A tale of two twitties: when is it OK to kill the social messenger?

The past week has seen a couple of errant tweets leading to major corporations firing people. 

Scott Bartosiewicz, an employee of social media contractor New Media Strategies, was stuck in traffic and tweeted, “I find it ironic that Detroit is known as the #motorcity and yet no one here knows how to fucking drive.”

Unfortunately, his tweet went out under @ChryslerAutos, an account he used to tweet on the automaker’s behalf, instead of under his personal Twitter account.

Dude was immediately shitcanned by Chrysler, along with his agency, resulting in 20 additional people losing their jobs.

The second incident involved comedian Gilbert Gottfried, who, unbeknown to me and probably everyone else, was the voice of the AFLAC duck. Gottfried, on his personal twitter account, posted some lame, too-soon attempts at humor about the mess in Japan. AFLAC, which evidently makes a nice dollar in Japan, immediately announced they were firing Gottfried.

One of these dismissals was WRONG and one was RIGHT. Which was which?

Chrysler was WRONG. An apology would have been enough. When you enter the social space, you’re establishing a bond with your followers. You’re saying, “Hey, we may be a big corporation, but—within reason—we’re not afraid of joining our customers in this chaotic, freewheeling realm.”

Who among us hasn’t tweeted or posted something ill-considered? We’re humans. By firing Bartosiewicz, Chrysler showed tone-deafness to their followers and the rules of social media in general. Sure, the guy’s tweet was profane, but it was human. Everyone thinks their town has the worst drivers. The tweet did not disparage or reflect poorly on the Chrysler brand in any way. Chrysler’s elephant gun reaction, however, did. By my reckoning, the response on Twitter has been largely negative. Chrysler showed that underneath their glossy carnuba wax exterior, they have a thin skin and no sense of humor—a bad combination for social. If you’re going to play in the sandbox, you have to expect some uncomfortable moments, because sand WILL get in your underwear.

On the other hand, AFLAC was RIGHT, or at least on sturdier ground. Gottfried’s Japan tweets were pretty indefensible. AFLAC had legitimate, cash money interests at stake. Gottfried’s jokes had the potential to offend AFLAC’s Japanese clients (and everyone else with a brain) whether they were tweeted, delivered in a TV monologue or shouted from the rooftops. Firing him, an ancillary contractor with no direct bearing on business operations, was a legitimate action to protect their brand. 

The only question I have is why such a risk-averse business (they’re an insurance company, after all) risked working with Gottfried to begin with. His work is notoriously profane, so in a sense it was only matter of time before this happened. And what difference does it make who voices your duck?

Thoughts? Flames?