But Honestly Monica

“But Honestly Monica…”

Those words, e-mailed to Monica Gaudio on November 3rd by “Cook’s Source” magazine owner/editor Judith Griggs, were the start of an Internet hate fest that has seen the magazine’s Facebook page flooded into submission. Griggs name has been Google-bombed into popular slang – to ‘griggs’ is to steal copyrighted material for your own profit.

But at the same time as the mob were doing this, they were launching a denial-of-service attack at the magazine’s website host. They also began e-mailing and calling the companies that advertised in the magazine.

What became apparent very quickly was that the majority of folks posting vitriolic flames on the Facebook page had no knowledge of the actual facts about the situation. They’d just heard that one of their own had been ripped off and jumped into the fray, spewing random hate at whatever targets presented themselves.

Now before I go on, here are the facts.

“Cooks Source” is a free magazine. It’s the kind of thing you see stacked on a table near the entrance in small shops and eateries. It’s a local rag, one that gets read by no more than a couple of thousand people a month. It’s a one woman show, with Griggs literally going door-to-door trying to drum up business. Some of the owners that paid to advertise are now allegedly claiming that Griggs pressured them to buy space, and at least a few of the shops on the magazine’s ‘list of advertisers’ have claimed that they paid once, weren’t happy with the results, and haven’t bought an add since.

But they’re still on that list. And it only took a few minutes for the addresses, websites, e-mail addresses and phone numbers to become widely known. Along with the advertisers, the mob also got their hands on a similar list of all the locations where the magazine was being distributed.

These aren’t evil mega corporations, they’re small town shops, family run. They support their community. Out of a list of a hundred and fifty shops that made the magazine freely available, the only recognizable chain was a single Starbucks, and it’s unlikely they were even aware it was there.

Not a single advertiser could possibly have known that the content filling “Cooks Source” had been purloined. The distributors even less so.

But the mob assumed they deserved to be killed anyway.

As of this writing, it seems that the advertisers have been slammed by hundreds, if not thousands, of e-mails that range from pleas for support to vitriolic rants that have quite possibly left completely innocent bystanders scared and confused. Some claim to have received over a hundred phone calls. None of them have any intention of ever advertising in the magazine again.

And yet the hate keeps coming.

Laura, owner of a small bakery, has spent the last two days posting on the magazine’s Facebook page, pleading for people to stop harassing the advertisers, reposting the same message again and again because the flood of posts drives it off the main page within minutes.

The thing is, there’s a significant number of real head cases out there who can’t figure out that they’re actually causing real harm to innocent people – store owners who’s businesses are being seriously disrupted.

This is even more tragic when you realize that the mob had been completely successful in their quest to destroy Judith Griggs by noon on Thursday. The moment they discovered the origin of the stolen content, they leapt to the aid of the mega corps and contacted people who would insure a civil and possibly criminal investigation. The theft is so pervasive and obvious that Griggs will almost certainly loose everything, possibly even her freedom.

The mob won.

And still it wasn’t enough.

The cries for reason are shouted down. For the most part the people doing the shouting don’t have a clue, often referring to these mom-and-pop shops as ‘evil corporations’, almost as often not even being aware of the perpetrator’s gender, nor for that matter the victims’.

Three days later and there are still angry shouts that the magazine needs to fire the editor and issue an apology…

Oy vey.

What makes me sad is the irony. Monica Gaudio’s sole compensation for her work being purloined will likely be the year of blog hosting that an anonymous individual paid for. The net worth of Judith Griggs, along with a portion of the meager living she scratches out for the rest of her life, will be divided up between Disney, OmniMedia, and a host of other ‘evil empires’.

Meanwhile, a large number of completely innocent shop owners will have had their lives disrupted and loose hundreds, possibly thousands of dollars as a result. It’s possible the net cost to these businesses well exceeds the value of Griggs’ assets. They won’t get a dime.

And as of this very moment they’re still being harassed. Laura reposted her plea again just a little while ago.

In a few days the mob will burn out. In a few weeks they’ll have forgotten about it entirely.

But for families and friends of the affected businesses, this is an event they’ll remember unhappily for the rest of their lives – the time the Internet burned them without a second thought.

UPDATE: Well, it seems that some good may have come out of this after all, at least for a few of those local businesses. Now that the mob has started to thin out, there are a lot of good folks who are going out of their way to support the shops that were getting unfairly flamed. Business is brisk, and the short term boost will probably offset the losses from both the money paid to Griggs and from the disruption. My faith in humanity in general and the Internet in particular is restored… For now.

UPDATE REDUX: This. Interwebz, I love you.

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