This paper was presented at the Association for Education in Journalism and
Mass Communication in San Antonio, Texas August 2005.
If you have questions about this paper, please contact the author
directly. If you have questions about the archives, email
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body (drop the "").
Internet Postings and Blogger Videos:
Bic This! Kryptonite's Bike Lock-Ballpoint Pen Fiasco
from an Issue Contagion Perspective
The pen is mightier than the sword – and it's a pretty good bike
burglary tool, too.
Leading bicycle lock manufacturer Kryptonite of Canton, Mass., found itself at
the center of an Internet storm when some of its tubular cylinder
U-locks were easily
opened with a plastic Bic pen.
While the security vulnerability applied to many tubular cylinder
U-locks, such as
locks for vending machines and laptops as well as other bicycle locks by other
manufacturers, national coverage of this problem focused on industry
partly due to its brand status and because initial news reports
focused on Kryptonite.
This case study examines how an Internet discussion group posting and
subsequent homemade videos led to a major crisis and embarrassment
for a leading bike
lock company. In particular, this study uses the "issue contagion"
perspective of issues
management by researcher Timothy Coombs (2002). He posits that the
Internet, with its
ability to rapidly form publics that can easily grow and disseminate
issues, "alters issues
management" in terms of how issue managers use the evaluative tool of
Review of the Literature
Organizations face many daily problems and complaints. From a stakeholder's
perspective, a problem occurs when an organization's actions are
perceived as negatively
affecting an individual (Grunig and Hunt, 1984; Hallahan, 2001). An
problem often goes public when it is unresolved and the person is
motivated enough to
communicate the situation to the outside world (Grunig and Repper, 1992).
A problem becomes an issue when many other people, similarly affected by the
organization's actions, find out about the problem (Grunig and
Repper, 1992). According
to Grunig and Hunt's situational theory (1984) publics go from a
latent stage to an active
stage when three things happen: problem recognition is high (they
realize a problem
exists), constraint recognition is low (they feel something can be
done about this
problem), and the level of involvement is high (the problem
personally affects them).
The mass media historically have been the most common way to get a problem to
the issue stage (Crable and Vibbert, 1985; Ryan 1991). The media's
coverage of a
problem can further mobilize stakeholders by raising awareness and
discourse, according to agenda setting theory (Klapper, 1961).
However, Ken Hearit
(1999) showed in his case study of the Intel Pentium Chip recall,
that the Internet can
quickly increase problem recognition and is a growing tool of choice for angry
consumers and activists who want to pressure organizations into
resolving the problem.
Many Internet and public relations experts agree that the Internet
makes it easy to spread
ideas (Holtz, 1999; Manheim 2001, Middleberg 2001).
Issue managers evaluate threats for organizations. The goal of the issue
management is to anticipate problems so they can be prevented or have
a plan of action to
minimize and resolve problems that can become issues (Grunig and
Repper, 1992). This
function involves environmental scanning (Dozier, 1986, Dozier and
Repper, 1992) and
other forms of research. Because resources are limited, and threats
can be plentiful,
Coombs (2002) and others (Jones and Chase, 1979; Heath, 1998) say
to prioritize threats. This prioritization process is based on
impact, the strength of an issue
to seriously affect an organization, and likelihood, how likely is an
issue to gain
momentum and prominence thereby requiring organizational action.
This case study examines Coombs' issue contagion perspective (2002), which
posits that Internet can alter issue prioritization based on the
likelihood factor. In
Coombs' view, this is because the stakeholder with the problem can
build power and
legitimacy, two essential elements necessary for creating a high
quality issue that will
convince other stakeholders the problem is worthy of action. As
Coombs points out, just
because a lot of people read about (or see, hear) a problem does not
guarantee they will
mobilize and pressure an organization into action. The messenger with
a problem has to
be seen as credible (power); other stakeholders must be convinced
that the problem
The stakeholder issue manager gains power by centrality (2002), determined by
the stakeholder issue manager's position within a larger network of
stakeholders and by
degree, the number of ways he/she is connected to stakeholders
Legitimacy results from other credible sources' endorsements (e.g.,
well-known, or charismatic sources) and by providing forms of
evidence that are
communicated to stakeholders (2002).
Coombs (2002) notes that activists have several ways to communicate a problem
on the Internet, among them: issue Web sites, dedicated discussion
groups, e-mail alert
systems, posts to discussion groups, posts to complaint portals, and
communication tools increase power through centrality in the network
– stakeholders are
connected (closeness) and they are connected in different ways (degree).
Coombs has suggested indicators of successful power and legitimacy, the two
factors needed for creating a quality issue. Power through centrality
traffic to an issue Web site, links to the issue Web site, placement
of an issue Web site
located close to the organization's official Web site in a search
(Middleberg 2001), number of subscribers to an issue e-mail alert
system, traffic to the
discussion group, and traffic to the complaint portal.
Coombs says legitimacy is built with a high quality website and the use of
endorsements from experts, scientific evidence, or emotional stories.
Instead of rants,
"distinct arguments provide claims and evidence to support the
claims" (2002). He
suggests four indicators of legitimacy success: many different people
posting; posts that
support the claim; length and support of discussion group threads,
and support of the
issue claim in crossover stories. The number of posts that support
the issue (positive
valence) indicate the issue is spreading.
