Kelly Steele, a campaign staffer to Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., had to eat his Twitter words because he formed them into satire, a dangerous rhetorical art best practiced by those who are not working for politicians. And the worst part is that Steele wasn’t even taking a cheap shot at the rival campaign of his boss.
Steele tweeted a photo of a frowning Rob McKenna, the Republican gubernatorial candidate, at an Asian event and included the text, “Why aren’t the speaking English? #ASIANS.” He was poking fun at a McKenna staffer who earlier this year lost her job for tweeting the same words but not in jest.
As often is the case in Twitter politics, Steele defended his tweet amid the uproar that followed but later apologized.
Death threats and wishes are a sad state of Twitter reality, but it’s a federal crime to aim such rhetoric, whether real or hyperbolic, at the president. Jarvis Britton is the latest to learn that lesson. He was indicted today for threatening to kill President Obama.
Britton, who was denied bond, tweeted his first threat against Obama in June and, despite a warning visit from the Secret Service, posted a series of violent musings over the next three months. Here’s a sampling of Britton’s tweets:
Britton is the third person in the past month to be arrested or visited by the Secret Service for threatening the president or wishing for his death. The other two were Donte Jamar Sims and teenager Alyssa Douglas.
Until Sunday, Katie Moody was just a senior administrative coordinator at John Hopkins University and a New England Patriots fan living in the wrong city, Baltimore. Now she is the scorn of the Twitterverse because of a crass tweet she posted after the Baltimore Ravens beat the New England Patriots 31-30 on a last-second field goal.
The tweet was aimed at Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith (@TorreySmithWR), whose younger brother died in a motorcycle accident a day before the game. “Hey, Smith, how about you call your bro and tell him all about your win— Ohhhh. Wait. #TooSoon?” Moody wrote.
Smith’s teammate, running back Ray Rice (@RayRice27), was among the many tweeters who lambasted Moody for her poor taste. “@katiebrady12 smh u are terrible I hope you know the word karma,” Rice tweeted. “A tweet that might have received about 10 seconds of consideration will be her legacy,” The Baltimore Sun noted in an editorial.
Moody’s employer also was pulled into the controversy when people learned that she worked at John Hopkins. “The social media comment that made light of the Smith family’s loss represented the thoughts of one individual,” the school said in a statement. “It does not in any way represent the Johns Hopkins community.”
Moody initially defended her tweet as a joke, but in response to the outcry against her, she first made her Twitter account private and then deleted everything on it accept this apology tweet: “I truly regret my ignorant, tasteless comment, and I am so sorry for the pain that it has caused, especially to Torrey Smith and his family.”
TJ Lang’s profanity-laced tweets aimed at replacement referees in the National Football League may be a candidate for “the most retweeted tweet of all time.” But the Green Bay Packers lineman’s outburst over arguably the worst officiating call in NFL history also may cost him dearly.
Lang acknowledged as much in the tweet that, as of last check, had been retweeted 95,120 times. “Fine me and use the money to pay the regular refs,” he griped.
Of course, if the NFL decides to levy fines against players for publicly criticizing the league and/or the refs, TJ Lang won’t be alone. Two of his teammates, Jermichael Finley (@JermichaelF88) and Desmond Bishop (@Desbishop55), were just as harsh. If the on-field calls keep going the way they have this season, the NFL may have a full-blown Twitter rebellion on its hands.
U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens did not reap what he sowed when he was killed in a terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, but with this entry into the “Twitter Hall of Shame,” Russian Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov is reaping what he sowed on Twitter by lambasting Stevens.
Zyuganov, whose Twitter account is now private, insulted Stevens after he was murdered. “The American ambassador to Libya was shot down like the lowest dog,” Zyuganov tweeted. “He was the main expert for the Libyan ‘revolution’. What he reaped, he sowed.”
The U.S. State Department condemned the tweet, and one Obama administration source said the result would be that Zyuganov would lose his ability to maintain close relations with U.S. embassy personnel in Moscow
The culprit worthy of shame in this instance isn’t so much the Kansas City Chiefs as it is the person behind the professional football team’s Twitter handle. But the brand took the PR hit because the employee’s identity has not been released.
That employee forgot that the customer is always right — the customers in the sports world being fans — and decided to send a pointed direct message to a critical fan. Direct messages are private, but as we’ve seen before, recipients tend to make them public when the senders are important.
