Recently, blogger Emily Schuman posted an item on her wildly popular site Cupcakes and Cashmere about the angst of buying “the perfect pair of cut-offs.” It’s “a lot harder than you’d think (at least for me, anyway),” she wrote, before sharing buying tips and photos of herself in her ideal pair—along with links so her fans could purchase a similar outfit: $160 Ray-Bans, $62 tank top, $78 shorts and $540 flats. The item drew over 175 comments, most gushy: “You look incredible!!!” wrote “Debby.” “Love this look.” “Maria” agreed: “SO AMAZING pics:) I really love your blog and your [sic] sence of style.”
Over at Get Off My Internets (GOMI), a four-year-old site that monitors the blogosphere, commenters gleefully trashed the same post on the 150-page Cupcakes and Cashmere thread; its photography, premise, and Schuman herself were shredded: “I really am starting to think girlfriend has all of five active brain cells at any one time,” wrote “Nicky192,” adding, “I hope her blog crashes and burns soon—it’s just insulting.” “Lamby” was more moderate: “I have always liked emily and while this thread is one of the first things i check when I’m on gomi bc it’s so entertaining, I hardly ever agree with it.”
Such snark, schadenfreude and measured comment animates GOMI, the divisive alternate blogging universe founded by Alice Wright, a Brooklyn-based programmer. Wright and her 10,000-plus anonymous “GOMIers” form a self-appointed Stasi, monitoring bad photoshopping, plagiarism, failure to reveal sponsorships, declining quality, stupidity, lack of imagination, laziness, inauthenticity and outright fraudulent behaviour. The satiric tone—Mean Girls veering into Lord of the Flies savagery—is a reminder of Molly Haskell’s line that the Internet is “democracy’s revenge on democracy,” though not all of it’s negative: there is blogging advice and a “Stay on My Internets” forum that identifies worthwhile blogs. Readers also share information about topics like infertility. Site loyalty is high: earlier this year, when GOMI faced shut-down, readers chipped in to keep it afloat.
In so doing, they were preserving the increasingly rare checks and balances of the Internet’s commercial apparatus. Wright has called GOMI a “relief valve.” Her goal was “to give people a place to say what they feel like they can’t say to some of these bloggers . . . without being shut out.”
Bloggers screening negative comments is common now that posting about your breakfast is big business. Schuman’s blog, which began as a hobby in 2008, is now a full-time commercial platform boasting a bestselling book, an endorsement deal with Estée Lauder and sponsors like Wal-Mart. Advertisers like consumer-friendly content and a lot of positive comments, says Sidneyeve Matrix, an associate professor of media at Queen’s University. “They signal reader engagement and commitment; they make a site ‘sticky.’ ”
That makes GOMI a magnet for off-message comments—and highlights the lifestyle-blog equivalent of the blogosphere’s right-left divide. Its targets can’t ignore it, says Matrix. “People producing for the web must do social listening as well. You have to be aware of buzz—good and bad.” And that has resulted in a fractious Internet soap opera—with GOMI accused of “cyberbullying” and “perpetuating hate” and Wright, once dubbed “the most reviled woman on the web,” receiving death threats. She declined a Maclean’s interview request via email: granting one “winds up with the author making the story about me.”
She’s used to the spotlight. Famed mommy-blogger Heather Armstrong of Dooce countered Wright’s criticism with a blog post and a cease-and-desist letter. Cecily Kellogg of Uppercase Woman blasted GOMI for being cruel and defamatory on Babble. But “healthy living” blogger Heather Shugarman of Then Heather Said says GOMI criticism helped; it hurt at first, she wrote, but prompted her to disclose sponsored content. She called GOMI “satire at its finest” and defended its right to exist: “This is America, and that First Amendment thing? I like that very much.” Smart woman. As long as GOMI’s snarking about her, she’s relevant.