Have consumers taken social media a step too far?

This morning I noticed an email in my work inbox that, at first glance, I thought was a joke:


I have a good sense of humor so I induldged my curious journalist self and read through the emailed release. As I read on, I realized not only was this not a joke, it was a serious email. I'm pro-social change, but this alert hit a little to close to home for me. 

According to the Hershey Facebook release, "Fair trade chocolate activists are infiltrating Hershey’s s’mores-themed photo contest on Facebook today by uploading images of themselves asking Hershey to buy chocolate made without the rampant child and slave labor in the cocoa industry."

Their coming together through the online transom was due in large part to a social action platform called Change.org. I don't have anything against Change.org nor do I have anything against Hershey (I rather like their chocolate goodness), but in seeing the release and the fact that more than 15,000 people have joined the campaign, it makes me nervous for my food and beverage kin.

We live in a world where one person can make an unfounded claim, post it on their social network of choice and let rumors run rampant, possibly destorying a company (or two) in its wake. When I read the Hershey/Facebook release, I was a little stunned to read that the campaign against Hershey had consumers across the country making videos of themselves placing ‘consumer alerts’ about child labor in the chocolate industry on Hershey’s products in their local supermarkets.

I realize the food and beverage industry is not perfect. We've got flaws and we work long and hard to make sure consumers think nothing but good thoughts about our products; however, at what point does a food/beverage company get to say: STOP THE INSANITY? 

I'm confident that Hershey's PR team is working on damage control already. They're lucky; Hershey is a big company with a department that can handle that. What about a smaller company that can't handle the influx of hate tweets or Facebook posts because of a misunderstanding or untruth? What do we tell those companies? 

It almost makes me wonder if we've gone too far with consumer-driven social media activism.