For months now, we've run been publishing stories of unemployment, based on first-person reader submissions about struggles with joblessness. This week, a reader raised concerns that one of the writers who submitted a story might be trying to scam people. This one appears to be a false alarm, but we'd like to address the broader issue here.
Since we started publishing this series, people have emailed me every week, asking how they could help this or that person they'd read about. Gawker is not a charity, or a job board, and we don't have the time or resources to serve as a formal go-between. We're also obliged to protect the anonymity of the people who submit their stories, unless they want to break it. So for as long as I've been getting reader emails wanting to help people, I've simply been forwarding those emails to the person in the question, and allowing them to contact the person wanting to help them directly, if they so choose. This seems to be the best way to protect the anonymity of the unemployed people who submit their stories, while also allowing readers to contact them.
This week, a reader who'd written in wanting to help someone they read about complained that they suspected the person was running a scam. After they'd emailed one another, the reader Googled the email addresses associated with this person, and found links to a website the person had made. The site sought to sell lists of addresses belonging to wealthy people. The reader concluded that she was being scammed.
After speaking to the person in question, it seems that this was a failed attempt on his part to make money online months ago, rather than a scam, and we can find no evidence that it is connected to the story he wrote to us, which he stands by fully. But we want to take this opportunity discuss how we should handle this issue going forward.
The "Unemployment Stories" series serves as a platform for lots of people who would not otherwise have a voice. I have gotten far more heartfelt emails expressing gratitude for its existence than I have for any of the self-indulgent tripe that I usually write. The series depends completely on reader submissions. This is what makes it worthwhile. It also could make it vulnerable to someone who wanted to misuse it. Like any open system, the very thing that makes it good could be exploited by a dishonest person. And though this would actually not be a productive place for a scammer to target, given the fact that there is no donation mechanism in place and the entire thing runs on an ad hoc, one-to-one basis, it is still possible that someone could try to take advantage of it.
So there would seem to be a few options:
- 1. Continue the series (and the method for connecting readers with those who submit stories) as it stands now.
- 2. Continue the series, but stop allowing readers to get in touch with those who send in their stories.
- 3. End the series.
Option one is where we stand now. Anecdotally, the positive feedback on this series has greatly outweighed any complaints—although, as mentioned above, there is no way for us to guarantee that someone could not try to exploit someone, somehow, at some point. Option two would preserve many of the benefits of the series, but would not allow the unemployed people who write in to receive any direct feedback (which often consists of job leads or advice, and, less often, of offers of financial help). Option three, the nuclear option, seems rather drastic.
We'd like to hear your thoughts. Please leave them in the comments, or email me directly.