Tempest In A Tweet Pot

On Feb. 16, a Facebook vice president of ads named Rob Goldman had a bad day.

That was the day Special Counsel Robert Mueller released an indictment for 13 Russian operatives who interfered in the U.S. election.

Goldman felt he had to comment via a series of tweets that appeared to question the seriousness with which the Mueller investigation had considered the ads placed by Russians on Facebook. Nothing much happened for the rest of the day.

But on Feb. 17, after the U.S. Tweeter-in-Chief, Donald Trump, picked up the thread, Facebook realized the tweets had turned into a “shit sandwich” — and to limit the damage, Goldman had to officially apologize.

It’s just one more example of a personal tweet blowing up into a major news event. This is happening with increasingly irritating frequency. So today, I thought I’d explore why.



Personal Brand Vs. Corporate Brand

First, why did Goldman feel he had to go public with his views anyway?

He did because he could. We all have varying degrees of loyalty to our employer, and I’m sure the same is true for Goldman. Otherwise he wouldn’t have swallowed crow a few days later with his public mea culpa.

But our true loyalties go not to the brand we work for, but the brand we are. Goldman -- like me, like you, like most of us -- is building his personal brand. Anyone who’s says they’re not, yet posts anything online, is in denial.

Goldman’s brand, according to his Twitter account, is “Student, seeker, raconteur, burner. ENFP.” That's followed by the disclaimer “Views are mine.”  

And you know what? This whole debacle has been great for Goldman’s brand, at least in terms of audience size. Before Feb. 16, he had about 1,500 followers. When I checked, that had swelled to almost 12,000. Brand Goldman is on a roll!

The idea of a personal brand is just a few decades old.  It really became amplified through the use of social media. Suddenly, you could have an audience -- potentially one numbering in the millions.

Before that, the only people who could have been said to have personal brands were artists, authors and musicians. They made their living by sharing who they were with us. For the rest of us, our brands were trapped in our own contexts. Only the people who knew us were exposed to our brands.

But the amplification of social media suddenly exposes our brand to a much broader audience. And when things go viral, as  they did on Feb. 17, millions suddenly became aware of Rob Goldman and his tweet without knowing anything more than that he was a vice president of ads for Facebook.

It was that connection that created the second issue for Goldman. When we speak for our own personal brands, we can say, “views are mine” -- but problems always come when things blow up, as they did for him.  None of his tweets were cleared by anyone at Facebook, yet he had suddenly become a spokesperson for the corporation. And for those eager to accept his tweets as fact, they suddenly became the “truth.”

Twitter: “Truth” Without Context

Increasingly, we’re not really that interested in the truth. What we are interested in is our beliefs and our own personal truth.  This is the era of “post-truth,” the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year for 2016, defined as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief."

Truth used to be a commonly understood base that could be supported by facts. Now, truth is in the eye of the beholder, since common understandings are increasingly difficult to come to as the world continues to fragment and become more complex.  

How can we possibly come to a common understanding of what is “true” when any issue worth discussing is complex?

This is certainly true of the Mueller investigation.  To try to distill the scope of it to 900 words -- about the length of this column -- would be virtually impossible. To reduce it to 280 characters -- the limits of a tweet and one- twentieth the length of this column -- well, there we should not tread. But of course we do.

This problem is exacerbated by the medium itself. Twitter is a channel that encourages “quipiness.”  When we’re tweeting, we all want to be Oscar Wilde.

Again, writing this column usually takes me three to four hours, including time to do some research, create a rough outline and then do the actual writing. That’s not an especially long time, but the process does allow some time for mental reflection and self-editing.

The average tweet takes less than a minute to write -- probably less to think about -- and then it’s out there, a matter of record, irretrievable. You should find it more than a little terrifying that this is a chosen medium for the President of the United States, and one that is increasingly forming our worldview.

Twitter is also not a medium that provides much support for irony, sarcasm or satire. In the Post-Truth Era, we usually accept tweets as facts, especially when they come from someone who is a somewhat official position, as in the case of Rob Goldman. But at best, they’re abbreviated opinions.

In light of all this, one has to appreciate Goldman’s Twitter handle: @robjective.

1 comment about "Tempest In A Tweet Pot".
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  1. Chuck Lantz from, network, March 12, 2018 at 3:29 p.m.

    Many years ago, Disney produced a sci-fi film called Forbidden Planet.  It was over-simplified, as Disney films always are. Besides introducing Robbie the robot to the world, it also had a "computer villain" which had led to the destruction of an entire civilization by allowing everyone to turn their personal "monsters of the id" into actual monsters. 

    The problem was "solved" by blowing the whole place up and flying away.  

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