Last week, Bertolli threatened to sue Mamavation for reporting on a UC Davis study done in 2010 stating their extra virgin olive oil was not up to standards. Instead of pulling the post on Mamavation as other platforms did, we decided instead to stand up this multi-billion dollar company and expose the suppression campaign and other things that were happening behind the scenes. Our partners shared about what was happening to us and community members shared their displeasure censoring influencers with aggressive suppression tactics. And thanks to the pressure from all of you, this week Bertolli reached out to Mamavation to apologize and rescinded the threat of a lawsuit. You’ve trusted Mamavation to cover topics like best and worst store-bought spaghetti sauces, best and worst protein powders, and best and worst frozen foods, now join us in celebration as we update you on the outcome of the Bertolli influencer suppression campaign.
Why Bertolli Threatened to Sue Mamavation
In 2010, UC Davis produced a controversial study looking at popular extra virgin olive oil brands. This study was sponsored by three California extra virgin olive oil producers that were tired of seeing lower quality olive oils passed off for the real thing. When this study hit, it was incredibly controversial. Most of the olive oil organizations came out against the study saying it was too subjective to be taken seriously because it utilized professional olive oil tasters. The practice of using professional olive oil tasters is pretty standard in the industry to test the oils for rancidity, quality, and freshness. Mamavation recognized this and posted the study here.
Later in 2014, Bertolli settled a lawsuit paying $7 MILLION dollars to consumers and agreeing to improve the standards by which they produce, test and ship their oils. And then in 2017, Bertolli through their parent company vowed to relaunch and market Bertolli extra virgin olive oil to consumers and gain back the market share they lost. Then on Friday, August 10th, 2018, Mamavation received a threatening email from Bertolli stating that if we didn’t remove the blog post within 24 hours there would be legal ramifications.
So what did we do?
Instead of backing down, we posted EVERYTHING and updated you on the story since our last look into the industry. We take our role of bringing you the most accurate truth about the food industry very seriously and we were willing to go to court in order to prove that.
Why Would Bertolli Back Down and Apologize to Mamavation?
Today there is no worry about a lawsuit because Bertolli has decided to rescind their legal threats. I can’t speak for Bertolli as to their real reasons why they threatened us and then rescinded their threats. But what I can say is they were utilizing very common marketing tactics known as “suppression campaigns.” This is where a firm specializing in “online reputation management” (ORM) gets involved to harass online platforms. As social media becomes more and more dominant in influencing consumer habits, companies have been paying more attention to their reputation online. They start analyzing the first two pages of a Google search and do their best to push out negative posts on these first two pages. And several methods are used to do that including paying for sponsored content on bigger sites that would push those links down the Google page as well as suppression tactics. And for companies like Bertolli, their online reputation has been soured over the years so you’ll start to notice them creating sponsored content with other influencers to lighten the negativity of their brand.
When we received the email from Bertolli, it was clear that they are not backing down from threatening other influencers, but they consider Mamavation to be a “real” site where people can get information about the food system. Based on how we report the news, they no longer believe it’s ethical to censor us with legal threats. However, they feel it’s still okay to censor other sites they consider to be “fake news” sites. Here is that email in its entirety from their parent company, Deoleo.
Dear Ms. Segedie
By way of introduction, I am the Global Communications Director with Deoleo, parent company to Bertolli Olive oil.
It has been escalated to myself that Mamavation recently received a communication in error, and we deeply apologize for the confusion on our part and for its unintended impact. While we reserve the right to disagree with the point of view of any particular reporter or outlet, we would never attempt or want to restrict legitimate journalism created with the best interest of the public at heart. As I am sure you are award, our brand, along with many other companies, governments and individuals across the globe, are trying to navigate and combat the relatively new epidemic of false information online that is perpetuated across the Internet. Some websites and social media channels post knowingly false information simply to drive “clicks.” This type of false information isn’t rooted in facts, but it has the potential to inflict real damage. Unfortunately one of our partners in our efforts to combat this serious problem mis-identified Mamavation as a site that perpetuates false “clickbait” stories. That was our mistake. That misunderstanding was the source of the communication you received. This exchange occurred in error, and we are deeply sorry for the concern we may have caused.
Thank you so much for your understanding in this matter and if you would like to discuss further I’m happy to jump on a call.
Does The Law Protect Influencers From Lawsuits From Aggressive Brands?
Mamavation posts very controversial information when it comes to product recommendations. What I mean by that is we post who the goods guys are AND who the bad guys are. Most sites do not call out the bad guys because of potential legal ramifications. What just happened to us could happen to anyone who reports bad news. But there are protections in certain states that put the burden of proof on the company suing as opposed to the influencers in a court of law. If you live in one of these states you can still get sued, but it becomes harder for a brand to win because there is a ton more they would have to prove.
If you are living in a state that has strong Anti-SLAPP laws, you are benefiting from more protections under the law. Ultimately understand that anyone can sue you for anything. And you have to gather your resources and defend yourself in court even if those charges are meritless. Because if you don’t do that, you lose. So anti-SLAPP laws can protect you, but you still will need to go through the time and trouble of defending yourself. Here’s a list of what states have the strongest Anti-SLAPP laws. I’ve also put the list down below for you.
States that have Excellent Anti-SLAPP Laws
States that have Good Anti-SLAPP Laws
- Rhode Island
States that have Adequate Anti-SLAPP Laws
States that have Weak Anti-SLAPP Laws
- New Mexico
- New York
- West Virginia
States that have NO Anti-SLAPP Laws
- South Dakota
- North Dakota
- South Carolina
- North Carolina
- New Jersey
- New Hampshire
Another thing I would recommend to any online publisher is picking up “errors and omissions” insurance. These insurance policies can protect you if you post something factually incorrect and end up getting sued. However, they do not protect you if you are, in fact, lying about a company. They have restrictions in certain situations so pay close attention to what they are.
Mamavation Responds to Bertolli
Mamavation has not responded to any of Bertolli’s emails directly. Instead what we have done is had a very public conversation about them and their tactics used to clean up their reputation. I understand the need to guard your reputation online, however, I’m not a fan of suppression tactics. Our loyalty is always with you the consumer. Any company that operates a business (including organic ones) has loyalty to their shareholders. This means we have different values. We are mostly concerned with you and the health of your family and they are mostly concerned with making money. These differences in values are the reason why Mamavation would clash with any brand in the marketplace.
Do I feel like Bertolli has cleaned up their act? Without seeing a chemical analysis from an independent source or hearing from a professional olive oil tester, I would say it’s likely they have. With the amount of attention their brand has received over the past eight years, it’s likely they have done something about it. They have also introduced three additional organic olive oils to their product portfolio. And today I think they are just trying to battle an ongoing blemish on their online reputation. Is that reputation well deserved? Only YOU can be the judge of that.
So I’m asking you…how do you feel about Bertolli as a company? Do you trust them? Do you feel like they deserve your money? Has this situation changed the way you feel about them? And do you live in a state that has better protections or worse protections online? I’m curious to know.