Social media has often been compared to a cocktail party. As people move through the room they listen and participate in brief conversations, and soon find another discussion they like. But while cocktail party comments usually come and go in seconds, social media discussions never go away. Even after a comment is deleted it’s still searchable and becomes part of the Internet’s permanent memory. A single “brain fart” posted on Facebook or Twitter can cause a public firestorm–or end one’s career.
Such was the case when Elizabeth Lauten, communications director for a Tennessee congressman, criticized the Obama daughters for their bored behavior during the annual turkey pardoning event at the White House. The Facebook post ended up costing her job.
Lauten wrote: “Dear Sasha and Malia, I get you’re both in those awful teen years, but you’re a part of the First Family, try showing a little class…Then again your mother and father don’t respect their positions very much, or the nation for that matter, so I’m guessing you’re coming up a little short in the ‘good role model’ department. Nevertheless…act like being in the White House matters…Dress like you deserve respect, not a spot at a bar. And certainly don’t make faces during televised public events.”
After thousands online accused her of bullying the First Daughters, Lauten apologized on Facebook, posting: “I reacted to an article and quickly judged the two young ladies in a way that I would never have wanted to be judged myself as a teenager. After many hours of prayer, talking to my parents and re-reading my words online, I can see more clearly how hurtful my words were…”
Presidents’ children have historically been off-limits to public criticism, although there have been similar past incidents where such boundaries were violated. However, Lauten’s politically-driven Facebook eruption forced her resignation days later.
The lesson: Think twice before you hit “send.” Too often we’ve seen tweets and posts from politicians, celebrities, athletes, and business leaders that have resulted in PR disasters. Not every thought one has should be so quickly expressed online in our immediate media. Your thoughts?