Cookie controversy looms as Girl Scouts celebrates first national cookie day

The Girl Scouts told 11-year-old Emma Vermaak that she can't sell cookies online, sparking debate about whether the 100-year-old organization is discouraging girls from using technology.

Are the Girl Scouts of the USA being embroiled in a cookie controversy in the midst of the first National Girl Scout Cookie Day?

When 11-year-old Emma Vermaak turned to social media and PayPal to raise donations, she thought she was doing it for a good cause.

At first, the Girl Scouts tweeted their support for Emma's efforts to collect money for their "I Care" program, which allows people to purchase Girl Scout Cookies as gifts to be donated to overseas troops. But then they sent her a few more tweets telling her not to sell the cookies online.

"We think you're awesome & know you'll find a way to keep doing social good and still stay within our national guidelines," the tweet said.

That was followed by: "But girls cannot transact the sale (take payment) online. That must happen in person to build oh-so-important people skills."

And then: "Girls absolutely can 'market' cookies online: talk about prices & sale dates, list inventory, take orders, etc."

Related: Girl Scouts launch National Cookie Day, change boxes

Emma said that her troop leader had also contacted her mother, Kimberly Reynolds, to let her know that Emma could only accept cash or checks.

Social media blog SteamFeed picked up on the tweets, questioning whether the Girl Scouts were discouraging girls from using technology:

"This is 2013 ... We are all online and no longer live in the same neighborhoods, cities or even states. Our families, friends and associates are spread around the world. Cash and checks are no longer even something I use! How can a young girl change the world and touch hundreds of soldiers if she is stuck in 1950?"

"When the Girl Scouts sent the first tweet, I was so happy," Emma told MSN News. "I wish that they hadn't sent me more tweets because they were kind of embarrassing, like I was doing something wrong. I still don't understand what was so wrong."

Girl Scouts spokesperson Michelle Tomkins said that while girls were encouraged to "use the media and social networking under the supervision of their parents to market their cookie program activities online," online sales were not permitted.

Visitors to the National Girl Scout Cookie Day site are greeted with blogs, Facebook contests and even a Cookie Finder app. @GirlScouts will also be tweeting the location of their cookie truck Friday as it makes its way through New York City selling Thin Mints, Samoas and other Girl Scout Cookie favorites, paving the way for the next generation of entrepreneurs.

Despite the organization's use of online marketing, listed in the FAQ section are a couple paragraphs that discourage the Scouts from participating in any kind of online sales.

"Although Girl Scouts of the USA does not currently allow online sales of Girl Scout Cookies, we are presently researching how to make it possible for girls to engage consumers in online sales, while continuing to help them develop critical and relevant entrepreneurship skills in the process.

"Cookies found for sale online at auction and community list sites should not be purchased under any circumstances, as neither GSUSA, your local Girl Scout council, nor our licensed bakers can guarantee the freshness or origination of these cookies. Further, purchasing cookies in this way does not support girls' participating in the cookie program."

Emma said that her mother, who works in social media, had helped her to set up a website with a PayPal donate button.

"The Girl Scouts said we cannot sell cookies online and we are not," she said. "We were just making it easy for people to give donations. I have been doing the booth sales and the door-to-door and almost no one ever gives money for the troops."

The Girl Scouts have declared Feb. 8 National Girl Scout Cookie Day to celebrate the world's largest girl-run business and the real purpose of the $790 million cookie program — "to teach girls five essential skills, including goal setting, decision making, money management, business ethics and people skills."

"We are supposed to be learning business skills — we shop online all the time; why shouldn't we learn to sell online?" asked Emma. "Not everyone wants to buy online, so we can sell door to door like we do now, but it is nice to give people choices. When we tell people at the booth sales that we can take credit and debit cards they are amazed. So I think the Girl Scouts should do both."

Meanwhile, Emma's social media efforts have not been wasted. The PayPal button has since been modified to direct donors to an address where they can send their checks and Emma's Twitter page is flooded with support from all over the world.

"Everyone is being super nice," she said.

Do you agree that Girl Scouts cookie sales should be limited to in-person sales? Help start our discussion on the MSN News Facebook page.

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