Yesterday I came across a blog entry on the website of a Swedish TV company by one of their “personalities” in which he essentially stated that one of the world’s largest and most succesful direct selling companies was an illegal enterprise. (Headline translated to english: Quatro, Amway, and other pyramid scams). I don’t watch a lot of TV so I had to go read up on who the blogger, Edward Blom was. It seems that apart from being a TV presenter he’s also somewhat of an authority on Swedish business history. He’s even written books on the topic.

I thought perhaps that despite these credentials he perhaps didn’t actually realise that “pyramidspel” (literally “pyramid game”) are illegal and he was doing the all-to-common mistake of using the word to describe companies that use multi-level marketing. Alas, he wasn’t, as was evidenced in the rest of his post where he claimed “only the people who get in early make money” and that you “make money by recruiting people” – two other myths about multi-level marketing.

So here we have a (supposed) business historian and TV personality publicly stating that a 50 yr old global company operating in 90+ countries in territories was an illegal business! I wonder what his lawyer would think about that?

I should have known better but I couldn’t help but to try to set him straight with a rather lengthy comment (in english) complete with links to numerous sources talking about Amway and the various awards and recognitions Amway had received around the world.

To his credit he posted a response withdrawing the claim against Amway, but he then continued with the myth-building, complete with linking to a 10yr old swedish anonymous anti-amway site that does little more than report other myths – including doing price comparisons that are completely wrong! (he for example compares the price of a concentrate that when mixed with water make 4 bottles of cleaner to the price of one bottle of a competitor).

That post of course answered the question of why he got his first post so wrong in the first place – he’s getting his education about Amway from the Internet. Once upon a time research involved reading reports and studies by respected authors in the field, in particular peer-reviewed research and reports. Even newspapers had editors who would fact check articles before they were published, a form of peer-review. Today however the lazy journalist and researcher does little more than hop onto google to see what they’ll find. I suspect Edward Blom linked to the article he did for little more reason than it appeared highly in a search for Amway. A decade old, anonymous site, published on a free web hosting service – and Edward Blom, a published author in the field of business decided that was a good enough place for him to learn about Amway.

How sad. In the “old” days he might have had to go to a library. Then he would have found and read books like The Direct Selling Revolution: Understanding the Growth of the Amway Corporation by Professor Dominique Xardel. Professor Xardel is a former head of ESSEC, one of the most prestigous business schools in Europe, and a former editor of the Harvard Business Review. He spent 2 years researching Amway. Who do you think has the most accurate opinion? Some anonymous blogger who went to one meeting then surfed the net, or a respected business academic who spent 2 years researching the topic?

Alas, today it doesn’t matter. For the google generation, PR (google Page Rank) is more important than PR (Peer Review) when it comes to PR (Public Relations) on the Internet. What Edward Blom did is all too common, not just for journalists and supposed professionals, but also the public at large.

Is this the final death throes of professional journalism? Are amateur blogs of dubious quality going to rule the information highway?