This blog has featured several entries about controversial Facebook posts and the troubles they can cause employees, but it seems that saying something in 140 characters (or less) may be even more damaging. Careless Twittering has been in the news and cost several people their jobs or business ties as of late. For example:
• Insurance giant AFLAC fired comedian Gilbert Gottfried for tweeting about the devastation in Japan (Gottfried is the voice of the trademark Aflacduck). Gottfried, known for his offhand and often vulgar comedy, posted some insensitive tweets about the tsunami. AFLAC immediately broke their ties with the comedian.
• The New York Times reports that an employee of New Media Strategies, an agency handling the Twitter account for Chrysler brand, commented on his Twitter account that “I find it ironic that Detroit is known as the Motor City and yet no one here knows how to [expletive] drive.”
• Even law officials are not immune. Indiana Deputy Attorney General Jeff Cox was fired for remarks he made on Twitter, suggesting riot police in Wisconsin should use live ammunition when clearing protesters out of the Wisconsin Capitol building.
• Last year, CNN said it dismissed a senior correspondent who used her Twitter account to praise a Muslim cleric associated with the terror group Hezbollah (removing any sense of objectivity to her reporting).
We lean towards the point of view that one should not blame the tool when it has been misused (like a Little League shortstop throwing down and kicking his glove when he makes an error). Twitter (and similar social media tools) can be a very effective tool for marketing, building relationships and communications. Social Media tools can also create serious issues for employees and their employers. The New York Times reports that George E. Belch, a marketing professor at San Diego State University, reminds employers that “there are people in your company who forget when they post on a blog, on Twitter, on a Facebook page, that it’s out there — and it’s out there at warp speed.” In other words, messages can go “viral” and cause havoc (as in the cases above).
As we’ve said before, it’s important to think carefully about online postings, especially if you’re being paid to represent an organization. And, don't forget: in many ways we all represent our organizations and we do so 24/7. We should all practice being responsible, and being prepared to be accountable for what we write.