As Coombs points out, not much is known about how this Internet issue
"dynamic operates" – wherein individual problems become major issues
How does a single Internet post on an obscure Web site, known only to
enthusiasts, end up costing an industry leader millions of dollars
and damage to its
reputation? This project used two methodologies, content analysis and in-depth
interviewing to fully explore this phenomenon.
The conversation thread called "Your Brand New Bicycle U-Lock is Not Safe!"
contained nearly 1,000 postings Sept. 12-25, 2004 in the General
Forum on Bike Forums (http://www.bikeforums.net/). Because an Internet issue
contagion spreads exponentially, a content analysis of 942 postings
from the first three
weeks of the crisis was used to illustrate the phenomenon. The
analysis included the
number of postings per day, the number of unique posters, and the
valence (support or
refutation) of each posting. A content analysis of news media
coverage valence was also
To capture an internal perspective, an in-depth interview with
relations manager was conducted, and the company's statements and
news releases were
By way of beginning this case study, an examination of the first four
days of Bike
Forum's Kryptonite-Bic lock thread is instructive as it demonstrates
how a single post on
an obscure Web site became a virus-like contagion.
Sept. 12, 2004: The First 1 Hour and 44 Minutes – "This is the most
I've seen in a long time."
It all started when bike enthusiast Chris Brennan, known as "Unaesthetic" on
Bike Forums, was telling a friend about the recent theft of
custom-made wheels from his
2004 Bianchi bicycle. His friend asked if he knew that a Bic pen
could open Kryptonite
locks (Associated Press, 2004).
Unaesthetic didn't believe it – at first. But when he tried it at home on his
Kryptonite Evolution 2000, it worked. In fact, he said it was as easy
as using a key and
took less than 30 seconds on his first try.
Unaesthetic's disbelief soon turned to anger, then concern. If this
could happen to
him, it could happen to thousands of other cyclists. He sat down at
10:16 p.m. and typed
out an urgent post on an Internet bike site called Bike Forums where
hundreds of bike
enthusiasts swap information about all things related to cycling.
Unaesthetic's headline warned: "Your brand new bicycle u-lock is not
post, under the username Unaesthetic, stated:
This is the most absurd thing I've seen in a long time.
As you guys might remember, I recently had the nicest set of
wheels I've ever had stolen from me. Today, I was hanging out with a
friend and we got to talking about that – he said his friend showed him
just recently how to open a U-Lock with a ballpoint pen.
Of course I didn't believe it. That is until just thirty seconds ago
when I opened my own Kryptonite Evolution 2000 with a Bic ballpoint
This has to be the most absurd thing I've ever seen. Try it. Take the
end off the pen, jam it in the lock, wiggle around and twist.
Please tell everybody you know and make sure they do something
about it right away. The thieves probably already know this trick but from
what I've heard it's fairly new. I figure the information is going to get out
anyway and so it's better to let the honest people know first and hope this
problem gets fixed (Unaesthetic, Sept. 12, 2004a).
It took only 16 minutes before the responses began to appear. Early
posts to this
discussion thread, which are dedicated to a specific topic, expressed
surprise and asked
more questions. "How did you do this? I just tried it – all I did was
mess up a ball point"
(Absntr, Sept. 12, 2004).
Unaesthetic, a 25-year-old San Francisco bike enthusiast, replied
with two posts
explaining his technique in more detail. Additional postings from
others reported back no
luck with "penning" their Kryptonite locks.
Sept. 13, 2004: Day One – "I think I opened a very big can of worms."
By post #23, "spectreman" the next morning had duplicated Brennan's trick:
this is crazy!
it's a little difficult to get the end of the pen jammed over the center
metal piece of the lock, but after you do, yer there - ....it took me about 30
ahhhhh - i was paranoid before, now i'm gonna lose my mind.
anyway - thanks for the warning. – S (Spectreman, Sept. 13, 2004)
Unaesthetic replied with a post asking what model lock he had opened
with a pen.
He also mentioned making a video later "so people take this
Sept. 13, 2004b).
More questions came from people unsuccessfully trying to open their locks with
pens. Unaesthetic posted again:
Ok - I'm not sure some of you actually get what I'm saying - you
use the outer plastic part of the pen, not the insides. You will
notice (if you
get the right size pen) that it fits into the lock just as your key would, but
nice and snug, which allows you to turn it.
As long as the pen you are using fits snugly over that center piece,
you should be able to do it.
And no - any non barrel type of key such as the one you posted
above would not be vunerable to this kind of attack... not that it can't be
picked, just not with a pen as far as I know (Unaesthetic, Sept. 13, 2004c).
Shortly after this posting, a forum member "SSenorPedro" posted the second
successful Kryptonite lock-cracking with a Bic pen along with
evidence of how he did it:
three close-up photos:
Ok, so at first I was skeptical. I had a late night last night and
came across this post, I thought it might be a hoax, tried a few pens, then
went to bed.
This morning, seeing more replies, I was determined to get on top
of this. First of all, the brand of pen is the most defining factor.
It must be
a Bic pen, as they have the correct internal diameter to fit the key cylinder
of the Kryptonite lock.
