Sunday, March 4, 2007

Corporations plagued by online rumors

Back in 1973, a rumor spread through the little southern college town where I lived that the United States had only one week's supply of toilet paper remaining. The townspeople descended on the bewildered manager and staff of the local Jitney Jungle, exhausting the stock of four-ply in about half an hour.

It was a small, tight-knit community where reports -- especially false ones -- spread with amazing speed, and seemed to gain greater credibility as they grew more outlandish. The Internet has many of the social dynamics of a village, which makes it a vital breeding ground for rumors.

Red Orbit is reporting on the efforts by several corporations (including McDonalds, Procter & Gamble, Coca-Cola, and Starbucks) to address false reports about their products and policies, mostly by way of their own websites.

In most cases, it's impossible to trace a rumor back to its original source. Recently, though, Starbucks was able to identify an email from a Marine sergeant in Iraq as the cause of a widely-spread tale that Starbucks refuses to support American troops overseas.

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