5 Social Media Disasters From the Halls of Government
There are many ways in which government leaders fail to be accurately representative of the people they are elected to serve. However, government officials have much in common with the general population in at least one regard: They are not immune from doing ridiculously stupid things on Facebook or Twitter. Here now are five of the dumbest—and most hilarious—uses of social media by public officials.
The frozen tundra of South Dakota has a driver safety problem, as cold conditions in the Mount Rushmore State often lead to accidents. When hitting a patch of ice, drivers sometimes “jerk” their car, an overcorrection that can lead to accidents. In an effort to raise awareness of this incorrect maneuver, the South Dakota Department of Public Safety launched one of the most awkward hashtags of all time: #DontJerkAndDrive.
The effort came complete with a (now defunct) website, graphics, and a television ad (featuring a narrator with a British accent who intoned, “Overcorrecting only results in chaos; and besides, nobody likes a jerker”) to supplement the hashtag:
Naturally, the innuendo was impossible to miss, and officials from the Department of Public Safety admitted that the allusion was intentional. However, elected officials were less than pleased, with South Dakota State Representative Mike Verchio, Chairman of the South Dakota House of Representative’s Transportation Committee, calling the campaign a “terrible error in judgement.”
In the face of mounting criticism, Trevor Jones, Secretary of the Department of Public Safety, pulled…yanked…the marketing campaign, saying, “This is an important safety message and I don’t want this innuendo to distract from our goal to save lives on the road.”
2. Governor of Missouri tweets picture of himself voting…and of unsuspecting bystander’s butt crack.
It's par for the course for elected officials to tweet themselves voting—after all, what is more emblematic to American civic life than the act of choosing your future leaders? However, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon (D) got that one horrendously wrong when he went to vote in 2014 and subsequently tweeted:
And thus, Governor Nixon gives entirely new meaning to “The Show-Me State.”
The tweet was removed in under twenty minutes and replaced with this one:
— Governor Jay Nixon (@GovJayNixon) November 4, 2014
In a later interview, Nixon staffers said that “they didn’t know what happened” to cause this snafu.
3. A Level 85 Orc for Senate.
In one of the truly bizarre uses of the internet, Democrat Colleen Lachowicz found her World of Warcraft history used against her in a race for the State Senate, when she challenged incumbent Senator Tom Martin (R).
Lachowicz was a frequent World of Warcraft player who also regularly posted on WoW forums. In the middle of the 2012 election campaign, the Maine Republican Party sent out this mailer:
The mailer noted that Lachowicz “spends hundreds of hours” playing World of Warcraft as an “Orc Assassination Rogue named Santiaga,” which probably sounds pretty strange to anyone who isn’t a Warcraft player. However, the mailer went one step further, noting that Lachowicz used WoW forums to brag about how Warcraft was killing her productivity at her state-funded job, and that she enjoyed “poisoning and stabbing,” “kill[ing] stuff without going to jail.” Within the context of the game, none of this behavior is strange (if you’ve ever played World of Warcraft, you know it would be pretty darn boring without all the murdering), but for the vast majority of voters who had never played the game, it all sounded very odd.
Lachowicz, however, refused to apologize or back down, saying, “I think it’s weird that I’m being targeted for playing online games. Apparently I’m in good company since there are 183 million other Americans who also enjoy online games. What’s next? Will I be ostracized for playing Angry Birds or Words with Friends? If so, guilty as charged!”
Also outraged by the attacks were fellow gamers, who were so infuriated by the mailer that they set up their own Political Action Committee (PAC) and raised $6,300 for Lachowicz. The Maine Republican Party filed an action against Lachowicz for this PAC, claiming that since she had enrolled in public funding, the gamer’s PAC violated the Maine Clean Election Act. However, the Main Ethics Commission ruled 5-0 against the Republicans.
And, in the end, it didn’t matter: Lachowicz won her race, defeating incumbent Senator Martin 8,666-7,753, thus likely making her the first ever Orc to serve in the Maine State Senate.
4. Utah Attorney General confuses tweeting with texting.
In 2010, incumbent Senator Robert Bennett (R-UT) was in trouble; he had angered conservatives by supporting the Bush bailout and found himself a target of Tea Party activists. During that time period, one rumored candidate was popular Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff. Shurtleff, however, remained coy, and refused to announce his intentions about whether or not he was going to run.
Until he confused tweeting and texting.
In May 2009, while on a trade mission in Israel, Shurtleff sent out the following tweets:
Yes, that’s right, Utah’s top prosecutor confused Twitter and texting and tweeted that he was running for the Senate while describing his strategy at the upcoming Republican nominating convention. As his last tweet indicates, he realized his mistake and deleted the tweets, but it was obviously too late. Shortly after the initial error, Shurtleff tweeted the following:
Thinking of "texting while drowsy" law after private 1AM tweet went public. Formal announcement on 5/20 about senate race and tweeting plans
— Mark L. Shurtleff (@MarkShurtleff) May 12, 2009
Shurtleff ultimately withdrew from his Senate campaign for reasons unrelated to the tweets. He would later be the subject of national news for his Twitter use (again) when he became the first Attorney General to use Twitter to announce that he had approved of the execution of an inmate (convicted murderer Ronnie Lee Gardner):
I just gave the go ahead to Corrections Director to proceed with Gardner's execution. May God grant him the mercy he denied his victims.
— Mark L. Shurtleff (@MarkShurtleff) June 18, 2010
5. Missile inbound! We’re all gonna die….haha, j/k.
The City of Yokohama, Japan is the home of 3.7 million people. It’s also located within 800 miles from North Korea, and in April 2013, tensions were running high, as North Korea was expected to test mid-range missiles. On April 10, the City made a pretty serious error, when its emergency management account tweeted out the following: “North Korea has launched a missile” with blank spaces left for the time that the missile was supposed to have been launched. With 20,000 people following the account, it had the potential to cause a mass panic.
The tweet was up for 20 minutes before a follower called the city and asked if they were aware that the tweet had been sent out. They weren’t, and the tweet was deleted. An official apology was tweeted out later that day, with the city explaining that they were updating their emergency management plan; however, for an “unknown reason,” the tweet was inadvertently sent out.