Second, it doesn't take much at all. It would in fact look very much
like you were unlocking the bike as if it were yours. Not that people really
do anything if they see someone stealing your bike anyway.
Third, I am pissed. The Kryptonite locks were the only thing that
gave me a sense of security for my bikes. Now all of the technology that
went into the "unbreakable" portions has been made pointless by the
simple ball point pen.
I have included some pictures, showing how the cylinder is left in a
half-locked position as a previous poster described.
I spose we could all start making some money on the kryptonite
$3000 coverage by committing a little friendly insurance fraud
(SSenorPedro, Sept. 13, 2004a).
Sounding somewhat relieved, Unaesthetic posted soon after saying, "Thank you –
I am to be taken seriously" (Unaesthetic, Sept. 13, 2004d). He went
on to commiserate
with SSenorPedro and provided advice on how to unstick the lock mechanism.
Earlier posts had asked for Kryptonite's contact information, which
provided, and "dirtydan" asked if Unaesthetic had contacted
Kryptonite about his
discovery. He responded:
No, but I wrote them a hell of an email right before I went public
with this information.
I'm giving them until noon to reply and then I'm calling them.
Anyone else called them yet? (Unaesthetic, Sept. 13, 2004e)
SSenorPedro responded a minute later:
Alright, so I just got off the phone with Kryptonite. 1-800-729-
5625, then press 3 for customer service. They say they heard about this
method last week, but have been unable to get it to work in the office.
I stressed that it was imperative to use a Bic pen and that I was
rather disconcerted with the whole issue.
The name of the person I spoke with was Lee, she was rather
helpful and suggested that I send my lock along with the pen that I used to
open it to their offices. The proposed solution is to have them re-key the
lock with a smaller diameter key cylinder.
I suggest that everyone here call them up and discuss the problem
with them. This needs to be remedied, and before any more unsuspecting
persons get hit.
Let 'em know how you feel, and lets also look at some good
Sure glad I didn't buy that NY chain last week. This Sucks!
(SSenorPedro, Sept. 13, 2004b).
Mailing a heavy bike lock back to Kryptonite was a slow and expensive request.
SSenorPedro had a much better idea: he wanted to e-mail a video clip
of his lock-picking
feat to Kryptonite. By 12:18 p.m. (just 14 hours after the first
posting), a video clip was
ready to post to a server. By 1:25 p.m., SSenorPedro reported to the
thread he had sent
the video to Kryptonite.
By 3:33 p.m., Sept. 13, 2004, the SSenorPedro's homemade video was posted to
the forum as a text link thanks to fellow forum member "brunning,"
who hosted it on his
server. At 7:10 that night, brunning had to post a new link to a
compressed version of
SSenorPedro's video because the 6.1 MB AVI file was "killing" his server.
It was a huge hit with Bike Forum and another member, "The Fixer" announced
he had mailed the entire Kryptonite discussion thread to another
forum called Fixed Gear.
He said members were "having a field day…with successful
openings…expect more new
members…" (The Fixer, Sept. 13, 2004).
In his 26th posting to the thread, Unaesthetic aptly summarized the
first 23 hours:
"I think I opened a very big can of worms" (Unaesthetic, Sept. 13, 2004f).
Sept. 14, 2004: Day Two – The Blogger Video
Early the next morning at 6:45, "brunning" finally opened his "$90
top of the line
yellow NY EV Disc lock using a Bic." He wrote that once he figured
out what to do, it
"was a matter of 20 seconds" (Brunning, Sept. 14, 2004a)
"Brunning" was another bike enthusiast who lived in New York City. It wasn't
long before brunning decided to add a video of his Bic technique along side
SSenorPedro's video to his blog, Thirdrate.com. He posted the
QuickTime video link to
Bike Forums by 8:06 a.m.
Brunning's September 14, 2004 entry started this way:
9.14.04 take this quiz
kryptonite bike locks are:
q the best on the market
q the most secure
q the most indestructible
q open-able in a new seconds with a 10 cent bic pen
and the correct answer is 'open-able in a few seconds with a 10
cent bic pen.' details of how to pen any bike lock using a cylindrical key
(including most kryptonite locks) has been blowing up a number of bike
websites and discussion boards in the last few days and sure enough, it's
easy as pie.
check out this quicktime video of me cracking my $90 kryptonite
EV disc lock in about 20 seconds [link].
"bike owners beware, that same bright yellow lock that once said
'don't screw with me' now screams 'steal me!' obviously, i post this
information as a warning to lock owners – not as a how-to. stealing is
bad. stealing bikes is worse" (www.Thirdrate.com).
Meanwhile, back at Bike Forums, the site was swamped with new visitors seeking
information about the Kryptonite design flaw. The site's
administrator posted a message
saying the Kryptonite thread had been viewed by more than 11,000
people (Joe Gardner,
Sept. 14, 2004). He asked members if there were other forums and Web
sites that were
discussing this issue. Brunning, obviously wired to the cycling
world, soon responded
with 64 links in two postings (Brunning, Sept. 14, 2004b). Two hours
posted another message noting that an impressive 1,500 people were
online – "You guys
are killing my server!" (Joe Gardner, Sept. 14, 2004).
The videos were a blockbuster hit. Brunning reported that the two videos he
hosted had been downloaded 8,000 times by 12:01 p.m. (Brunning, Sept.
