Just how vulnerable are company press offices to campaign groups?
Clare writes for CorpComms Mag, follow her tweets here @ClareJHarrison
'BP to be replaced as London 2012 'Sustainability Partner'' declared the press release that was picked up by City AM and LBC Radio last Wednesday.
The press release appeared on a site that was designed to look almost identical to London 2012's official site and was hosted at the plausible domain of Locog2012.com, leading plenty of Twitter users to tweet the headline.
'The London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) today announced that it was looking for a new 'Sustainability partner' after an internal review concluded that BP was no longer going to fill this role,' the press release said.
But a phone call to London 2012's press team revealed that the press release was a hoax, BP has been and continues to be the official oil and gas partner and a 'Sustainability Partner' for the Games.
The hoax press release included a fake quote from Steve Wren, LOCOG's supposed manager of Sustainability Partnerships, accompanied by a mobile contact number.
A man claiming to be Wren was interviewed by LBC live on air shortly after the story started to circulate.
The architects behind the ruse were the 'Campaign for a More Sustainable OLympics' (CAMSOL).
In this instance the City AM story was quickly pulled and other news outlets made the necessary phone call to determine that the press release was a hoax, but just how easy is it to pull off this kind of prank?
'It's very easy to do, because copying a website's style is straightforward,' says Rob Blackie, UK managing director at Blue State Digital.
'So it only really needs a campaigning group to buy a URL and get a few hours of technical help.'
Cathal Smythe, managing director at The Group notes that many of the tools which are necessary for copying sites are freely available on the internet.
'These tools allow you to take a static snapshot of a web site, including all images, logos, style sheets and content. It is then an easy step to edit the content to suit your needs,' he says.
Blackie's advice for companies is to buy similar URLs to their official site, and redirect them all to the company's homepage.
But as Stephen Waddington, managing director of Speed Communications, and author of Brand Anarchy, notes: 'Arguably any campaign group with any common-sense can find a URL that at least looks plausible.'
'A successful web strategy will lead you to rank highly in Google, so, while it's hard to stop a story like this starting, it will be stopped quickly by people finding your site (through Google) rather than through a fake link,' Blackie adds.
In this instance, the story gathered momentum on Twitter, and traffic to the copycat site was driven from Twitter. And therein lies the problem with sourcing news from Twitter, Waddington notes: 'Everyone says we can get our news from Twitter but there are not enough people verifying the content.'
In this instance CAMSOL pulled the hoax press release and later issued a statement on the same URL saying it had acted 'in order to highlight their [London 2012's] unethical decision to make BP Sustainability Partner for the London 2012 Olympics'.
But in other instances, companies have to involve lawyers to get the offending content removed.
'The laws are clear on this, it's a case of misrepresentation. You have to find out who the publisher is and get them to take the content down but it can be a complicated and convoluted process,' Waddington adds.
'Organisations aren't in control and stuff like this is now. Anyone can do it. As a brand you have to be more vigilant in monitoring and journalists and bloggers have to be more vigilant when sourcing stories online,' Waddington concludes.