If you spend much time on social media you probably saw this picture emerge over the weekend.
Of course it was a hoax. I was asked by Ragan Communications whether or not McDonald’s tweet in response to this was enough to quell the rumor, now swirling rapidly around the Internet. How this was handled shows the self-correcting nature of the Internet and also provides some interesting clues to the value system of the Internet crowd.
The most interesting thing to me about this situation is that the single tweet from McDonald’s was probably enough. According to this gawker report, McDonald’s provided the single tweet, direct tweeted to a couple of individuals and has restated the picture is hoax this morning.
This from the gawker report is instructive:
As I type, the pic’s still being forwarded—though the number of people mistaking the pic as real appears to be dwindling: “Seriously McDonalds” and its innovatively hashtagged version have dropped off the Twitter Trends list, and more and more people are tweeting in relief that the pic is just a hoax. Clued-in folks have helped to clear up any lingering doubts about the pic’s veracity by pointing out that the toll-free number listed on the bottom of the sign actually belongs to KFC. (Maybe McDonald’s should reward these volunteer damage controllers with some coupons for the crisis mitigation help—though whether that would be a valuable offer or not depends on one’s opinions of McDonald’s food, I guess.)
– hoaxes don’t die easily on the Internet, they tend to resurface again and again, and always seem to find fresh believers. This one has been around before as most of the others that I’ve checked on snopes.com.
– While people say you can’t believe what you read on the Internet and social media enables rumors to grow exponentially very quickly, the truth is that the many users of the Internet have a self-corrective nature. What is sometimes called “collective intelligence.” If something goes out and someone else knows it to be wrong, it doesn’t take long for the truth to be sorted out–usually. That’s why it wasn’t necessary for McDonald’s to do a lot more than that single tweet.
– The Internet crowd doesn’t like to be fooled. Someone I know incorrectly announced something on a social networking site that was proved to be wrong. The anger of the participants was amazing, even though clearly it was a simple mistake rather than a vicious attempt at hurting someone. It’s interesting that the gawker article headline is that the hoax angers the Internet (hmm, now the Internet is a person with emotions?) and McDonalds.
– the credibility of a hoax like this and whether it gets legs that represent a serious challenge for a brand has to do with the general attitude toward that brand of the “Internet” (if I can use gawker’s shortened version of the social media sub-culture). In other words, if Big Oil had a hoax like this perpetrated on them, I doubt that it would have been so self-correcting or even that it would have angered the Internet. That probably is the deeper lesson here. In other words, if “the Internet” wants to believe something bad about you, then a hoax like this will not die as quickly as it is with McDonalds. It’s a deeper brand problem than being victimized by a hoax.