14, 2004c). By
5:32 that afternoon, it had been downloaded 25,000 times – all within
the first day of its
loading (Brunning, Sept. 14, 2004d). Total downloads by the end of
the day would b
40,000 (Brunning, Sept. 14, 2004e).
Brunning's blog chronicled the growing
interest in his QuickTime movie:
so. This kryptonite lock deal: is
getting big. i called kryptonite on tuesday
morning and was called back by a customer
service rep who assured me that they are
working on this and will come up with a
solution of some sort within 48 hours
meanwhile, back at the web: the lock cracking videos that i and another
guy recorded are linked from everywhere and have been downloaded over one
hundred and twenty thousand times in 48 hours (um…damn?)
i'm going to have to unload these soon (www.Thirdrate.com).
At Bike Forums, the Kryptonite thread grew with discussion of a possible class
action law suit, new Kryptonite lock cracking techniques with Bics,
reports of successful
"pennings" of other non-Kryptonite locks and yawn-producing "OMG" (oh my God)
posts of "newbies" announcing their lock-picking successes.
The reports of massive interest in the Kryptonite fiasco prompted
post his availability for media interviews…with an apology to
Kryptonite: "Again, I'm
sorry you are going to have a busy week" (Unaesthetic, Sept. 15,
2004g). A couple of
hours later, however, Unaesthetic changed his mind. He said he had
been contacted by
one news person, "but out of respect for Kryptonite and their
unfortunate situation; I've
decided to give them a couple days to make it up to me before doing
(Unaesthetic, Sept. 14, 2004h). He also noted, "I've still not
personally heard back from
Krypto even though I've heard a few people have."
Sept. 15, 2004: Day Three – You Mean It's Old News?
Brunning (Benjamin Running, a graphic artist from New York City) had no such
compunctions about talking to the news media. As host to the two
wildly popular videos
created by himself and SSenorPedro, Brunning was in the right place
at the right time –
and accessible. On Sept. 15, 2004, Brunning was interviewed by the
which he dutifully reported to the thread in an 8:02 p.m. post.
Bike Forums, however, was just learning about a 1992 bike magazine
detailed the security flaw of tubular cylinder locks from a defunct
cycling magazine. The
first post said: "Just to let everyone know (who doesn't already,
that is) this is not a new
discovery. I'm sure Krypto (and most likely other manufacturers of
cylinder key locks)
has know about this for a *long* time. See this discussion
[link]…From waay back in
1992, it also refers to articles published on the subject"
(Justinperkins, Sept. 15, 2004).
Other thread contributors reported going to their neighborhood
cycling stores to
find that some shops had removed affected Kryptonite locks from their shelves.
Sept. 16, 2004: Day Four – The Contagion Jumps to the Media
The next morning, Brunning posted the first mass-distributed official
communication: an e-mail statement from Kryptonite's customer service
It began: "We understand there are concerns regarding tubular
cylinders used in
some Kryptonite locks," noting that Kryptonite locks had been used
for 30 years without
"significant issues" (Brunning, Sept. 16, 2004f). The statement
continued, "The current
Kryptonite locks based on a tubular cylinder design continue to
present an effective
deterrent to theft." Kryptonite was introducing a new "disc cylinder
system" to replace
the tubular cylinder locks and was expediting their delivery. The
statement ended: "The
world just got tougher and so did our locks." No specific details or
mentioned and no mention was made of a product recall or exchange program.
Brunning, and others, were not completely satisfied with Kryptonite's
He posted: "what bugs me about that, is this line: The current
Kryptonite locks based on a
tubular cylinder design continue to present an effective deterrent to
theft…I think it's
been made abundantly clear that this is far from the truth. I'm not
sure how they can
continue to make this claim. Don't you think they'd save more face by
something is screwed up – stop using this lock for a while and we'll work on a
replacement asap.'?" (Brunning, Sept. 16, 2004g).
An Associated Press story – "Bike Lock Can be Picked with a Pen" –
hit the wires
quoting Brunning: "These locks literally are viewed as the industry
standard, the lock that
you must have. They're recommended by every bike shop. I'm absolutely
this" (Emery, 2004). The article also included part of the e-mail
statement sent to
customers. Running posted an AP story link on Bike Forums at 11:19 a.m.
The same day, The Boston Globe carried a front page business story –
Bike Locks Easy Prey for Thieves; Kryptonite Promises More Secure
Product" – that
mentioned security experts had expressed concern that summer about
the tubular cylinder
lock design flaw. It also quoted part of Unaesthetic's original post
and included Bike
Forum's Web address (Kerber, 2004).
Establishing Issue Legitimacy
The activist issue manager was able to establish issue legitimacy successfully
within the Bike Forums discussion group based on the following
success markers from
Coombs' issue contagion perspective: 1) large numbers of different
people responded to
the original and subsequent posts of the thread, 2) most of the posts
regarding the issue claim, 3) the length of the thread was
substantial, and 4) crossover
stories in the news media supported the issue claim.
Number of Different People Posting – Before Kryptonite responded with a news
release or before the first crossover news stories appeared Sept. 16,
2004, there were
already 437 posts on the Bike Forums thread with 151 (35%) as unique posters.
"Unaesthetic," alone was responsible for 26 during this time on the thread.
