Kal Penn

Russian Ambassadors tweets picture of laughing terrorist…from Harold & Kumar!?!?!?

In today’s blog entry, you will see why it is so, so important that you have a full grasp on context when using the Internet.

The Russian Ambassador to the United Kingdom is Alexander Yakovenko.  On October 21st, he sent out this tweet:

Yeah, that picture?  Not a terrorist.  It’s actually actor Kal Penn in the stoner movie Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay.  I bet Penn never thought that picture would be used in foreign policy!

Penn noticed the tweet, and responded as such:

Here’s where Yakovenko should probably have shut up for his own good.  He did, but then the official Russian Embassy account tweeted:

And Penn got in the last word:

Also worth noting: Penn took a break from acting to work at the White House, where he was an Associate Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement.  Yes, that’s right, the bearded “terrorist” that the Russian Ambassador tweeted was a former employee of the United States government.

I’m reminded by this quote from Bob Ueker in Major League

This disaster shows a couple of things.  First, this is why it’s important to be at least vaguely plugged into pop culture.  I’ve never seen that movie, but I probably could have recognized that the picture is way, way too staged looking – and thus, was probably from a movie or television show.  Odds are that you would have seen the same thing!

Second, always know the source of any image that you cite.  This disaster would have been prevented if the Ambassador had simply taken the extra moment to look at the source of his image.  Make sure that you always do the same so that you don’t accidentally use an image or link which is not what you thought it was!

Tweets and Consequences

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Russia says it’s not invading Ukraine – selfies prove otherwise

Selfies can get annoying, and the selfie stick may be the worst invention since the vuvuzela.  However, never in my wildest dreams did I think that selfies would reach the point when they started to affect international affairs.  And yet, as noted by Vox and Vice News:

Vice News’s Simon Ostrovsky, in a new report, tracks the social media postings of a Russian soldier to prove that Putin is lying and that Russia is in fact at war in Ukraine.

The entire story is worth reading; it juxtaposes Ostrovsky in the same positions as a Russian soldier named Bato Dambaev.  The photos show Dambaev near Ukraine, and then IN Ukraine.  In other words, the invasion has, more or less, already begun.

This isn’t the first time I have written about how the stupidity of soldiers is now literally getting people killed; less than two weeks ago, I wrote about how an ISIS selfie resulted in an airstrike on the command compound in which the selfie was taken.  And, in August of last year, a similar story revealed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as well.

It’s pretty astounding to me that, in a society as secretive as Russia, the military allows it’s members to hold onto their own personal communication devices.  I would hope that, this being the case, the military (and really, any military!) would make sure to put a premium on training: “Hey, guys, if we are engaged in covert operations, maybe no selfies, mmmm ‘k?”

And yet, here we are.  Who needs military intelligence when you can rely on the egotism of young men?

Russia makes memes illegal

In Soviet Russia, memes illegal you!

Sorry, sorry….

Anyway, according to a report by the Washington Post, most internet memes that relate to public figures are now illegal.  This came per a ruling from Russia’s Roskomnadzor, which made it illegal to publish any meme that, “depicts a public figure in a way that has nothing to do with his ‘personality.'”

Not quite sure what that means?  Me either.  Given Russia’s history of media and Internet censorship, this likely means that it will be interpreted as broadly as possible.

This ruling stems from a Russian court decision that came after singer Valeri Syutkin sued a Russian website for publication of this meme:

Valeri Syutkin

Roughly translated: “Smack that bi^%& in the face”

A Russian judge ruled in Syutin’s favor, prompting the Roskomnadzor ruling.

The practical effect of the ruling is this: Websites can no longer publish memes that have nothing to do with a public figure’s “personality.”  If they do, the figure in question can report the website to Roskomnadzor, which can then file claims in court and block a website completely.

This, of course, stands in stark contrast to America, where public figures can be mocked regularly.  Heck, my best friend made this meme of me yesterday:

Meme Me

(My friends regularly regard me as a Muppet and it’s possible that I talk about Tweets and Consequences too much.  And my Twitter handle is @MikeSchlossberg, by the way, but that’s besides the point.)

This is truly amazing, and good luck enforcing it – I suspect that Russia will be very busy trying to block numerous websites in the immediate future.  And, in all seriousness, it’s amazing how much of a contrast this is to America.  We have many things to complain about, but I literally cannot imagine living in a country where I wasn’t free to attack elected officials – and, as a public official, I cannot imagine being free from attack.  It’s not something I would ever want, and it’s completely antithetical to the American political experience.

Tweets and Consequences

Like the blog?  Get the book!  Tweets and Consequences: 60 Social Media Disasters in Politics and How You Can Avoid A Career-Ending Mistake is now available on Amazon for purchase or download.

Soldier’s Instagram account may prove Russian involvement in Ukraine

Social media has found itself in some pretty amazing places – national revolutions, divorces – but here’s a new one: international affairs and previously covert operations.  According to an article by Buzzfeed, the Instagram account of a Russian soldier may prove that Russia is operating in Ukraine.

