Most people who use Twitter probably have experienced tweet regret: That tweet you thought was funny but crossed the line. The ornery tweet directed at a specific person. The TMI (too much information) tweet about a gastrointestinal experience. The alcohol-induced tweet. Yes. Those are the worst.
With that in mind, many participants in the Twitterverse winced for Justine Sacco, a public relations executive who posted a tweet Friday that read: "Going to Africa. Hope I don't get AIDS. Just kidding. I'm white!"
Stupid, stupid, stupid. She lost her job at a prominent New York-based media company; made international headlines as an insensitive idiot; and on Sunday issued a lavish (and evidently sincere) apology, saying she was terribly ashamed, critiquing her tweet as "careless" and acknowledging that AIDS is a crisis that "does not discriminate by race, gender or sexual orientation, but which terrifies us all uniformly ..."
The wit and (belated) wisdom of one Twitter user. All in the span of three days.
How could Sacco have posted something so dumb as her initial tweet? For some users, Twitter has a strange ability to make them feel connected, comfortable and safe, as if they're at a big dinner party. It can be a platform for serious debate, news sharing and comedy, all in tiny bursts that seem to disappear into the endless Twitter reel.
Except they don't disappear. Twitter is public.
In March, a social media coordinator for auto company Chrysler accidentally posted a Tweet from the corporate Twitter account that read: "I find it ironic that Detroit is known as the motorcity and yet no one here knows how to (expletive) drive."
He was fired.
McDonald's, too, learned Twitter the hard way. The company last year launched a campaign with the hashtag "McDStories" to promote products and employees, and invited Twitter users to tweet about their own compliments and experiences. The Twitter feed immediately became an outlet for complaints about the food, the atmosphere, the employee uniforms _ everything. Animal rights groups flooded Twitter with unflattering stories of animal byproducts in the menu and ... well, the publicity campaign didn't go exactly the way McDonald's planned.
Using Twitter requires thought and restraint. Nobody wants to read your every thought, suffer through your rants or view endless pictures of your dessert. Or your cleavage. Or your dog. Or sunsets. Moderation is key.
Other basic rules of the road:
Keep Tweets to 140 characters or less, use proper grammar, use hashtags when appropriate and be sure to retweet the tweets of others. It's not all about you.
But the most important rule in tweeting is: Don't post anything stupid or embarrassing. Think before you tweet. Rival IQ, a Seattle-based social media company, reminds Twitter users: "It's okay to think stupid thoughts, but it's not okay to reveal your stupid thoughts to the Twitterverse."
Just ask Justine Sacco, former public relations executive.
© 2013 Chicago Tribune