Social media: 'Monkey Style' at In-N-Out Burger: Fact or fiction?
Last summer "Gangnam Style" became a viral sensation.
This summer that sensation might have been a "Monkey Style" burger -- if only it existed.
An Internet hoax targeting devotees of In-N-Out Burger fooled more than a few customers and even mainstream news outlets this week, despite the restaurant's insistence that there is no such thing as "Monkey Style" -- a burger jammed with grilled onions and french fries.
The hoax, which first appeared on Foodbeast, got mentioned on some blogs, on a newspaper website and even garnered a tweet and photograph from an ESPN and ABC News reporter who declared that the fictional burger appears on In-N-Out's "secret menu."
"In-N-Out new secret menu order: Monkey Style (animal style fries in a burger pic.twitter.com/Kqbok4WL6i (H/T @jordynhall4, @foodbeast)," reporter Darren Rovell wrote.
But, there's no such thing.
So how does one cook up a media frenzy?
It began at 8:51 a.m. on Friday. Foodbeast's Elie Ayrouth wrote a short blog and included a YouTube video of him ordering the burger, which he claimed to have heard about on Twitter.
"Our particular quest to In-N-Out was fruitful," he wrote.
It took off from there. Soon tweets, retweets, blog entries and Facebook posts proclaimed the fictional concoction a sensation. Some even added photos of the non-existent product.
Then, stories about the fabled "Monkey Style" burger -- and links to Ayrouth's video -- appeared on the Huffington Post and the Los Angeles Times' websites. The Times has since corrected its original report.
"The Los Angeles Times prizes accuracy and its responsibility to its readers," said spokeswoman Nancy Sullivan. "Once we realized a mistake had been made, it was corrected."
Had it been real, Ayrouth's "Monkey Style" was essentially a burger injected with a fistful of fries, extra spread, cheese and grilled onions.
By Tuesday a spokesman for the chain denied any such creation existed -- secret or otherwise.
"There is no such thing," said Carl Van Fleet, In-N-Out's vice president of planning and development. "For a variety of reasons, we're unable to prepare burgers in the manner that a few websites have described as 'Monkey Style.'"
But his words didn't stop a flood of stories, proof to some that new media creates a highly competitive environment on the web and in social networks like YouTube, Twitter and Facebook, said Mike Ananny, an assistant professor at USC's Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.
"Journalists know that they're competing with social media," Ananny said. "If a story is already circulating on Twitter -- getting what journalists think is many retweets and replies -- a news organization might publish prematurely so they don't appear out of the loop or inattentive. They (might) think that readers will debunk false reporting for themselves or will tell the news organization when they got it wrong."
Scott B. Anderson, an assistant professor at Medill School at Northwestern University, added another layer to the problem: the changing nature of news organizations themselves.
"There are now clearly fewer safety nets in place," Anderson said. "Many veteran journalists who once held the 'institutional knowledge' for the newsroom are gone. Online operations in many cases have a lighter pre-publication review process than print and, in some cases, only one set of eyes is all that a piece of content gets -- and those eyes are the person who did the reporting or aggregation."
The ruse worked because it incorporated an element of truth, In-N-Out's "Not So Secret Menu," which the company posts on its website.
Van Fleet noted the menu includes "Grilled Cheese," "Animal Style" (lettuce, tomato, mustard-cooked patty, extra pickles and spread, and grilled onions), "4x4" (four beef patties and four slices of American cheese stuffed into a bun) and "Protein Style" (burger wrapped in lettuce instead of a bun).
"We only serve burgers, fries and drinks, and we've always made each burger exactly the way a customer orders it," he said. "Over the years many of those variations were given names, usually by the customers who frequently ordered their burger that way. We never set out to create or pioneer a 'secret menu.' Some of the names for those variations just stuck."
An employee at In-N-Out in Alhambra said she probably will have to give the bad news to eager customers for a while.
About six people tried to order "Monkey Style" burgers on Monday and Tuesday, the employee said.
"We don't have 'Monkey Style,'" she said to a customer who tried to order it. "Are you talking about 'Animal Style' fries in a burger? There's been a rumor going around. We have 'Animal Style' -- grilled onions, spread, mustard and pickle -- but we don't have 'Monkey Style.'"