Sometimes, 140 characters don’t provide adequate space for a thoughtful public policy discussion. That’s what someone behind the Massachusetts government’s official Twitter account learned on Wednesday night, after sending out a tweet with a misguided five-word message: “Sexual assault is always avoidable.”
The tweet, from @MassGov, was intended to publicize Sexual Assault Awareness Month; it contained a link to a blog post with detailed information about sexual assault and healthy relationships. But when it hit the Internet, it created the image of a tone-deaf state government that was incompetent with its online tools and implicitly blamed victims for their own misfortune.
The backlash was swift; the tweet was removed; Governor Patrick called the episode “a dumb mistake.” To his credit, Geoffrey Kula, the director of Mass.gov, apologized for the tweet, and emphasized that his employees need to follow protocols — and submit to editorial review — when they post on social media. That’s probably true, though common sense would also serve his staff well. Social media messaging is casual by nature, but a posting that’s poorly thought out can have huge public relations consequences. It’s worth noting, too, that Kula used four tweets and a blog post for his apology message. Those extra words can be exceedingly useful.