BBC Recipes – A Possible Explanation

The BBC are apparently removing thousands of recipes from their website. This has been announced, slightly clumsily, in a leak in early May, and then more officially by the BBC themselves.

This blog post takes a look at what happened, and ends by looking at the possible motivations that may have caused the BBC to communicate their plans in such an apparently clumsy way.

Phases of the announcement

There were 4 phases in the announcement that ‘BBC Food’ was going to be closed:

  • Phase 1: A leak in early May that this was planned.
  • Phase 2: The BBC announcing officially that they’ll be closing the ‘BBC Food’ site.
  • Phase 3: A partial caveat, that the site will be ‘archived’ or ‘mothballed’.
  • Phase 4: A very large caveat, that many of the recipes will move across to ‘BBC Good Food’.

The original story (phases 1 & 2) explained that this was happening to ‘streamline output’ and ‘save £15m’.

That didn’t really make sense, as it costs relatively little to keep pre-existing content on a website and, naturally, people became quite angry about this. The BBC is funded by taxpayers, and license fee payers, who asked why the content they’d funded was being removed.


After lots of anger about the closing of ‘BBC Food’, they put out a clarification (‘phase 3’) above. Here’s how that was communicated by their Press Office on Twitter:

You’ll note the words ‘archived’ and ‘mothballed’ in there. Neither of those sound particularly friendly to the general public. The announcement was designed (presumably) to quell the anger of all those asking why it was being closed. By using internal jargon, it cleared up very little & simply prompted more anger & questions.

Looking at what the BBC normally do when they ‘mothball’ something, this probably would not mean that they would hide all of the recipes from Google search. It also likely does not mean they’d stick around for a short time before being deleted (there is BBC content many years old still sat there ‘mothballed’). It more likely means that the content would be excluded from the BBC’s own website search function, and that a ‘This page has been archived’ header would be tacked onto the pages:

There are exceptions to this – for example, when closing ‘’, they removed the entire site & redirected users across to its replacement but, in general, they do the above: Add an ‘archive’ tag, leave it available in Google search, remove it from their own search results, and leave it to sit there accessible by the public if they try hard to find it.

The Final Clarification

Despite their ‘archiving’ announcement, people continued to be angry, and a petition to ‘save’ the site hit more than 100,000 signatures. In response, the BBC clarified still further:

The Possible Motivation

The obvious question is: Why didn’t they put out a straightforward announcement in the beginning. Surely they would have seen that “We’re moving most of the content from one of our sites to another” would prompt less backlash from their users than “we’re shutting down”.

It’s possible that what’s happening is this:

  1. The ‘BBC Food’ section of the overall BBC site competes with ‘BBC Good Food’, which is a completely separate website.
  2. ‘BBC Good Food’ is part of BBC Worldwide, the commercial arm of the BBC which is charged with maximising profit inn order to help fund the overall BBC. BBC Worldwide is a £1bn+ company, which generated just under £140m profit last year, and passed £226m across to the parent organisation (ie. theoretically keeping the license fee down).
  3. If the BBC close ‘BBC Food’, and migrate the most valuable content across to ‘BBC Good Food’, this increases the likelihood of them making profit.

So why did the BBC simply announce that they were closing ‘BBC Food’, without explaining that they’d be moving content across to ‘BBC Good Food’?

  • Option A: It’s possible this was simply an accident – a clumsily worded announcement.
  • Option B: It’s also possible that they do not quite know what’s going on themselves – they recognise they have 2 areas covering the same thing, and that the most obvious one to close is the taxpayer funded one, but they haven’t fully planned things out.
  • Option C: Most likely, I think, is that part of the messaging around the whole announcement was that they are closing to avoid competing directly with commercial organisations. If they had announced at the beginning that they’d be shifting taxpayer funded content across to their own commercial organisation, that puts a very negative spin on things, and would likely raise some complaints from commercial competitors.


  • It’s likely BBC Food will stay around for a little while, with an ‘archive’ note at the top of pages.
  • Likely, longer-term, they will shift most/all of the content (or at least the most valuable, heavily accessed content) across to BBC Good Food.
  • In shifting that content, they are essentially moving ‘non-profit making’ content across to an area that’s very happy to make profit (in fact it is its primary motive). And, of course they also remove their own ‘regular’ site from competing against their commercial site.
  • All of the fuss among the general public could likely have been avoided by communicating this differently, but in doing so they’d likely have stoked a lot of anger among other newspapers, publishers, and other commercial organisations.

The Life of a Twitter Gaffe

Here is a very short post about an enormous Twitter Gaffe, along with a short set of suggestions for minimising the risks of this occurring.

The Gaffe

During a period when over a million people were marching in Paris, following a series of terrorist attacks, a woman on Twitter hit the ‘Tweet’ button & published this message to the world:

You’ll notice a few things there. Firstly, the user has ‘Cllr’ in her name – short for ‘Councillor’; secondly her Twitter ID contains ‘Labour’, as in the political party. Thirdly, and most importantly:If you followed the events of the Paris Attacks, you will know the three names she’s used in the tweet itself:

  • The first, ‘Charlie’, is the first name of the magazine where several members of staff were murdered by terrorists.
  • The third, ‘Ahmed’, is the first name of a Muslim police officer who was also murdered by terrorists.
  • The second, ‘Kouachi’, is the surname of two of the terrorists.

