In the News / Social Media

Social media mishaps of 2013: what can we learn?

APTOPIX Britain New Year's CelebrationsEnd of year round-ups are all well and good, but what can we learn from the mistakes of the past 12 months?  As well as planning resolutions for 2014, we should take time to look (and laugh) at some of last year’s most cringe worthy social media mistakes and how to avoid more of the same.  To prepare you for the new year, here is my own round-up of some of the top stories and news bites from 

It seems like it was a long time ago, but the HMV collapse and administration happened in January 2013.  HR and IT managers the world over will hopefully now be securing passwords from social media accounts and thinking before acting following the #HMVXFactorFiring that took the struggling brand across the world at a time when it needed the attention the least.

Then there was the J P Morgan Q&A that never was, the inappropriate musings of Ryanair’s always controversial CEO Michael O’Leary and the surprisingly successful deployment of the medium exhibited by Mayor of London Boris Johnson.  A thorough, sensible and well managed social media strategy which connects you with your client base, customers (and voters) is key to successful business nowadays, but it’s still surprising how bad it can go when poorly managed.  Simple steps can lead to success, but all businesses and individuals must be aware of the potential traps and pitfalls that lay in the way.

2013 has proven to be another stellar year for foolish tweeting.  In the wake of the Woolwich attack on Lee Rigby,  one politics student took to Twitter to suggest that anyone who wore a Help For Heroes t-shirt “deserved to be beheaded“.  Although a jail term was avoided, she is unlikely to succeed in any political role following her studies.  Other tweeters were criticised and arrested for inciting religious or racial hatred in response to the attack. However, it was the attack itself which brought home the significance of social media in modern society, as the attacker was seen to be encouraging passers-by to video the immediate aftermath, sparking outcry and concern as the video was repeated on all major news channels across the world.

In July, 2 jurors in a paedophilia case were jailed for committing contempt of court by tweeting about their jury service.  This followed repeated warnings from the Attorney General, Dominic Grieve, that anyone acting in contempt would be seriously dealt with, whatever the medium was used to commit the offence.

Director of Public Prosecutions also gave guidance as to how offensive a tweet or post must be to warrant criminal intervention, suggesting that 2013 was the year of the trolls but that 2014 may bring more of the same, with little protection afforded to the easily (or reasonably) offended.

There was also the young driver whose #bloodycyclists tweet alerted the Police to the hit and run accident she caused and who was subsequently convicted and fined, losing her job along the way.

Perhaps the two most affected by their opportunistic tweeting this year come from very different ends of the spectrum.  The UK’s first Youth Police Commissioner, Paris Brown, was in post for less than a week before the Mail on Sunday uncovered a series of offensive, racist and homophobic tweets going back to when the now 17 year old was only 14 and 15. Kent Police were criticised for failing to carry out proper checks, but the sorry tale just highlighted that in the age of social media the tabloid press don’t need to hack phones to carry out a thorough and damning witch-hunt.

At the other end of the scale sits Sally Bercow.  The House of Commons’ Speaker’s wife found herself on the wrong end of a libel action, brought by Lord McAlpine.  Her *innocent face* tweet in response to allegations that the Tory peer was linked to a child sex abuse scandal was one of many to be picked out by Lord McApline as being particularly offensive.  Although Mrs Bercow apologised in a number of subsequent tweets, Lord McAlpine pursued the legal action against her after settling a number of similar claims against other users of Twitter who had supported the allegations. In May, following a finding against her, Bercow settled the claim for an undisclosed amount and offered her own experience as a warning to other users of social media.

Any of us may be susceptible to a social media mishap, either of our own doing in the case of the lawyer speaking out after a few too many glasses of wine, or through the failings of others, when energy giant EDF was mistaken for far right haters the English Defence League (EDL).  Other big names making a mess of social media included Tesco, with one manager apparently revelling in the wholesale loss of colleagues’ jobs and the Huddersfield Giants, who dismissed their star player after he tweeted an image of his teammates buttocks but won £150,000 after claiming he was unfairly dismissed.

There are some lessons there for all of us, professionally and personally.  I hope 2014 brings you all joy and prosperity but please remember to think before you tweet!


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