After news of Bob Holness had died, the leader of the opposition tweeted his commiserations. Only he got it wrong, very wrong...
Today, in response to the news that Bob Holness had passed away, Ed Miliband tweeted "Sad to hear Bob Holness died. A generation will remember him fondly from Blackbusters." Yes, that's correct, Blackbusters. Twitter erupted, the tweet was hastily changed and we all had a giggle at the robot man's expense. Yet Milliband isn't the first high profile individual to mess up on Twitter, and he certainly won't be the last.
Ever since Ashton Kutcher successfully harnessed the public relations power of sharing in 140 characters or less, celebrities and almost-celebrities have flocked to Twitter in, well, flocks. Where better to ‘connect’ with your fans, plug your latest venture and generally tantalise normal folk with the notion that you are just a mouse click away, while simultaneously demonstrating how modern you are? Many famous ‘tweeps’ have used micro-blogging to their advantage, attracting new admirers and sating existing ones with their micro-offerings of wit, wisdom and/or (usually or) real-time insight into their day-to-day lives. Some have been conspicuously less successful, however.
The unfiltered nature of Twitter means that those with an image to protect are just a misguided message away from bursting the PR bubble by acting upon their own instincts rather than those of a professional mouthpiece who has been properly trained in the art of being bland and inoffensive. And, of course, thanks to the incriminating screenshot, tweet indexing services and the fact that, until late last year, deleted tweets still appeared in search results, once a hastily-typed tweet is out there, there’s no going back. For a select group of public figures that, in the heat of the moment, seemingly failed to look as far ahead as their impulsive musings being read by other people, this lack of moderation and inability to cover their tracks has paved the way for some stunning PR gaffes.
Enter Gillian McKeith, a micro-blogging noob whose recent Twitter suicide was so spectacular, the unfolding saga was followed on media and tech blogs both here and in the U.S. As spectators to her online implosion will have gleefully witnessed, the celebrity nutritionist – or ‘P*o Lady’ if you’d rather – found herself up to her neck in her favourite diagnostic indicator after becoming embroiled in a Twitter fracas over whether or not she holds a Ph.D. (The answer depends on the value you place in a diploma awarded by a non-accredited distance learning college and so-called ‘diploma mill’ in the U.S.)
McKeith initially took umbrage at a fairly innocuous tweet posted by a user with 50-odd followers (at the time), who was apparently in the middle of enjoying Ben Goldacre’s book, Bad Science, in which the author raises a number of concerns regarding McKeith’s alleged qualifications. McKeith’s out-of-leftfield response was a series of angry tweets branding Goldacre an “a*s”, his book “lies”, and inexplicably attacking the user for “anti-American bigotry.”
These tweets were quickly deleted but not before Goldacre had entered the fray to inform McKeith that he considered her allegation about his book libelous. After tweeting-and-deleting that her detractors were “chavs”, a series of tweets appeared in McKeith’s feed outlining her qualifications from a third person perspective. These, too, were quickly deleted.
It was then that things took a really bizarre turn. “Do you actually believe this is real twitter site for the GM?” wrote “McKeith”, apparently accusing herself of being an imposter. Genius! Or not, as it turned out. Many observers were quick to point out that, since the account was linked directly from McKeith’s official website (the link has since been deleted, though it still appears in the page’s source code if you’re into that sort of thing), then yes, all the signs point to this being her “real” Twitter account. At the time of writing, McKeith is yet to respond to Goldacre’s request for a retraction via Twitter, and remains AWOL from the micro-blogging site.
Here’s seven more Twitter users* who famously tweeted and deleted at haste.
Stuart MacLennan is the former Scottish Labour party candidate whose contemptuous, swear-ridden Twitter rants about such subjects as elderly voters (“bl***y coffin dodgers”), David Cameron (“a t**t”), Nick Clegg (“a b*****d”) and Jedward (“odious little s***s” – less controversial that one) cut short what surely would have been a glorious political career. MacLennan even managed to turn a disappointing organic banana into an offensive tirade, sneering, “God this fairtrade, organic banana is s**t. Can I have a slave-grown, chemically enhanced, genetically modified one please?” Following his sacking over the controversy, MacLennan apologised, explaining that he was “young and stupid”.
