Vasuki Sunkavalli, Miss Universe India, is in Sao Paulo, Brazil, right now, preparing for the Sept. 12 Miss Universe contest and tweeting about her adventures: “Was at an Auto race — fun or what!!”
Between mentioning her hair appointments and her love for her fans, she would veer into decidedly non-pageantry talk, writing pointed criticism on Twitter about India’s government and its handling of an ongoing corruption scandal.
But it turns out the beauty queen was not doing much of the political writing. The tweets came from a Wall Street Journal columnist, who was unwittingly supplying her with opinions she would copy and paste and present on her Twitter feed as her own writing.
When the columnist, Sadanand Dhume, noticed her “twagiarism,” as he called it, he had a fun morning with his followers discussing the declining ethics in beauty pageants. Dhume found that Sunkavalli lifted a number of his tweets and nowhere did she mention that he had originally written them.
In the world of Twitter, it’s a gross betrayal of etiquette. Repeating other people’s tweets is a common function, but they are traditionally noted with the Twitter shorthand for retweet — RT — at the start with the original writer’s Twitter name, filling the role of digital quote marks.
When Dhume drew the beauty contestant’s attention to the fact, she said she just didn’t understand how Twitter worked.
If Sunkavalli did miss out on the numerous codes and abbreviations in the Twitter world, she’s not alone. It’s symptomatic of why social media can take so long to adopt. Starting to tweet, or to use Facebook, or to try Google + requires a learning curve.
Every site has a new language, new rules, new code words. Those inside the Twitter community bandy about hashtag jokes and MTs and OHs, while those wanting to see what the fuss is all about come across a bunch of sometimes meaningless characters, scrawled on a rapidly shifting newsfeed.
The lack of knowledge about these rules leads some to stumble into trouble. Sunkavalli was let off with a quick “If it was all accidental, no worries. And best of luck with the pageant!” from Dhume, who said the whole thing was an amusing episode.
For others, though, messing up the rules can mean career-ending moves, as was the case when Anthony Weiner lost his congressional seat for the want of a small “d,” which would have made his now-infamous shorts shot a direct message to one of his followers, rather than a public tweet to all of them.
In the mutating world of social media, there’s no AP style guide for use. It might be time to start thinking of one.