When you follow Twitter streams day in and day out, you start to see a pattern: No matter how savvy we think we’re all becoming, the harsh lessons of social media are ones that have to be learned over and over again. Today it’s a sexist tweet from a high-ranking media executive. Tomorrow it’s a shirtless selfie from a famous talk-show host. Fervor erupts, dies down, and next week it starts all over again.
It’s all a reminder that, tragically, you don’t need a license to start a Twitter account. The following tweets represent the worst of the worst on the social network in 2013. In some cases, there were harsh consequences; in other cases, there weren’t. But there were always fireworks, and isn’t that why we keep going back to Twitter in the first place?
1. @TheOnion: Quvenzhané Wallis C-Word Fail
The satirists at the Onion make their living dancing on the edge of good humor and poor taste, but on Feb. 24 they found out the hard way how easy it is to cross the line. Everyone tweets snarky remarks during the Oscars telecast (these days, that’s half the fun), but when someone uses the “C-word” to describe a nine-year-old girl, few laugh. “Everyone else seems afraid to say it, but that Quvenzhané Wallis is kind of a c--t, right?” tweeted the Onion in reference to the “Beasts of the Southern Wild” actress as she walked the red carpet. Forget crickets. The tweet brought prompt calls for someone’s head on a platter. Steve Hannah, the Onion’s CEO, posted a letter of apology the next day, saying he was “taking immediate steps to discipline those individuals responsible.”
2. @GolfChannel: Subpar Marketing On MLK Day
Forgive the mixed metaphor, but the Golf Channel really struck out with this attempt to engage its Twitter followers on the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. The now-deleted tweet asked users to share their “golf dreams,” but the channel was instantly castigated for using the event as a thinly veiled excuse for self-promotion. As CNN’s Piers Morgan pointed out, Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia, which hosts the Masters, did not have an African-American member until 1990, almost 30 years after MLK delivered the speech. The Golf Channel later apologized, calling the tweet “inappropriate.”
3. @matingmind: No PhD In Social Media Here
On June 2, Geoffrey Miller, an associate psychology professor at the University of New Mexico, tweeted the following plea: “Dear obese PhD applicants: if you didn't have the willpower to stop eating carbs, you won’t have the willpower to do a dissertation #truth.” Twitter didn’t think it was funny, nor did gossip blogs and news outlets like Jezebel and Huffington Post. Miller apologized profusely and later claimed the tweet was part of a research project. Not buying it, the university formally censured him. Fast-forward six months, and the tweet controversy now makes up about a third of Miller’s Wikipedia page.
4. @GeraldoRivera: Selfie Sabotage
Maybe he was just jealous of all the attention Anthony Weiner was getting, but at 2:02 a.m. on July 21, Geraldo Rivera decided to be proactive and create his own bare-chested controversy. The talk-show host tweeted out a photo of himself wearing nothing but an ill-fitting towel. “70 is the new 50,” he tweeted. (And shirtless selfies are the new not finding anything in Al Capone’s vault.) Reactions ranged from shocked to extremely shocked, and Twitter predictably spent the next two days passing around the photo along with snarky commentary. Geraldo later deleted the photo, because, yeah, that always works.
5. @ATT: The Dumb-Phone Fiasco
Commemorative tweets typically dominate Twitter’s trending topics during the anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, but for some reason AT&T Inc. (NYSE:T) couldn’t distinguish between paying respects and product placement. On Sep. 11, the company shared a picture of a smartphone taking a picture of the Twin Tower lights with the caption, “Never forget.” BuzzFeed summed it up best, calling it the tackiest 9/11 memorial on the Internet. The company apologized, sort of. “We apologize to anyone who felt our post was in poor taste,” it said in a second tweet. “The image was solely meant to pay respect to those affected by the 9/11 tragedy.”
6. @KennethCole: Cole Puts His Boot In His Mouth
On Sep. 13, as tensions were mounting over the possibility of committing troops to Syria, designer Kenneth Cole thought he’d make light of the international incident by reminding people to buy his clothes: “Boots on the ground” or not, let’s not forget about sandals, pumps and loafers. #Footwear.” The irascible designer might have been parodying himself. Two years earlier he caused a similar outrage when he used the Arab spring uprising as a way to promote a new collection. “Millions are in uproar in #Cairo. Rumor is they heard our new spring collection is now available online…”
7. @paxdickinson: A Business Insider Ousted
It wasn’t one particular tweet that got Pax Dickinson, chief technology officer of Business Insider, in hot water. Rather it was a string of tweets that, after they were discovered and reposted by Gawker’s Valleywag blog in September, drew fierce accusations of misogyny and racism. Dickinson almost seemed to be expecting it, instantly changing his Twitter profile to “the worst person in the world” and stepping down from the company the next day. He later played it off the whole thing as a kind of Twitter performance art. Performance yes, but art? Click here and decide for yourself.
8. @HomeDepot: GameDay Monkey Business
On Nov. 7, the official Twitter account for the Home Depot Inc. (NYSE:HD) tweeted out a College GameDay-related photo featuring a guy in a monkey suit flanked by two African-American drummers. “Which drummer is not like the others?” the tweet asked. Do you have to ask how this one ended? The social media agency responsible for the tweet was promptly fired.
9. @MelissaBachman: The Huntress Becomes The Hunted
On Nov. 13, the hunting enthusiast Melissa Bachman posted a photo of herself posing with a rifle and a dead lion on a South African safari. “What a hunt!” she exclaimed. The hunt was reportedly legal, but the backlash -- death threats, vicious insults and weeks of Twitter rage -- was questionable to say the least. Bachman hasn’t tweeted since the incident, but if you check out her mentions, you’ll see a steady stream of hate pouring in to this day.
10. @SpaghettiOs: The Tweet That Will Live In Infamy
For the fifth and final marketing snafu in this series, SpaghettiOs made a grave misstep on Dec. 7, when it sent out a tweet marking the anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Sure, the attack was 72 years ago, but more than 2,400 Americans were killed, and the incident led to our entry into World War II. Is the best way to commemorate really a picture of a smiling, lip-licking cartoon SpaghettiO holding an American flag? Campbell Soup Company (NYSE:CPB), which owns the SpaghettiOs brand, later apologized.