CHICAGO — Two Chicago institutions fell victim this week to the latest social media fad: fake events on Facebook.
On Tuesday, Vienna Beef found itself the victim of a hoax when a fake event went up announcing that singer Morrissey, an ardent vegetarian, would be playing at the beef manufacturer’s headquarters on Aug.18 to help celebrate the company’s 122nd anniversary.
The next day, the Lincoln Park Zoo fell victim a fake event touting rock band Linkin Park, sponsored by LinkedIn, playing the zoo July 3.
Most fake events on Facebook involve well known bands and are a play on their name, such as a fake event announcing that Third Eye Blind will be playing a show at a LensCrafters in Merrillville, Indiana, or Radiohead playing at Radio Shack, which doesn’t exist anymore.
The fake Morrissey/Vienna beef event was created by local businesswoman Remey Rozin, owner of Broken Cherry, a rock and roll boutique that sells clothing and other merchandise online.
As of Thursday night 1,400 people have indicated they are going and 2,500 remain “interested,” according to the event page on Facebook.
Several of the comments on the event page were responded to by Carrie Bodman, who runs the marketing department at Vienna Beef. Bodman responded to comments by stating, “Fake. I work at Vienna. Please share the news.”
In a message to DNAinfo, Bodman said that she filed a trademark and property complaint with Facebook and that the event “will be taken down soon.” She declined to comment further.
For the Lincoln Park Zoo, the fake Linkin Park event caused their phone lines to ring constantly on Wednesday from people looking for tickets.
Rob Lazzara, owner of Mid City Engineering, a manufacturer of after-market automotive parts, created the Linkin Park at the Lincoln Park Zoo event. As of this writing, 16,000 people have RSVP’d to that event.
Lazzara said he has not yet heard from the band or the zoo but is expecting to.
“I know from friends that the zoo is getting a bunch of calls so I’m expecting them to contact me," he said. He added that most people should know that the event is a hoax.
“The band playing in the giraffe enclosure was the obvious give away,” Lazzara said. “Maybe the takeaway is that the band should play the zoo.”
Calls to zoo public relations officials were not returned, but an employee who declined to give her name confirmed that the zoo received many phone calls on Thursday and made a complaint to Facebook in hopes that the event would be taken down.
LinkedIn, the faux sponsor of the Linkin Park at the Lincoln Park Zoo event, declined comment. Representatives for Morrissey and Limp Bizkit did not return calls.
Political and corporate public relations guru Thom Serafin of Serafin & Associates said it’s important for organizations who have been victimized by this sort of prank to get out in front of it.
“From a branding perspective, you need to let your shareholders or your customers know quickly that this event is not a real event. It’s important to get that information out immediately because if it goes viral it’s like a weed that you can’t kill. If you let the weeds take over they will strangle,” Serafin said.
He added that there is potential for organizations like Vienna Beef and the Lincoln Park Zoo to turn it into a positive.
“It’s an opportunity to educate about your brand. Remember what Rahm [Emanuel] always said, don’t waste a good crisis. In a situation like that, you want to take advantage of it and do so by informing people about your brand,” Serafin said.
Jessica Prah, principal and founder of Paramount Public Relations in Chicago, said that one danger the pranksters may face is a lawsuit from the band or celebrity for using their likeness, in addition to getting into trouble with the venue.
“Not all pr is good pr,” Prah said.
While it’s unknown when this trend started, Rozin pointed to a fake event that was posted on Facebook on April 20. Shortly after, several hundred people showed up to a Sonoco gas station in Dayton, Ohio in hopes that the band Limp Bizkit would show up and play as billed. Employees at the Sonoco refused comment.
Sometimes a fake event draws real people, as with the Sonoco/Limp Bizkit event, and sometimes a fake event turns into a real one. In December, 2015, New York University Student Rachel Brown created a fake resignation party on Facebook for Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez.
