published Sunday, June 17th, 2012

Gerber: Unsweet tweets bite new editor

We live in a world of chronic tweeters. Heck, even the pope has a Twitter account.

So I didn’t think much when I received an email a week ago Saturday, saying our new Free Press editorial page editor was tweeting. He should be; social media will be an integral part of his job when he joins us later this month.

Then I clicked over to his supposed tweets and read some of them.

I clutched my smartphone so tightly, I’m surprised it didn’t shatter.

The tweets were snarky, smug, rude, inappropriate and highly offensive.

And those were the nice ones.

News, as they say, spreads fast. Within minutes, my phone was buzzing with texts, emails and calls from concerned Times Free Press staff members, some readers and a few former co-workers whom I haven’t heard from in years and who live in other parts of the country.

The questions ran along the same lines: What is he thinking? How could he? Is he drunk? Crazy? What?

All legitimate questions — except that the tweeter wasn’t Drew Johnson, who starts June 26 as the paper’s Free Press editor. After reading some of the less-than-savory tweets, I placed a panicked call to Johnson and sent a few harried texts. He called me back but had no idea what I was babbling about.

The tweets, it turns out, were sent by an impostor, someone obviously determined to embarrass Johnson and the newspaper.

At the start of the day on Saturday, Johnson didn’t have a personal Twitter account, although he’d previously tweeted on behalf of a think tank where he once worked. But as a result of the bogus tweeter, he started his own Twitter account late Saturday night, @Drews_Views, to let people know he had nothing to do with the other one, @TCPR.

“@TCPR is not me. Please ignore any ridiculous things the impostor acct is saying,” he tweeted.

Johnson had intended to tweet as the Free Press editor, but he hadn’t expected to be forced to open an account to defend his name and reputation.

Johnson’s very first tweet: “The thing I hate the most about @TCPR impersonating me is that it forced me to actually get a Twitter account.”

The whole episode highlights the power — and danger — of Twitter. It’s a quick, simple way to reach a whole lot of people with little effort. It’s a great way to be entertained or keep up with people or issues. But it’s fraught with potential pitfalls.

Not everyone subscribes to the “think before you tweet” theory. Too many people are quick to toss out a 140-character opinion, and the next thing you know they’ve been kicked out of college or lost a job or suffered public embarrassment. Even a key editor at one of America’s largest and most well-respected newspapers, the Washington Post, was forced to close his Twitter account after he was criticized for sharing his personal views on health care spending.

At the Times Free Press, we’ve discussed the dangers of unrestrained social media postings with our staff. Dieters often use the phrase: “A moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips.” Social media might alter that to: “A moment on the mind, a lifetime online.”

In other words, before you tweet or post something to Facebook or send an email, step back and consider what you’ve written. It’s hard to take back any ill-considered words you may send into the ether. And those words can come back and haunt you, even years down the line.

Or, as in Johnson’s case, Twitter can be used by an anonymous coward to damage a person’s reputation or make them look like a jerk. It could happen to anyone. In the Wild West world of social media, there’s no way to know if the person on the other side of the tweet (or email or anonymous comment) is real.

Just last week, at the Times Free Press’ Best of Preps banquet, New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning said he isn’t on Twitter. Yet there are numerous people tweeting under some version of his name. I’d bet some followers of those accounts think they’re following the real Eli Manning.

On the bright side, Johnson is gaining followers on his new Twitter account, which is good for his work as Free Press editorial page editor.

On the dark side, another bogus Twitter account could always pop up.

It’s an exciting new tech world out there with limitless possibilities, but some of those possibilities can be pretty scary.

Alison Gerber is the managing editor of the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Reach her at Send suggestions to readerfeed

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raygunz said...

If you're saying that these "social networking" sites weren't set up for poor ol' Drew before you started crowing about his "conservative" bona fides, then you set yourselves up for the "lultz". Which indicates that y'all ain't as smart as you think you are!

June 17, 2012 at 12:46 a.m.
aae1049 said...