A content analysis of the first 942 posts of "Your Brand New Bicycle U-Lock is
Not Safe!" showed that 516 (55%) of the daily posters were unique.
Length and Valence of Posts (Support or Refute) -- The Kryptonite-Bic thread
was substantial for a discussion group; generate a few dozen
comments, typically 1-50
posts (although a thread entitled "A Police Gave Me a Ticket – What
Should I Do?"
contained 200). In three weeks, the Kryptonite-Bic thread garnered
more than 1,000
A supportive post could include a successful lock picking testimonies, lock
picking techniques, discussion of the design flaw applied to other
communication of the problem with Kryptonite and others, mentions of
traffic, mentions of other forums or Web sites discussing the
situation, or humorous
comments supportive of the claim. After the crossover stories began,
mentions of news
reports and information from Kryptonite were also included. Neutral
people asking general questions on how to pick their locks or
off-topic discussions. Posts
that refuted the claim included those who attempted to pick their
lock and were
unsuccessful or said the claim was a hoax.
In the first four days of the initial post, before the first
crossover news stories
appeared, 338 (77%) out of 437 posts were supportive of the issue
claim with many
posters describing in amazement their ability to open their
Kryptonite (and other brand)
locks with a Bic pen (Table 1).
Legitimacy was further established by the use of individual "testimony"
particularly empirical evidence provided by "how to" photographs and
videos of Bic pen
lock-picking techniques. The first photographs were posted 13 hours
after the first post;
three photographs depicted a picked Kryptonite lock and the mashed
end of a Bic pen.
Later that night (Sept. 13, 2004), a link to the first QuickTime
video showing how to
"Bic" a Kryptonite lock (posted on by a Bike Forum member from his
blog site) was
posted to the Biker Forum thread. The next day, another video was
there would be seven such video links posted. Another form of
evidence came from bike
store owners who tested their store's locks and posted the results.
By Sept. 16, 2004,
links to national media coverage began to appear in the thread,
adding further legitimacy
to the issue.
Many of the negative posts actually did not refute the claim
outright; their attempt
to open bike locks with the Bic pen were just unsuccessful – for the
neutral posts were questions about the Bic-picking technique and
questions about other
Valence of Crossover Stories – The news media had a field day with the story.
Nearly all headlines worked in the words Bic, pen or ballpoint pen
with the words
Kryptonite and/or lock. Some typical examples: "Kryptonite Lock has
Heel," "Kryptonite Bicycle Locks Aren't so Super," "Super Heroes Wanted: Pen
Mightier than the Lock?" and "Lock to Pick? Get Out Your Bic." A
analysis of 73 stories all showed positive support for the issue
claim (Table 2). Top tier
media coverage included the Associated Press and the Boston Globe,
The New York
Times, the Washington Post, the San Francisco Chronicle, Good Morning
National Public Radio (whose host tried a live Bic-picking attempt)
as well as many
broadcast cable and local network news affiliates. Other important
online media included:
Slashdot ("news for nerds"), CNN.com, Wired.com, and BikeBiz.com. The
link to national coverage of the issue was The Associated Press story
that appeared Sept.
16, 2004. Many more links to news coverage would follow.
Issue Manager Power
In addition to issue legitimacy, the quality of an issue also depends
on the issue
manager's power. If an organization views a "problem person" as
powerless, the problem
might be ignored. As previously described, Coombs' means of measuring
and success of issue manager power described earlier provide a
measurement tool for
examining traffic to the Bic-Kryptonite thread.
Since this case study examines the use of dedicated discussion
groups, the success
indicator of traffic to the discussion group is examined.
Traffic to the Discussion Group – Bike Forums is one of hundreds of cycling
discussion groups on the Internet. It is well organized and easy to
navigate with an
internal search engine to locate thread topics. Unlike Kryptonite's
Web site, which
crashed the day it issued its first news release, Sept. 16, 2004,
Bike Forums ran smoothly
throughout the crisis despite heavy traffic demands.
Bike Forums brings together cyclists to discuss biking issues, including theft
deterrence. Dedicated discussion groups of cycling stakeholders
encompass hundreds of
topics (threads) such as "Your Brand New Bicycle U-Lock is Not Safe!"
In the case of Bike Forums versus Kryptonite, the discussion thread
built issue manager power. The issue manager gained power by rallying
others to his/her
cause within a larger network of stakeholders. Issue manager power grew with
Unaesthetic's willingness and ability to communicate frequently (26
posts in all) with
other stakeholders about the problem.
While the initial claim by Unaesthetic was met with some skepticism – some
thought it was a hoax – Unaesthetic posted 26 messages during the
first days of the
growing crisis mostly explaining his technique and convincing others
that it was no hoax.
Once reports of successful Bic openings of Kryptonite locks started,
and that of the collective thread grew.
The Bike Forum Kryptonite-Bic thread spread quickly as forum posters e-mailed
the entire thread or video link to dozens of other dedicated cycling
discussion groups and
Web sites. When the Bike Forum administrator asked for other forums
that would benefit
from the discussion, one Bike Forum member immediately provided 17
links and 44 blogs interested in cycling issues (Brunning, Sept. 14, 2004h).
