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Summary:

Zynga, maker of the popular Facebook social game Farmville, has been hit with criticism on Twitter and elsewhere over allegations that it only sent half the money it raised for Haiti to that country. Zynga says this is based on a misunderstanding about its Farmville campaign.

If you want to see a Twitter mob in its larval stage, just do a search on Zynga or Farmville and Haiti and you will see one emerging over a report that the social-gaming company kept 50 percent of the money that it raised in donations for the country in the wake of a devastating earthquake. The report originally appeared in a Brazilian magazine called Superinteressante, which did a feature on Zynga and Farmville and mentioned in the piece that it had only given 50 percent of what it raised to Haiti. That was in turn picked up by a leading Brazilian newspaper called Folha de Sao Paulo , which said that Zynga had admitted to only sending 50 percent of the money it raised for Haiti to that country.

That story got written about in several places around the Web, including at Social Media Today (in a post that has since been removed and replaced with a different one featuring an altered headline) as well as at the opinion site True/Slant, where Marcelo Ballve — a former Associated Press reporter in Brazil — summarized the Falho story about how Zynga had misled Farmville players into thinking 100 percent of their donations would be going to Haiti for earthquake relief (he has since posted an update). The story was also written up at Gawker, which also repeated the allegations.

The Folha story, however, blurs together two Farmville campaigns to raise money for Haiti: One was set up before the earthquake, and specifically said that only 50 percent of the money raised would be sent to Haiti (a screenshot is embedded below). The second, which involved the purchase within the game of special “white corn” for a user’s farm, said that 100 percent of the proceeds would be sent to earthquake relief. According to an emailed statement from a Zynga spokesperson that I’ve embedded below, this is exactly what happened (a similar statement has been posted at the bottom of both the True/Slant post and the Folha story, and referred to by Gawker, but not by Social Media Today, although the latter has since posted an update and apology). The initial campaign for Haiti raised $1.2-million for the country, and the subsequent “white corn” campaign raised an additional $1.5-million.

Meanwhile, dozens of Twitter messages are still being posted every minute (based on a recent survey of the social network) saying that Zynga “admits to keeping half the money it raised for Haiti,” despite the repeated efforts by Zynga CEO Mark Pincus to rebut such claims through his own Twitter account. The eagerness with which people seem to believe such claims could have something to do with the language barrier between the initial reports and those who have repeated them — but it could also be a result of some negative press that Zynga has received in the past, alleging “scammy” behavior related to lead-generation offers within its games.

If nothing else, Zynga’s current woes are just another example of social media’s ability to spread both information and misinformation at lightning-fast speeds. For another recent example, see our report about the “death” of folk legend Gordon Lightfoot.

http://d1.scribdassets.com/ScribdViewer.swf?document_id=27839271&access_key=key-zqvuv9o693cxpolgbn4&page=1&viewMode=list

Related content from GigaOM Pro (sub req’d):

How The Next Zynga Could Reinvent Social Gaming

Post and thumbnail photos courtesy of Flickr user Rusty Boxcars.

  1. Wait a sec… Zynga’s Haiti earthquake relief program involved the purchase of “special white corn” that “never withered”? Really? Wow.

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  2. Mathew,

    Wait a sec. Aren’t you contributing to the misinformation and the unwarranted backlash by titling your piece, “Zynga Gets Slammed Over Haiti Donations”. I know it’s a catchy headline and likely to drive some good traffic to your article, but if you truly believe that this is a red herring issue why didn’t you title the article “Zynga Unfairly Slammed Over Haiti Donations”. Hypocrisy renders its ugly head again. Shame.

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    1. Thanks for the comment, Jason, but I don’t see that “Zynga Gets Slammed Over Haiti Donations” is really unfair or incorrect in any way — they have gotten slammed over their Haiti donations. And I think when people read the entire post they will realize that that reaction is likely an overreaction or a misunderstanding.

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      1. The title is objectively the truth. They are getting slammed. It takes a little deciphering to figure out if the slamming is warranted or not. By the end of your post it seemed that the slam was largely unwarranted.

        So, in the end, I agree with the others, if indeed they are getting unfairly slammed then the title would have been better as Jason suggested.

        It would be even better if you stated it outright in the post if that’s what you think. It really took me a bit to try and figure out whether it was unfair or not. Don’t make us think! God forbid you give us the information and we have to make up our own mind – that’s some old fangled notion of journalism.

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  3. +1 for Jason
    -1 for needless obfuscation in the blog post title

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    1. Agreed.

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  4. +1 for Jason. I wouldn’t know by reading the title that Zynga is being “unfairly” slammed.

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  5. Personally I was turned off by Zynga’s Haiti campaign before I finished reading the first paragraph of the Press Release that hit the wires 48 hours after the January 12th earthquake:

    Starting tonight, Zynga (www.zynga.com) will run a special relief campaign in three of its top games that reach over 40 million users daily.

    It seemed to me that this blatantly took advantage of PR Newswire and others’ waiving of distribution fees for Haiti earthquake-related news.

    I was speculating but I’ve always been skeptical of such campaigns by hard-to-trust startups. I was impressed by Zynga’s earlier partnership with the World food Programme over the holidays but hadn’t seen any mention of its results.

    You can’t be too transparent when acting in the wake of any disaster. While Zynga made no mistake in clearly mentioning it’s user base (both daily and monthly) the press release — especially if it was distributed gratis — should have elaborated on Zynga’s existing relationship with WFP to avoid any fingerpointing / confusion.

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  6. Thanks to everyone for their comments, both here and on Twitter. I gave the headline some more thought, and I decided that it wasn’t as complete as it could have been — so I changed it.

    A good headline should draw readers, but it should also tell people what the post is about, and mine didn’t really do that as completely as it could have. Thanks again for the input.

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  7. As usual, only about 25% of donations are used/sent over. The large AID orgs are slow bureaucratic machines where the money slow trickles down. What they need to show is evidence of what they spend it on.

    Look at Africa…still the same after many years.

    It is better to invest in entrepreneurs in developing countries, who are building community projects via tech, farming etc.

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  8. Its always a misunderstanding.

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  9. What no one seems to say is that, despite bad journalism and social media snow-ball effect, Zynga didn’t clarify from the start that these were separate actions, and for a while there, it seems to me, they played along.

    If there’s anything you guys keep writing is that you have to be honest and be ready to suffer the consequences of free and fluid information and speech. Well, here is one example where twittering isn’t enough to comunicate, especially at this point.

    And by the way, Folha blurs it all because it was a blured situation, and Zynga let it be blured.

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    1. Thanks for the comment, Chico. I think there’s no question that Zynga could probably have communicated things a little more clearly.

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  10. middle fingers up.

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  11. [...] De hecho, el Twitter de la compañía lleva ya algún tiempo respondiendo, internauta por internauta, a todos aquellos que redifundieron y siguen redifundiendo la polémica información. En todo caso, en GigaOM cuentan la historia con mucha más gracia. [...]

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  12. [...] heartstrings over issues like the Haiti earthquake, and then keeping part of the money. Much of the criticism was over how the details were messaged. And others have defended the program since [...]

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