In the case of the Chiefs, the Twitter handler sent a direct message that said, “Would help if you had your facts straight. Your choice to be a fan. cc get a clue.” The recipient, Travis Wright (@teedubya), shared a screen shot of the message, and more criticism of the Chiefs ensued.
The Chiefs apologized — sort of. The writer of the DM posted this follow-up tweet: “I apologize to the fans for my response to a tweet sent to me earlier. No excuse for my actions. I am truly sorry and it won’t happen again.” But one reason it won’t happen again is because the juvenile in charge of the Twitter handle blocked Wright.
“I’m not trying to get the guy (who sent me the message) fired,” Wright told Scripps Media. “I’ m trying to get them to understand they can’t treat their fans with contempt.”
Picking a Twitter fight that escalates to the point where you tell a celebrity to “go hang yourself” will have consequences — if only short-term public embarrassment.
Tanya Heti learned that when she told Charlotte Dawson, a judge on “Australia’s Next Top Model,” to hang herself. Heti was suspended with pay from her mentoring job at Monash University while the school investigated the incident. Dawson had contacted the school by email to report Heti’s hostile language.
But the conflict ultimately appears to have done more damage to Dawson than Heti. Backlash from the incident sent Dawson into a state of depression, for which she was hospitalized. Dawson’s Twitter account is now private, but in an open letter as part of the #StopTheTrolls campaign, she said she will not leave Twitter, as critics suggest.
“If somebody uses Twittter to send pornographic images of children, that’s not OK,” Dawson wrote. “If somebody uses Twitter to scam money out of people, it’s not OK, just like the real world. If someone uses Twitter to encourage someone to suicide, to intentionally harass and intimidate people, THAT. IS. NOT. OKAY.”
The university, meanwhile, allowed Heti to return to work.
Assassination attempts against the president are no Twitter-joking matter. Make the threats in the city that President Obama will be attending for a political convention— like 21-year-old Donte Jamar Sims did — and you’ll likely end up in jail.
Claiming to be high on marijuana at the time, Sims posted five tweets threatening assassination. He reportedly admitted to the tweets when officers visited his home and wrote an apology at the police station. The judge ordered Sims, who faces five years in prison and a $250,000 fine, detained until trial because of his criminal past.
UPDATE, Sept. 8: The Secret Service visited 16-year-old Alyssa Douglas (@Alyssa_Douglas) after she tweeted an assassination wish for President Obama. The Clarksville, Ohio, student said “someone needs to assassinate Obama … like ASAP” and included a vulgar hashtag in her tweet.
“These things are so readily available to young people; they don’t fully understand the consequences of what they say,” said Jeffrey Blevins, head of the University of Cincinnati’s Department of Journalism. “It’s not just a snide comment to a couple of their friends where the friends can read that remark in context. Instead, that comment goes out to the entire Twitter universe, and you lose control of it. That concept is very difficult for young people — and even some adults — to understand.”
You can’t be the voice of Leo the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle” on children’s television and the poster boy of political filth on Twitter. That’s the message Nickelodeon sent “American Pie” actor Jason Biggs after he posted, and later deleted, a series of vile tweets about the wives of the men on the Republican presidential ticket.
The Twitter curator Twitchy broke the news about Biggs’ disgusting tweets last week, and Fox News jumped on the story today. “I can’t even get into the real details,” Fox’s Dennis Kneale said in a purposefully vague report on the obscenities aimed at Janna Ryan and Ann Romney, as well as vice-presidential nominee Paul Ryan.
After fielding a weekend of online complaints about the tweets, Nickelodeon issued a statement that condemned Biggs’ tweets, apologized for linking to the actor’s Twitter feed and insisted that Biggs behave in future “public communication.”
UPDATE, Sept. 8: Sears, a Nickelodeon advertiser, is not running ads on the show that features Biggs. “The offensive comments made by Jason Biggs last week on his personal Twitter account are absolutely not in line with the values of Sears,” the company is telling people on Twitter. The Colorado Rockies baseball team also has canceled a Nickelodeon promotion day because of Biggs’ tweets.
Golfer Luke Donald fell into Twitter’s “Weiner trap” (named after disgraced Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y.) — he accidentally posted a public tweet that he meant to send privately as a “direct message.” In Donald’s case, the tweet criticized the design of a golf course that had just gotten the better of him.
“Gil Hanse is a [expletive]. Haha,” Donald tweeted after scoring a bogey on the 18th hole at TPC Boston. Donald quickly deleted the tweet, but bloggers captured screen shots of it. Hanse, who designed the course, said no apology was necessary.