Within two days of the initial post, more than 11,000 people
("views") had visited
the Kryptonite-Bic thread and there had been a reported 40,000
downloads of the videos
(Brunning, Sept. 14, 2004i). More than 340,000 readers read the
Kryptonite Bike Forums
thread within the first week and the videos were downloaded three
(Bikeforums.net, 2004) as the news media covered the event.
Kryptonite: Tough World, Tough Locks
Kryptonite is a 32-year-old Massachusetts company owned by Ingersoll-Rand of
Bermuda. Its slogan is "Tough World, Tough Locks;" its reputation for
locks was legendary among cycling enthusiasts.
Kryptonite's Public Relations Manager Donna Tocci is a one-person
responsible for Kryptonite's public relations efforts worldwide.
There are 30 employees
at the Canton, Mass., facility.
Tocci was not familiar with Bike Forums prior to the crisis, but said
monitored many cycling and traditional media Internet sites daily.
kept an eye on other Internet sites and passed along pertinent
information. Tocci routinely
scans dozens of magazines and newspapers related to cycling and
mobile security issues
for motorcycles and power sports such as ATVs, snowmobiles, scooters,
At the time of the crisis, Kryptonite had two media tracking services – but no
Web tracking service – to monitor Web sites, discussion groups or
Tocci said Kryptonite was unaware of the design flaw until the first
calls came in
from Bike Forum posters. Kryptonite chose not to respond directly on
Bike Forums or
other Internet sites that discussed or carried the story. Tocci said
the potential flood of
questions and comments that a Kryptonite posting could generate would easily
overwhelm Kryptonite's ability to respond responsibly. "We didn't
want people to think
Kryptonite was ignoring them [by not answering posters]."
Despite the spread of rumors and inaccurate information that appeared in some
Internet forums and blogs, Kryptonite relied on its Web site and the
media to communicate its messages. Tocci noted that minutes after an
was released to the media, it would appear on Bikeforums.net anyway.
Bloggers presented a quandary. Running's site, Thirdrate.com, essentially came
out of nowhere, said Tocci. It was not a cyclist blog but its grainy
video wreaked havoc
for Kryptonite. Tocci said bloggers presented a response problem
because they were not
part of the mainstream media and their standards varied. The
mainstream media follow
journalistic standards and ethical practices but bloggers are
accountable to no one, Tocci
said, and don't have fact checkers or senior editors to complain to.
Another problem for
Tocci: determining what blogs were legitimate with influential
audiences. "We were
asking ourselves, 'Who are these bloggers?' Are they 15 or 16 year
olds, experts or
people who just think they're experts?'"
While Tocci was the primary spokesperson, her messages were created from a
Kryptonite response team representing a cross-section of the company.
more than 100 news media calls early. The large number of phone calls plus her
involvement in executive meetings prompted Tocci to change her voice
requesting media to leave a name, phone number and e-mail address.
were responded to in person when possible. A "massive" e-mail
distribution list was used
to respond to other inquiries. "I felt it was important to respond as
quickly as possible
even if we didn't have specific details about our plan at that time,"
Kryptonite issued three news releases Sept. 16, 17 and 22. The first one
announced the company's broad plan for a lock exchange program for
certain models of
tubular cylinder locks susceptible to pen attacks (Appendix A). The
specified certain locks purchased since 2002 would be eligible for the product
replacement program (Appendix B). Under growing pressure from worried
customers, Kryptonite announced a broad product exchange program for
who are concerned about the security of their current Kryptonite
tubular cylinder locks"
A Kryptonite e-mail statement sent to customers Sept. 16, 2004 (Appendix D)
mentioned a product exchange upgrade and also stated the cylinder
design still provided
"an effective deterrent to theft." Tocci was credited with the
statement in The Associated
Press Online report Sept. 16, 2004. Kryptonite's news releases
dropped "an effective
deterrent to theft."
Not everyone was happy with Kryptonite's initial response. Frustrated lock
owners, such as Bike Forums posters, did not understand the company's
response. Accustomed to rapid communication, many customers told
want our new lock today," said Tocci. Kryptonite's steel locks are
made in Asia and the
unscheduled need for its newly designed lock took weeks, not hours to
and distribute. Even though we live in an age of instant
communication, manufacturing is
not instant – "steel locks can be made only so fast," said Tocci.
Kryptonite's case is a good example of the uncertainties presented by
with its rapid ability to grow an issue. For more than two days, the
discussion thread was left alone to build momentum, mostly through
by personal testimony and more importantly with videos and photos.
These visual aids,
which showed how the lock's design was easily beat with a plastic Bic
pen, along with a
motivated network of stakeholders willing to communicate, quickly
built issue manager
legitimacy and power. Based on Coombs' (2002) issue contagion success
likelihood was extremely high that the problem would become a major issue.
Could a faster and more decisive response from Kryptonite directly to the Bike
Forums discussion thread have prevented the contagion from spreading?
instances of product failure, especially those accompanied by visual
testimony, preventing a crisis is unlikely.
However, an organization can minimize the damage through rapid assessment of
the situation and communication of the organization's actions. In
this case, Bike Forum
posters called Kryptonite with their concerns (within 14 hours) and
even e-mailed the
"how to" video (within 15 hours) before it was posted to the
discussion thread 17 hours
after the initial post. Rapid assessment can be difficult for small
when the initial product failure news breaks on a Sunday night and is
customer service, as it did for Kryptonite.