The tone of Ms. Gerber's op ed seems to imply that TFP employees must relinquish their rights to free speech as a condition of employment. In theory, so what if TFP employees did post something "snarky" "smug" under their own identity such as political opinion. Who is the standard for "what is appropriate." Say anything, and someone will be offended. In fact, I am offended at Ms. Gerber's open acknowledgement that TFP employees cannot exercise free speech, hehe.

TFP readers want spirited reporters, complete neutrality is so washed clean, and contributes to the TFP image problem of being less than genuine. TFP has some rock star reporters, that were held in the stockade during the period called Griscomesk. Set them free. Actually, the TFP has improved greatly in that area, from the perspective of a 35 year reader.

Finally, read guidelines, there is a means to certify the authenticity of social media accounts. Fakes, can be fakes, if identified as such. Get Authenticity certification. Oh my gosh, I am doing deep breathing exercises to overcome these twitter posts. A fake Editor Gerber would be fun. just kidding, maybe.

Be reminded.

June 17, 2012 at 11:23 a.m.
acerigger said...

Obama did it??? LOL!

June 17, 2012 at 12:44 p.m.

“The speed of communications is wondrous to behold. It is also true that speed can multiply the distribution of information that we know to be untrue.”

– Edward R. Murrow

Welcome to the mid 20th Century?

Want me to dig up a Twain quote, and invite you to the 19th?

June 17, 2012 at 2:27 p.m.
raygunz said...

happywithnewbulbs said...

“The speed of communications is wondrous to behold. It is also true that speed can multiply the distribution of information that we know to be untrue.”

– Edward R. Murrow

With the corporate media that exists today,it's becoming harder to determine WHAT we know to be untrue!

June 17, 2012 at 11:17 p.m.
328Kwebsite said...

You're in the media business. You installed a new figurehead without a comprehensive digital publishing strategy. Your business got trounced, probably by a drunk guy with a cell phone. Get real.

For a long time, y'all have failed to embrace your website for what it is: a broadcast station. Instead, you stopped being a 24 hour news organization. The machines close and the whole building goes to sleep each night.

Then, when you're so weak at what you do that you can be clobbered by a fake Twitter account, you post some whining.

Start building a good publication for a change. Get a clue. You cannot go home before 3 a.m. and do a good job of publishing a morning paper.

June 18, 2012 at 7:40 a.m.
aae1049 said...

328K website you are right on target. Anytime you launch a new business or effort, a web and social media is always in place first. TFP is not adapting to electronic age in terms of operations. You have raised a great point, TFP is static news, for the most part, that goes completely dark on the weekends, and nights.

June 18, 2012 at 10:07 a.m.
potcat said...

You have been had Gerber, geepers creepers,how naive can you be?? I would bet that it was good ole honest Drew sitting with his brainiac brothers at his conservative think tank, hold it i can't stop laughing. OK then, first you say Drew hadn't even opened a twitter account and then you say he has, which one is it?? Oh, it was the think tanks, hmmm.

Did you find out who the imposter was?? Are you not just a wee bit curious. You sound like you're under his spell, blabbler and all giddy.

Oh how he hated being forced to open his twitter early, yeah right. He's already being attacked by those foul liberal's. This is a well known Republican tactic...think tank.... create an attack.

June 18, 2012 at 11:18 a.m.
Lr103 said...

potcat, I'm with you on this. Hopefully TFP will do a thorough investigation and get to the bottom of this. My initial impression when I first read about this was it's a hoax. For some reason I got this mental image of the woman in the news not long ago who threw acid in her own face then blamed it on a stranger. True uprighteous citizens need to take a stand and nip this stuff in the bud before he gets out of hand.

June 19, 2012 at 7:55 p.m.

Don't you people remember? Scott Walker vetoed that kind of thing.

He didn't want to get caught.

Just like Mitt Romney foreswore putting his dog on top of the car. Not doing that again. Too many media questions.

June 19, 2012 at 11:28 p.m.
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