A White House official and the Governor of Missouri both committed a relatively serious Twitter sin while Ferguson rioted last week: they tweeted about other items that were far more trivial. This was a great lesson in Twitter focus.
First, and more serious, was Governor Nixon of Missouri. August 13 was arguably one of the worst days for Ferguson, as protesters were met with tear gas and an over-aggressive police response and reporters were arrested, turning the streets of the city into a war zone that resembled something in the Middle East, rather than middle America. That day, Governor Nixon was the Missouri Fair. That night, he sent out these two tweets:
From that point on, every tweet sent by the Governor has dealt with Ferguson, but the damage had been done. With the Governor discussing anything other than Ferguson while the situation was at its peak, it is difficult to overcome the notion that he has been disengaged and not appropriately dealing with the issue. The Governor’s Twitter feed has been symptomatic of this problem.
Less publicized has been the fact that the same night, the President attended a party on Martha’s Vineyard. The party was happening literally during the riots, and during that time, Eric Schultz, spokesperson for the White House, sent out this tweet:
He forgot to add the hashtag #TerribleIdea, and the tweet was attacked for being insensitive to the ongoing violence in Ferguson.
There is a lesson here for all Twitter users and elected officials: You need to be very careful with what you discuss during an ongoing crisis. Context and location is critical. Would a Pennsylvania or California elected official have been criticized for discussing non-Ferguson related items on social media during this time? No, probably not, or at least not fairly. A national crisis would have been a different story, but a crisis in another state is not necessarily something that should have dominated all of your tweets.
However, for Missouri or national leaders, the situation is dramatically different. The tweet by Governor Nixon seemed to show total indifference to the ongoing violence, while the tweet by Eric Schultz seemed to prove the idea that the White House was disconnected from reality.
The lesson is this: You simply have to pay attention to the outside world when you use Twitter and social media. The vast majority of the time, you can tweet about any subject that you choose. However, in times of local, domestic or international crisis, you need to limit your social media use to the ongoing crisis. Judgement is key, and I think poor judgement was exercised by both Governor Nixon and Eric Schultz in these instances.