THE BLOG

Children to Become Illegal: The Week in Twitter Gaffes

28/04/2014 13:29 BST | Updated 28/06/2014 10:59 BST

We all have idols who teach us how things should be done. Whether it's playing sport, cooking or writing novels, we like to pay attention to the experts.

However, when it comes to Twitter, I have found one of the best ways of learning how to approach the site is to take inspiration from those who don't know how things work around the Twittersphere. Or rather, those who maybe do know, but yet still manage to make boobs of themselves.

Don't get me wrong - I enjoy a good #FF as much as anyone else in order to discover the next best Tweeter to stalk ('intensely research', I like to call it), but there really is nothing more droll than to roll your eyes at the amateurs.

As it happens, these last few days in particular have positively spoilt us for examples for our Twitter: How Not-To Guide.

Ambiguity

Despite the fact that tweets are just 140 characters long, that is an awful lot of symbols to fill with ambiguity.

Let's kick off proceedings with our beloved Prime Minister. He absolutely had the right idea promising to make paedophile training manuals illegal, but unfortunately he didn't put it quite right to his 657,000 followers.

"It's unacceptable there's a loophole allowing paedophile 'training manuals', that's why I want to protect children by making them illegal." That's it, Dave, criminalising the state of being under the age of 18 is indeed one way to address the problem, although something tells me that's not quite what the Conservatives have in mind.

Knowledge

Meanwhile, Greater Anglia has come under fire recently for telling a fellow Twitter user that he should stop contacting other members of the public, which he didn't otherwise follow, via their feed - an act it defined as 'trolling' and claimed went against its social media policy.

Not only did the train operator find itself being bombarded by people suggesting it reconsider its questionable definition, but it also became the target of numerous follow-ups, such as: "hi, I'd like to change my profile picture. As you are the twitter police, I thought I'd check with you that is ok? thanks." from Twitter user @mjbirtwistle.

Foresight

As with all social networking platforms, right before you click the 'post' button, think. Is there any other way this message could be interpreted? Might this provoke a different reaction to the one you intend it to?

If only New York's Police Department had asked themselves this before inviting people to share their experiences of the organisation using the hashtag #myNYPD. Rather than receiving an ego-massaging flurry of snaps of local bobbies out and about with members of the public, the force was bombarded with pictures of police brutality - hardly the PR stunt it had in mind.

They're not alone though. British Gas made exactly the same mistake when it thought an open Q&A session using the hashtag #AskBG was a commendable idea on the same day it announced some rather unwelcome price hikes. Poor customer services director Bert Pijls was on the receiving end of tweets such as: "Have you considered converting the seething mass of human misery you generate into a renewable energy source?"

Interesting to note that soon after the debacle, the company was reported to have been advertising for a new social media manager.

Respect

Finally, we have been reminded yet again to respect the power of Twitter. Post in haste, repent at leisure, so they say. A silly 14-year-old @queendementriax_ found this out the hard way when she contacted American Airlines via Twitter with the following: "@AmericanAir hello my name's Ibrahim and I'm from Afghanistan. I'm part of Al Qaida and on June 1st I'm gonna do something really big bye."

Once the airline informed her of how seriously such threats were taken and that her IP address and other details were being handed over to the authorities, Sarah - as she was known on Twitter before the account was deactivated - realised what a huge mistake she had made, continuously tweeting apologies and saying she never meant it.

Mind you, the airlines themselves haven't been entirely blameless as of late. US Airways - which recently merged with American Airlines - found itself in bother when it accidentally tweeted a picture of a woman with a toy aeroplane in, ahem, a place where toy aeroplanes should never go, to one of its customers. It is thought the image was sent to the company by another user and, in an attempt to flag the tweet as inappropriate, US Airways sent the picture on to someone else.

I wonder what the next few days will have in store, but suffice to say, some Tweeters could do with a copy of this How Not-To Manual once it's published.