The Fallout from Burger King's Biggest Crisis Ever

July 23, 2012 7:28 PM EDT | By Anthony Smith
Lettuce Stomper
"This is the lettuce we eat at Burger King," unless 4Chan has anything to say about it. (Photo: 4Chan)

When it comes to citizen journalism, it's hard to think of any person or persons more capable than a disgusted and mobilized group of 4Chaners doing what they do best: getting involved, for better or worse.

Such was the case when, just last week, a Burger King employee posted a picture of himself stomping, dirty-shoe-first, into two trays of lettuce that have since probably ended up in some poor, unsuspecting diners' burgers and salads. The message was posted to 4Chan's ignominious message board with a simple, horrifying message: "This is the lettuce you eat at Burger King."

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Perhaps it's a sign of a growing ethical consciousness in the existentially challenged, Reddit-eclipsed message board. The photograph and accompanying message belong to 4Chan's particular brand of waning trolling; it would have raised little more than an eyebrow five or six years ago. But given the new era of anonymous members who hope to allign themselves more with the Wikileaks brand of whistleblower than, say, Fox News' depiction of their bastion as "hackers on steroids" who made the lives of other wallflowers hell, it follows that 4Chan's considerable throngs should get mad and get involved.

And that's just what they did. The more tech savvy of the members parsed GPS data inherent to the image and tracked the Burger King down to its location-- a considerable feat, given the generic backdrop of the lettuce stomping photograph. Since then, the Burger King has fired three members of its staff and disowned the independently owned Cleveland franchise at which they worked.

But the damage is already done: the image has since gone viral, and news outlets nationwide are having a field day with the story's disgruntled, motiveless villains and its unlikely heroes. And the image is a powerful one. We don't see the face of one particular Burger King employee. We don't see the distinct markings of any one particular Burger King. We see a uniformed foot in two uniform trays of lettuce. The genericness of the image suggests that this is the kind of thing that could happen at any branch, anywhere.

It will take more than a P.R. release to erase the image from the minds of the fast food chain's customers.



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