Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Back From Job Land: #KatieFisherDay

I've left the freelance world, but that means there's stuff I want to write about and can't hustle up an outlet. Here's one such story. Go make cookies.

Usually, when a web site asks you about cookies, it doesn't mean … cookies. But today, is literally (literally!) asking you for cookies, and it's all because a comedian got in a fight with an insurance company.

Two things about Matt Fisher: He's never, with the exception of a couple of McJobs, been anything but a comedian, mostly with the UCB Theater in New York (where I studied at the same time, though we didn't know each other there). And he'd always been super-close with his kid sister by 7 years, Katie.

“We grew up as real partners,” Fisher says. “Perhaps because of the age difference, there was no rivalry. We colluded. We did it all together.” Katie stayed with him the night before his wedding to calm his nerves. And during college, she baked a batch of cookies for him every week.

File that one away for later.

In 2010, at the age of 24, Katie was killed in a car accident. That was horrible enough, but through a series of weird corporate requirements and manipulations, her family was required to sue the driver who hit her in order to get a payout from her insurance. (It's complicated.) And then in 2012, Katie's insurer, Progressive, hired a lawyer to help the guy they were suing.

“I get kind of embarrassed when I see people living their emotional lives in public, especially via social media,” says Fisher. “I'm not the type to tweet about sad feelings.”

But anger? Anger was a different story.

“I was so offended that Progressive would line up against Katie and my folks in court that I wrote about it on Tumblr,” says Fisher. This “got the Internet's attention,” as Gawker put it, and a hashtag campaign was born: Fisher's friends, then friends-of-friends, then the wider Tweeterverse began hammering Progressive Auto Insurance (the company with the cute spokeswoman, Flo) with demands that they quit playing corporate games, tagged #KatieFisher; the response was the sort of marketing meltdown that serves as a cautionary tale for any company in any industry, as Progressive's feed became solely populated by seemingly automated individual replies to every tweet.

It was embarrassing. Progressive had to do a good amount of cleanup. And it was hailed as a triumph of grassroots social media when Progressive apologized and settled with the Fishers, with one news outlet declaring that “when it's Twitter vs. lawyers, take Twitter.

Life goes on. (Well, not Katie's, but … anyway.) Matt Fisher is back with another hashtag. And if the first one was borne of anger, this one is borne of affection.

“It was very gratifying when people were jumping on Progressive and hashtagging her tweets with her name,” Fisher says. “But what was being discussed wasn't Katie or her life. It was Progressive. I'm so glad people got behind my parents, but I thought: let's bring it around to Katie's life, what I loved about her, and what she did for me …. So one weekend I rattled off a bunch of tweets with her name hashtagged, and they were about her: things I admired about her, facts about her. And one of those was the cookie story.”

A friend came up with the idea to use the same hashtag to encourage people to celebrate Katie's birthday by baking (or buying!) cookies for a loved one. Just random cookies for random people. (Recipes are available at

“You shouldn't necessarily be telling Katie's story when you give out your cookies,” Fisher says. “You should be talking to the person you're giving the cookies to, about your feelings. If that's the sum total of the connection to Katie, that's great.” He admits that it fills his heart to see the hashtag used for positive feelings this time, that it assuages his grief and that the buildup around the holiday is a welcome distraction. But “I'm not crowdsourcing my therapy,” he says. “It's more about all of us acting a little more like Katie than just remembering her.”

So: Happy #KatieFisherDay. Go forth and deliver a cookie to someone you love. Because Twitter > lawyers