HALLMARKGATE: Or, A Lesson On How The Internet Works

The story begins a few days ago, when I saw someone post a picture of this card on Twitter:


Like more or less anyone with a modicum of sense, I was pretty grossed out. I mean, this is real DISCUSSION CIRCLE stuff. Some sample questions:

What’s the line between funny and offensive?

What are the current messages we are sending young girls?

How do you respond when a company makes something like this?

Well, I can tell you what my response was. First, I did some research: WAS THE IMAGE REAL? Trusted sources verified the card. And the image does not appear to be photoshopped. Was the image old? No, the sources said, the image was just taken within the last few days.

So I decided to retweet this image on Twitter. Because that is what I do. I didn’t say, LET’S BURN THE ENTIRE WORLD DOWN! In fact, this is what I said:

Dear , SERIOUSLY???? 

That was it. And then, since I’ve just had surgery, I basically went back to sleep. And while I slept, the tweet starting going around and around and around. Because it’s an interesting thing, and people were asking themselves the same questions I was asking myself.

What happened next, though, is an interesting CASE STUDY on how information gets passed around the internet.

The first thing was that my feed more or less exploded.

The second thing was that the people at @HallmarkPR probably got the shock of their lives, because I imagine that is usually a pretty calm job. I’ll bet there is herbal tea involved, you know? And then all of the sudden the entire internet SLAMS down on them like a pack of rabid bees.

To their credit, they were quick on the case. The tracked the card down to the UK and discovered that they do, officially, own that card. It WAS in a shop. But it was a card published 15 years ago by a company they later acquired. It was not published under their watch, but technically it was their problem to deal with. And they did see it as a problem. They thought it was gross too. And they issued a statement. They were really responsive.

But it was not over. Oh, no. It was just beginning. 

The first article about it appeared in the Huffington Post, which somehow decided I was “traveling around the United Kingdom,” even though I’d been reporting NON-STOP for days about how I was in the hospital and then stuck at home practicing getting out of a chair. I’m not saying that the media has to follow my every move, but if you are doing an article ABOUT TWITTER, and you’re reporting something that someone tweeted, maybe you want to check their Twitter feed to see, if … oh, I don’t know … they’d just had abdominal surgery. Or I guess you could just take a guess!

I was like, lol.

Then began what I will refer to as the Second Wavers. As the tweet made it’s way around the world, people began finding it anew. Many screamed at me about how this is ‘merica! and we can do what we like and how I have no sense of humor. And I’m like, “Dude, FIRST of all, it’s the UK. Second of all, what are you even talking about?” Except I didn’t say those things because I was busy eating jello and I never reply to random screamers.

Then I got a note from UK paper The Daily Mail. Here is our conversation in its entirety.

On Saturday, December 8, 2012, Niamh O’Doherty wrote:

Hi Maureen,

My name is Niamh O’Doherty and I’m a reporter from The Daily Mail. We’re just writing a story about the Hallmark Card you found yesterday, and were wondering if you’d like to comment on it. Would you also be able to tell us in which shop you picked up the card?

Thanks so much,


From: Maureen Johnson 
Sent: 09 December 2012 04:26
To: Niamh O’Doherty
Subject: Re: Query from the Daily Mail


I didn’t find the card. It was found in the uk by someone else. I had surgery this week and was not traipsing about! I think HuffPo reported it that way, but I have no idea why.


Niamh O’Doherty
Dec 9 (1 day ago)
to me
Thanks Maureen, appreciate it. Here’s to a speedy recovery!

At which point, The Daily Mail publishes this, which says “American novelist Maureen Johnson was traveling through the UK when she came across this card.”

Meanwhile, more media requests are coming in. A news station in Los Angeles. Radio around the US. Where did I find the card? WHY DO I HATE HALLMARK SO MUCH??? 

This is not a problem—I just find it very interesting how we, as a society, can respond to things now. And it’s very informative to watch the traditional media interact with social media. That’s like watching Fred Astaire trying to dance with a coatrack. Because, as Amanda Palmer says, “We are the media.” We’re faster. And often more accurate. We give voice to things.

Does the card ultimately matter? Not really. But then, no one said it did, least of all me. I pointed it out as a thing worthy of some note, and definitely some mockery. It is a thing that could help us talking about gender roles—that’s a subject that interests me a lot. 

But traditional media does not understand “talking points.” It only knows INTERNET FIRESTORM!!!! So the story had to be that it was an INTERNET FIRESTORM!!! And it was the one I started when I was on that trip to England last week!

As for the card … is it the end of the world? No. Should we talk about the it? Yes, we damn well should.  We should talk about it now, especially during the Christmas season, as our televisions (which I am stuck watching because I can’t get off the sofa) are clogged with commercials for mega jewelry stores, pimping engagement diamonds. As young girls are standing up to the messed up images in their magazines and media and protesting Photoshopping. When kids ask for cosmetic surgery to stop bullying. when the entire question of a woman’s right to manage her own body is made into a political beach ball to be knocked around in the air whenever a game is necessary. When issues of equal pay for equal work are still very much a big question mark on the national spreadsheet.

You know, there are SOME ISSUES. The card does not, in itself, express them all, or cause them, or fix them. We were just talking about them, because we saw the card and it made us think of them. And we need to keep talking.

And the traditional media needs to do a little more fact checking, BECAUSE I DID NOT TAKE THAT PICTURE. NOW GET OFF MY LAWN.

[UPDATE: Both HuffPo and The Daily Mail corrected their articles after THIS post started to go around. But that is not really the point, and it doesn’t really matter. I’m just letting you know in case you clicked the links and were like, “But it says something different!”]