Kanye West interrupted Taylor Swift at the MTV Video Music Awards, and we all learned that he really is a bit of a jackass. President Obama reacted the way the rest of us were, and we all learned that Twitter is still changing the way news is verified, distributed and consumed.
On Monday, Obama was chatting with some people he knows fairly well who happen to be journalists. He was doing what millions of Americans were doing: ripping on rapper West for his now-infamous antics at Sunday’s awards. In case you live in a cave (or were watching that Sunday Night Football game and somehow have avoided the media excitement since then) West cut in front of Swift, a country singer who was accepting her award for her work, rudely grabbed the mic, and said, “I’m sorry, but Beyoncé had one of the best videos of all time.”
Obama, talking in an off-the-record agreement to CNBC the next day, called West a “jackass.”
CNBC had agreed with the White House to keep the pre-interview talk off the record. ABC, according to the Los Angeles Times, shares a network fiber line with CNBC and was monitoring the conversation. The Times said that internally at ABC, e-mails were flying about the president’s somewhat unpresidential remarks. Before the bigwigs at ABC could decide what to officially do with the juicy gossip, some journalists at ABC, including anchor Terry Moran, tweeted it.
Although Moran deleted the tweet (apparently when his bosses got a bit upset that he tweeted it without making sure it was OK to post), I know what the tweet said: “Pres. Obama just called Kanye West a “Jackass” for his outburst at VMAs when Taylor Swift won. Now THAT’S presidential”. The original tweet, which appeared on Twitter Search for a while, is now missing even from Twitter’s search engine. Apparently, Twitter pulled it.
But it’s futile to try to undo a tweet that is THAT juicy. Once it’s said, it’s said. Although you can click on a little trash can icon when you want to “delete” a tweet, it doesn’t really work. Anyone viewing Twitter on the twitter.com Web platform will no longer see the original tweet once it is deleted. However, anyone using Tweetie, Tweetdeck, Seesmic, etc. to view Twitter (the majority of the service’s users), and those who receive tweets via text messages will still see the tweet no matter how earnestly you press the “delete” button. For Moran, the cat was out of the bag. By the time Moran deleted the tweet, it had already been passed along by “retweets” dozens of times, and there are hundreds of retweets of his original message out there now. Moran has more than 1 million followers on Twitter, but a tweet can potentially reach many times more than that if it is retweeted, or passed on, by others. With all the followers Moran has, it was pretty useless to try to put the cork back on the bottle.
Politicians (and others) need to be aware that in the age of Twitter, you have to assume that everything is an open mic. If ABC hadn’t overheard it, a number of other people possibly could have and tweeted the same thing to the same effect.
ABC apologized to CNBC and the White House and admonished its employees to be careful. ABC News spokesman Jeffrey Schneider said, “The message to our employees is very clear: If it’s approved and published, then people can tweet it or share it on Facebook. . . . Prior to that happening, the information is not to be shared.”
Really? Every tweet or Facebook posting must be previously approved information? ESPN (which like ABC is owned by Disney), cracked down earlier this year with tougher social media policies, including telling employees to not tweet about material that has not already been published or broadcast by ESPN.
The mainstream media in the past year has finally figured out the value of social media for news: speed and conversation with the community. However, if organizations continue to clamp down on using these tools out of fear of a “jackass”-like situation, the media will lose footing and miss out on the benefits.
The lesson that media should take from the ABC incident is not that social media is a loose cannon that must be micromanaged and discouraged. It should be that journalists need to be extremely careful about what they say, no matter the platform, but that these tools allow news to spread quickly and with great reach. Isn’t that the ultimate goal of running a news organization?