Anatomy of a Facebook lynching

Thanks to Facebook and Twitter, Cooks Source magazine is no more. Who'll be the next victim of the Net's frontier justice?

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Cooks Source, a small regional food magazine that found itself at the swirling hot center of a copyright controversy two weeks ago, has served up its last helping of rehash.

It was a controversy that played out almost entirely on the pages of Twitter and Facebook, and it was ultimately these social networks that lead to the magazine’s demise. In short, Cooks Source magazine was done in by the vindictiveness of crowds.

To anyone who followed this saga, this outcome isn’t exactly a surprise. If you haven’t been following this saga, InfoWorld’s Robert X. Cringely has a nice summary of it. But here are the broad strokes.

[ See also: Facebook: The Medium is the message ]

It seems Cooks Source editor Judith Griggs was under the misapprehension that anything published on the Web was “public domain” and thus could be reused, ad infinitum, for free. A food blogger whose work was republished by Cooks Source took umbrage, wrote to Griggs asking for an apology and a nominal donation to a leading J-school as compensation. Instead, she got flamed by Griggs, who made the aforementioned claims re public domain. Said food blogger blogged about her tale of woe, quoting at length from Griggs’ emails.

Well-connected friends on Twitter saw her blog post and began spreading the word. It became a Twitter trending topic, which then spread to the magazine’s Facebook page. Many many people (including yours truly) posted snarky comments on the Cooks Source page ironically accusing the company of all manner of atrocities, mostly just for fun. Soon fake Twitter accounts and Facebook pages started sprouting up, purporting to be from Cooks Source and trying to out snark each other. Then, at some point (this is still not clear and probably never will be) someone hijacked Cooks Source’s Facebook page and began posting sarcastic responses in the haughty manner of Griggs, further inflaming the masses. Major news outlets like CNN, the New York Times, the Washington Post, NPR etc smelled the blood in the water and started circling.

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