"Seriously McDonalds" is the name under which a viral photograph was spread in June 2011. The photograph shows a sign, which is in fact a hoax, claiming that McDonald's has implemented a new policy charging African-Americans more, as "an insurance measure". Despite having existed for some time, the picture was spread around the Internet, especially on Twitter, in June 2011, by people who were offended or amused by the photograph. McDonald's acted quickly to deny the legitimacy of the sign, but it continued to trend on Twitter under the hashtag "#SeriouslyMcDonalds" and "#seriouslymcdonalds" for a few days. The company's response to the hoax has received praise from journalists and public relations professionals.
The photograph shows a sign stuck on what is apparently the window of a McDonald's restaurant with tape. The sign reads:
As an insurance measure due in part to a recent
Thank you for your cooperation.
The sign has a footer which says "McDonald's Corporation" and features the McDonald's logo and a helpline number. However, the helpline number actually connects to the KFC Customer Satisfaction Hotline. The picture is a hoax; McDonald's does not have any such policy.
The picture had existed for some time, and McDonald's had been aware of the image for around a year. The McDonald's social media team were not concerned about the photograph, assigning it a low "impact level", as it made claims that the team thought were too outrageous to be believed.
Lauri Apple, writing for gossip website Gawker, reported, attributing the claim to "various sources on the Twitter", that the image was a meme that first surfaced on 4chan some time before it went viral; writers for the Daily Mail claimed that it had been in use on 4chan since 2008. Apple also linked to a post showing the picture on the McServed.com, a blog which mocks both McDonald's and its customers, dated 17 June 2010.
It surfaced in June 2011, having been picked up by influential Twitter users, and went viral. The photograph was spread around the Internet by email and on social networking sites, especially Twitter, under the title "Seriously McDonalds". The title is meant as an expression of incredulity at the restaurant chain. The picture was passed on both by those who were amused and those who were offended, with abuse aimed at McDonald's sometimes accompanying the image. Kate Linendoll, technology expert for The Early Show, hypothesised that the picture spread from the blog to Twitter, and that Twitter's "immediacy" allowed the image to go viral "so fast it got out of control".
Response from McDonald's
McDonald's responded to the hoax on 11 June by tweeting "That pic is a senseless & ignorant hoax. McD's values ALL our customers. Diversity runs deep in our culture on both sides of the counter." Further, McDonald's director of social media, Rick Wion, released a statement saying
The sign is obviously a hoax. As a company and a brand we have a long and proud history of diversity inclusion across our system on both sides of the counter ... From our management crew, franchisees – across the board, we’re very proud of our record of diversity. This is unfortunately an example of how rumors can outspeed the truth ... Over the last 48 hours we’ve been tweeting and striving to clarify that this is a hoax.
Despite McDonald's denial, the speed at which the picture spread was increased. McDonald's reiterated their earlier message, tweeting "That Seriously McDonalds picture is a hoax". The photograph became the most highly trending topic over the weekend of the 11–12 June, being spread under the hashtags "#SeriouslyMcDonalds" and "#seriouslymcdonalds". The tag was reportedly used some 20 times a second over the course of the weekend. The picture was eventually removed from Twitpic, and the speed at which it was spreading declined.
Little damage was done by the hoax, which, in addition to McDonald's response, was revealed through Twitter users' own investigations. The image is no longer well known or remembered, due, according to public relations professional Ann Marie van den Hurk, to McDonald's effective response to the image.
Linendoll praised the response from McDonald's, saying that
If you're a big corporation and something viral ... happens against you, you have to formulate a plan and respond quickly ... In this case, McDonald's handled it correctly; they used the medium Twitter they were accused on. Time is of the essence. We're not going to the press in the morning. We're going to the press in real time, when it comes to social networking. You have to respond and respond quickly. Well-handled.
Christopher Barger of Forbes described McDonald's response as "a textbook statement on how to respond to a rumor in 140 characters", although he felt they could have personalised responses and used other social networks. Van den Hurk also presented the response from McDonald's as an example of how organisations can best deal with social media crises.
- "Maccas in damage control over Seriously McDonald's picture hoax". News.com.au. 14 June 2011. Retrieved 18 June 2011.
- "McDonald's issues Twitter denial after hoax poster saying blacks will be charged extra goes viral". Daily Mail. 13 June 2011. Retrieved 18 June 2011.
- van den Hurk, Ann Marie (2013). Social Media Crisis Communications: Preparing for, Preventing, and Surviving a Public Relations #FAIL. Que Publishing. pp. 47–9. ISBN 9780133353891.
- Apple, Lauri (12 June 2011). "‘Seriously McDonalds’ Hoax-Pic Angers Internet, McDonald’s". Gawker. Retrieved 18 June 2011.
- "McDonald's racist Twitter message was hoax". CBS News. 15 June 2011. Retrieved 18 June 2011.
- "Fake racist McDonald's twitpic enrages Tweeps". The Independent. 14 June 2011. Retrieved 18 June 2011.
- Moses, Asher (14 June 2011). "Maccas, JK Rowling, lesbian bloggers: hoaxers take over the world wide web". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 18 June 2011.
- Newman, Nic (2011). Mainstream media and the distribution of news in the age of social discovery (Report). Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism. p. 37. http://reutersinstitute.politics.ox.ac.uk/fileadmin/documents/Publications/Working_Papers/Mainstream_media_and_the_distribution_of_news_.pdf.
- Barger, Christopher (17 June 2011). "Six Steps To Fighting Internet Rumors". Forbes. Retrieved 18 June 2011.
- Cookin' Up Discrimination? on McServed.com