Miss Seattle's missteps on Twitter provide a lesson in Social Media 101
The new Miss Seattle learns as other have before her, that tweets, like most everything online, live forever. Tweet No. 1 that Jean-Sun Hannah Ahn wishes she had never written: "Ew I seriously am hating Seattle right now... " How many cautionary Twitter tales do the rest of us need?
Seattle Times staff reporter
Once again, class: There is no such thing as a private tweet.
As one social-media expert explains, "If what you tweeted would run as a headline, would you be OK with that? If not, don't use it."
Our latest example comes courtesy of Jean-Sun Hannah Ahn, 22, who last Saturday was crowned Miss Seattle.
Less than 24 hours later, early Sunday evening, she was in tears after reading a news story that had just been posted by Linda Thomas, morning news anchor at KIRO-FM, on mynorthwest.com. An online search now shows the story has run on more than 240 news sites.
The headline was, "New Miss Seattle was 'annoyed' with us." The story featured two tweets Ahn had sent from her iPhone back on Dec. 10.
Tweet No. 1 that Ahn wishes she had never written: "Ew I seriously am hating Seattle right now... " Tweet No. 2 that Ahn wishes she had never written: "Take me back to az!!! Ugh can't stand cold rainy Seattle and the annoying people."
The "az" she referred to was Arizona, where she had recently lived.
Twitter has been around since 2006; Facebook since 2004.
That's plenty of time, and plenty of stories about the travails of those posting stuff on social media without apparently spending a few seconds thinking out the consequences.
But we just keep tweeting and Facebooking away, many of us not worrying that those embarrassing tweets and photos never go away or that they can ultimately mean loss of a job, not being accepted into a particular college and, in certain spectacular situations, becoming a national laughingstock.
Ahn, who grew up in Mukilteo, had returned here after four years at Arizona State University in the Phoenix area, where the weather forecast for this weekend calls for mostly sunny skies and temperatures in the high 70s. She had earned a bachelor's in communications, and, in 2010, was crowned Miss Phoenix. Her dream is to be a TV news anchor.
"I love to be in front of cameras," she says.
Now, as she starts her reign as Miss Seattle, those nearly 3-month-old tweets have come to haunt her. "I had forgotten about those tweets," says Ahn. "It was a shock to see them."
What had happened is that Linda Thomas routinely checks social-media sites on those she writes about. She checked on Ahn.
"I looked at her Twitter feed. You can learn a lot about a person," says Thomas. "I saw a pattern that kind of made me look at her a little differently. The word 'annoying' was used a lot."
Thomas says that in maybe a dozen tweets, Ahn would post about how annoyed she was about something. An example: "Omg everyone is just annoying the crap out of me today! Seriously!!!! Ughhh."
Thomas wrote about Miss Seattle, "She should reconsider the way she uses social media if she wants to be a public figure."
Ahn ended up going on radio talk shows and doing TV interviews, apologizing, saying she loved the Northwest and that "I've learned my lesson."
And perhaps it will jump-start her broadcasting career, although Ahn acknowledges, "It was not the best way to start the year."
Ahn is working as a production assistant at a Korean-language cable station based out of Federal Way. She's also deleted the offending tweets.
Although on the Internet, that stuff never goes away.
Shauna Causey, president of the Social Media Club Seattle, whose membership includes a lot of marketing types who exchange ideas, says about tweeting, "Even some experienced communications professionals don't understand this new world, that what they're saying broadcasts to the world.
"Even if they delete it, it's cached online and people can look it up and find it. With more than 300 million tweets per day, a vast majority are ignored by the world. However, it just takes one 140-character lapse in judgment to set off retweets, screenshots and blog posts."
Causey says she's heard from three people locally "who feel they were let go from their jobs or were skipped over for a promotion because they were venting on Twitter."
Those under 30, especially, Causey says, "are comfortable sharing their lives online."
But what might seem funny at age 19 might not translate so well, especially when applying to a college.
A 2011 survey by Kaplan Test Prep, the education company, of college-admission officers showed that 24 percent of them had gone to an applicant's Facebook or other social-networking page.
And, says Kaplan, 12 percent of admissions officers said that what they found negatively impacted the applicant's admissions chances including "vulgarities" and "alcohol consumption in photos and 'illegal activities.' "
There is more bad news for online socializers.
An MSNBC story last week said "student-athletes in colleges around the country also are finding out they can no longer maintain privacy in Facebook communications because schools are requiring them to 'friend' a coach or compliance officer, giving that person access to their 'friends-only' posts."
For tweeters — although the advice pertains to other social media — Causey offers some common-sense rules. Don't believe your personal Twitter account is personal.
"You're still representing your company." And, if you're going to go negative on a tweet, "Walk away and decide to send it later, if you still feel it's the right thing to say."
Plus! Don't drunk-tweet, such as when you decide to whip out that iPhone at the cocktail lounge. "If you've had a drink or two, turn that phone off," says Causey.
That's advice that should have been followed by the three legislative aides fired in December from the Washington, D.C., office of Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Lake Stevens.
The congressman sacked them after tweets became public that called him "idiot boss" and further proclaimed: "showed up this morning at 9:00am with shots of Jack. What a glorious and frightening way to kick off the month."
"Dear taxpayers — I hope you don't mind that I'm watching YouTube clips of Nirvana at my government job. Thanks, you're the best."
Finally, here are two last bits of advice for tweeters. Causey says, "Don't tweet everything you think."
And this is from a PowerPoint presentation by Kraig Baker, a partner at the Seattle law firm of Davis Wright Tremaine, who specializes in digital media and teaches about it at the University of Washington.
The topic was that there are no comprehensive privacy laws in the U.S. that would, say, protect your tweets. Let's say there was such a law. As Baker headlines one of the PowerPoint pages: "Of course, no law will protect a user against stupidity."
News researchers David Turim and Gene Balk contributed to this report. Erik Lacitis: 206-464-2237 or firstname.lastname@example.org