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Graun abandons Q&A after subject hides under bed

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

So there you are, harnessing the power of community and innovative new editorial formats, spreading enlightenment by putting the customers together with the vendors, and what happens? Lynchmob, vendor megasulk, blog meltdown 2.0.

It all started on Tuesday when the Guardian's Ethical Living Blog unveiled Neal's Yard Remedies as the latest company to participate in its - unfortunately-named, as we shall see - 'You ask, they answer' series. These take the form of a brief introduction to the company, then the company answers whatever questions the readers care to post.

Or not. We have no idea what financial arrangements may or may not underpin such exercises in Publishing 2.0. Perhaps in its enthusiasm for sharing stuff, the Graun is philanthropically putting selected companies and the punters together, free of charge. Perhaps.

The questions for NYR started ominously: "How do you validate the medical efficacy of your 'remedies'?", followed by "Do you see no problem with trying to be 'ethical' while at the same time selling snake oil for a living?" And "'Influenza Ainsworth Homoeopathic Remedy'. Your website sells this product. What evidence do you have that this product is of any benefit whatsoever? Did you know people die of flu?"

It doesn't look good so far, but by 5.38pm Tuesday Guardianista Adam Vaughan (deputy environment webster) is brightly chirping: "Cheers for all the questions so far - Neal's Yard tell me it's working on replies now... watch this space."

More time passes, more hurtful questions are asked and the increasingly ugly mob begins to suspect that NYR has gone into a giant huff. "I was picturing two grumpy hippies pacing around Covent Garden, one saying to the other, 'what the f*** did you agree to this for?'", observes one.

Even more time passes, during which Neal's Yard Remedies' interesting claims about the "great success" of homeopathy in the 1918 flu epidemic are queried. But still no answer by the next morning, when Adam Vaughan, still bushy-tailed, tells us: "They are going to jump in, honest, expect reply from them soon today..."

But then the mob starts referring to the company as Jez & Quin. And, in the continuing absence of the pair, it begins to ask the Guardian Ethical Blog for its opinions about whether it is ethical to "sell products which have not been shown to work", or to "sell books which contain the MMR scare stories", or whether it will "despatch an investigative journalist to investigate the ethics of Neal's Yard Remedies". Is it ethical to be giving a platform (albeit a conspicuously empty one) to an outfit whose product lines and promotional material strike some readers as questionable? You can see where this one is going.

But by 3pm Wednesday it's all over. The company has, the Guardianista report, decided that it does not wish to participate in the debate, and consequently the comment thread is closed down, with a parting: "I hear you. Alternative medicine is an issue that regularly crops up in the Science website, in the Science Weekly podcast and in Ben Goldacre's Bad Science column. I will suggest to colleagues that we re-double our efforts."

Do we detect a hint of menace from a grumpy environment website editor there? Whatever, a small edit war may now be breaking out over the NYR Wikipedia entry. ®

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