22.03.2016 Twitter at ten: Top ten gaffes

With Twitter turning 10 this week, we have rounded up some of the most high-profile gaffes that have taken place on the social media platform in the last decade.

Whether it be a careless typo or a misjudged joke, an errant tweet can be amplified to the nth degree by the platform’s millions of users and prove seriously detrimental for the tweeter’s reputation.

The power and reach of social media is such that no matter how fast you are able to delete your tweet or claim you’ve been hacked, somebody somewhere has more than likely already taken a screenshot and retweeted. And that’s where the fun begins….


1. In 2011, UK Chancellor Ed Balls accidently tweeted his own name instead of searching for it, unaware he was able to delete the tweet. It is now an internet phenomenon, annually celebrated as Ed Balls Day on 28 April.


2. In 2013, an aggrieved HMV employee managed to take control of the company’s Twitter page and aired their outrage at being sacked by the retailer. HMV managed to delete the tweets, but did confirm that 190 redundancies had been made across its head offices and distribution network.


3. In 2012, Susan Boyle’s PR team made headlines for all the wrong reasons. An innocent tweet regarding Susan’s new album launch became a hilarious PR disaster thanks to a misjudged hashtag – #susanalbumparty. The joke centred on a certain part of the Scottish singer’s anatomy. This was rapidly changed to #SusanBoylesAlbumParty – but not before we all learned an important lesson about testing hashtags before launching them into cyberspace.


4. In 2013, Justine Sacco, a former PR consultant from New York, posted an ill-considered tweet that ended up destroying her career and reputation as well as making her a global hate figure. Justine posted the tweet just before boarding a flight to South Africa. Despite only having 170 Twitter followers at the time, Justine didn’t realise her tweet had been retweeted by tech blogger Sam Biddle to his 15,000 followers. While on the flight, Justine was blissfully unaware of the storm brewing back on solid ground. She emerged from her flight to discover she was trending worldwide and her job was under threat. Subsequently, Justine was sacked from her job and suffered serious psychological side-effects as a result of her ordeal. Author Jon Ronson later made her a subject of his brilliant book “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed” which examines the repercussions for those caught up in social media-based scandals.


5. In 2014, singer Rita Ora suffered an embarrassing Twitter fail after announcing she would be releasing her new song if her tweet secured 100,000 retweets. Unfortunately she only received 1,850 retweets, suggesting her 5.52 million followers weren’t as supportive or engaged as she had expected. Rita later claimed the tweet was a result of a hack. That old chestnut?


6. In 2010, Vodafone was hit with a PR crisis. Followers initially thought the tweet was a result of an account hack, however Vodafone confirmed that the obscene message was posted by an employee. The employee was immediately suspended and an internal investigation was conducted. Vodafone subsequently turned to Twitter to send out personal apologies to its followers.


7. In 2009, RnB singer Mary J Blige took to Twitter to share her frustration that her intelligence is constantly mocked. Unfortunately, Mary didn’t proofread her tweet before publishing – if she had, she would hopefully have spotted that she spelled intelligence incorrectly. And written ‘understand estimate’ instead of, presumably, ‘underestimate’. This was definitely a Twitter fail from the soul chanteuse as she attempted to assert her intellectual strength.

Ed m

8. In 2012, Labour leader Ed Miliband (or one of his team) failed to proofread a tweet in tribute to former Blockbusters presenter Bob Holness. Unfortunately he spelled blockbusters incorrectly. Ed hastily deleted the tweet and replaced it with the correct spelling of the game show, but not before he was bombarded with a tirade of banter from fellow Tweeters.


9. In 2012, Taco Bell employee Cameron Jankowski published a photo of himself apparently urinating on a food order at work. Hacker group Anonymous picked up on this story and subsequently released a video, which contained Jankowski’s personal details. Jankowski deleted his Twitter account and was immediately suspended from Taco Bell and later fired. Talk about peeing off your potential customers…


10. In 2014, supermodel Naomi Campbell was the latest celebrity to fall victim to auto-correct when she attempted to congratulate 17-year-old Malala Yousafzai on winning a Nobel Peace Prize. Naomi misspelled Malala’s first name, and instead congratulated the tropical disease malaria. Instead of correcting her mistake, Naomi kept this tweet live on her Twitter profile.

Whether you’re a brand manager or celebrity, dropping a clanger on Twitter is a guaranteed way to generate headlines, usually for the wrong reasons. What the last decade has taught us is that no matter how speedily you can click delete, it’s often too late once your words are out there and the gaffe has taken on a life of its own.

We’re sure the next ten years will see many more spectacular blunders on the platform. After all, to err is human (or rather, in a modern reinterpretation, to err is to use autocorrect).

Yesterday we looked back at ten years of Twitter. Check back for more of our blogs celebrating the anniversary throughout this week.

We’ve written extensively about Twitter on our blog. Here is a selection of some of our recent entries:

– Twitter: The timelines they are a-changin’ 

– Twitter verification: The power of the little blue tick 

– Super-sized tweets; Is Twitter set to extend character limit to 10,000 to expand its user base? 

– Meet Moments, Twitter’s latest move to attract and engage new users 

– Brands: Are your social media policies fit for Twitter?