Twitter is a powerful tool for politicians, allowing them to get their message across directly to their audience. Like any method of communication, however, it has its risks: Not only can awkward messages from the past resurface, those messages can then then spread quickly, stripped of their original context and placed into a new political conversation.

For evidence, look no further than the tweet above from Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott. It has been retweeted thousands of times in recent hours — despite the fact that it was sent by Abbot almost four years ago.

What explains the sudden viral afterlife of this tweet? Well, consider this: On Sunday, Abbott announced that Bronwyn Bishop would resign as speaker of Australia's House of Representatives after weeks of expenses-related scandals — the most notable of which flared up in July, when it emerged that Bishop had used US$3,600 of public money to fly by helicopter from Melbourne to Geelong, a distance of about 40 miles, to attend a Liberal Party fundraiser.

Abbott is currently the leader of Australia's government, so, taken out of context, this tweet appears to show the country's prime minister saying that his own government is "in chaos" and has "lost its way." On Twitter, critics of Abbott have been delighted by this:

Of course, in 2011 Abbott was not prime minister. His tweet in fact referred to the resignation of then-Speaker Harry Jenkins, which Abbott saw as a problem for the then-Labor government. Now that his Liberal Party is in power and facing its own challenges, Abbott has a different outlook, blaming Bishop's fall from grace on a confusing entitlement system and pledging reform.

A report in the Age newspaper revealed that Abbott forced Bishop to resign Sunday after it became clear she would not have the support of a significant number of government members of Parliament in a no-confidence vote planned for the next week. The newspaper said this would have been "interpreted as an insurrection against the authority of the Prime Minister" – something that sounds quite a bit like a government in chaos.

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