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Mayo Clinic & What Happens When a Facebook Wall Goes Terribly Wrong

A firestorm has erupted on the Mayo Clinic Facebook Fan Page wall. Whether the allegations against Mayo doctor Aivars Slucis, accusing him of being a racist are true, the spiteful rhetoric makes for one ugly fan page.

This is the double edged sword of user generated content in all it’s ugly splendor. If the content has cycled off the fan page, click the “older posts” button at the bottom for a most unbelievable ride through user-generated Facebook disaster-land.

We think there’s not much Mayo could have done to avoid this social-lynching. To Mayo Clinic’s credit they did not remove the comments and responded to it by way of a series of official posts.

Is this the new Ripoff Report tactic? Are Facebook Fan Pages the new hijack and ambush mechanism? Are there real dangers here for competitive espionage? Would you have removed the comments if you were Mayo Clinic?

23 Comments

  1. Tony Verre on November 4, 2010 at 9:18 pm

    Marty,

    Considering how lax Facebook is on just about anything, I’m going to have to say that these Fan Pages are the next major ticking time bomb for corporations and businesses. And, if I was a competitor of Mayo, I would have gone out and found a lot more the “disgruntled” and told them to let Mayo know what they think about it.

    You call it double-edged and it most certainly is. For a business this IS their worst nightmare; a less than stellar story dominating a very public space. Thankfully for Mayo, it hasn’t hit major news streams. Yet.

    As for the comments, the search marketer in me says you have to leave a few of them there. But there is absolutely no reason to have the same message, the “Dear Sir or Madam, I would like to express my concern regarding the letter” there were quite a few of those there. I would have killed off a a majority of them and left real discussion comments up. Mayo is lucky that enough people are commenting to push that down. About 4 hours ago, that’s all there was. And, if I was Mayo, I’d would have responded with something by now. A real “STATEMENT” on the page letting people know they are taking action of some type and to reassure the public this will NOT go unchecked.

    What would you have done? Would you have left All the comments up there?

  2. Dan Hinmon on November 5, 2010 at 9:49 am

    Great example. Kudos to Mayo Clinic for leaving the posts and letting the conversation flow. Clearly an organized effort. Readers will recognize that. Mayo will be fine. It will be interesting to see how long these comments keep coming.

  3. David Jones on November 5, 2010 at 11:47 am

    This is the situation that organizations have to be ready for when they screw up or have screw ups foisted upon them. These pages are going to be used by people to connect and vent their anger. Nestle found that out the hard way. We had a client page under a coordinated attack by a political group for a day. We let the comments stand, but changed the page default to show only client wall posts until the attack was over.

  4. Tim Shaw on November 5, 2010 at 12:07 pm

    I think they’re doing the right thing by directing the conversation to a thread in the discussion tab. They are letting the conversation happen but keeping it as contained as possible.

  5. Vladimir on November 5, 2010 at 2:17 pm

    Dear Sir/Madame

    As I am one of this actions participant, I would like to show where it all started: http://www.znatoki.lv/forum/viewtopic.php?f=3&t=7629 One of the Latvia-based Russian-speaking Intellectual Sport Community’s forum. I can’t say about the scandal by itself (publishing of this awful letter of one of Mayo clinic’s doctor from his job mail) – it involves Minister of Foreign Affairs, so you never know, was it politics, or really some anonymous’s will to open truth. But as to “facebook bombing” – it was fully grass-root organized activity, coming from this Russian minority intellectuals’s community with an aim to inform clinic (done), to achive resignation of the racist doctor (not yet) and inform Western mass media about an awful case of intolerance (only one article was written, as far as I know).

    The main reason, why most of the letters were similar – bad knowledge of English of the population. So when local media paid attention to iniciative, people willing to participate just step-by-step were doing what was a suggestion in the first comment (see the link).

    Faithfully Yours,
    Vladimir.

  6. Yury Shatz on November 5, 2010 at 2:52 pm

    To Dan Hinmon:

    As one of the participants I must say – no, this is not an organized effort. People simply got tired of 20 years of attitudes like that of Mr. Slucis. Some of the messages are copied and pasted – simply because not everyone’s English is good enough. And some people certainly got carried away and went with a mob. I am sorry to see were it led.

    Here’s a proof of the views Dr. Slucis holds. Preample in Russian, but the rest in English. His paid advertisement in Washington Post:

    http://www.pereplet.ru/text/wp.shtml

    If a fellow American doctor from abroad would write to one of your American politicians “I don’t want to come to US because I don’t want to treat blacks as well as whites” what would you do? What if you happened to be black? What if you knew that that guy is sponsoring a political party? And what if one of the mainstream politicians responded to his letter by “I agree with your view”?

