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Robert Scoble defines the 'limits of my influence' in tech

The tech evangelist and blogger answers CNET's questions about how he views sexual harassment and the media's response to claims by his accusers.

Robert Scoble clarified why he's "innocent" of sexual harassment by saying that his "power and influence" as a noted tech blogger and evangelist are limited.

In a 2,435-word blog post Wednesday titled "No, of that I'm innocent," Scoble said he wrote the post despite his lawyer's advice so that he could defend himself against accusations of sexual misconduct. Scoble wrote that he couldn't have sexually harassed his three accusers because they didn't work for him, meaning he wasn't in a position to harm their reputations or careers.  

Robert Scoble

Tech blogger Robert Scoble is known for, among things, being one of the earliest adopters of Google Glass.

James Martin/CNET

Journalist Quinn Norton last week said in a Medium post that Scoble had groped her, writing, "I felt one hand on my breast and his arm reaching around and grabbing my butt." The next day, NASA analyst Sarah Seitz told TechCrunch that Scoble had propositioned her for an affair.

"Power and influence? Five times out of 10 me endorsing you is likely to harm you rather than help," Scoble said in an e-mail response to CNET's questions asking him to clarify his statements. "The limits of my influence is I can post a video about you on YouTube that gets a few hundred views. If you are an idea, or a concept (which humans aren't) I can get that going. I bring people to the discussion. I am who people debate with, and argue with. I curate discussions not people or products."

The accusations against Scoble are just the latest involving influential executives and figures in the tech industry. Earlier this year two prominent venture capitalists stepped down in sexual harassment scandals. Amazon Studios chief Roy Price resigned earlier this month after he was accused of making unwanted sexual advances toward a producer. Tech isn't the only industry dealing with the issue, which has prompted women to speak out about their experiences on Twitter using the hashtag #MeToo.

Stanford law professor Michele Dauber, in an interview with USA Today, said Scoble's definition of what constitutes sexual harassment is "dubious at best."

"Even if the conduct does not create legal liability it can still be harassing," Dauber told the newspaper, "and it's pathetic weak sauce to hear a man facing so many disgusting allegations to defend himself by saying 'but I don't have to pay any money for it.'"

Scoble has apologized for not having been a "better man and husband," citing marital infidelities and online pornography. In an interview with USA Today last week, he acknowledged that "I did some things that are really, really hurtful to the women and I feel ashamed by that. I have taken many steps to try to get better because I knew some of this was potentially going to come out."

In his email and blog post Wednesday, Scoble criticized the media, saying reporters hadn't verified all of the facts and had failed to adequately challenge his accusers' claims.  

"What diligence did you do on their stories?" Scoble said. "Given the potential to harm for me, and the potential of gain for them, which is it that my truth is less believable and more questioned than theirs?"

Seitz didn't immediately respond to a request for comment. Norton, in an email interview, said that she since she wrote her Medium post on Oct. 19, her account has been corroborated by others, including the "friend I mentioned in the piece...as well as the conference organizers and several eye witnesses from that night, whom I didn't know.

"A well-known man in a male dominated field always has the power to harm women with influence, as well as harassment. Since this story broke, I've been accused of lying, libel, harming my aggressor, and even rape apology, for my effort to seek a peaceful resolution," Norton said Wednesday. "Scoble not understanding how he can harm the women around him, after decades in technology, would have to be somewhere between disingenuous and comatose."

Here's an unedited transcript of CNET's questions and Scoble's answers.

Regarding your claims around why you're "not guilty" of sexual harassment. You say:

"If I were guilty of all the things said about me I would still not be in a position to have sexually harassed anyone. I don't have employees, I don't cut checks for investment. None of the women who came forward were ever in a position where I could make or break their careers. Sexual Harassment requires that I have such power."

So, I think it's fair to say that you are well-known and influential in the tech industry and have been for some time. Therefore, I'm challenging you to explain the statement above. Even though these women may not have been your "employees," the fact remains that you are in a position of power and influence and certainly capable of potentially damaging the reputations of women -- and men -- in the tech industry. So saying that you were never "in a position where I could make or break their careers" seems disingenuous. Can you elaborate?

Scoble: Power and influence? Five times out of 10 me endorsing you is likely to harm you rather than help. Until I left Rackspace I had little editorial control over things like videos for companies. Can I make an intro to someone? Sure, but it is not like I can call Elon Musk and get him to sign a check. The limits of my influence is I can post a video about you on YouTube that gets a few hundred views. If you are an idea, or a concept (which humans aren't) I can get that going. I bring people to the discussion. I am who people debate with, and argue with. I curate discussions not people or products.

Because you seem to dismiss your influence in tech, you also seem to dismiss the very real concern that people who interact with you might have in terms of being afraid or intimidated by you. Can you reconcile that?

Scoble: People on a regular basis, whom I have never met come up and hug me, talk about my wife and kids, and tell me their deepest darkest secrets. I have made a career out of being approachable. Yes, I am male, and a bit overweight, so I do have size over some people, but I think to say that I am physically intimidating is a stretch. That is not to say that size is the only intimidation factor, but because you are asking if people are afraid or intimidated by me, no I think that would be rather uncommon.

Questions about Sarah Seitz. In your statement you say:

"In talking with friends I am not the only person Seitz has felt the need to shame online when she felt jilted. Others have experienced being called out when they didn't meet up when Seitz was traveling or when they didn't want to convert online flirtations to a real world interaction."

Those are unsubstantiated accusations that you want us to read as fact. If that's the case, then can you be more specific as to who the "friends" and who the "others" are who are making these claims about Seitz? Otherwise, aren't you creating the same kind of innuendo that you yourself seem to be challenging?

Scoble: A quick check to Seitz's facebook [sic] timeline will show several such occurrences. This is a pattern of behavior. It is not my job or place to out the other people who she has had online affairs with. I am not creating the same innuendo, because whereas Quinn for example said, "I don't know who" I do know who, and if this were a court of law rather than a court of opinion I could produce my witnesses, and they could not.

Regarding speculation. You say:

Perhaps because they felt peer pressure to join the #MeToo bandwagon, perhaps because they felt slighted for other reasons. I won't speculate on their motives.

Didn't you just speculate on their motive? Isn't this again using innuendo rather than supplying facts to get to the "truth" that you say is missing in many stories about this situation? Can you clarify?

Scoble: Perhaps being the operative word. If I had said, "They are just jumping on the bandwagon" that would be speculation. Saying perhaps, is simply stating that there are potential reasons, and that they may not all have been motivated by the same reason.

Connie, did you challenge the statement of the women to this level? What diligence did you do on their stories? Given the potential to harm for me, and the potential of gain for them, which is it that my truth is less believable and more questioned than theirs? 

Originally published Oct. 25 at 5:08 p.m. PT.
Update, Oct. 25 at 8:59 p.m. PT:  Adds comments from Quinn Norton.

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