Now Cooks Source Claims Its Facebook Page Was Hacked

New England food magazine Cooks Source at center of plagiarism controversy posts apology and claims its Facebook page was hacked.

To plagiarize paraphrase Alice in Wonderland, the case of Cooks Source gets curiouser and curiouser.

The magazine is now claiming that its Facebook page has been hacked. I don’t believe them.

If you are not up to speed, you might want to check out our previous post on the issue. In a nut shell, a New England-based magazine called Cooks Source ripped off a blogger’s work, then the editor told her to be grateful for the editing work and claimed that copyright didn’t apply on the internet. That caused an almighty backlash online with the Cooks Source Facebook page in the thick of things. To date, over 5,000 people have joined the Facebook page to express their outrage and poke fun at Judith Griggs, the editor in question.

The Cooks Source website has now had all its content and contact information removed and the front page now contains a lengthy statement from the magazine. It starts as follows:

“We have cancelled our Facebook page on Thursday, November 4th, 2010 at 6:00PM. It has since been since been hacked by unknown parties and now someone else unknown to us has control of it. Their inclusion of Cooks Source issues and photos is used without our knowledge or consent. Please know that none of the statements made by either Cooks Source or Judith Griggs were made by either our staff or her.”

I think there is some weasel words going on here. Cooks Source may well have tried to cancel its Facebook page and failed but that smacks of incompetence rather than hacking. There are no statements attributed to Cooks Source or Griggs after 6pm on November 4 so I’m not sure exactly what these supposed hackers are meant to have done. Maybe they think that comments from third parties on a fan page wall constitutes “hacking”?

There is an earlier statement attributed to Griggs at 14.33 on November 4, where she says she has “egg on her face” and gloats about the huge increase in Facebook fan numbers. (This is quoted in our previous story in full or you can see it for yourself if you go to the ‘Just Cooks Source’ tab of their Facebook wall). I am in California so if this is 14.33 (2.33pm) in my time zone, that would make it 17.33 (5.33pm) in New England. By Cooks Source’s own statement, they didn’t cancel the page until 6pm that day and were hacked at some point after that.

I believe this statement comes from Griggs for several reasons. Firstly, by its own words, Cooks Source was in control of the page at the time. Secondly, if the page was later hacked, I would expect to see more comments of this nature. Thirdly, the content and tone almost exactly matches the content and tone of the email that Griggs allegedly sent the blogger Monica Gaudio in the first place.

So, while I can’t prove anything, I’m calling BS.

The statement on the Cooks Source website also goes on to say:

“We do not, and never have had a Twitter page, so what is attributed as our presence or our statements have nothing to do with Cooks Source or Judith Griggs.”

I believe this is true. I noted in our previous story that there were several Twitter accounts – @cooksource, @cookssource, @crookssource and@cookssource_mag – that appeared to be fake. They had all sprung into existence on the same day and the material was clearly meant as parody. The existence of fake Twitter accounts does nothing to prove that a Facebook page was hacked.

Meanwhile, Cooks Source wants the Facebook page reported and shut down.

“Cooks Source will not be on Facebook again at any time in the future: hacking is too prevalent and apparently too easily performed by disreputable people. The email and Facebook abuse of our advertisers is the prime example: it is hurtful to people who are innocent of this issue, and can ill-afford the abuse — either emotionally or financially. Small business owners are being bombarded with hate mail, and distasteful messages because someone downloaded their contact information on these bogus sites. These small business owners work very hard to keep their businesses going in a bad economy. We respectfully request this harassment be stopped immediately. If you or anyone knows of this abuse, you should go to the bogus Cooks Source (or other bogus pages) Facebook page, look to the left side of the page and press “Report Abuse,” or else go to How to Report Claims of Intellectual Property Infringement, http://www.facebook.com/legal/copyright.php The Facebook Corporate phone number are 650-543-4800, 650-853-1300 and 650-543-4811which hopefully will assist interested parties who feels these snipers who are perpetuating hate have gotten out of hand and want to report it. Interestingly, this phone number and any other contact info is not listed on the Facebook site, and has taken four people a number of days to track down.”

I agree that harassment of advertisers should cease and Gaudio, the blogger, has also called for this. There is no reason to think that advertisers knew anything about what was happening at the magazine and some, like 2nd Street Baking in Massachusetts have pulled their business.

Finally, the Cooks Source statement gets to the apology part.

“Last month an article, “American as Apple Pie — Isn’t,” was placed in error in Cooks Source, without the approval of the writer, Monica Gaudio. We sincerely wish to apologize to her for this error, it was an oversight of a small, overworked staff. We have made a donation at her request, to her chosen institution, the Columbia School of Journalism. In addition, a donation to the Western New England Food Bank, is being made in her name. It should be noted that Monica was given a clear credit for using her article within the publication, and has been paid in the way that she has requested to be paid.”

They’ve finally apologized. But I have to say it sticks in my craw that they are still claiming that the publication of the article was an innocent error. Frankly, it’s scarcely credible that it was. How did it come to be in the submissions pile if Gaudio didn’t send it there? If another freelancer had sent it, how did it come to have Gaudio’s name on it? Based on Griggs’ previous email to Gaudio, it sounds pretty clear that they cut and paste the article directly from Gaudio’s website – not something that happens by accident. The statement also makes no mention of the fact that Cooks Source has allegedly ripped off material from NPR, Food Network and Real Simple magazine among others.

In Griggs’ original email to Gaudio she claims that all her writers write for free. I have a problem with this. If you have proper consent, it’s not illegal to not pay writers but I and many others regard it as a highly unethical practice all the same. Other industries have minimum wages!

The Cooks Source statement goes on to say that the whole incident has “hurt its business” and describe new procedures for the magazine, including listing sources and getting writers to sign release forms.

Gaudio, on Twitter as @illadore, has seen the apology and is in the process of confirming the donations with the Columbia School of Journalism and the Western New England Food Bank.

All this will no doubt go down as a textbook example of bad business practice and bad management of social media. If the magazine had apologised and paid the modest fee requested in the first place none of this would have ever happened.