Basically, a Kansas high schooler Emma Sullivan tweeted "just made mean comments at gov brownback and told him he sucked, in person #heblowsalot" to her 65 followers. A member of the Governor's staff discovered the tweet while combing Twitter for references to the Governor. Feeling the tweet was disrespectful, she got in touch with the Youth In Government program (which had put on the Sullivan's trip, with a larger group), which in turn contacted the school where the 18-year-old girl was enrolled. She got yelled at and was ordered to write an apology.
Cue the outcry. Since then, Sullivan has gained 14000+ followers. The school dropped the apology thing, and the Governor issued an apology statement.
Sullivan also indicated that the tweet was not actually true - that she didn't say mean things to the Governor's face - but that she disagreed with the Governor's conservative stance/policies.
An opinion piece on CNN asks some really interesting questions - at least, several of which came to my mind as I was reading the story.
- How common is it for elected officials to have a social media monitor?
- Is it appropriate for an elected official (or said official's representative) to take action against negative comments?
- Would this have happened if Sullivan was ten years older? (ie, not a high school student)
- Should the fact that she was actually lying be a factor in the conversation? I'm no legal expert, but I'm pretty sure the tweet quoted above doesn't qualify as defamation.
I can think of at least one instance where a complaint conveyed over social media had a positive impact. Last year, during a "HoCo Thursdays" series of posts, Erinn at Something Else to Distract Me posted about the poor state of the roads in her development. Quickly she got a response from a member of the County Executive's staff, and I know that the roads in her neighborhood sure look a lot better now. This was a great instance of a member of government noticing a negative comment and moving quickly to address the issue. (hocoblogs@@@)
Likewise, I can see how a monitor of social media would be useful in locating false claims/libel that could damage a person's reputation.
Still, I wonder if there are specific people targeted to monitor social media, or if it's something by chance - for example, was Erinn's post noticed because the staff member reads her blog, or because the staff member is in charge of monitoring Howard County-related posts?
And if there is a staffer employed to monitor social media, should that be disclosed? Where?
Although the Kansas incident has a creepy, Big-Brother feel to it - and clearly got out of hand - I do think that social media (facebook, twitter, blogs) can be a very powerful tool through which constituents and elected officials can communicate.
Thoughts? Leave 'em in the comments below.