#OzsInbox: A Case in the Perils of Social Media Conversation

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Last week, celebrity surgeon and television host Dr. Mehmet Oz tweeted to his followers asking them to reply with their “biggest question(s)”.

It was not long before twitter users began flooding Dr. Oz with questions- many of which were not health-related. Many twitter users began harshly expressing their discontent with Dr. Oz’s promotion of alleged weight loss scams.

Dr. Oz suffered major criticism from the media in recent years over his backing of weight loss products. For example, Dr. Oz centered one of his episodes on the Green Coffee Bean Pill for weigh loss. The supplement came under scrutiny soon after by the Federal Trade Commission, and the results of the study were retracted. Applied Food Science, the company responsible for marketing the Green Coffee Bean Pill, settled with the FTC for $3.5 million, after they raised questions regarding the validity of the study.

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Dr. Oz enthusiastically featured the supplement on his show, and asserted the study’s “proven” weight loss results- with participants losing 16% of their body fat by simply taking the pill, no diet or exercise required.

“You may think magic is make-believe, but this little bean has scientists saying they found a magic weight loss cure for every body type… This miracle pill can burn fat fast for anyone who wants to lose weight. This is very exciting and it’s breaking news.”

The study, previously posted on a public scientific journal, was retracted and replaced with the following message:

“The sponsors of the study cannot assure the validity of the data so we, Joe Vinson and Bryan Burnham, are retracting the paper.”

Following the posting, the Green Coffee Bean Pill episode was removed from their YouTube channel (due to a “copyright claim”), and all references to the supplement were also removed from his website.

The study, conducted in India and written by researchers from the University of Scranton, was one of many weight-loss programs/supplements publicized by Dr. Oz. His controversial claims regarding weight loss products let Dr. Oz to testify to the Senate Commerce Committee this past June.

2013 Federal Law Enforcement Foundation LuncheonControversies similar this have accumulated widespread public disapproval toward the Dr. Oz franchise, which was reflected in the responses to Dr. Oz’s twitter request for questions last Tuesday.

.@DrOz Please save yourself and apologize to the public. Move forward from this and do no harm. #OzsInbox #RareDisease

Kari Ulrich (@FMDGirl) November 12, 2014

.@DrOz What has been your most profitable lie for money so far? #OzsInbox

Robbie G (@Gruntfutuck) November 11, 2014

.@DrOz what kind of fruit juice do you recommend as an alternative to chemotherapy? #OzInBox Jaytheist (@jetdoc10) November 11, 2014

.@DrOz how are you still allowed to practice medicine you lying fear-mongering opportunist? #OzInbox — Foodmancing® (@Foodmancing) November 11, 2014

The hashtag hijack suffered by Dr. Oz can serve as a testament to the power of social media conversation. This has been seen before, in the cases of McDonalds, and the Washington Redskins, where a sponsored or promoted Twitter call to action resulted in an embarrassing backfire. This should serve as a warning to brands, to carefully assess their public standing before creating an open forum for queries on social media. You can never be sure of what people will say.

 

**Written by Marketing intern Aneesha Joshi, International Relations intern at Boston University (Class of 2015).

451 Marketing

From the team at 451 Marketing @451Marketing!

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