Brown, an Albany Park native, told the Chicago Reader she was upset with Emanuel over the Laquan McDonald shooting and for closing schools and that creating fake Facebook events was a hobby. A short time after creating her fake event, she received a message from Chicago musician David Beltran, who told her that they should turn it into an actual event. After recruiting a few friends to help coordinate things, they had an actual event on December 5, with hundreds of demonstrators halting traffic downtown, calling for the resignations of Emanuel and Alvarez.
While Lincoln Park Zoo and Vienna Beef staff worked to spread the word so that a crowd of people does not show up, the fake event creators argued that most people should realize they are fake events meant to bring a laugh.
“I don’t know about your feed, but my feed is mostly bad news followed by politics right now, so this is some comic relief. I haven’t had a belly laugh like that in quite some time,” Rozin said.
Initially, the Morrissey event had a picture of Morrissey alongside a Vienna Beef logo. Later Wednesday, Rozin took the event up a notch, posting Photo-shopped pictures of Morrissey appearing to be handing off a hotdog and included a link to buy T-shirts featuring Morrissey and a hot dog, with the words “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now,” one of the crooners songs, emblazoned on the shirt.
Rozin noted that as of Thursday, none of the T-shirts had sold. She also pointed out that the T-shirts are devoid of any Vienna Beef logos and a note on the website order page says “inspired by Morrissey’s upcoming (joke) show at a Chicago hot dog plant!”
She added that “If by chance we sell some T-shirts, I’d give the artist (Stavros Giannopoulos) some money and donate the rest. This is not about making money.”
Although Rozin stripped the event page of the Vienna Beef logo a day after creating the fake event, it could still be a trademark violation if the company pressed the issue, according to intellectual property attorney Andrew Goldstein, partner at Freeborn & Peters in Chicago. In addition, using Morrissey’s likeness could cause trouble for Rozin, Goldstein added.
“I think you need to distinguish between a business doing this and an individual. If I’m an individual, maybe it can be seen as a joke. But if you make the event look real enough and people show up, it can be a problem,” Goldstein added.
Ken Siwek, a 38-year-old elementary school teacher from St. Louis, said he saw and shared the Morrissey event on Facebook because he thought it was funny.
“There have been a lot of them. I saw one that said Vanilla Ice would be performing at an ice cream place here in St. Louis and another that said Tool would be at Home Depot,” Siwek said.
“It’s funny because I know how hardcore of a vegetarian he is. He would never do that. I’ve seen him in concert a bunch of times and seen him sing ‘Meat is Murder’ a number of times with the video of animal cruelty in the background,’ Siwek said.
Indeed, Morrissey is such a well known vegetarian and animal rights activist that he was featured on a U.S. Postal Stamp with people with strong ties to PETA. One of his most famous songs is “Meat is Murder,” which when he plays in concert is accompanied by a video of animal slaughter, and he famously walked off the stage at Coachella in 2007 after smelling food being barbecued offstage.
A day after creating her fake event, Rozin appeared to take action to soften any potential response from Vienna Beef by responding to many of the comments on the fake event page, urging people to support Vienna Beef.
“I went through some of the posts and commented, telling people to support Vienna Beef. I hope they get publicity and business out of this,” Rozin said. “It’s all in good fun.”
Her standard comment to several of the posts was “Everybody eat lots of Vienna Beef hotdogs and give them extra business because they are having to deal with the nightmare construction happening at their doorstep!”
Whatever the motivation, Daliah Saper, principal intellectual property attorney at Saper Law in Chicago, said that she’d advise people thinking of creating fake Facebook events to be wary.
“Who are you going to spoof? If it’s a brand with deep pockets and is conscious about their image, I’d advise against it,” Saper said. “On the other hand, if it’s clearly a parody, you may have that on your side. But selling T-Shirts is probably not a good idea. That could violate copyright law as well,” Saper said.
Rozin said she’d take it down if Vienna was legitimately upset, but added “At the same time I think it speaks to what’s going on right now with people. People are so uptight about everything. It’s a joke and when we all are being inundated with the day to day crap that goes on in life, it’s something that’s funny to laugh at. I mean, does anyone really think that Morrissey is going to play at Vienna Beef?”
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