Like many organizations, Kryptonite did not systematically or comprehensively
monitor the Internet with a commercial Web monitoring service.
Internet monitoring was
left to one person who relied on others within the organization for
help. The company had
a crisis plan but clearly did not take into account the total failure
of its legendary cylinder
tubular locks; its upgrade exchange plan took 10 days to evolve.
not to respond in the "no rules" blogosphere motivated the Bike
Forums posters even
more as some feared the company would ignore their concerns unless many people
Clearly, Internet activism is a new challenge for organizational
and/or public relations practitioners that needs further exploration
to develop helpful
assessment and communication strategies.
Associated Press (2004, Sept. 19). Bike lock whistleblower feels
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Brunning. (2004, Sept. 14b). Your brand new u-lock is not safe! [msg.
posted to http://www.bikeforums.net./message 176
Brunning. (2004, Sept. 14c). Your brand new u-lock is not safe! [msg.
posted to http://www.bikeforums.net./message 205
Brunning. (2004, Sept. 14d). Your brand new u-lock is not safe! [msg.
posted to http://www.bikeforums.net./message 262
Brunning. (2004, Sept. 14e). Your brand new u-lock is not safe! [msg.
posted to http://www.bikeforums.net./message 312
Brunning. (2004, Sept. 16f). Your brand new u-lock is not safe! [msg.
posted to http://www.bikeforums.net./message 456
Brunning. (2004, Sept. 14g). Your brand new u-lock is not safe! [msg.
posted to http://www.bikeforums.net./message 456
Brunning. (2004, Sept. 14h). Your brand new u-lock is not safe! [msg.
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Brunning. (2004, Sept. 14i). Your brand new u-lock is not safe! [msg.
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contagions and their
effect on issue prioritization. Journal of Public Affairs, November
2002, Vol. 2
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practitioners and participation in management decision making. Paper presented
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in J.E. Grunig (ed.),
Excellence in public relations and communication management, (pp. 117-58).
Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers.
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J.E. Grunig (ed.), Excellence in Public Relations and Communication
Management, (pp. 185-215). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates,
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York: Holt, Rinehart
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inform and influence
the media, the investment community, the government, the public and more! New
Joe Gardner. (2004, Sept. 14). Your brand new u-lock is not safe!
[msg. 174]. Message
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Spectreman. (2004, Sept. 13). Your brand new u-lock is not safe!
[msg. 23]. Message
posted to http://www.bikeforums.net./message 23
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[msg. 38]. Message
posted to http://www.bikeforums.net./message 38
SSenroPedro. (2004, Sept. 13). Your brand new u-lock is not safe!
[msg. 42]. Message
posted to http://www.bikeforums.net./message 42
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posted to http://www.bikeforums.net./message 125
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[msg. 25]. Message
posted to http://www.bikeforums.net./message 25
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[msg. 35]. Message
posted to http://www.bikeforums.net./message 35
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[msg. 40]. Message
posted to http://www.bikeforums.net./message 40
Unaesthetic. (2004, Sept. 13e). Your brand new u-lock is not safe!
[msg. 41]. Message
posted to http://www.bikeforums.net./message 41
Unaesthetic. (2004, Sept. 132f). Your brand new u-lock is not safe!
[msg. 128]. Message
posted to http://www.bikeforums.net./message 128
Unaesthetic. (2004, Sept. 14g). Your brand new u-lock is not safe!
[msg. 249]. Message
posted to http://www.bikeforums.net./message 249
Unaesthetic. (2004, Sept. 14). Your brand new u-lock is not safe!
[msg. 265]. Message
posted to http://www.bikeforums.net./message 265
Issue Legitimacy Success Markers:
Number of Different People Posting; Valence of Posts; Length and
Valence of Thread
Sunday, Sept. 12, 2004 (1:44 minutes)
Monday, Sept. 13, 2004
Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2004
Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2004
Thursday, Sept. 16, 2004*
Friday, Sept. 17, 2004**
Saturday, Sept. 18, 2004
Sunday, Sept. 19, 2004
Monday, Sept. 20, 2004
Tuesday, Sept. 21, 2004
Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2004***
Thursday, Sept. 23, 2004
Friday, Sept. 24, 2004
Saturday, Sept. 25, 2004
*First Kryptonite news release issued
** Second Kryptonite news release issued
*** Third Kryptonite news release issued
# of Posts Unique Posters Positive Negative Neutral
3 3 8
43 17 80
22 131 4
119 3 2
102 9 1
81 2 3
59 7 7
2 3 3
40 6 0
30 9 2
19 39 1
27 1 0
0 0 8
3 1 7
129 734 44
Issue Legitimacy Success Markers:
Valence of Crossover News Media Stories*
# of Stories* Headline/Support Headline/Refute Content/Support Content/Refute
Sept. 12, 2004 -
Sept. 13, 2004 -
Sept. 14, 2004 -
Sept. 15, 2004 -
Sept. 16, 2004
Sept. 17, 2004
Sept. 18, 2004
Sept. 19, 2004
Sept. 20, 2004
Sept. 21, 2004
Sept. 22, 2004
Sept. 23, 2004
Sept. 24, 2005
Sept. 25, 2005
*Based on Lexis-Nexis search of all media using "quick news" search function
Sept. 16, 2004 Kryptonite Statement
Kryptonite Issues Statement on Tubular Cylinder Lock Consumer Concerns
CANTON, Ma., Sept. 16, 2004
For more than 30 years, Kryptonite has focused on delivering
innovative advances that
establish the benchmark for lock technology, product performance and
In light of recent demonstrations on the Internet that explain how to
tubular cylinder lock technology, which has performed successfully
for more than three
decades, Kryptonite intends to expedite the introduction of its
upgraded Evolution and
KryptoLok lines. These products will have the disc-style cylinder
that has the same
technology as the company's famous New York Lock.
