The Oatmeal v. FunnyJunk.com: The PR Lessons
The Internet’s reputation for legal hilarity and insanity is well-known; fake (and sometimes real) legal threats are a dime-a-dozen online, usually filled with scary-sounding-but-misused legalese along with an “official” throwaway Gmail account for the totally legit law firm. Often, these completely serious threats peter out quickly…sometimes, however, they do not.
Take, for instance, the ever-growing snowball that is one lawyer versus seemingly the entire Internet. The convoluted story starts with popular webcomic the Oatmeal being engaged in a legal tussle with humorous content-sharing site FunnyJunk.com – what originally started as a fight over comic copyright quickly morphed into a discussion of mother-bear love and a campaign against cancer. The crazy train then went off the rails, with FunnyJunk.com’s lawyer entering his own lawsuit against the Oatmeal, Indiegogo and…the American Cancer Society and the World Wildlife Federation (and now the California State Attorney General).
But underneath all of the crazy, various legal bloggers have pointed out one or two nuggets of legal validity to this seemingly bizarre lawsuit. And wedged underneath the illustrations of mothers loving bears and pterodactyls is actually a PR lesson or two.
The Internet Can Be Serious Business
No matter how frivolous something looks at first glance, whether it’s a negative product review or a perceived “fake” legal threat, never let your guard down, especially as a PR person. In this example, what started out as a farcical lawsuit was actually implemented by a real-life lawyer and could have actual repercussions for all involved. Treat every perceived crisis as real until proved otherwise.
Keep the Community Calm
While communities are great, especially when built around a company’s product or service, when it comes to crises, they can actually function in a negative capacity. For example, part of the current lawsuit against the Oatmeal is that his community hacked the lawyer’s personal website and levied death threats against him – this only exacerbates the situation, fueling an already bright fire.
Act Like a Grown-Up
The vast majority of online-based crises could likely be avoided if only the players involved would start acting like grown-ups. Online incidents, from negative comments to potential legal issues, need to be viewed through a neutral eye without emotion clouding the lens. This ensures that whatever action is taken, PR or otherwise, is done with a clear head and a steady hand.
Definitely keep up with the ongoing saga of Bear-Mother-Lawyer-Gate, but don’t view it as completely humorous – keep a critical eye on the scenario for lessons that you can pull out for your own organization.