Repelling the Social Attack Requires Legal and PR Savvy


I wrote recently about copyright law, in response to a magazine editor who was accused of stealing an article on apple pie and defended herself by saying everything on the Internet is public domain. That magazine, Cooks Source, is apparently closing after it and its advertisers have received hundreds of hostile emails and phone calls. Two issues continue to interest me about this situation: the Facebook aspect and the Internet caching aspect.

Cooks Source magazine was designed to support local food-oriented businesses in Western Massachusetts. The magazine had a Facebook page where it electronically reposted its printed articles.

After writer Monica Gaudio posted a rather off-hand blog entry on her interaction with the Cooks Source editor, the story went viral on the Internet, largely because of the editor’s pompous and condescending attitude. Thousands of people researched Cooks Source online and found its Facebook page. Numerous people “liked” the Cooks Source Facebook page for the sole purpose of criticizing editor Judith Griggs and posting insults (some of which were quite clever, others of which were crude and mean).

In later electronic communications, Griggs complained that her Facebook page had been “hacked.” Hacking is breaking into a computer to gain unauthorized access. Often hackers are trying to steal information. In this case, the Facebook page performed as it was designed. Consumers felt a desire to connect with a certain business (i.e., Cooks Source), ”liked” the page and then posted comments. Unfortunately, most of these comments were critical of Griggs, but this is not hacking. Social media (Twitter, Facebook, blogs) is designed to be an interactive forum with customers, not an electronic bulletin board where a company posts press releases and stifles all criticism. Companies who misunderstand the interactiveness are often ill-prepared for the fall-out.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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