Specifically, Kryptonite will provide the owners of Evolution and
products the ability to upgrade their cross bars to the new
disc-style cylinder, where
possible. This new cylinder provides greatly enhanced security and
Kryptonite is finalizing the details of this upgrade process and will
these details as soon as possible.
September 17, 2004 Kryptonite Statement
Kryptonite Offering Free Upgrade Worldwide for Consumers' High End Tubular
Cylinder Locks; Unprecedented Offer Intended to Address the Needs of Loyal
CANTON, Mass., Sept. 17, 2004
Kryptonite today announced it will provide free product upgrades for
purchased since September 2002, in response to consumer concerns about tubular
cylinder lock technology. Consumers can visit the company's Website
(www.kryptonitelock.com) on Wednesday afternoon, September 22, 2004,
to learn how
they can participate in the security upgrade program.
Consumers who have purchased an Evolution lock, KryptoLok lock, New
New York Noose, Evolution Disc Lock, KryptoDisco or DFS Disc Lock in
the last two
years are eligible for a product upgrade free of charge from
Kryptonite. Customers will
need to have either registered their key number, registered for the
protection offer or have proof of purchase to qualify.
Specifically, Kryptonite will provide for free cross bars featuring
the company's new
disc-style cylinder lock technology to consumers who have purchased
KryptoLok series products. In addition the company will replace for
purchased Evolution Disc Locks on New York Chain and New York Noose with its
"Molly Lock", a heavy duty solid steel padlock. Kryptonite also will
purchased disc locks.
Consumers who have had one of the Kryptonite locks mentioned with a
for longer than two years will be eligible for a sizeable rebate on
the upgraded products.
This program will be administered through Kryptonite dealers and distributors.
A distributor and dealer swap program will be rolled out through
from Kryptonite to all its partners.
Full details about this unprecedented program will be available on
by afternoon Eastern Standard Time, Wednesday, September 22, 2004, at
September 22, 2004 Statement
Kryptonite Offers Free Product Exchanges for All Current Owners of Kryptonite
Tubular Cylinder Locks; Lock Manufacturer Continues to Set the Standard for
Security and Service
Kryptonite today announced that the company is offering free product
exchanges to all
consumers who are concerned about the security of their current
At no charge to them, consumers will be able to exchange their
tubular cylinder lock for a Kryptonite non-tubular cylinder lock.
Kryptonite will begin
exchanging products within a few weeks as it accelerates product availability.
At Kryptonite, we understand the responsibility that comes with being
the market leader.
Since we learned last week about the possibility of compromising some
of the industry's
tubular cylinder locks, we have been working diligently to devise the
best and most
responsible solution to address the concerns of consumers and to meet
the needs of our
distributors and retailers," said Steve Down, General Manager of
decided to simplify and expand our planned product upgrade program so
that we could
expedite the process for consumers and eliminate any lingering doubt
in their minds
about their locks. Standing by our customers is the responsible thing
to do for those who
rely on our security products to keep their valuables safe."
Kryptonite is offering a free product exchange to consumers who currently have
Kryptonite locks using tubular cylinders. To participate in the free
offer, consumers can visit the company's Web site at www.kryptonite.com for
registration instructions. As part of this effort, Kryptonite will
initiate a swap program
through direct communication with all of its distributors and retailers.
Mr. Down concluded, "At Kryptonite, we constantly remind ourselves of our
responsibility to lead and offer solutions - not excuses - that
relationships with consumers and channel partners. By instituting the most
comprehensive program possible, we believe our company has again
taken the lead in
providing unprecedented customer support and service.
September 16, 2004 Kryptonite Customer Service E-Mail
We understand there are concerns regarding tubular cylinders used in
locks. The tubular cylinder, a standard industry-wide design, has
been successfully used
for more than 30 years in our products and other security
applications without significant
The current Kryptonite locks based on a tubular cylinder design
continue to present an
effective deterrent to theft. As part of our continuing commitment to produce
performance and improved security, Kryptonite has been developing a
for some years. In 2000, Kryptonite introduced the disc-style
cylinder in its premier line
of products, the New York series. In 2002, Kryptonite began
development of a new disc
cylinder system for both its Evolution and KryptoLok product lines,
which currently use
the tubular cylinder design. These products are scheduled to be
introduced in the next few
We are accelerating the delivery of the new disc cylinder locks and
we will communicate
directly with our distributors, dealers and consumers within the
coming days. The world
just got tougher and so did our locks.
Customer Service Rep.
An Ingersoll-Rand Business