For a lot of people, holidays are a time to unplug from social media. For my family, last week's Thanksgiving holiday brought a reminder of its power and its dangers.
It started during a performance from the Broadway show “Kinky Boots” in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. This prompted my four-year-old niece to ask my brother-in-law what “kinky” means. (“Marked by unconventional sexual preferences or behavior, as fetishism, sadomasochism, or the like,” according to Dictionary.com, in case you were wondering).
After successfully changing the subject, he tweeted “Now I have to explain "Kinky Boots" to my kids. Thanks, Macy's. #MacysParade.” Within a few hours, he found himself labeled an intolerant bigot, as his tweet was featured in a Huffington Post story about “right wingers” who took to Twitter to complain about a show in which one of the main characters is a drag queen being featured in the parade.
As you can imagine, my brother-in-law was horrified. Hate tweets started pouring in. He realized his professional reputation was at risk (as a digital strategist at a university, he communicates with many colleagues in his industry via Twitter).
The Huffington Post eventually removed him from the story after he contacted them via email, social media and through their website. He also clarified what he meant on Twitter and drafted a blog post that allowed him to tell his story in more detail. I can’t imagine any lasting damage will be done, but he certainly had better things to do over Thanksgiving weekend than spend 48 hours being criticized for saying something he didn’t actually say.
I realize this sort of thing happens all the time on social media, but this was the first time I watched it happen to someone so close to me. I also realize this could easily happen to any of our clients. It’s a reminder that even offhand tweets need to be worded very carefully and the importance of moving quickly to correct the record (as my brother-in-law did) when something is misinterpreted or taken out of context. Better a few days of headaches than lasting reputational damage.