A series of posts by Russian soldier Alexander Sotkin appear to show Sotkin, a member of the Russian military, inside of Ukraine.  The evidence for the location is captions uploaded by Sotkin, as well as the geolocating tool that comes with Instagram uploads.  Buzzfeed refers to geolocating as “highly accurate.”

Even more astounding is that Sotkin isn’t the first Russian soldier who appeared to be using social media to give away his location and potentially embarrass his country.  Last week, another Russian soldier, Vadmin Grigoriev, uploaded pictures to the Russian social media site, VK.  The pictures showed artillery damage, and captions from Grigoriev said that troops had been “shelling Ukraine all night,” something which Ukraine had been claiming Russia was doing:


Grigoriev later went on Russian state TV and said his account had been hacked.  Sound familiar?  As noted by ThinkProgress, the issue has become so problematic that a “representative in the country’s parliament has now proposed a new law that would make it illegal for soldiers to post pictures posing with military equipment.”

This is, without a doubt, one of the more bizarre blog entries that I have ever written.  I never thought I’d see the day where previously covert military operations were being uploaded to social media, where major news outlets would capture the posts and display them for all the world to see.  You would really think that common sense would impose some limits, but here we are, using the words “selfie” and “international politics” in the same sentence.

I’ll try, for a moment, to bring this back to the real world, and as bizarre as this is, there are ramifications here for the average person: always use caution with what you take a picture of and upload.  The last thing any elected official ever wants to do is find themselves in a position where they upload something that they should not have.  If you are taking a picture with others, always make sure you have their consent before taking and uploading the picture.  Never take a picture of anything that is confidential or proprietary.  Never repeat secret conversations.  And for God’s sake, if you are in the military, don’t make any uploads to social media from a mobile device that can pinpoint your nearly exact location!!


Olympic athlete and Russian parliamentarian tweets racist Obama pic, claims she was hacked

Irina RodninaWe’re going international for today’s entry, which naturally comes from the ongoing Olympic games in Russia.

The woman pictured here is Irina Rodnina.  Ms. Rodnina is former Gold Medal Olympic figure skater for Russia.  In 2007, she was elected to Russia’s State Duma as a member of President Putin’s United Russia Party.  She recently had the honor of being one of the final torch lighters of the Olympic games in Sochi.  That might be a problem for Ms. Rodnina in the long run, because it brought new found attention to a racist tweet she made back in September.

At that time, Ms. Rodnina was one of many who tweeted this photoshopped pic of the American first couple:

Irina Rodina Racist Pic


Rodnina, who naturally tweets in Russian, responded to the controversy by saying, “Freedom of speech is freedom!  Answer for your own complexes yourself!”  At the time, she also said she had been sent the pic from the U.S.  She then defended her freedom of speech by…deleting the racist tweet in question. Alrighty then.  

This was also back in September, well before the Olympic games, and the controversy died down before flaring back up due to Rodnina taking part in the torch lighting ceremony.  There’s a lesson here: if you are going to be a racist, keep a low profile.

As a result of the controversy, Rodnina issued an actual apology in English…and then claimed that she was hacked.

Claiming you are hacked always goes well…particularly when you previously said that you were sent the tweet…and defended its posting as freedom of speech…and then when your own daughter undercuts your argument by saying that she disagreed with the tweet and it was something that had been addressed as a family.

Two lessons here, aside from the obvious of not tweeting offensive racist pictures.  First, be consistent.  There has been no shortage of politicians who said something offensive and then didn’t apologize; see State Senator Robert Rucho, who said that Obamacare is worse then Nazis, Soviets and terrorists combined.  There are also, of course, no shortage of elected officials who immediately apologized after doing something offensive or stupid.  Rodnina only apologized when the story became an international incident.  She should have either apologized from the start or just shrugged it off.  By originally acting unrepentant and then apologizing months later, she appears extremely disingenuous.  

Second, don’t claim you were hacked – ask Anthony Weiner how well that went for him – and definitely don’t claim you were hacked when so much evidence exists to prove otherwise.  It’s just silly.  Everyone knows you weren’t hacked.  Just stop.  If you were legitimately hacked, you still have to say something along the lines of “We are taking steps in the future to better secure the account and apologize to anyone who may have been offended by the unfortunate and insensitive content posted here.” At least then it shows you are trying to take responsibility for what happened.

Incidentally, this isn’t the first time that someone related to the Olympics has gotten into trouble as a result of a tweet gone wrong.  Before the 2012 Summer Games, a Greek athlete was suspended from the games after a racist tweet.  Paraskevi Papachristou, a female triple jumper, was removed from the Greek team after tweeting, “With so many Africans in Greece, the mosquitoes from the West Nile will at least be eating some homemade food.”  Papachristou apologized but couldn’t get back on the team.

Anything else to add?  Let us know in the comments.