Sticks and stones may break bones, but 140 characters can do a whole lot more damage.
While Twitter can be a powerful social networking and marketing tool, hasty posts on site sometimes get pretty expensive. Misfired tweets have ended careers, led to huge fines, and most recently upended a murder trial. As reported this week in the Wall Street Journal, that case and others across the country highlight how Twitter and other types of social media are disrupting the jury trial.
The problem with Twitter, say experts, is that immediacy and informality -- the site's greatest strength -- are also its greatest dangers. "When you choose to communicate on Twitter, you choose to move your private thoughts to a [public] stage," says Derrick Daye, managing partner at LA-based consultancy The Blake Project. As a result, he says, "an ill-judged tweet can be extremely expensive."
And in many cases, there's no turning back once you hit "tweet." Attempts to delete tweets are often too late (just ask fallen congressman Anthony Weiner). Millions more of these brief musings will live on for posterity, enshrined in an archive being created by the Library of Congress. "Public Tweets are a public and permanent record," says Daniel Post-Senning, great-great grandson of the grand dame of etiquette Emily Post.
And the growing awareness of Twitter's pitfalls doesn't seem to be diminishing the number of mistakes. Even Oprah Winfrey, who's normally able to move from one medium to the next with ease, recently stumbled. The world's 14th most powerful woman -- according to Forbes Magazine recently tweeted asking those with a Nielsen box to tune into her TV network. It's against Nielsen policy to influence ratings. Winfrey, who has over 9.5 million followers, deleted it at the request of Nielsen, and there have been no other ramifications. But her near miss shows how even those accustomed to the public eye need to tread carefully online.
Here are five of the more regrettable tweets so far -- and the estimated hefty price tags that came with them.
Anthony Weiner tweets away his seat
- Price tag: $174,000 salary, dreams of being mayor, president
Anthony Weiner, the former Democratic congressman for New York, resigned last June after sending a sexually explicit photo of himself to a college student over Twitter. At first, Weiner claimed that his Twitter account was hacked, telling reporters he was the victim of a "prank." While he lost his $174,000-a-year job -- the standard salary for members of both the House and the Senate -- he also walked away with the equivalent of around $1.2 million in retirement benefits after just a dozen years in office, as SmartMoney.com reported. These days, he works as a media pundit, political analyst and blogger. Weiner did not respond to a request for comment.
Juror tweets, judge orders retrial
- Estimated price tag: $600,000-plus
The Arkansas Supreme Court reversed the murder conviction of a death-row inmate after a juror tweeted that the trial was over nearly an hour before the jury announced its verdict. The defendant, Erickson Dimas-Martinez, was convicted in 2010 of robbing and shooting a teenager. His lawyer said the juror's tweets violated the trial judge's instruction not to talk about the case. One Tweet read: "Choices to be made. Hearts to be broken. We each define the great line."
A new trial could cost taxpayers $600,000, says John Wesley Hall, a criminal defense attorney in Arkansas for nearly 40 years and past president of National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. "If anything smacks of an unfair trial the defendant should get a new trial," he says. Even if the juror did not intentionally discuss the case with anyone, by sending the Tweet, he was inviting conversation, according to Arkansas lawyer Andrew M. Taylor. "There's really no excuse for his behavior," he says.
NBA fines tweeting team owners
- Estimated price tag: $525,000
The National Basketball Association has fined team owners thousands of dollars for tweets. Last November, Miami Heat owner Micky Arison was fined a reported $500,000 for commenting on the player/trade union bargaining process, which is a no-no for a team owner, according to NBA rules. In 2009, it fined Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban $25,000 for using Twitter to publicly criticize officials after the Mavericks lost a game against Denver. The Miami Heat and the Dallas Mavericks did not comment. Tim Frank, a spokesman for the NBA, says both parties were fined, but declined to confirm the specifics. "You're accountable for what you do on Twitter just as if you put up a sign in the main street of your town," Post-Senning says.
Spirit Airlines ad blast for $9 fares
- Price tag: $50,000
Spirit Airlines tweeted about $9 one-way tickets from Los Angeles last June, but failed to mention the additional taxes and charges in its brief 140-character ad blast. In November, the Department of Transportation fined the Florida-based airline $50,000 for deceptive advertising practices. The taxes and fees were disclosed on the airline's website, but only after clicking on a second link. A spokeswoman for Spirit declined to comment on the fine. At the time, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement: "Consumers have a right to know the full price they will be paying when they buy an airline ticket. We expect airlines to treat their passengers fairly, and we will take enforcement action when they violate our price advertising rules."
CNN editor Octavia Nasr fired for tweet
- Estimated price tag: Future earnings
In 2010, a 20-year CNN veteran, Octavia Nasr -- then a senior editor covering the Middle East -- was fired after sending out a tweet saying she had respect for Shiite Cleric Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah. It read: "Sad to hear of the passing of Sayyed Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah. One of Hezbollah's giants I respect a lot. #Lebanon" During his lifetime, Fadlallah was a vocal critic of U.S. foreign policy and supported suicide bombings against Israel. Nasr apologized for her tweet and said it was an error of judgment. She further defended Fadlallah because she said he took a contrarian and pioneering stand among Shia clerics on women's rights. CNN and Nasr did not respond requests for comment.