Social media slip? Blame the intern

Somehow it always seems to be the intern’s fault.

It’s no secret that social media exposes public officials and organizations to deeper scrutiny. Every word is dissected, analyzed and critiqued. So when, particularly on Twitter, a message comes across unseemly, unkind or just plain weird there are public relations ramifications.

Look no further than Wednesday’s Twitter brouhaha between Amnesty International and Center for Strategic and International Studies. As our colleagues at The Switch reported, the D.C. think tank told the human rights group to “suck it” in a tweet. Ouch.

amnestytweet

After apologizing on and off Twitter, Andrew Schwartz, senior vice president of external relations at CSIS, told our colleagues that an intern sent the message. “He meant to send something reflecting his personal views from his personal Twitter account,” Schwartz said.

Now why does that sound familiar?

Probably because often when there is a Twitter faux pas the culprit is the intern. Talking Points Memo’s editor Josh Marshall even gave it a name: the “scapetern.”

The Loop has rounded up of some “best of” intern social media slip-ups:

July 2014

The Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Water posted a peculiar tweet about reaching C-list celebrity status in a Kim Kardashian smartphone game. The tweet prompted 88-year-old Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) to check in on the EPA to make sure it was okay and still focused on clean water.

Explanation: “An EPA fellow inadvertently triggered an auto-generated tweet,” an EPA spokeswoman said.

February 2014

Utah state Rep. Jacob Anderegg (R) joked on Twitter that he was changing his identity to be able to use the women’s bathroom because the men’s was occupied. Utah state Senate President Wayne Niederhauser (R) responded on Twitter with a reference to Anderegg’s support for a gay rights anti-discrimination bill: “First supporting SB 100, now switching your gender identity? Just can’t keep up with you. You’re a new man! erm… woman…,” the tweet said.

Explanation: It was “an intern tweet.”

January 2012

It’s not just an American problem. A member of Parliament’s Twitter account sent a tweet that said, “I should log out of my twitter so that my intern doesn’t twit-rape me …”

Explanation: An intern logged on to her boss’s account and tweeted it as a joke. She apologized.

June 2011

It was curious when the office account of then-Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.), an opponent of gay marriage, retweeted a pro-gay message in response to a homophobic “joke” from comedian Tracy Morgan. Morgan said he’d “stab” his son if he was gay. West’s official account retweeted from the band the Scissor Sisters: “Dear Tracy Morgan’s son: if you are gay, you can TOTALLY come live with me. We’ll read James Baldwin & watch Paris is Burning. XxANA”

“Dear Tracy Morgan’s son: if you are gay, you can TOTALLY come live with me. We’ll read James Baldwin & watch Paris is Burning. xxANA – See more at: http://cdn.rollcall.com/issues/56_137/Allen-West-Intern-Fired-Over-Retweet-206372-1.html?popular=true&pos=hhohtp&cdn_load=true&zkPrintable=1&nopagination=1#sthash.j4aBqH5V.dpuf
“Dear Tracy Morgan’s son: if you are gay, you can TOTALLY come live with me. We’ll read James Baldwin & watch Paris is Burning. xxANA – See more at: http://cdn.rollcall.com/issues/56_137/Allen-West-Intern-Fired-Over-Retweet-206372-1.html?popular=true&pos=hhohtp&cdn_load=true&zkPrintable=1&nopagination=1#sthash.j4aBqH5V.dpuf
“Dear Tracy Morgan’s son: if you are gay, you can TOTALLY come live with me. We’ll read James Baldwin & watch Paris is Burning. xxANA – See more at: http://cdn.rollcall.com/issues/56_137/Allen-West-Intern-Fired-Over-Retweet-206372-1.html?popular=true&pos=hhohtp&cdn_load=true&zkPrintable=1&nopagination=1#sthash.j4aBqH5V.dpuf
“Dear Tracy Morgan’s son: if you are gay, you can TOTALLY come live with me. We’ll read James Baldwin & watch Paris is Burning. xxANA” – See more at: http://cdn.rollcall.com/issues/56_137/Allen-West-Intern-Fired-Over-Retweet-206372-1.html?popular=true&pos=hhohtp&cdn_load=true&zkPrintable=1&nopagination=1#sthash.j4aBqH5V.dpuf
“Dear Tracy Morgan’s son: if you are gay, you can TOTALLY come live with me. We’ll read James Baldwin & watch Paris is Burning. xxANA – See more at: http://cdn.rollcall.com/issues/56_137/Allen-West-Intern-Fired-Over-Retweet-206372-1.html?popular=true&pos=hhohtp&cdn_load=true&zkPrintable=1&nopagination=1#sthash.j4aBqH5V.dpuf

Explanation: “We were not hacked, an intern made an error,” West’s office tweeted. The intern was fired.

And, just for fun, here are some other social media or intern flubs:

August 2014

The office account of Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) retweeted a picture of raw chicken tenders strewn over a burning stovetop with the caption: “h— yeah benihana up in this b—-.” It was quickly deleted.

Explanation: A staffer (not an intern!) retweeted it by mistake.

July 2014

This one wasn’t inadvertent, but it does include an intern and a campaign. Former congressman Michael Michaud (D), who is running for governor in Maine, had an intern who was apparently tweeting vulgar and offensive things from his personal Twitter account.

Explanation:  Michaud’s campaign manager, Matt McTighe, told the Portland Press Herald that “The language used in this young person’s Tweets cannot be defended and do not represent the view of the campaign.” The intern was suspended.

December 2013

A campaign staffer, who had previously been an intern, sent a fundraising appeal for the campaign of Gov. Scott Walker (R-Wis.) asking people to give money to Walker’s reelection rather than go shopping on Black Friday for their kids. The staffer also had a series of offensive tweets on her personal account.

Explanation: “We didn’t know about them. I think like most employers, we don’t spend time going back trying to find out years and years ago what people may or may not have said in social media,” Walker said, according to the Wisconsin State Journal. The staffer was fired.

November 2013

The National Republican Senatorial Committee tweeted an article with a picture of Allison Lundergan Grimes’s face on the body of “Obama Girl,” the woman who made viral videos about her crush on Barack Obama in 2007. The tweet asked if Grimes was the new “Obama Girl.”

Explanation: The NRSC called the tweet offensive and said it was done by a “junior staffer.”

From our archives:

December 2008

It wasn’t Twitter and he wasn’t an intern, but we’d be remiss not to mention a scoop by our very own Al Kamen when Obama campaign speechwriter Jon Favreau was photographed cupping the chest of a Hillary Clinton cardboard cutout. It was then posted on Facebook.

Explanation: Favreau apologized to Clinton, who took it in stride. Her spokesman said Clinton, who had already been nominated to be secretary of state, was reviewing his application.

Colby Itkowitz is a national reporter for In The Loop.
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