'Seriously McDonalds' Hoax-Pic Angers Internet, McDonald's

Over the weekend, many people became acquainted with this photo for the first time. It's a hoax: McDonald's isn't charging African-American McDonald's customers an extra $1.50 "as an insurance measure due in part to a recent string of robberies." Nevertheless, the pic seems to have caused yet another PR problem for the dream McJob-generating giant of fast foods.

According to various sources on the Twitter, the picture is an old meme first posted on the 4chan message board. The photo also shows up in this blog post, dated June 17, 2010, on the website McServed. Yet somehow it began recirculating a few days ago, causing much alarm. On the Twitter, people tweeted and retweeted the photo, using the words "Seriously McDonalds" to express their disappointment with the fast-food chain.

On Saturday, McDonald's addressed the photo in a tweet of its own: "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." For the rest of the day, the company replied to only two concerned Twitterers. Some people saw the McTweet—but many more, it seems, did not. If you were on the Twitter earlier today, you would have noticed that "Seriously McDonalds" had achieved a place on its "Trends" list.

Today, McDonald's took to its Twitter once again: "That Seriously McDonalds picture is a hoax." No matter: the picture kept spreading around as the afternoon went on, with many people upset at what they thought was a for-real photo. And who can blame them? The Internet has shown us that anything's possible.

As I type, the pic's still being forwarded—though the number of people mistaking the pic as real appears to be dwindling: "Seriously McDonalds" and its innovatively hashtagged version have dropped off the Twitter Trends list, and more and more people are tweeting in relief that the pic is just a hoax. Clued-in folks have helped to clear up any lingering doubts about the pic's veracity by pointing out that the toll-free number listed on the bottom of the sign actually belongs to KFC. (Maybe McDonald's should reward these volunteer damage controllers with some coupons for the crisis mitigation help—though whether that would be a valuable offer or not depends on one's opinions of McDonald's food, I guess.)

Why does any of this matter? Because McDonald's is a gigantic corporation, and even it can't stop a reputation-damaging meme all that effectively. So imagine how hard it is for an average Joe or Jennifer McDonald to do so. True, an online reputation manager or PR firm can help—if you can afford such things. But even if you succeed in solving your scandal problem, someone two or five years from now might innocently recirculate what you were trying to clarify or suppress—or resurrect misleading information, as what seems to be the case here—and restart your problems anew.

Oh Internet, how you enrich our lives! But you are also kind of a jerk.

[Image via yFrog]