Washington Redskins tweet exposes astroturfing effort

I’ve written about the Washington Redskins and their social media fails before, including the recent tone-deaf tweet in which they wished everyone a Happy Thanksgiving – never mind the fate of the Indians who they continue to insult with their name.

Anyway, the Redskins are back at it again, this time with their Twitter account for Redskins Facts, whose biography says that the account and website is “a growing online community of passionate Washington Redskins fans.”

Oh, fans?  Really?  Check out this mistake, caught by Washington Post reporter Dan Steinberg:

Photo: Dan Steinberg/Washington Post

Photo: Dan Steinberg/Washington Post

An identical tweet was posted to the Redskins Facts account, then deleted, only to be reposted to the Washington Redskins account.  What does that likely mean?  The same staffer has access to both accounts and tweeted to the wrong account.  A careless mistake, but a common one – and a pretty serious screw-up, as it exposes the truth behind the Redskins Facts account.

This is a classic example of astroturfing, the term used for when a business or corporation attempts to create the illusion of grassroots support, when an entire advocacy effort is, in fact, controlled and funded by the corporation itself.

This is also a reason why transparency is so important on Twitter.  It’s pretty easy to make mistakes on the medium – most users who have been at it long enough have made these types of errors.  That being said, you can minimize the damage done with a screw-up like this if you are always honest and transparent.  Clearly, the Redskins do not hold either of these values as important!

Washington Redskins tweet Happy Thanksgiving, continue to show zero self awareness

I’ve written about the Washington Redskins and their social media disasters in the past.  For those of you who are unfamiliar: The Redskins are an NFL football team who have come under incredible attack over the past few years because of the offensive nature of their team name, which was a derogatory way of discussing Indians.  In the past, the team’s social media fails have revolved along a total lack of the perception surrounding the team and their name.

Some things never change:

Of course, Thanksgiving’s historical nature is more than just a day of giving thanks – for many, it marks the beginning of the genocide Native Americans suffered at the hands of the Europeans.  Thus, any tweet that the Washington Redskins could have sent would have been considered tone deaf.  In fact, it would have been much wiser for the Redskins to avoid controversy and skip tweeting on Thanksgiving in general.  That, however, would have been a violation of their self-imposed policy of social media stupidity, so they just had to tweet.

Anyway, here are some of the best responses:


For a team that needs continued good will in order to make money, it is truly remarkable.  It’s almost like the Redskins are trying to stay in the news by being offensive on social media.  For someone like Donald Trump, I can understand how that strategy makes sense politically.  But for a team that needs good will to make money, I don’t get it.

Tweets and Consequences

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The #RedskinsPride disaster and what every elected official should learn from it

As you may be aware, a significant controversy continues to surround the name of the Washington Redskins.  In short, the Redskins are an NFL football team.  Many are calling for the team name to be changed because of its racial origins and insensitivity.  About two weeks ago, fifty United States Senators, led by Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), signed a letter to the Redskins, asking them to change their name.  The Redskins responded and said no, saying that the name honors Indians and that the public supports the name.

As part of an ongoing public relations campaign, the Redskins put out this tweet:


Yep.  The responses were a disaster for the Redskins, with the overwhelming majority using #RedskinsPride to bash the team and its racist name.  Examples included:

The story made international news and drew even more negative publicity to the ongoing conflict, with stories appearing in websites and news across the globe.  Senator Reid’s office also chimed in, with a spokesman saying the event “made our day” and noting that the overwhelming response was to be critical of the Redskins.

This was, unquestionably, a PR disaster for the Redskins.  What’s stunning is that the team didn’t learn from the past.  This has occurred time and time again, like when J.P. Morgan held an #AskJPM event that was destroyed by snarky commenters, or when McDonalds tried to promote #McDStories, only to see the hashtag turn into a discussion of the grossest and saddest things to happen at McDonalds.  It’s happened in politics too: #MyNYPD asked people to upload positive pictures with NYPD officers, only to get pics of police brutality shared.  The Republican National Committee once asked Twitter users for feedback on their biggest issues, only to see the responses turn hilarious and insulting.

There is, however, a lesson for politicians: by and large, hashtag discussions and promotions should be avoided.  If you have a high degree of negative sentiment, events like these are bound to happen.  The exception is also if you have a large degree of positive sentiment: then you can expect your supporters to defend you, and that becomes part of the story.  However, even so, you have to make a difficult judgement call: are enough of your supporters ready to defend your position?  I’ve helped to run Twitter Town Halls on controversial subjects: LGBT rights and the Pennsylvania budget.  In both cases, we had supporters ready to go to defend our position, and while we were attacked (more in the budget town hall than the LGBT one), we were also defended and applauded, and that was very helpful.

If you are going to do something like this, be prepared.  However, you really need to question whether or not it’s worth it in the first place.

What do you think?  Do I have this right?  Let me know in the comments!