to the present day through the court system and while his life and work has been constantly blighted by the online barrage, he has come through it with his dignity and family intact.
The same cannot be said for Slater, who launched the hate campaign at the peak of his powers.
After Dirty Politics laid bare his underhanded powerplays, he has since been declared bankrupt and reportedly suffered a stroke earlier this year.
While Nicky Hager’s book examined the insidious role Whale Oil had molding the political landscape, Thomson zeroes in on the story of one man.
It is hard to imagine what Blomfield has been through — years of almost unrelenting abuse and the seemingly never-ending repercussions.
And he was powerless to stop it. Even the law, and the disinterested police, were unequipped to help.
Thomson succinctly points out the bigger questions her subject’s plight raises.
‘‘Matt’s story . . .is a microcosm, a reminder that individuals require assistance — new legal structures, a new attitude from privacy enforcers, almost certainly new, effective global protocols — when it comes to being treated fairly in the digital age. Matt found himself fighting alone, and that’s something that should concern us all, because if it’s every person for themselves out there, we’re in trouble.’’
Thomson’s account of an armed home invasion Blomfield and his family experienced, which looked suspiciously like an organised gang hit, is truly terrifying.
And all this from some hatefilled words on the internet.
The author sums it up brilliantly.
‘‘Hateful words create hate. And, as we have seen so viscerally in the Matt Blomfield story, words don’t have to make things come true. Words create the world.’’
Horrifying and spell-binding.
Rob Kidd is an ODT court reporter and books editor.