Can You Really Speak Your Mind on Twitter?
On April 5, Adam Orth, a creative director at Microsoft, caused a stir when he coined the #dealwithit Twitter hashtag to disparage critics of a policy Microsoft might take with its new Xbox consoles. A few days later, Orth had to "deal with" finding a new job following his resignation from Microsoft — possibly because of the bad press he had generated.
It all started when gamers reached out to Orth via Twitter to express trepidation that the next Xbox console might require an always-on Internet connection. Their fears might be justified, given the calamitous launches of "Diablo III" and "SimCity," two high-profile always-online PC titles.
Although he would neither confirm nor deny an always-online requirement for the next Xbox, Orth did laud his own broadband service and slammed those who didn't have reliable access. When a colleague took him to task about poor coverage in rural areas, Orth responded, "Why on earth would I live there?"
What happened to Orth is not an oddity. Stories of employees losing their jobs over injudicious Twitter posts are common. Keeping private views separate from public persona is not as easy as it sounds, however, nor is it limited to Twitter encounters. [See also: 10 Most Embarrassing Company Tweets]
"Should companies hold their employees accountable for getting into bar fights?" asked @aestetix, a popular Twitter personality and privacy advocate. "What about disagreeing with government policy?"
Many tweeps circumvent this problem by maintaining more than one Twitter account. "It's impossible to enumerate all the reasons someone might have [multiple] accounts," said @aestetix. "I think that's a decision that everyone should make for themselves."
Having two Twitter accounts may not have helped Orth. It's unlikely he would have been able to badmouth Microsoft customers on his personal account while maintaining another account filled with official Xbox PR feeds.
The most reasonable solution may have been for Orth to keep two separate accounts but leave his name off of the second one entirely. A number of Internet-goers, like @aestetix, have become Twitter celebrities without ever revealing their true identities. "I don't think [the two personalities are] divorced at all," said @aestetix. "It simply represents a different facet of their personality from their legal identity. However," he warned, "there is a question of accountability." [See also: 10 Tips for Staying Safe on Twitter]
James Andrews, a social media strategist and founder of SocialPeople.tv, prefers to use his real identity on Twitter and deal with the fallout. One of his key tenets, however, is to take responsibility for his errors rather than hiding from his fans. "Mistakes do happen," he said.
"You have to be not afraid to make mistakes using Twitter or other social media," Andrews told us. "But I think you have a responsibility to realize — even if you have 30 followers — people are listening, and you have to be responsible for what you're tweeting and retweeting and saying, and be able to stand behind it." Andrews, for instance, has more than 19,000 followers and had to retract a tweet about a victim of the recent Boston Marathon bombings after he discovered it was a hoax.
It's hard to say whether these solutions might have saved Orth his job, but they can still provide an instructive example to any public person looking to maintain an active Twitter presence. Establish a strong Twitter identity, whether or not you attach your real name to it, and take responsibility for what you say.