"Enter Gillian McKeith, a micro-blogging noob whose recent Twitter suicide was so spectacular, the unfolding saga was followed on media and tech blogs both here and in the U.S."
Chris Brown’s public rehabilitation in the wake of his assault on then-girlfriend Rihanna involved a short spell on Twitter, which rather than help sell his new record, only served to add to the negative publicity surrounding him. Tweeting as @MechanicalDummy, Brown’s Twitter career came to an abrupt end following a series of angry rants falsely accusing record shops of not stocking his record. He tweeted, "im tired of this s**t. major stores r blackballing my cd. not stockin the shelves and lying to costumers. what the f**k do i gotta do... ... WTF yeah i said it and i aint retracting s**t im not biting my tongue about s**t else... the industry can kiss my a*s.” Shortly after this outburst and the subsequent drubbing he received in the music press and elsewhere, Brown’s account disappeared. After a few months away, he was ready to give Twitter another go in March this year. Within days he was involved in a childish row with fellow rapper Soulja Boy over who is the best. Some people just never learn.
David Slade’s Twitter account mysteriously disappeared in the days leading up to the official announcement that he would be helming Eclipse, the third movie in the Twilight saga. The reason for the move soon became clear when it emerged that the director had previously used Twitter to express his disdain for the vampire franchise. The offending tweet vanished along with Slade’s account but the director had relayed it proudly during a radio interview with Washington DC station WJFK, the recording of which is still available online. Describing it as a “poem”, he quotes:
Twilight drunk? No, not even drunk. Twilight on acid? No, not even on acid? Twilight at gun point? Just shoot me.
Slade has since explained away his comment, insisting that he hadn’t actually seen any of the Twilight movies or read any of the books at this stage, and that when he did he “was quickly consumed with the rich storytelling and the beautifully honest characters”. All was apparently forgiven and he rejoined Twitter in July 2009 to promote Eclipse.
Nefarious pop sprite Justin Bieber took to Twitter in April to admonish US gossip weekly People for using a photo of him laughing like a maniac on the front cover of their latest issue. The 16-year-old tweeted, “Dear @peoplemag covershoot, Next time I laugh real crazy warn me u r still taking pics…still appreciate u but let’s get on the same page… ” A grown up presumably pointed out that biting the hand that feeds is not a good look, because the comment swiftly disappeared. After it had been retweeted to death by his 3million+ followers, of course.
Bow Wow (formerly Lil’ Bow Wow) was so drunk as he drove through Miami with pal Chris Brown last New Years Eve…that he tweeted about it. After a night of partying, he posted a series of messages in the early hours informing followers that he was intoxicated behind the wheel. He wrote, "Face numb im whippin the lambo. Tispy as f**k. Just left @livmiami. Im f****d up!!! Ohhhh damn. Y i drive the lambo. Chris might have to drive after next spot." The tweets were later taken down and replaced with an apology that read, "Apologize for that tweet. it was stupid and immature. not a way i want to kick my #2010 year off. i got too much good stuff lined up. my bad."
"Twilight drunk? No, not even drunk. Twilight on acid? No, not even on acid? Twilight at gun point? Just shoot me."
Alan Davies really threw himself into defending pal Stephen Fry’s honour when one of Fry’s followers posted that they found his tweets “a bit boring” prompting the prolific tweeter to prematurely announce his retirement from the micro-blogging site. During the subsequent Twitter storm, Davies seemed to make it his personal mission to attack anyone who criticised Fry for his decision, firing off a barrage of aggressive tweets to individual users calling them out as haters, p****s, pr*ts, morons, di**kheads and t*****s. In his defense, Davies had probably been celebrating an Arsenal win immediately prior to his outburst. The tweets later vanished from his feed.
In April, Scott Baio vented his resentment over paying his taxes on Twitter. The star’s controversial posting, “Taxes are DONE...That should feed, house & provide medical for a few lazy non working people at my expense. Have a great Monday!" was picked up by a U.S. blog, and the subsequent heated debate between his supporters and detractors reached the notice of major news organisations. Though Baio and his wife initially defended his position, the offending tweet is – surprise! – no more.
*For the purposes of this list, celebrities whose lives are simply a succession of PR disasters (Lindsay Lohan, Courtney Love etc.) have been omitted on the grounds that their Twitter c**k-ups have now become the natural order of things.
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