A Clarification from Social Media Today: Zynga, Farmville, and Charitable Giving

Mark Lazen Chief Technology Officer, Social Media Today

Posted on March 4th 2010

Earlier this week, Social Media Today published two brief posts about a controversy surrounding charitable campaigns initiated by Zynga, maker of the popular Farmville game.
The controversy originated with a report in the Brazilian publication, Folha. You can find a lengthy and detailed examination of the issues here. But to summarize, suffice it to say that there was some debate as to whether the mechanics of making donations during gameplay were confusing, potentially resulting in some of the money intended for relief to instead be applied to users' accounts for the gaming itself.
Regretfully, the two relevant posts published here on Social Media Today did not accurately articulate the nature of that controversy. Worse, the tone of the posts implied that Zynga had admitted to wrongdoing, casting the company in a negative light.
In the best of circumstances, it's challenging to ensure 100% accuracy on a site that publishes user contributed content. What makes this situation particularly unfortunate  is that, at the center of this controversy is a sincere, well-intentioned, and ultimately wildly successful campaign by Zynga to help those in urgent need in Haiti. This campaign that was not the product of Zynga the corporation so much as a product of the game players and  the people who work there, people who saw suffering and wanted to do something to make it better.
Even the best-administered charitable campaigns are imperfect. We know that Zynga is looking closely at how it can make future initiatives like this more transparent and efficient. Most recently they ran a campaign in which they gave 100% of all donations for Haitian earthquake relief, raising approximately $1.5 million, a staggering figure.
Zynga, of course, contacted Social Media Today and asked us to address the issue. But we want to make it clear that this clarification is not written under any duress. The fact that we published material that muddied the waters in a way that called into question people's best intentions and, worse, could make people leery of being generous in the future, is absolutely unacceptable to us. And we want to do what we can to make it right.
We're usually proud to see the posts on this site heavily tweeted and shared. Not so the two problematic posts at issue here. I hope everyone reading this will help us by giving this post equal “burn." And here at Social Media Today, we will continue to do all we can to live up to the values of our members.


Mark Lazen

Chief Technology Officer, Social Media Today

I'm the CTO at Social Media Today, home of the world's best thinkers on social media.

For fifteen years, I've mashed-up content and technology to deliver great customer experiences in news, gaming, 3-D CAD, interactive television and distance learning.

A one-time writer and editor for Time Inc. and others, I made the new media leap in 1995 when I was selected to spearhead digital product development for Time-Life Books. Two years later, I was in Silicon Valley for a multi-year stint with groundbreaking consumer CAD startup Books That Work. That's where I coded my first data-driven dynamic Web sites.

In 1997 I returned to the east coast to direct online sports development for news aggregator New Century Network and later served as a product and project director for online game company Bottle Rocket. In 2000 I was brought in to the publicly traded interactive television company ACTV to direct product development on top of a massively parallel message distribution system and a browser-based operating system approach that would come to be known as AJAX. My team and our cutting edge toolkit were acquired by Harcourt Inc. in 2005, and I served as the Director of Production for all media and software in the development of a series of distance learning programs.

As a partner at Social Media Today since the company's infancy in 2008, I oversee operations, development, design and editorial strategy. Thanks to an incredible team, the company has grown from two communities to 10, and from 30,000 visits per month to 1.3 million.

When I'm not working, you can find me finger-picking a steel string guitar, or weaving through traffic on my bicycle. I live in Jersey with my wife, in a home overrun by dogs and children.

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Posted on March 7th 2010 at 2:16PM
re:Zynga  Jack O'Dwyer and HuffPo have published my views on this.
Posted on September 8th 2010 at 9:23AM
If the details of the charity campaign aren't set right and create confusions, charity initiators like Zynga may get negative ratings from the audience without being able to control or avoid that. There are a lot of scams in the charity world, this is main reason good guys pay for the bad guys. Luckily it's not the case for car donations which are usually direct material events.