    Of course Mayo clinic is innocent. Frankly, I wouldn’t care about doctor’s views (after all he does not practice in Latvia), if he was not a major sponsor of two political parties and therefore did not have influence on them. We just got his paypal as Foreign minister, lucky us!

    Sincerely
    Yury Shatz
    Citizen of Latvia
    Ethnic Russian (at least partially)

  7. Marty Weintraub on November 5, 2010 at 4:00 pm

    To Our Readers: aimClear® has not taken a position on any claims made on Facebook or this blog. The comments herein are strictly user-generated and may not reflect the opinion of aimClear®, it’s employees, owners or partners.

  8. Marty Weintraub on November 5, 2010 at 4:02 pm

    @Tim Shaw. Thanks. I suppose this blog post blows the “contained” thing a little, and we took pause before publishing. The story here, so far as we’re concerned is about the double edged sword of social media, user generated content and business’s potential vulnerability. I agree. Contained is good.

  9. Marty Weintraub on November 5, 2010 at 4:05 pm

    @David Jones: The “coordinated attack” thing is what concerns me here. WTF when TOS for a social community allow for the public lynching, judge, jury and executioner, played out in front of all.

  10. Marty Weintraub on November 5, 2010 at 4:07 pm

    @Dan Hinmon: The FB provocateurs sure didn’t waste anytime before they came to these threads, fixated on basting the Dr. involved. I wonder why they feel as if they have not had sufficient airing? The folks making the case against Mayo are sure a committed bunch, very professional and coordinated in their attacks. A social media agency could not have been more surgical in the posts, timing, etc…

  11. Marty Weintraub on November 5, 2010 at 4:13 pm

    @Tony Verre Yeah, the whole thing feels a bit like scam emails asking recipients to front a couple of grand to get the “inheritance” some old dude accidentally locked up before passing. I like how @leeodden thinks about things. We own the blog and we get to say when it crosses the line.

    I think I would have taken them down, help a press conference and closed my Facebook Fan page. I’d announce what happened and say that our client looked forward to a fair hearing in an actual court, not the kangaroo one erected by some pissed off folks. Maybe I’d leave a placeholder Fan Page with a statement about why FB isn’t a safe place for institutions like Mayo. Who cares? Mayo Clinic does not need Facebook. I might have suggested that they lead the international conversation about social media’s place in this world.

    Thanks for the great comment.

  12. Min Li on November 6, 2010 at 1:46 am

    I think racists think highly of themselves because they’re just too insecure of having to know that people despite how people may view them as part of a third world country, are doing better than them. I say stop racism in all forms, and in all environments!

  13. Marty Weintraub on November 6, 2010 at 7:03 am

    @Min Li: This post is not about someone being a racist or not. Rather, we aim to highlight how any individual can be accused, in public, without any sort of due-process law behind the attack. We have no idea whether anyone is or is not a racist and this post does not take a position on anything other than the phenomenon of social media.

  14. Ministry of Truth on November 6, 2010 at 8:21 am

    I’m from Latvia.

    The whole thing’s not so straightforward as it appears to be. To me, there are at least three aspects worth observing in this case.

    Firstly, social networking is very much like a virtual landfill site, both in terms of its contents generated by random users and in terms of the language and depth of thought shown by general public. While thousands of people litter the Internet with their hundred thousandth copy of sunset photography each day, to no avail, some others use Twitter, Facebook and what not else to get their agenda through, with similar effect. So be prepared, there’ll be more and more of this nonsense, as time goes by.

    Secondly, the row over the doctor’s views started from pietiek.com, a site dealing with scandalous facts of in-house corruption in Latvia. The analysts behind the scandalous publications probably are doing what they can to stir up the torpid nation. And the reason for the fire to spread so quickly and violently was, in part, because of some dirty tricks some members of the ruling political party Vienotiba did just recently, in the course of formation of the new government, to get some ministerial posts. But that’s more of an inner affair.

    Thirdly, the fire-spitting comments may be viewed as just another example of the Interfronte sentiment burning deep inside young and simple-minded people who have failed to realise, over a term of 20 years, that Latvia is no longer part of Russia, that it has restored its national independence, banner, language, bank, currency, borders, laws, courts, and supreme legislative bodies and administrative institutions, and so forth. So, probably with the unofficial backing by the Kremlin power, to some extent, they’re doing what they can. What does not kill us, makes us stronger, I’m sure. :)

  15. Marty Weintraub on November 6, 2010 at 8:30 am

    @Ministry of Truth: Thanks for the comment. I think that parts of it are off-topic, still you make some interesting points about social media. That said, you get credit for using the word “torpid” in a comment. Thanks for stopping by.

