You Are What You Tweet: The Political Candidate’s Guide to Social Media Dangers

Here's 5 rules to help keep your campaign out of trouble

Social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and so forth are incredible tools for communication – especially for campaigns.

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Social media allows you directly communicate with the voters, bypassing the gatekeepers of traditional media outlets like newspapers, radio stations, and television channels.

While there are numerous benefits to such direct connection and engagement with the votes, there is also a dangerous downside for political candidates.

As I previously wrote about going viral in the worst way, social media allows a candidate’s recorded mistake, misquote, or misstep to be broadcast out to the world faster than you can even form the words “damage control.”

Social media also allows candidates the opportunity to tank their campaigns all on their own without any help from anyone else.

It happens when a candidate posts or shares something on social media that they shouldn’t.

And it just happened to Roseanne Barr thanks to this unbelievable tweet about Valerie Jarrett, former advisor to President Barack Obama.

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Just like Roseanne’s tasteless and clueless tweet took down her show, one tweet can destroy a candidate and end a political campaign or career.

Other times inappropriate social posts are a slow burn.

The bad post doesn’t seem to be doing that much damage, but so much time is spent explaining the post or apologizing for it, that the candidate gets off message for too long and winds up losing the race.

The best way to avoid such problems is to remember this one golden rule when it comes to social media:

Never post or share anything on social media you might need to explain, apologize for, or delete.

There’s an adage I adhere to:  When you’re explaining, you’re losing.

A candidate forced to explain what they meant isn’t moving their campaign forward.

Instead of talking about their winning message, they’re stuck talking about something else.

When that happens, you need to get back on message as quickly as possible.

If you don’t, you’re probably going to lose your race.

The same goes for content you need to apologize for, except it’s worse.

When you need to apologize for something posted on a social media account, it’s an admission of guilt.

An admission of guilt in a campaign can be the kiss of death.

It signals the candidate knew or should have known better before sharing what they did.

That signals a lack of critical judgement on the part of the candidate.

Believe it or not, most voters – especially highly likely voters – prefer candidates who have critical thinking skills and exercise good judgement.

I know it’s hard to look at Washington D.C. and believe that today, but trust me it’s true.  Don’t risk it.

As far as deleting an inappropriate social media post, forgetaboutit.

Just because you deleted a post doesn’t mean the post is going away.

Someone has screen captured it so that it will live in infamy to harm your campaign.

And by deleting the post you now will need to explain why you deleted it and you’ve already admitted you were wrong to post it.

So a deletion gets you stuck explaining and apologizing at the same time.

Not good.

To be more specific here are some things you should never share or post on any of your social media, either on your personal or on your campaign accounts.

1. Don’t post any naked pictures

I never thought I’d need to admonish any candidate to do this.

Fortunately, for the campaigns I’ve consulted on, this has not been an issue.

But when Anthony Weiner, a sitting U.S. Congressman and a favored candidate for Governor of New York, didn’t know not to send out pictures of his namesake, this has to be stated.

And please note, after getting busted for this and resigning from Congress, he was caught sexting during a run for Mayor of New York City.

This should be a reminder that in the world of social media, that whatever you send out privately will publicly surface.

That includes what you send on email or via text messaging.

2. Don’t use profanity in your posts

Yes, the f-bomb is everywhere and there’s things that can be said on broadcast TV today that have proven George Carlin wrong.

That doesn’t mean you should swear like a sailor in public — and public includes social media channels.

Voters are looking for leaders, not vulgarians.

Watch your language. Avoid swearing. Don’t indulge innuendo.

Doing so will make you look classless and un-leader-like.

If you want to be a leader, watch your language  when you are in front of the voters, whether that public venue is at a forum, a fundraiser, or on Facebook.

Now please don’t refute this advice by saying “But Donald Trump…”

If the President showed more tact with his language and his tweets, he’d be more popular and would probably get a lot more done than he is.

3. Don’t make crude jokes or use innuendo

This goes hand-in-hand with the admonishment not to use profanity.

You may think you are clever saying one thing that implies to another to get around this, don’t do it.

Once again it will make you look classless.

The same goes for crude or crass jokes.

Joking or passing on humor on social media that is or could be viewed as sexist, classless, or offensive should not be done.

You’re not a teenager in high school.  You’re a candidate for elected office.  Act like it.

4. Don’t take pictures holding alcohol

Some might disagree with this rule, and that’s all right.  However, I’m sticking with it.

Most people I know drink, including me.  But I’m not running for office – you are.

You need to be very careful of the message you are sending, so don’t post photos or take photos that may be shared on social media when you have a drink in your hand.

Those photos will very likely be misused by your opponents to make you look like a drunk.

That may be far from the case, but you don’t need to take the risk.

Campaigns often take and use bad photos of their opposition to cast them in a bad light.

Politics after all is a full contact sport.

Don’t make it easier for your opponents by having plenty of photos on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram where you’re having an adult beverage.

Even if it’s only one drink, rest assured that there’s a likely hood of that pic showing up in materials against you to paint you as a lush – or at the very least an unserious candidate.

Neither are good for your campaign purposes.

5. Don’t post things that could be taken the wrong way

The four previous rules are pretty straight forward, this one is more ethereal, but no less important.

Whenever you post or share something on Facebook, Twitter, or any other social media platform, you need to ask yourself if the content could be misconstrued or taken the wrong way.

Would a regular person possibly see something you didn’t mean to convey?

Could your post come across as offensive or insensitive, even if that’s not your intention?

If the answer is “yes” or “maybe” then don’t post!

Or at the very least, rework the post so it’s clear what you’re saying and doesn’t run the risk of offending, hurting, or alienating voters.

Here’s a great example of a Tweet gone wrong.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), criticized Tammy Duckworth when she was running against Illinois’ Republican Senator Mark Kirk.

Here’s NRSC’s tweet attacking Duckworth:

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Seems pretty benign for a political attack, doesn’t it?

Well, even the most vanilla attacks can backfire – especially when the target is a veteran who lost both of her legs while serving in Iraq.

The above tweet was only up for about 10 minutes then deleted (like I said you can’t really delete these things).

Had someone at the NRSC thought through the wording of the criticism and knew a little bit about the person they were about the criticize, this offensive tweet wouldn’t have ever been sent.

Unfortunately, the offensive message was tweeted out.

Rather than helping Mark Kirk in his battle to retain his seat against Tammy Duckworth, the Senate Republicans came off looking like jerks who shamefully criticize female veteran amputees for political purposes.

There’s a good chance the person who composed the tweet isn’t a jerk, but he/she came off as a jerk because of the tweet.

As did the Senate Republicans who put the power of twitter in that person’s hands.

This proves that you don’t have to be a jerk to come off as jerk on social media.

Nor do you have to be a racist, a sexist, an anti-semite, an elitist, a dunce, a pervert, or an alcoholic to be perceived as one.

You only need to put stuff up on Facebook, Twitter, or any of your other social media accounts that makes voters perceive that you are one of those things.

In politics, perception is reality.

Remember that when posting and sharing to social media.

You are what you tweet.  So tweet like a leader and a winner.

Oh and by the way, Tammy Duckworth won that race and is today a United States Senator.