The #seriouslymcdonalds incident: a lesson about racism and hoaxes

It is rare I read a story and find it’s so engrossing, so demanding of my attention, that I feel I need to drop everything and blog about it now. This is one of those stories.

A recent Mashable article highlights the latest hoax making the rounds on Twitter (and probably other social media as well) under the hastag #seriouslymcdonalds. It’s a sign posted with official-looking McDonald’s branding (NOTE: Please DO NOT call the number, it DOES NOT belong to McDonald’s):


As an insurance measure due in part to a recent string of robberies, African-American customers are now required to pay an additional fee of $1.50 per transaction.

Thank you for your cooperation,
McDonald’s Corporation
(800) 225-5532

Now, this is an obvious hoax, and it’s obvious because that toll-free number rings a KFC guest relations line. That, and as the reporter for Mashable noted, “[i]t would be career suicide” for a real McDonald’s franchisee or employee to tape this on the door.

Whoever posted this fake sign will undoubedly incur the fully justified wrath of not just one, but two large fast food companies: McDonald’s, and Yum! Brands (which owns KFC), in the form of swift and decisive legal action. If nothing else, this is fraud and trademark infringement. This is a huge PR mess for McDonald’s, which will probably cost them well into five figures (US$10,000+) to clean up. Add to this the time KFC’s call center people will have to waste answering calls from angry customers, and it’s easy to see how the guilty party deserves to get sued.

So, not only is this a tort involving two large fast-food corporations, this was in such poor taste it doesn’t even qualify as a good prank. I, for one, am not laughing. Racism, particularly reinforcing stereotypes that African-Americans are more likely to commit crimes, is not funny. Whoever you are that posted this sign: Shame on you. You deserve to be sued into bankruptcy, and I hope it happens.

According to the story on Mashable, an official reply from the corporate offices is pending. I will follow up on this as I learn more.

On rumors, hoaxes, and social media

For a change, I feel it is time that I write an entry about something I did that wound up making me look dumb, or at least below my usual level of intelligence. To be fair about it, I was not the only one to fall for it.

There was an incident among my Facebook friends where someone cheerily spread a hoax involving the Facebook group “Becoming a Father or Mother Was the Greatest Gift of My Life.” This particular variant of the well-documented hoax was falsely attributed to Mike Woods, a news reporter for Fox 5 WNYW in New York City, who in fact did not report this story.

Yet, the person in question passed it along with no verification under the guise of “better safe than sorry.” It takes literally minimal effort to verify the veracity of something of this nature, and all one needs to remember is and one’s favorite Web search engine, usually one of, Bing, Google, or Yahoo.

In that discussion I said something too good to remain confined to Facebook and eventually disappear, so I’ll repost it here:

A lot of the other hoaxes cite “someone at (IBM/Apple/Intel).” One does surprisingly well to assume it’s the janitor until and unless that “someone” is identified by name and position within the company.

Fast forward to Saturday night/Sunday morning, when rumors of the passing of Ronnie James Dio began to circulate on Twitter. I waited until what I thought was a reputable source (in this case, reported it, then posted it to my Twitter account as confirmed. At that time, Ronnie was still alive and his wife was trying to counteract the then-false rumors that he had passed away. As soon as I found out the news was in fact untrue, I tweeted a correction, going as far as to send a direct message on Twitter to someone who expressed dismay at my report. This was at around 2am Houston time.

Of course, Ronnie passes away for real at 7:45am that morning, the news outlets all report it that day. Not surprisingly, I really feel like an idiot, but I take consolation in knowing that several otherwise reliable news outlets (including a Houston Press music reporter) fell for the initial bogus death report as well. And maybe I was a bit too hasty to pass along the news, and should have waited for a more credible confirmation. I also misreported it as a hoax, when in fact a more accurate statement would have been a premature death report and/or an exaggeration of Ronnie’s true condition. Then again, when I’m this far from the source, I can’t tell the two apart.

The lessons we can all take away from this?

  1. Don’t be too quick to pass along news. Consider your sources carefully before passing something along. When in doubt, check it out first., search engines, reputable news sites, even trusted friends if you know they do not just pass along any old rumor.
  2. In the age of social media, news travels that much faster. It also means rumors can travel that much faster. Think before you hit send.
  3. We all make mistakes.
  4. Don’t exaggerate the condition of someone near death, especially someone famous. It may get picked up and turned into a rumor.