An Internet hoax tripped up McDonald's over the weekend, when a photo of an authentic-looking company letter appeared on Twitter.
It reads: "As an insurance measure, due in part to a recent string of robberies, African-American customers are now required to pay an additional fee of $1.50 per transaction."
After the photo created a storm of anger, McDonald's released a statement on its official Twitter page, saying, "That pic is a senseless & ignorant hoax. McD's values ALL our customers. Diversity runs deep in our culture on both sides of the counter."
But how did it happen?
"Early Show" Technology Expert Katie Linendoll explained the image of the letter has been on the Internet since July 17, 2010. One of the places the image initially appeared was on McServed.com, an often graphic website that mocks the restaurant's customers and culture.
She said, "What happened was somebody basically saw this on an old blog site, then re-posted it on Twitter. Twitter is a resource for sharing information -- what is happening right now. So the immediacy of Twitter is kind of like spreading a rumor, except when you use a social networking site, it's not like telling one person and you tell somebody else; it's magnifying by 10,000. It spreads so quickly, people thought it was happening in real time. So unfortunately, it went viral so fast it got out of control."
Linendoll said McDonald's responded correctly to the flap.
"If you're a big corporation and something viral ... happens against you, you have to formulate a plan and respond quickly," she said. "In this case, McDonald's handled it correctly; they used the medium Twitter they were accused on. Time is of the essence. We're not going to the press in the morning. We're going to the press in real time, when it comes to social networking. You have to respond and respond quickly. Well-handled."
Linendoll suggests people investigate claims made online before sending the message on to our friends.
"We have to be as ourselves better challengers," she said. "Just because it's out there, let's question it, challenge it and be better personal journalists ourselves."