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

26th January, 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.

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