Accountability: The New Four Letter Word?

Posted on November 28, 2011 by


In my last article, I looked at what happens when you put your words on the internet, and I used Ashton Kutcher as an example.  However, what happens when the person who tweets is a regular person, and not a celebrity?  Emma Sullivan sent a tweet about Kansas governor Sam Brownback.  According to the article, she tweeted, “Just made mean comments at gov. brownback and told him he sucked, in person (hash)heblowsalot.”  The governor’s staff, who monitors social media platforms for use of the governor’s name, saw the tweet and outrage ensued, culminating in a demand from both the governor’s office and her principle for an apology.  Sullivan has so far refused to issue one.  She even has her own support page on Facebook.  As of approximately one hour ago, Gov. Brownback issued his own apology to Sullivan, saying his office overreacted.

As it happens, I am one of the few people who thinks that she should apologize, but it is for a completely different reason.  Gov. Brownback’s staff demanded an apology for the content of her tweet and for her tone, saying she was disrespectful.  I have no quarrel with that.  In fact, as she is 18, she is eligible to vote.  As such, she is more than entitled to her opinions of the governor and of the job he is doing.  I also applaud the fact that this young woman is aware of the issues in her state and has an opinion about them.  Additionally, I support her right to vocalize those views however she sees fit to do so.  So, why then, do I think she should apologize?

In her tweet, Sullivan claims to have personally told the governor that “he sucked.”  In fact, she did no such thing.  This is what she needs to apologize for.  Had she actually said those things to him, I would have no issues with her refusing to apologize.  Yet, she did not say those things.  According to the article, her defense is that it was meant as a joke to her friends, who were assumed would take it as such.  However, she didn’t nudge a friend in the ribs to whisper it.  She didn’t send it in a private text, or send it in an email.  She sent it out into the Twitterverse, and herein lies my problem with it.

I live in Indiana where Mitch Daniels is governor.  I do not like Daniels.  Specifically, I hate the fact that he is trying to eviscerate our public school system.  The list goes on from there.  So, using Sullivan’s logic, I should be able to tweet to my friends the following: Gov. Daniels raped me for the last time. Voting him OUT!  Metaphorically, it is a true statement.  It also accurately expresses my feelings about him and the job he is doing in my state.  However, I have never met Gov. Daniels in person, and he most certainly has never sexually assaulted me.  To send a tweet like this would be a lie.  Granted, it may be perfectly understood by my friends, but by sending it out on Twitter, I have not only sent it to my friends but to everyone out there who has a Twitter account.  I have an obligation to both myself and to the people who read my tweets to be accurate.  In some cases, depending on what it is I write, I could be sued.  “But Erin,” some have said, “it was meant for her friends.  How should she know that ‘Big Brother’ is watching?”  She put her words on the internet.  Everyone is watching, even if they are not all watching at the same time.  “But Erin,” others have said, “so what if it was a lie?  Who cares?”  I do, for one.

Aliaa Mahdy is an Egyptian woman and blogger who posted a nude photo of herself on her blog as a form of political commentary.  This action could cause this young woman to lose her life.  She had the courage to take an action that could possibly kill her because she needed her voice to be heard.  She did not make up something to post, even though it would have been safer for her to do so.  She took a risk.  Sullivan took no risk.  She pretended she had the courage to do something and is now reaping the benefits of the press coverage that resulted.  If she simply wanted to make her feelings known, she could have done that with a differently worded tweet.

Did Sullivan intend for her tweet to go as public as it did?  I doubt it.  It did go public, though, as any tweet has the possibility of doing.  I feel she has an obligation to apologize for misrepresenting her actions, even if she does not apologize for her tone or her sentiments.