  16. I. Weimer on November 8, 2010 at 3:22 am

    Dear Marty,
    I think if you had sufficient evidence to believe that there was a racist working at your local clinic/school/whatever, you’d have sent them a letter, regardless of how many other people sent theirs. And these people posting on Mayo’s wall clearly know more about the matter than you do, at least because they can read Slucis’s actual words, and you cannot. I get that for you this is a marketing/IT matter, but when people are insulted, they don’t care about how pretty and professional a Facebook page might look afterwards. If the Third Reich had had a Facebook page way back when, would you be concerned about all the “spam” it’d be getting from the Jews worldwide? All those canned messages are like an unwanted pregnancy — an inconvenience, but it’s nice to know that someone cared enough to have sex with you. I think it’s better if folks complain, even if it’s a double-edged sword, than if it goes completely unnoticed.
    I think your somewhat patronising tone in the comments is uncalled for, but a nice post and something to think about nonetheless.
    Thanks.

  17. Marty Weintraub on November 8, 2010 at 7:47 am

    @i.weimer: I’m glad you like the post. Obviously it made you think. Again, this blog is not about whether or not someone is a racist. I have no idea. How could I? There is no formal process here. No rules of evidence. No cross examination. Why do you think it’s possible to evaluate right and wrong from some Mickey Mouse Facebook Fan Page court and comments in a marketing blog? It’s not my place to evaluate “evidence” and, frankly for the purpose of this publication, we don’t have an opinion of who’s wrong or right. The post is about social media and it’s place in the world. I’ll leave evaluation of “evidence” to courts, judges, attorneys and, (apparently), you, which you are entitled to

    Also, do think you could be any more hyperbolic, having touched on Third Reich, pregnancy, spam, Jews, etc…? Why not pour gasoline on the topic and light it on fire? You may find my tone patronizing, but I’m staying on topic-social media and online marketing.

  18. I. Weimer on November 8, 2010 at 12:07 pm

    @Marty Weintraub

    Excuse me, but you’re the one who used the words “provocateurs” and “attacks”, which to me seem a bit like evaluating. And talk about hyperbolic. This wasn’t a “coordinated attack”. A “coordinated attack” from Russians would leave Mayo’s website down for days. As you well know, being in this business.

    If you’re so concerned about being neutral and staying on topic, why not use neutral language – which actually promotes the discussion about social media and efficiency? Expressing an opinion, or a concern or even a protest is not an “attack”, since, if I’m not mistaken, feedback is what businesses are after when they register on Facebook. I know that Mayo isn’t at fault here, but it can’t all be honey and butterflies when it comes to social media.

    Anyway, thank you for your reply.

    P.S. Was this site not supposed to keep my e-mail secret? Apparently, SOME spam is well deserved.

  19. Marty Weintraub on November 8, 2010 at 1:59 pm

    So far as my language: Wikipedia clarifies the meaning of “personal attack” as “is an attempt to link the validity of a premise to a characteristic or belief of the person advocating the premise.” I believe that the comments in the Mayo thread can be described as such.

    There were users who commented both in the Mayo thread and aimClear Blog. You may disagree, but following around the conversation to different publications to make one’s case could considered “coordinated.” So far as, “provocateur” goes. Wikipedia defines “Agent provocateur,” a (generally political) group that tries to goad a desired response from the group or otherwise disrupt its activity. That fits like a glove.

  20. I. Weimer on November 8, 2010 at 6:23 pm

    @Marty

    There’s a problem with this terminology. It applies to a lot of perfectly reasonable and legitimate online activities on Facebook and elsewhere.

    Anyway, why would a clinic like Mayo even be on Facebook (or Twitter)? Like many businesses and institutions it does nothing more than post links to various sections of its website or post short replies to people’s questions; questions that are only the beginning of a long chain of back and forth e-mail messages (if it’s a serious condition). And that would be fine, but this does create an illusion that a Facebook wall is a sort of chat-box that you can see on teen-oriented websites, where you don’t have to think much about the content; a bit frivolous maybe? A while back when “serious institutions” could only be contacted by snail or e-mail, people had to really think about what they’re sending and spell-check. Perhaps, clinics and university departments (and the Queen of England?) really should wait for Facebook to mature before they move in, if ever. Being conservative is good if you’re a respected clinic.

  21. Sean Elkin on November 9, 2010 at 10:28 am

    I Weimer,

    I know, let’s turn these comments into an attack and lynching of Marty… where’s the nearest tree? Everyone get a stick.

    How u doing Marty? : )

  22. Marty Weintraub on November 9, 2010 at 10:42 am

    @Sean Elkin: Yes sir please again….. :) Greetings from #PubCon!

  23. Marty Weintraub on November 17, 2010 at 12:03 pm

    We received a comment, we did not post, that contains hate-speech by anyone’s definition. Since we never edit users’ comments, we’ve decided to close the thread so as not to accept any more conversation surrounding this matter. We will leave the existing comments, again, fitting with our policy.