Monday, May 18, 2009

Transparency and the Media

I’m working on a post for Reaching Women Daily that includes admonitions on transparency, so Bob Collins’s retweet of an article in TechCrunch about the 104-year old British woman who Tweets caught my attention—thanks, Bob! A little exploration revealed more interesting facts.

First, this story seemed to originate with UPI, part of the traditional media establishment. They should have checked their facts more carefully.

First, does Ivy Bean, resident of the Hillside Manor in the UK, use Facebook? Not exactly. Search Facebook and you’ll see what I mean. I counted 30 or so facebook pages on the subject of this Ivy Bean (obviously there are other people with the same name, but most of the fan pages have picked up the same pic, so they’re easy to identify). This is the largest I found, the Ivy Bean Appreciation Group with 2019 members. She probably deserves the appreciation of this and other fan pages, but it’s not her page.

When you go a bit deeper into Facebook you find several pages with a message like this.

Ivy Bean is 102 years old and has been told she can no longer add anymore friends as she already has 5000 but has another 6000 requests all please join so Ivy bean can have as many friends as she wants as she is 102 thanx for support

I don’t see any Ivy Bean pages with 5000 members, so I’m guessing a prank here that other Facebook users fell for. There are a lot of people who need to get a life and the manager of Hillside Manor needs a lesson in Facebook!

Second, there are numerous blog posts that attribute the Twitter account to the Geek Squad. So I went to Twitter to find out. First thing I saw on my page is numerous people retweeting about Ivy Bean. Some were non-committal, others are calling it an unethical PR stunt. Ivy Bean does have a Twitter page, established on May 14 with 31 updates, as recently as this morning. "She" has over 12,000 Twitter followers; is following 94. I looked at a few of the people she is purportedly following—students, friends of Geek Squad members, perhaps—or just generally looking for a life??

In any event, I judge the Twitter page to be a scam. Worse, someone is perpetuating it, even after it was revealed as a farce.

The TechCrunch post says that the Geek Squad “press-released the hell out of it.” As if it was a serious event, obviously. One assumes that’s where the UPI got it, and British newspapers picked it up from there. Does no one in traditional journalism fact check any more? I just proved that it’s not difficult!

Marketers, do you want your brand associated with this kind of PR? Even little jokes can backfire. This seems to have been a serious attempt to garner press attention with false information. It also winds up making Geek Squad look like they’ve taken advantage of a 104-year old nursing home resident. I don’t consider that positive PR.

And consider the fact that it was bloggers who outed the incorrect information in the traditional press. It’s a strange world; be careful who you believe!

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