No sooner do we compile a list of our favorite Twitter blunders than a new one drops into our laps, straight from the highest levels of government.
The official account of the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Consular Affairs, using the hashtag #springbreakingbadly to warn travelers about scams they might encounter, offered this among their pieces of advice:
As is often the case in these matters, the advice may be solid, but the delivery is suspect. "Be realistic about your looks," the tweet seems to say. "Would anybody really want to engage you in conversation at a bar? Must be a scam." Furthermore, its reference to the 1-10 attractiveness scale—commonly agreed upon to be distastefully shallow and often sexist—is troubling.
Some found the tweet as amusing as it was intended to be, but others took offense, and the agency quickly deleted it and apologized. "We see many Americans fall victim to scams each year & want all to be careful," @TravelGov tweeted by way of explanation.
Clearly the State Department was experimenting with a playful social attitude, and it may have found a limit—but a soft one. As far as "problem tweets" go, this episode was relatively benign. It wasn't offensive in the extreme, or to any specific group, and the coverage of the incident was mostly amused in tone rather than outraged. That coverage, it's worth mentioning, was wide: CBS, ABC, BBC, Fox and other major news outlets took a run at it, to say nothing of innumerable snarky blog posts. A brief check against the Wayback Machine shows that @TravelGov picked up a cool 4,000 followers through their little impropriety.
If you're willing to ride the edge of what's acceptable, there may be publicity in it for you that is worth taking some flak for. It's a daredevil move, and we can't exactly recommend it. But hey, sometimes it works.
Follow Ian and his completely inoffensive tweets: @ianwright0101