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[Updated with Microsoft statement] Microsoft has found itself in an unwanted maelstrom following a Twitter message posted on its @Bing account earlier today related to the tragedy in Japan. The company wrote: “How you can #SupportJapan. For every retweet, @bing will give $1 to Japan quake victims, up to $100K.”

Seems pretty harmless. But that simple message has set off a flurry of activity on Twitter, with many users linking to the Gawker Media story: “Bing’s Tasteless Tsunami Tweet Sparks Twitter’s Rage.”

The wrath has been powerful, and biting. At least one unsavory hash tag has gained momentum around the Bing brand. Here are just a few of the Tweets from recent users:

@bing using earthquake/tsunami/nuclear news as a marketing ploy to drive search is outrageous. That is all.

Why doesn’t @bing just donate the $100k straight out?

Is the venom, anger and negativity here just because the company behind the effort is Microsoft? After all, comedian Stephen Colbert ran a similar campaign to raise money for the Gulf Oil spill with little outrage at all. (Ironically, Bing also helped support that effort).

We can only imagine that Bing’s intentions were good here, but the campaign certainly serves as another reminder of the risks and rewards of social media.

I saw the @Bing message this morning, and actually thought about hitting the Retweet button myself. But something stopped me. Looking back, I guess there was just something I didn’t like about promoting Bing in order to donate $1. Furthermore, the $100,000 cap that Microsoft imposed just seemed like small potatoes in the grand scheme of things. (I did, however, donate my own money to the cause through Amazon.com yesterday)

Given my own personal dilemma over the issue, I called Seattle social media guru Leigh Fatzinger for some perspective. Fatzinger, who runs Nology Media, said he doesn’t see anything wrong with Microsoft’s approach.

“This is the right way to use social media,” he says. Asked about the criticism now spreading through the Twittersphere, Fatzinger said that’s just a downside of messages that get spread so quickly.

“This is the lesson of social media, you have to take the good with the bad,” he says.

But the short-term pain will go away over time if Microsoft’s intentions are in the right place, something Fatzinger thinks is the case in this instance.

Fatzinger said he was even more impressed with how quickly Bing was able to get the campaign up and rolling, a good example of what big brands will have to do in the future as issues spread so rapidly through the social media universe.

“I am not understanding the negativity,” he added. “I think it will be a net positive (for Microsoft) in the long-term.”

We’ve asked Microsoft for comment on the controversy, and we’ll update the post if we hear back.

Update: Here is Microsoft’s statement: “We apologize that a Bing tweet this morning was negatively perceived.  Our intention was to provide an easy way for people to help the people of Japan.  Thank you to all who responded. We have donated $100,000 to the Japanese Red Cross.”

Follow-up: Microsoft giving $2M in cash, services to Japan — no RT required

John Cook is co-founder of GeekWire, a technology news site based in Seattle. Follow on Twitter: @geekwirenews.

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