Marketing in the wake of a massacre

Cybersitter's maker responds to the Colorado tragedy by telling parents how to monitor kids' Web activities.

Published April 22, 1999 4:00PM (EDT)

Less than 24 hours after teenage gunmen ran amok in a Littleton, Colo., high school, Solid Oak Software, makers of the Internet filtering product Cybersitter, sent out a press release touting "an informational Web site for parents concerned with what their teens are accessing on the Internet."

It's not the first time Solid Oak has adroitly taken advantage of a shocking news event to promote its software. Shortly after the Heaven's Gate mass suicide in 1997, the company sent out a similar release. In January 1998, after a California teenager committed suicide, another Solid Oak press release announced that Cybersitter "blocks Internet sites providing information on methods of committing suicide." And the day after the full text of the Starr Report was released online, Solid Oak immediately announced that Cybersitter would "probably" automatically block access to the report, based on its lascivious content.

Cagey marketers with a sharp eye for good PR opportunities, or soulless ghouls out to capitalize on any remotely Internet-related tragedy to hawk their censorware? You make the call. Certainly, Solid Oak sees nothing wrong with its approach.

Marc Kanter, vice president of marketing for Solid Oak Software, says, "We try to make parents aware of the technology that is out there to assist them. If we can help parents in any way, shape or form prevent these kinds of tragedies, we will do so." Kanter said that the most recent press release wasn't even aimed at promoting Cybersitter -- "what's there is designed for parents who don't want to install a filtering product. We try to show them ways to find out what their kids are up to on the Internet."

Kanter points to abundant evidence that the teenagers involved in the Colorado shootings spent a good deal of time on the Net, but he is also quick to note that "under no circumstances do we believe that the
Internet caused the tragedy. This unfortunate incident was about a lot more than just searching and finding material out on the Internet."

And yet, even if the Internet didn't cause the massacre, the teenagers who did had spent time online. And that's apparently reason enough for Solid Oak to promote Cybersitter on the heels of another tragedy.

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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