How do deal with a social media mistake (and how not to)

January 26, 2012 3:54 pm

The Prime Minister and the leader of the opposition were in Davos. Peter Mandelson has written a report on Globalisation and Nick Clegg wants to change our tax system (more on both of those later).

But what was the Westminster village obsessing about this lunchtime? A rogue tweet from Tom Watson’s intern…

Social media is now genuine news. Whether it was Diane Abbott’s “White People” tweet, Ed Miliband’s “Blackbusters” gaffe or today’s shenanigans, what happens online won’t just be reported there anyone – it’ll mean the spilling of much ink in tortured analysis for days to come.

That’s the world we live in now. So be it.

Watson’s intern was foolish on at least two levels. Firstly by assuming that taking control over her MP’s Twitter account would funny, and secondly by using the word “rape” in an entirely inappropriate context. Sure, it’s part of the social media vernacular, but not a pleasant or appropriate part. But the transition from student life to the workplace is tough at the best of times, and tougher still in politics.

The intern in question did do something right though. She acknowledged her mistake, apologised and didn’t try to remove the evidence. As Richard Nixon might attest were he still alive – it’s not the tweet that gets you into trouble, it’s the cover up. That’s a lesson that Ed Miliband and his team should have heeded during the now infamous ”Blackbusters” incident. They could have apologised or laughed it off, but instead they tried to pretend it never happened. Not the tweet, but the cover up gave the story oxygen.

What makes this story interesting for the media is also what the intern in question should be thankful for in the long term – namely Tom Watson’s presence on and understanding of social media. He’s rightly elected to deal with this matter offline, rather than conducting a post-mortem online. That should take the sting out of the situation. That inspired the #savetheintern hashtag. That’s the right way to deal with social media mistakes.

Regardless of what happens to her though she’ll have gained a crash course in social media (and the mainstream media) that money can’t buy. She might not realise it now, but perhaps one day she’ll be grateful for that.

  • Alex Sobel

    I love the way it says ‘No related posts’ at the end of the article

  • http://twitter.com/jennie_kermode Jennie Kermode

    Nobody ever gets it right all the time. The real test of a person is how they handle having got it wrong. This intern is way ahead of most senior politicians on that.

  • Anonymous

    There is a lot to be said for employing older people, you know, rather than kids obsessed with Twitter.

    I think were I a party leader I would actually put a ban on using Twitter – that and that other contraption where Sion Simon, thankfully now an ex-MP made an idiot of himself.

    If David Cameron ever said anything I agree with it is “Twitter is for t*ats”

    • Foxes1997

      If that were true, Cameron would never be off it himself.

      The fact it’s outside his comfort zone is all the more reason to use it.

      Watson was indiscreet in allowing another party to access his account, but at least he didn’t do so as part of a commercial promotion, unlike several recent celebs.

      Twitter is here to stay and the world will have to deal with it.

    • Hugh

      “that other contraption where Sion Simon, thankfully now an ex-MP made an idiot of himself”

      A voice-box?

      • Anonymous

        No it was Facebook or one of those sort of things 

  • Carollupus

    if he had any brains he would apologise to the intern and realise that he/she did him a favour. It could have been much worse

  • Anonymous

    Abbott was very very lucky, Miliband  who had just had to deal with Abbott made the mistake of rushing off to twitter to show he’s with it or without it.

    But this is another one, how many more before somebody say Twitter is not the media revolution labour thought it was.

    But of course If Abbott was lucky so was Miliband because we were told that was an intern mistake as well, was it I very much doubt it.

    Perhaps labour should have a room in which all twitters have to be twitted before posting, something the Labour party was good at.

    Lord give us strength.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_ZPXYLRVP4XOIGGDJWAL6HUO7U4 David

    Perhaps she will also learn not to refer to herself in some sort of bizarre impersonal third-person too.

  • Skeptic

    It’s the same as a ‘frape’ when someone posts on someone’s facebook wall when they find an opened account. It was a joke. 

  • Anonymous

    A very bad joke. And not a use of the word “rape” that I think should be encouraged…

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