Lessons learned from dealing with an angry Internet mob

If you’ve checked out the blogosphere and/or mainstream media recently, you’re probably aware of the Cooks Source scandal.

If you have no idea what I’m talking about, here’s a quick recap for you: Cooks Source magazine lifted a blogger’s article from the Internet and, when an apology (and a donation to the Columbia School of Journalism) was requested by the offended blogger, an editor from the magazine responded that the blogger should be “grateful for the edit.”

Needless to say, this didn’t sit too well with the Internet.

In fact, the entire situation has blown up: anonymous web users have lambasted the Cooks Source Facebook page, set up fake Twitter accounts, redirected a domain name with the editor’s name to a Wikipedia article on “Public Domain,” and obtained a list of the magazine’s advertisers (the magazine is free, but advertiser-supported) and distributors.

One thing’s for sure–if Cooks Source managing editor Judith Griggs was in any way uncertain about how internet mob justice worked before Thursday, she certainly knows now.

The question is: how could this entire situation have been avoided? This is not the first time the Internet has risen up in (mostly well-intended, but often poorly executed) outrage, and it certainly won’t be the last. So what’s the best way to deal with an angry Internet mob on your tail? I went to the discussion section of the Cooks Source Facebook page (which has now been completely annexed by the mob) to ask, what could Ms. Griggs have done in order to avoid becoming an Encyclopædia Dramatica article?

Here’s how not to piss off the Internet:

Don’t Dig the Hole Any Deeper

Griggs probably realizes, by now, that the first e-mail she sent was a mistake. It’s unlikely that the Internet would have latched onto this story as it did, had the publicized e-mail not been so condescending and rude. But, okay, so people sometimes make mistakes.

After the small foodie magazine rose to infamy, however, the following message appeared on their Facebook page:

Hi Folks!

Well, here I am with egg on my face! I did apologise to Monica via email, but aparently it wasnt enough for her. To all of you, thank you for your interest in Cooks Source and Again, to Monica, I am sorry – my bad!
You did find a way to get your “pound of flesh…” we used to have 110 “friends,” we now have 1,870… wow!

…Best to all, Judith

I’m no expert (and we’re not 100 percent sure this is a legitimate post from Griggs), but it’s probably not a good idea to keep stirring things up with phrases like “apparently it wasn’t enough for her.”
Keep Your Closet Skeleton-Free

All of this talk of plagiarism and snatching copyrighted material from the web without permission immediately had intrepid Internet users backlogging Cooks Source issues and searching for other instances of intellectual property theft. And, well…apparently they’ve found quite a lot.

“If this woman slipped up once, it can be forgiven. But if she has copied from all the websites that people say she has, [then] quite frankly I do not believe that she care’s about getting people’s forgiveness,” writes Facebook user Johann Muller.

Moral of the story: if it’s a mistake, don’t make it more than once.

Take a Vacation
After Gaudio’s supporters found and dismantled the Cooks Source Facebook page with numerous comments, another Cooks Source Facebook page popped up with the message that the first page had been hacked. More Internet justice-fighters immediately tackled the new Facebook page.

Perhaps just leaving the ‘net and letting the scandal run its course would be the best plan of action for Griggs, writes Facebook user Oka Lokee: “I think the best she can do is take a vacation until this all blows over. Unfortunately, if the cat-dumping lady was any example, it’s going to blow up more and it will take a while to run out of steam.”

Don’t Respond

As hard as it is to sleep when someone on the Internet is wrong…a good course of action is to not respond.

Facebooker Brendan Kirkpatrick explains that responding to the hive-mind is a bad approach: “Most of these people have no genuine interest in the issue; they’re just having fun making snarky comments. As for responding, when a dispute on the intertubes reaches this kind of frenzied hive-mind state, a dialog is no longer possible.”

Be Sincere and Apologize

Perhaps all of this could have been avoided if Griggs had apologized the first time. Of course, now that the entire thing has blown out of proportion, an apology might seem like an option of the past.

As Facebook user Shawn Drew puts it, “She just hasn’t come off as a nice person. She had the opportunity to apologize and make a tax-deductible donation and she chose to write a snarky email.”

If All Else Fails . . .

Change your name and try to find work in an isolated village without Internet access, in a country without an extradition treaty with the United States, suggests Facebook user Thom Ryng.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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