Commentary

Comic Con Comandeers Twitter Accounts To Send Out Ads

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman recently made headlines by targeting astroturfers -- marketers who pose as consumers and then sing their companies' praises in fake reviews.

No doubt that's a questionable marketing strategy. But here's one that's even worse: hijacking customers' accounts in order to post glowing reviews in their names. The idea might sound ludicrous, but it happened at the recent New York City Comic Con. The convention organizers asked people to provide their social media credentials when they registered. Then when the event started, the organizers took over attendees' accounts in order to send out promotional tweets -- with the type of copy that few creatives would want to include in their portfolios.

 “So much pop culture to digest! Can’t. handle. the. awesome. #NYCC,” read one, which went out under journalist Brian Crecente's name. Crecente reported the incident on Polygon.

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The conference stopped the practice after people complained, but a few hundred faux tweets had already gone out by then. "This was an opt-in function after signing in, but we were probably too enthusiastic in our messaging and eagerness to spread the good word about NYCC,” the organizer wrote to attendees.

Of course, calling something “opt-in” doesn't mean that people knowingly opted in. Consumers often agree to whatever terms are suggested -- especially when they have no reason to think the company is planning on pulling a fast one.

Consider, many social media users have said they were duped into agreeing to let platforms spam their friends with invitations to join. Also, numerous consumers who made purchases at sites like Fandango were then tricked into buying monthly subscriptions to discount clubs. Even the much-maligned adware programs were “opt-in” in that people had to download software and click on a user agreement to install the ad-serving software -- even though many who did so later said they had no idea that they would soon be bombarded with ads.

The Federal Trade Commission and Congress have taken action regarding some of the worst abuses of trust, but many companies still seem to think that aggressive, envelope-pushing practices are fine, as long as consumers technically consent.

In the case of Comic Con, people who realized what was happening were able to delete their tweets relatively quickly. Still, the phony tweets were at least as deceptive as old-fashioned astroturfing campaigns. In this case, the victims include not only the attendees, who were duped into making endorsements, but also the public at large, including anyone who decided to attend future conventions after seeing the phony tweets.

3 comments about "Comic Con Comandeers Twitter Accounts To Send Out Ads ".
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  1. Phil Whomes from Whomes Consulting, October 19, 2013 at 6:51 a.m.

    Calling NYCCC's act 'hijacking' is a bit of an exaggeration given the opt-in, and while consumers often blindly agree to t&c's, it doesn't negate the fact that they do actually have an option..

    However, whatever the extremely questionable ethics of what they did, it was a stupid stunt which was bound to back fire - the thing that amazes me is their incredible naivety, did they really think that this wouldn't come back and bite them, and cause major reputational damage?

  2. Mike Bawden from Brand Central Station, October 19, 2013 at 1:32 p.m.

    Actually, it wasn't as much of an option as you might think. When you received your badge at the door you were told you had to go online to register it - and that meant accepting the terms and conditions.

    I agree with Phil Whomes' key question, though, how could this have NOT come back to bit NYCC in the butt? They could have gone to a little bit more effort and had thousands of enthusiastic fans send out tweets for them rather than waste all their time doing damage control with pissed off fans and media inquiries.

  3. Pete Austin from Fresh Relevance, October 21, 2013 at 4:54 a.m.

    Such unfair terms would probably be illegal in other countries, e.g. the UK, as being significantly weighted against the consumer contrary to the requirement of good faith. I am not a lawyer, get legal advice etc.http://www.oft.gov.uk/business-advice/unfairterms/quick/ataglance/

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