How Apple Tried to Play Ministry of Truth on Its iPhone 4 Forum

Last Updated Jul 13, 2010 12:55 PM EDT

It was just yesterday that Consumer Reports retracted its opinion on the Apple (AAPL) iPhone 4, advising against buying the phone. Although the magazine rated it highly, the antenna problem without a free permanent solution from Apple was the kiss of death.

People immediately began posting the link on Apple's own iPhone hardware discussion boards -- and moderators removed one discussion after another that mentioned the Consumer Reports article. Eventually, some discussion threads mentioning the reversal stayed up, but Apple clearly had tried to banish all unhappy talk ... until people outside the reality distortion field noticed.

TJ Luoma writing on TUAW noted six different discussion threads that had once been up, according to a Google (GOOG) search of Apple's discussion boards, but that displayed the following on clicking the link:

However, running a similar search on Microsoft (MSFT) Bing gets cached images of the missing discussions, like the following:

Apparently, the deletion of critical threads on Apple's discussion boards has happened frequently:
Sadly, this isn't the first time we've heard about Apple deleting discussion board threads on topics which are unflattering to Apple's products. It's closer to the fiftieth time. In fact, we've heard so many reports about this happening that it seems safe to call this standard operating procedure for Apple's discussion boards. That's not to say that there are no negative threads on the discussion boards, but the ones that are there are the ones that Apple's moderators have decided to leave active.
After looking through a number of the deleted discussions, outside of a single remark in one thread that could have been taken as a personal attack, there was nothing that seemed to offer a rationale for removal other than third-party criticism of Apple. I also noticed a number of threads that did mention the Consumer Reports piece and that remained on discussions.apple.com. The difference seemed to be when the treads started. Apparently the moderators removed threads up to a point yesterday and then stopped. I can't tell whether they gave up on stopping any mention of the Consumer Reports change-of-mind, or if there was some official cessation because various blogs picked up on the apparent censorship.

Whatever the reason, Apple comes across as panicked, because this is hardly the smooth presentation you would expect from the company. The iPhone 4 issues have spun out of control. You might think that giving away a few pennies worth of plastic bumper would make sense, but corporations often seem to think that any such action would be a tacit admission of fault. Remember, there is already an antitrust class action suit facing Apple and AT&T (T). Apple clearly doesn't want additional legal bills.

However, this is a case where prudence is actually self-destructive. Customers get angry when they pay good money for a product that doesn't do what they expected. Sometimes the reaction is reasonable, and sometimes not. But pretend that nothing happened, that customers are imagining problems, and you drive them into a frenzy. Not good for a business, especially when competitors are on your heels and about to enter the passing lane.

Related: Image editing: Erik Sherman
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    Erik Sherman is a widely published writer and editor who also does select ghosting and corporate work. The views expressed in this column belong to Sherman and do not represent the views of CBS Interactive. Follow him on Twitter at @ErikSherman or on Facebook.

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