There have been many PR disasters in the past and now there's a new one taking place right at this very minute. I got alerted to this story having read a brief tweet which interested me enough to explore a bit more detail. Basically the background is that somebody wrote an article which was then published in the Cooks Source magazine. Now that would have been marvellous if the author had submitted it to the magazine but they hadn't. Cooks Source magazine has apparently lifted it without permission from the original author. The author wrote to the magazine and asked for an apology and a donation to an academic institution.
The editor wrote back and not only said that anything on the web is considered " public domain" but that the author should be grateful to her for rewriting it and further suggested that the author should compensate the editor. I really don't know where to begin in order to comment on such insanity. Unfortunately for the magazine they have a presence on Facebook. Their wall is being flooded with comments, none of which are complimentary. Their presence on Facebook is beginning to resemble that of a bombed and ruined city. I suspect anyone and everyone who works for the magazine is currently in hiding, or if they're not they probably should be. The discussion section of their Facebook pages has now been taken over entirely by people posting sarcasm and new comments are being added to their wall every minute.
As yet there is absolutely no response from the magazine, no mention of an apology, in fact no mention of anything! I took a look at their website and there is no comment on there either. Some people have said that they are contacting their advertisers and suggesting that they may wish to reconsider placing adverts with the magazine. If this goes on for very much longer without any retraction or commentary I suspect that the magazine will be out of business by the beginning of next week.
This is a new and wonderful example of the power that social media can hold over traditional published resources. Perhaps this would be a fitting reminder to PR companies that they no longer control the conversations. Looking back at the wall I can now see the various authors including Neil Gaiman have a link to and are publicising this copyright fiasco. I can see no way in which this is going to end well for the company, and I'm sure you will probably agree with me when I say I don't really care. However it's also important to consider the other side of the coin. Granted that the editor was completely in the wrong, insensitive, rude and stupid. If the magazine does however close (and this is of course simply an assumption on my part) is that perhaps rather too much retribution? I'm drawn to also consider the case of the woman who recently put the cat in the bin. That was of course an indefensible act and as a cat lover I was appalled, but not as appalled as those people who sent her death threats.
While social media can be a powerful source for good and for righting wrongs there does come a point when we move from justice to vigilantism. It's very hard for me to care about what happens to this magazine, and perhaps that's one of the problems. My immediate reaction was to post to their wall and indeed that's what I did, and I don't feel sorry or bad about that because I wanted to show my outrage. Perhaps that is all everyone is doing; showing their own individual outrage, but the problem that we now have is one of verging on the baying pack out for blood. I don't think that's too inflammatory because if the magazine does closedown, or its advertisers are frightened away, or innocent members of staff lose their job because of the stupidity of one person I think we all have to take some responsibility. It's all too easy to make comments, to show outrage, to make threats and to try, even in a limited way, to take the law into error own hands. Simply because social media resources allow us to do that however we all need to take responsibility and decide when enough is enough. If I was looking at their Facebook page now I do wonder if I would actually make any comment, because I think everything that could be said has been said many times over.
I think we all need to consider at what point do we stop acting as individuals showing justified outrage and become part of a bullying crowd which is entirely out of perspective with the original offence. It's a very hard call, and quite frankly I don't know what the answer is. While, as you know, I am a firm advocate in favour of social media the freedom to speak comes, as it always does, with a price.