On December 11, 2016, reporter and Mount Royal University student and Haley Jarmain covered and anti-carbon tax rally in Calgary for NewsTalk 770, a local radio station.
Emotions ran high in the hotel conference room hosting the event – the crowd was fuming the media over coverage of a similar event held in Edmonton the week before.
Feeling the heat, Jarmain stepped out into the hall, only to be approached by an unknown man who looked her in the eye and said, “You’re dead.”
Jarmain wrote about the threat on Twitter and spoke about it on Rob Breakenridge’s radio show the following afternoon, catching the attention of Ezra Levant, the rally’s organizer and “commander” of Rebel Media. Levant called Jarmain out over twitter, questioned her professionalism, and flagged her reports has #fakenews.
But it didn’t end there.
Two days later, Rebel Media registered an unclaimed domain in the reporter’s name, using it to throw shade on her story, offer a “reward” for information on perpetrator, and plug itself in the process.
In other words, Haley Jarmain was brandjacked.
Coined by MarkMonitor, a company that protects brands from online fraud and piracy, brandjacking is the act of deceiving or diverting attention “for gain at the expense of the goodwill, brand equity and customer trust of actual brand owners.” Unlike the McDonalds example discussed in class, brandjacking is less of a stunt and more of a coordinated effort to capitalize on or change perception of a brand.
Websites are a major tool for brand management – they’re where people go to contact and learn about people and organizations. By creating a site in Jarmain’s name (two actually – they got .ca as well), Rebel Media now has a hand in how audiences perceive her.
As online communicators, we need to be especially aware of the brands we manage – particularly our own. Hacks happen, and they can be explained, but dealing someone else’s website in your name is a little harder – like an trying to tear down an unflattering billboard on the highway.
After hearing this story, I went out reserved .com and .ca domains in my name. They’ll come in handy when I want to market myself and share a portfolio. The last thing you want is someone with an axe to grind doing that for you.