YOU can say whatever you want. Unless you’re famous. Or a politician. Or hold a position of any authority whatsoever.
By Stuart Findlay
IF you’ve ever wondered what Barack Obama really thinks about all those early rises or about what the Queen has for breakfast, then the explosion of Twitter in recent years will have been right up your street.
At last, something has arrived to finally bridge the gap between the common man and the people who look up to them and we all now have a special window in which to eavesdrop on the conversations of the rich and famous.
It seems that everyone from politicians to cleaners are desperate for their own personal online soapbox to bleat about all of the world’s ills.
It has also developed into a fantastic networking tool for businesses, and a great way to keep up with breaking news. Any journalist worth their salt, and under 40, these days is a prolific tweeter and can often be found frantically tapping away at their smart phone while news stories unfold before their eyes.
For all of its merits though, Twitter certainly has a downside. You can bank on the fact that someone, somewhere right now is flinging mud at a celebrity.
Whereas in the past a disgruntled fan would have to go to the bother of writing an angry letter to a musician, actor or politician they disapproved of, now their vitriol can be sent to their target with only a few taps of a keyboard and a few clicks of a mouse.
X-Factor contestant Cher Lloyd recently admitted that she receives at least ten tweets every day calling her a “dirty pikey”, and she is just one of a growing number of celebrities who are forced to deal with all manner of taunts.
Admittedly, sometimes well-known tweeters do not make it easy for themselves. In 2010, following the revelations of Tiger Woods’ infidelity, Canadian comic actor Jim Carrey decided to wade into the debate via Twitter, commenting that Woods’ wife Elin Nordegren should have been aware of her husband playing away.
He tweeted to his 6.4million followers: “No wife is blind enough to miss that much infidelity. Elin had 2 b a willing participant on the ride 4 whatever reason. kids/lifestyle.”
The backlash was enormous, forcing Carrey to defend himself against a volley of criticism from fans.
He tweeted again to say that while Woods “owed nothing to anyone but himself”, his comments did not mean that he was condoning infidelity. The regularity of the comedian’s tweets has decreased considerably since his outburst.
Closer to home, presenter Kaye Adams is another media personality who has had their fingers burnt by Twitter. During the London riots last summer, the host of BBC Radio Scotland’s Call Kaye programme criticised mayor of London Boris Johnson’s handling of the affair.
The tweet: “p*** off back to boarding school, Boris” was published by the Times newspaper and the ensuing uproar led to Conservative MSP Murdo Fraser calling for her to resign from her job with the BBC, citing that she could no longer be considered politically impartial.
“It was a lesson learned, I just did not think through the implications,” she said. “To me, it was an off-the-cuff remark, the sort of thing I might have said in the canteen or waiting in the queue to buy a coffee.
“Really, I don’t know if that’s in my defence or against me. That was as much thought as I put into it, it wasn’t intended to be some big political statement, I just opened my mouth and let it go.
“But unfortunately I did it on Twitter. Then I clearly realised, given the storm it caused, that you just can’t do that. It was obviously very tempting to say ‘I’m never going to touch Twitter again’, but it’s fun, apart from anything else.
“Since then I’m much more thoughtful about what I say and much more aware that it is a very public forum. It’s a largely unregulated field where there are no rules; people are making them up as they go along.”
Social media expert Steve Welsh, who runs his own firm which specialises in online marketing, believes that celebrity gaffes are part and parcel of Twitter these days, but users will cause problems for themselves whether they are famous or not if they don’t put enough thought into what they are typing.
He said: “Using social media is about using common sense. There have been so many gaffes from people in the public eye that it is becoming almost a daily occurrence.
“Every time you post on Twitter or Facebook, you should ask yourself ‘what would my mother say if she saw that?’”
Welsh also warned about the danger of employees bad-mouthing their bosses and companies on the site, commenting that the more social media sites that you sign up to the larger the digital footprint you leave.
“It’s a hot topic for businesses,” he said. “As each company CEO reads the news about employees giving personal opinions about their employer or the product and services they provide, there is rising boardroom panic to take action.
“Small businesses with a couple of staff tend to either take a soft handed approach, and generally don’t do any training or ban it completely whereas large companies have the infrastructure in place to evaluate the good and bad of employee interaction, and train their staff about the risks and pitfalls on social media.”
THREE celebrities who have put their foot in it on Twitter
Ryan Babel: The former Liverpool winger was hauled before the FA and charged with bringing the game into disrepute after tweeting a picture that depicted referee Howard Webb wearing a Manchester United shirt while officiating. Liverpool had just been eliminated from the FA Cup by United following a series of controversial calls from Webb.
Ricky Gervais: The comedian was criticised by disability support groups following his repeated use of the word ‘mong’ on his Twitter feed last October. Gervais issued a statement that called dissenters “the humourless PC brigade” but following by a disability rights campaigner speaking about Gervais’ tweets on Jeremy Vine’s Radio 2 show the actor decided to issue an apology and admitted his use of the word had been naive.
Diane Abbott: The shadow health minister was at the centre of a racism storm after tweeting: “White people love playing ‘divide and rule’”, as a response to criticism of the media’s use of black community leaders after the Stephen Lawrence murder trial. Abbott was forced to apologise for her comments, stating that she understood why people might have misinterpreted her comments.