T-Wizzle and I have had discussions about the idea of social shame. She gets upset that people can behave atrociously and get away with it, that there is no consequence for their actions. In the United States we don’t stone someone for cheating on their spouse, for example, and sometimes we go so far as to let them provide a litany of reasons explaining why they did what they did, or that they really didn’t do anything wrong. And if the person is lucky enough to have a team of attorneys, spokespeople and publicists on their payroll, they may never have to take personal responsibility at all. (See also: Tiger Woods, John Edwards, Bill Clinton.)
This isn’t to say that social shame doesn’t exist, however. With the rise of Facebook, Twitter, and blogs, it is quite possible to hold someone accountable for their behavior. I saw this happen yesterday. Over a 24-hour period, one writer’s experience in dealing with an editor who’d stolen her work went viral, spawning a Twitter hashtag, a catchphrase, and, for the publisher of the magazine, a publicity nightmare.
Let’s break this down step by step, including links as needed. (It’s possible I’m missing some information, or got some of the facts wrong. Please feel free to comment with any corrections.)
1. In 2005, Monica Gaudio wrote an article about the history of apple pie.
2. In 2010, the article was reprinted in Cooks Source, a cooking magazine that is available on newsstands as well as online. The article included Monica’s byline.
3. Monica contacted the editor to find out what had happened, and when it was determined the article had been lifted in complete disregard of copyright laws, Monica asked for a public apology, both on Facebook and in the print edition, and for a donation to a journalism school.
4. In an incredible display of shock and aw-hell-no-she-didn’t, the editor, Judith Griggs, rejected Monica’s request. This is just a portion of her response:
But honestly Monica, the web is considered “public domain” and you should be happy we just didn’t “lift” your whole article and put someone else’s name on it! It happens a lot, clearly more than you are aware of, especially on college campuses, and the workplace. If you took offence and are unhappy, I am sorry, but you as a professional should know that the article we used written by you was in very bad need of editing, and is much better now than was originally. Now it will work well for your portfolio. For that reason, I have a bit of a difficult time with your requests for monetary gain, albeit for such a fine (and very wealthy!) institution. We put some time into rewrites, you should compensate me! I never charge young writers for advice or rewriting poorly written pieces, and have many who write for me… ALWAYS for free!”
5. Monica writes about the experience on her blog and someone tweets a link to her blog post.
6. Within hours, the tweet is retweeted over and over again, grabbing the attention of Neil Gaiman, multiple journalists and bloggers.
7. The number of Fans on Cooks Source’s Facebook Page skyrockets to more than 4,000, mostly for the purpose of posting a nasty comment on their Wall. (I became a Fan just long enough to add my own comment.)
8. The story is picked up by Forbes, CNN, Time, MSNBC, Wired, Gawker, BoingBoing, Washington Post, LA Times, and many other sites.
As a former editor, I’m horrified and appalled by this so-called editor’s attitude. As a publicist, I’m full of empathy for the PR hacks who are swilling coffee by the gallon as they figure out how to spin this debacle to the magazine’s advantage. As a writer, I’m thrilled to see an ignorant, arrogant editor get their just desserts (pun intended). And as a social media manager, I’m reminded of how easy it is to hold a person, product or brand accountable for its actions when we allow the shame to go social.