Could it be the work of the Hamburgler: McDonald's Confronts an Online Hoax

McDonald's was the subject of a social media hoax, involving the photo that claimed the fast-food giant, which has developed a strong track record on diversity, as charging African-American customers an additional $1.50 per transaction to cover additional insurance costs due to increased risk of crime. The photo was false, and McDonald's refuted it. But did it do enough to confront the problem? Turns out that the photo was a hoax. A phone number listed on the fake notice in the photo actually connects to KFC.

McDonald's has a strong track record of diversity. And once the company found the hoax, it tweeted a response and then retweeted others who supported the Golden Arches.

But there are some, including's Matt Wilson, who asked, "Did McDonald's do enough to correct a Twitter hoax?"

Here are some points to consider about McDonald's response:

* People started using the hashtag #seriouslymcdonalds to comment on the issue. In my search, I did not see that McDonald's used that hashtag, so that people looking at that as a trending topic probably would not have seen McDonald's response. Instead, McDonald's retweeted some other folks' tweets that included the #seriouslymcdonalds hashtag.

* They could have made a temporary change to the link listed in the McDonald's bio; right now it links to the @McDonalds Twitter Team -- but the company could have added a temporary statement about the hoax and its track record in supporting diversity.

* Since this was a hoax perpetuated outside the company -- i.e., was not an employee prank, like that video from KFC's employees or a mistweet by the Chrysler social media agency or the Red Cross employee --- McDonald's could have taken a more aggressive stance in getting out the news that the photo was a hoax, and to have pointed to its decades of diversity success. The company may have wanted to be cautious for fear of unleashing copycat hoaxes, but I think it's an opportunity to tout its record on diversity. And, as some noted in Wilson's article, this hoax is likely to re-appear anyway because it can be difficult to kill rumors (Pres. Obama's birth certificate is just one example).

As for suspects behind the hoax, I'm sure McDonald's will investigate who might be behind it.

I have no way of knowing, but am wondering if ex-McDonald's employee, the Hamburgler may still carry a grudge.


A PR executive with 20 years' of experience in technology, nonprofits, health care, security, education, consumer, nonprofit and more, I run Birnbach Communications, a small agency helping clients achieve their business goals across traditional & online media. I've published articles in the New York Times, Wall St. Journal, Boston Globe, San Francisco Chronicle and dozens of other newspapers and trade publications.

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