This month’s Leadership Journal coined the phrase “twagedy” as a poorly considered tweet that ends up with tragic personal consequences.
Just this week, a story broke regarding a New York Fire Lieutenant who had tweeted racially biased tweets, which then got retweeted and took on a life of their own. Yesterday, his story was carried in the British newspaper Mail Online, in which the lieutenant was described as having broke down on the street when confronted about his racist tweets. His photo ran on the front page, and as he sat crumpled on the curb of the street with tears streaming down his face, he said, “My life is ruined. I am so sorry.” His racist tweets are searchable and discoverable on the internet forever, and they will haunt him forever. From now on, prospective employers who do media searches will find his racists tweets, and he will be radioactive for the rest of his career.
High-profile people have always been susceptible to saying stupid things that got them in trouble. But in today’s social media world, even a “normal” person can attain notoriety for saying or doing stupid things and sharing them electronically. For local government leaders, it is even worse as the media and political opponents lay in wait for something embarrassing to be said or done that will become headline worthy.
In my previous life as a city manager, council members often asked what the rules were when they were traveling on city business or attending a conference. I always told them the same thing, “Assume that Fox News is following you around with a camera. As long as you only do things that you don’t mind explaining on Fox News, you will be just fine.” In today’s internet world, the standard is still the same, but how to apply it in practical terms is a bit different.
Here are five basic rules to help avoid your own personal “twagedy”:
1. If you are not prepared to explain it to Fox News, don’t tweet it; don’t email it; don’t post it on Facebook; don’t say it.
2. If it would not make your 12-year-old son or daughter proud of you, don’t tweet it; don’t email it; don’t post it on Facebook; don’t say it.
3. Remember the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon: everyone in the universe can be connected in six degrees. In the internet world, this means that what you send to your friends will be sent to their friends, etc. By the sixth degree, Pope Francis is reading your discourse on red shoes and tall hats that you just knew was the funniest thing you have ever written. But by the second degree, someone in your community has received your discourse and is deeply offended and has started a Facebook page with a petition asking you to resign.
4. When someone has said or posted something that you get angry or passionate about responding to, type it out in a Word document and let it sit for 24 hours. When you come back to it, ask yourself if you still feel compelled to respond; and if you do, ask yourself if you still think what you typed out in the heat of the moment is the way you want to express yourself. Never ever respond electronically while you are emotionally worked up, no matter how righteous you feel.
5. When someone wants to get into a flame war with you, recall the words of Mark Twain – “Sometimes when you get into a fight with a skunk, it is hard to tell who started it.”
It is really quite simple. Treat everyone with honor, dignity and respect, no matter what, and you will avoid creating your own personal “twagedy”.