The True Story of a Bogus Blog


"If I see an ad and there's a guy in a white coat telling me to use a toothpaste, I know that he's an actor and not a dentist," LeDrew says. "Advertising is based on a lot of a collective understanding that things aren't factually real." But when that toothpaste brand launches an Internet campaign and decides, "we'll invent a dentist called Dr. Bob and he can write a blog about dentistry, you're running into an entirely different set of ethical understandings," LeDrew says.

Among U.S. campaigns that crossed the line, LeDrew points to an ostensible fan blog about PlayStation Portable, in which a blogger, Charlie, rhapsodized about the game. After it was revealed that the site's URL was registered to Zipatoni, an agency working for the game maker, Sony apologized.

In 2006, a couple with a blog, Wal-Marting Across America, about traveling across the country in an RV and staying in Wal-Mart parking lots, failed to disclose that the venture had been funded by a Wal-Mart-sponsored group and organized by Edelman, Wal-Mart's PR firm. Richard Edelman, president of the firm, wiped the egg off his face on his own blog, writing, "I want to acknowledge our error in failing to be transparent about the identity of the two bloggers from the outset."

The cousin to fake blogs (or flogs), are sockpuppets, in which people assume an alias to defend or hype themselves online. Perhaps the most notorious example is that of Whole Foods CEO John Mackey, who was exposed for posting to the Yahoo message board under the name Rahodeb, and hyping his own company while assailing rival Wild Oats Markets.

Such revelations can cause more than embarrassment for CEOs in Europe, where a company caught "falsely representing" itself as a consumer on a blog or other site is subject to fines or prison time. Countries began adopting the rule earlier this year; it takes effect in the U.K. this month.

"You have to be authentic, who you say you are -- that's what corporate blogging is all about," Weil says. "Authenticity is the keystone of effective use of social media by companies."

Pointing Fingers

Back at Hunter, when it comes to accountability, everyone seems to be reaching for a 10-foot pole.

Portlock says the PR team from Coach green-lighted the idea for Cee and raised no ethical concerns. A representative for Coach maintains that while the company "is pleased with the students' positive response to the course," it did not have the final say, but rather gave feedback on ideas.

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