When your image as a swashbuckling bastion of libertarian principles is suddenly threatened, a swashbuckling reaction might not be the best idea.
Over the last couple of days, Uber has been subjected to much scrutiny, after its senior vice-president of business, Emil Michael, was said to have suggested that critical journalists should have their own personal and family lives investigated. (By Uber operatives, that is.)
Uber then attempted to control the damage. But, perhaps clinging to its essential swashbucklingness, it announced no sanction of Michael, other than to apologize and distance itself from his comments.
Perhaps inevitably, its business practices came under renewed scrutiny, especially its ability to track users wherever they go.
You might imagine that, at this point, a pause for contemplation might have been in order. Instead, Uber investor Ashton Kutcher took to Twitter today with comments that made some take against him.
He began with this thought: "What is so wrong about digging up dirt on shady journalist? @pando @TechCrunch @uber."
I hadn't been aware that any journalists associated with this story had been thought to be "shady." Still, as his tweets evolved, Kutcher seemed almost to be emitting some of his frustrations toward journalism, in his first life as a famous actor.
He tweeted: "I believe we live in a day were the first word has become 'the word.'" Perhaps. There's also the sense, though, that when the first word comes out, many others offer further words to either agree or challenge the first words.
"Everyone is guilty and then tasked to defend themselves publicly," wrote Kutcher, who made clear he wasn't speaking for Uber. However, in the Uber case, there was a proliferation of Uber apologies. This suggests that any comments made by Michael were, indeed, indefensible. Or was that merely public damage control?
Kutcher, though, insisted that the whole story hadn't been told: "So as long as journalist (sic) are interested and willing to print half truths as facts...Yes we should question the source."
I contacted Kutcher via Twitter to ask whether he thought that, in this case, half truths had been printed and if so, what were they. I will update, should I hear. I also contacted Uber for its reactions to Kutcher's tweets and its reputation of late and didn't immediately receive a reply.
Ultimately, the actor and Lenovo front man seemed to agree with some of his critics: "U r all right and I'm on the wrong side of this ultimately. I just wish journalists were held to the same standards as public figures." Or, perhaps, just like Uber, he felt there was no gain in prolonging an argument which he'd started.
Kutcher the actor may be entirely justified in believing that his private life is unnecessarily intruded upon and half-truths (or even zippo-truths) are written about him by journalists. He should be entitled to a private life, just as Uber shouldn't threaten -- in whatever manner or forum -- to invade the private life of journalists whom it doesn't like.
Kutcher the Uber investor, however, might want to consider that this isn't the company's first ruffling of public feathers. It got an F from the Better Business Bureau. Its business practices have come under extremely critical scrutiny. It was accused of using highly questionable tactics to recruit away Lyft drivers.
At times, the impression given -- and, as Kutcher says, impressions can be misleading -- is that Uber feels it is above the law.
There's a tinge of arrogance, of bombast and of simply feeling that it has customers where it wants them, so everyone else can just run along and find some other toy to play with.
In circumstances such as the current ones, a team-building trip to a Trappist monastery, where thoughts are personal and traps are shut, might be in order.