After a week of national media attention following her highly publicized tweet about Gov. Sam Brownback, Emma Sullivan is finally seeing her determination pay off: rather than writing an apology to the Kansas governor, Gov. Brownback has issued one to Sullivan, saying his staff overreacted to the Twitter post.
The Shawnee Mission school district is also backing down, and as she preps for a possible CNN interview, Sullivan's Twitter backing is certain only to grow in the months ahead.
Right to Tweet?
Emma Sullivan, a senior at Shawnee Mission East High School in Prairie Village, Kan., was sent to the principal's office and asked to write a dictated apology to Gov. Brownback after posting a Twitter message saying the following: Just made mean comments at gov. brownback and told him he sucked, in person, #heblowsalot.
Brownback's communications director had contacted the school after finding the tweet during a routine search for the governor's name online, and reported the twitter post as disrespectful and unacceptable
Continue Reading Below
In the week that followed, Emma Sullivan battled with her school and the governor's office for her right to tweet, backed by a burgeoning Internet following and many news sources indignant at the circumscribing of Sullivan's First Amendment right to freedom of speech.
Her Twitter profile, before devoted to notes about her new car and the Twilight movie, now began to sport notes of gratitude and a quote from Gandhi. On Nov. 28, after thanking her online supporters, Sullivan made an announcement: though she has been pressured to write an official apology to Gov. Brownback by Monday, she had no intention of doing so.
I've decided not to write the letter, Sullivan tweeted, but I hope this opens the door for average citizens to voice their opinion & to be heard! #goingstrong. She posted the message to over 8,000 followers, from the 60 she had before the Twitter scandal broke.
It would appear that Emma Sullivan has won the battle. On Nov. 29, Gov. Brownback's office issues its own official apology, emphasizing the importance of the First Amendment to the Kansas leader.
My staff overreacted to this tweet, and for that I apologize, Brownback said in a statement emailed to AP. Freedom of speech is among our most treasure freedoms.
The Kansas governor's apology couldn't come too soon. Brownback's over-reaction has been blasted not only by news sources like NBC, who interviewed Sullivan last week, but also by a far more dangerous adversary: Twitter, the very realm where Sullivan's comments first excited controversy.
Thousands of Twitter users, many of them using the trend hashtag #blowsalot, went after Gov. Brownback during the standoff between his office and Emma Sullivan. Tweets accused the governor of censorship, pettiness and bullying, many of them resorting to the same name-calling utilized by Sullivan.
Gov. Brownback is a big stinky baby because he can't handle a mean tweet like a professional, Aaron Rosier posted. Seriously, a Governor's office bullying a high school student into an apology makes them look so pathetic, tweeted fellow Twitter user Jordan White.
The Social Media Age
Bradley Shear, a Washington. D.C. social media attorney, says the Twitter backlash was inevitable from the moment Brownback's office reported the tweet.
He called the Emma Sullivan case an example of a growing, nationwide chasm between government official and modern technology, especially the rapidly mutating and evolving world of social media.
This reflects poorly on the governor's office, Shear told The Globe. It demonstrates their P.R. department and whoever is dealing with these issues need to get a better understanding of social media in the social media age.
'Many teachable moments'
The Shawnee Mission school district is also backing down. In a statement sent to The Daily News, district officials said Sullivan would not have to write an apology or face any consequences for the tweet.
The district acknowledges student's right to freedom of speech and expression is constitutionally protected, the statement read. The district has not censored Miss Sullivan nor infringed upon her freedom of speech.
The statement ended with the reflection that the incident had been an eye-opening experience for the district, Gov. Brownback, Emma Sullivan, and the nation at large.
[The Emma Sullivan Twitter backlash] has resulted in many teachable moments concerning the use of social media, school district officials wrote.
'She doesn't want to look back and regret.'
Gov. Brownback may have apologized for his office's reaction to Sullivan's tweet, but his belated attempt at damage control won't stop the story from growing.
In the coming weeks, Emma Sullivan may appear on CNN to discuss her story again, and her family members, most notably 19-year-old sister Olivia, are encouraging her to speak her mind while her voice is still heard.
Olivia Sullivan, a political science and communications major at Wichita State University, is managing her sister's flooded email account and helping her adjust as she returns to Shawnee Mission East. She is encouraging her sister not to be overwhelmed by the media attention, and to consider the furor surrounding her tweet an opportunity, not a controversy.
This is a great opportunity for her, Olivia Sullivan told The Star. I tell her [Emma] she doesn't want to look back on this and regret not saying her piece.