If you look into ‘Cllr Anita Ward’s bio, you’ll see one of her listed jobs is Chairman of Birmingham County Royal British Legion, so it was a 99.9999% certainty that she did not actually mean to support ‘#JeSuisKouachi’. In other words, an enormous gaffe: She had included the name of the murderers accidentally in a tweet which otherwise looked very well intended.

The tweet was live for about 40 minutes, before it was deleted with an apology that read “Major Major Balls up this afternoon on twitter. Apols if I have offended anyone. #tag pressed in error.”

40 minutes later was another apology: “I get it & I am sorry!! Most of all to the families of those killed and to my son injured in Afghanistan fighting these type of people.”

The Response

The reason for two apologies was that hundreds of people were now angrily tweeting their disgust at ‘Cllr Anita Ward’, despite her apologies.

And of course, they continued further, with others posting the tweet without the context of her apology, and various others making political statements hanging off it:

And eventually it reached ‘The Eggs’ – Twitter accounts from users who use it so little they don’t change their avatars from the default or, in some cases, accounts set up purely to argue with particular issues without displaying the real owner’s details:

To anyone who uses Twitter very regularly on a range of devices, it was fairly obvious what had likely occurred here: “that looks like an autocomplete error”.

How the Error Occurred

There are 2 types of autocomplete errors on Twitter:

  1. Autocompleted text from your phone’s dictionary itself.
  2. Autocompleted hashtags & usernames, which the Twitter app often nudges you to use.

The latter is less common, and those who do not use Twitter regularly may not be familiar with this. Here’s an example of how they occur. Here I’ve simply entered ‘#jesuis’ into Twitter’s ‘Search’ box:

You can see there, the third hashtag it is encouraging me to click is ‘#JeSuisKouachi’, the same term as ‘Cllr Anita Ward’ had used in her tweet. Ie, it appears she clicked that in error, added the correct hashtag after it, but failed to delete the very offensive erroneous hashtag before publishing the tweet.

An absolutely enormous gaffe, created by a small error in using Twitter’s user interface.

6 Lessons

Lessons we can learn from this:

  1. Do read your tweets before you hit the ‘tweet’ button. That sounds obvious, but using twitter sometimes feels a little like speaking, and we do not usually rehearse what we’re about to say in our heads before we start talking.
  2. Be particularly careful with hashtags & usernames where you’ve simply clicked an autocompleted suggestion. Autosuggestions, and other algorithms, do not understand the nuances humans do.
  3. Keep an eye on your notifications after you’ve posted a tweet. In the above instance, it was live for 40 minutes, despite her receiving replies within a few minutes questioning it. The faster an error is corrected, the lower the likelihood of it ‘going viral’.
  4. Understand that deleted tweets live on – replies & screengrabs don’t disappear.
  5. Even if you apologise & explain, some will not understand the apology, some will question it, some will simply ignore it & use their preferred interpretation to make their own points. (even if they make many errors themselves – as per some of the tweets above containing typos et cetera)
  6. If your Twitter bio denotes your allegiance to a political party, football club, or anything else with tribal supporters, expect that to feature among the reaction to any large errors you make.

Do leave any other thoughts in comments below, and do share this if you think others would find it useful.

How the US Airways Tweet Happened

If you’re reading this, you will know that US Airways sent an incredibly lewd photo to one of their passengers in response to a complaint.

Here is the massively censored version of the Tweet:

The 2 Key Events:

  1. Very shortly before the US Airways tweet, the @ARTxDEALER Twitter account posted ‘the photo’, addressing the Tweet to @AmericanAir. (side-note: American Air & US Airways recently merged)
  2. US Airways posted a response to user @ElleRafter: “We welcome feedback, Elle. If your travel is complete, you can detail it here for review and follow up:” (I’ve deliberately changed that URL to protect the innocent).

The Actual Explanation:

  • US Airways recently merged with American Air.
  • Whoever is in control of the US Airways twitter account also monitors American Air’s brand on Twitter.
  • Having seen the lewd photo sent to American Air, the social media exec copied the URL (perhaps emailing it to someone to report it, for example)
  • When they responded to @ElleRafter, instead of pasting the URL of their complaints form, they accidentally pasted the twitter image URL. In doing that, it reattached the image to their tweet.

The key piece of information is that if you copy & paste a ‘…’ Twitter photo URL into your tweet, it reattaches that photo to your tweet.

Summary: Mystery solved. The twitter account ‘@ARTxDEALER’ accidentally caused the whole thing. (I wouldn’t recommend visiting their account – not safe for work!)

Very good luck to the poor person in charge of the US Airways/American Air twitter accounts. A tough job and – from the looks of things – an honest mistake.