The US Airways employee who tweeted a NSFW photo won’t be fired—and I’m glad

As we learned on Monday, porn found its way to @USAirways and it landed in our Twitter feeds.

Internet Culture

Published Apr 18, 2014   Updated May 31, 2021, 11:11 am CDT

 

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BY DERRICK CLIFTON

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After US Airways royally screwed-up while tweeting a disgruntled customer, some folks thought the airline’s social media rep deserved to get their wings clipped. But according to a company spokesman, that won’t happen, and I’m glad. Judging by Rob Delaney’s tweet on the matter, I’m in good company.

Twitter’s call-out culture, for better or worse, makes it all the more tempting to demand a head on a silver platter when honest mistakes like these happen. Anything done, said, shared, retweeted or favorited attracts a critical eye.

Knowing that, most people have no choice but to practice discretion while using the platform, especially if you represent a brand. But even brands have tiny moments of imperfection, just as any human would. Those moments are often refreshing, rather than repelling.

Even with this latest social media fumble, US Airways saw its Twitter following soar to 12,000 new followers in a matter of hours, according to Twitter Counter. For comparison’s sake, the airline averages about 1,800 new followers each day. Those followers may linger around well after the controversy dies down, but there wasn’t a mass exodus away from US Airways’ feed. Some people are just unflappable.

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And many of the responses laughed off the tweet altogether. In the moment, US Airways was far from perfect. But with the response and how the company handled the issue, they may have very well won people over.

That’s probably because we regard brands just as we would the average person we know. In a 2011 piece over at Fast Company, “Brand Like A Rock Star” author and music industry insider Steve Jones said brands connect better when they’re authentic.

We can’t possibly form a bond with something that has no flaws because flawlessness simply doesn’t exist. If you are attempting to create a bond between a human being and a product or a giant faceless corporation, you are going to have a tough time,” Jones said, noting earlier that brands can’t easily cloak mistakes anymore because of social media. “If you make a mistake today, there is no way to hide from the discussion … Using social media, brands can acknowledge their flaws and mistakes when things go wrong, and they can share with their customers the steps they are taking to improve.

There’s crushing pressure for companies and people who represent them to perform with perfection. According to CareerCast’s “10 Most Stressful Jobs” list for the past four years, anxiety is a fact of life for public relations executives. This year, PR executives ranked sixth, just below military members, firefighters and airline pilots, “because of tight deadlines and scrutiny in the public eye.”

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Take it from someone who did PR in a past life: any tiny reason to smile or laugh can make even the roughest day a success. But, of course, I found work-appropriate outlets, because I liked and wanted to keep my job. We know now that the US Airways tweeter wasn’t trolling for the LOLs at their employer’s expense,and captured the image while flagging an offending tweet as “inappropriate” for filtering purposes.

Even though the implicated US Airways staffer is probably red-faced over the incident, seeing the pornographic image in a tweet without warning comes with the territory of working in social media. Whether or not you’re at work, surfing the likes of Twitter, Vine and Tumblr could mean stumbling upon anything, even porn. You don’t even have to actively search for it.

Porn is everywhere on social media, despite crackdown attempts and age filtering methods.

Last month, Vine went a bit further, banning all sexually explicit material from the platform, much to the dismay of various adult entertainment performers. A spokesperson for Vine noted that “We don’t have a problem with explicit sexual content on the Internet––we just prefer not to be the source of it.”

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Facebook already has stringent guidelines on pornographic material. As for Tumblr, porn runs amok, with thousands of blogs and reblogs of explicit material.

Twitter’s rules only restrict pornographic material in profile, header and background photos, in keeping with the platform’s anti-censorship philosophy. Explicit tweets are only moderated in legally-mandated circumstances. 

Within these bounds, some performers and porno-flick makers include “XXX” in their Twitter handles, making it abundantly clear what to expect on their timeline. Even then, you can’t assume: even feeds not filled with porn will sometimes share pornographic images and video links.

But both PG and porn-filled Twitter feeds are able to coexist on the platform without incident and without journalists crying that Twitter “has a porn problem” as they did with Vine. Just after Vine debuted last year, Bloomberg Businessweek’s Jared Keller decried trends of moral panic when porn collides with social media apps. “Life finds a way, and porn finds the Internet,” Keller said.

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As we learned on Monday, porn found its way to @USAirways and it landed in our Twitter feeds. Most of us laughed it off, because we’ve accepted that porn and the Internet have a ride or die relationship. And, thankfully, that reality didn’t prompt US Airways to ground the career of an otherwise competent employee or two.

Derrick Clifton is a Chicago-based journalist and writer primarily covering race, gender and LGBT issues, and their intersections with politics. Follow him on Twitter, on Facebook, or visit derrickclifton.com for more information on his work.

Photo via Aero Icarus/Flickr (CC BY SA 2.0)

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*First Published: Apr 18, 2014, 7:00 am CDT