When Did The Chicken Cross The Road? Chick-Fil-A, Facebook Foul Ups and Web 2.0

August 14th, 2012 by Patrick Sugrue

It’s January 1st, 1999.

The Euro is established. A month later, the U.S. Senate acquits Bill Clinton of impeachment charges. Then Star Wars Episode I, Napster, Columbine. And in an article entitled “Fragmented Future,” Darcy DiNucci states that, “The first glimmerings of Web 2.0 are beginning to appear…” That was thirteen years ago, and I don’t remember anything called Web 2.0. What I do remember are static web browsers, a screeching dial up modem, fights with my sister, and AIM chat rooms — certainly not the Post-Internet proposed by DiNucci.

So what was she seeing that I wasn’t? When she said “The web we know now… is only an embryo of the Web to come,” did anybody stop to ask her what she meant?

Is the Internet of today even knit from the same quilt as that of 1999? Perhaps. It takes benchmarks to notice the change. Here was my wakeup call: Chick-Fil-A.

Blasted by liberal groups for being opposed to gay marriage, the conservative corporation now finds itself in hot water for allegedly creating a fake Facebook profile (of a teenage girl), then using it to defend the company’s actions and promote blatant falsehoods. The non-existent girl, Abby Farle, even quotes the Bible, ending her post with “…John 3:16,” and “derrr,” which is appropriate because nobody says “derrr” anymore.

The wakeup call is not that corporations lie: it’s how saddeningly fickle this whole story is. More concerning than the fact that Chick-fil-A, a quick-service chicken restaurant, is opposed to gay marriage, is the fact that we care that a quick-service chicken restaurant is opposed to gay marriage.

What causes a billion dollar corporation to resort to such childish techniques? To actually embody a child to plead their case? Why can’t you just be you, chicken company? Do fake people defend better than real people?

Even the article “Did Chick-fil-A Pretend to Be a Teenage Girl on Facebook?” published by Gizmodo.com that “broke” the story seems strangely suspect. The story’s screenshot of Chick-fil-A’s Facebook page depicts the conversation, where would-be Chick-Fil-A savior Abby Farle is exposed for being non-existent just two hours after telling one of the belligerents, Chris, to “check his info…” Yet the odd part is that whoever took the screenshot only has one friend on chat. Who has only one friend, right?

If social media has come to serve as the hammer and anvil of democracy (see Wikileaks, Tahrir Square, Syria) and if our own voices are to be the liberalizing agent, what’s to be done when a conservative voice, like Chick-Fil-A CEO S. Truett Cathy, starts chirping “We are very much supportive of the family — the biblical definition of the family unit.”

To me, this is the high water mark of social media: when an asshole can’t be an asshole in peace.

When a four billion dollar (and growing) corporation cares about public opinion enough to create a fake consumer to defend the owner’s socio-religious beliefs, something is very, very wrong. It’s not Chick-Fil-A. It’s us.

Take 400 years of rabid capitalistic mentality, add a dash of recession-inspired fear, introduce social media and you’ve got the current “debacle.” If Web 1.0 took our bodies, 2.0 has edged toward our souls. Is this what Darcy DiNucci was talking about?

The unprecedented access and information Web 2.0 provides to marketers (via social media platforms) allows businesses endless opportunities, if they only knew how to take advantage. Don’t overestimate the importance of assenting voices on Facebook, as Chick-Fil-A has. It’s at least reassuring to know that in our world of expressive freedom, backfires do still exist; genuine goodwill is the strongest form of PR a company has (and it’s free, too!), and faking it just won’t cut it. Moreover, the astroturfing of social media platforms, when discovered, inevitably leads to enormous backlash.

So to the people who post pictures of all their meals on Facebook, I say, “Just eat it,” and to Chick-Fil-A, I say nothing.

(P.S. I just found out Gore Vidal is dead. Welcome to Web 2.0.)