Twitter Flubs: The Colbert Report’s Out-of-Context Tweet Backfires

Friday - 28 March 2014
The Colbert Report

The Colbert Report is under fire for a tweet quoting Stephen Colbert that was taken out of context. Courtesy of Dan Correia

Stephen Colbert’s social media team recently proved how context alone can cause a crisis on Twitter.

Colbert’s team (not his personal account) tweeted a Colbert quote from the Wednesday night show.  The quote received no negative reaction after its original TV airing.  However, on Twitter, the quote had no context and resulted in Twitter users immediately accusing Colbert of racism. The tweet read:

Stephen Colbert tweet

While the quote does seem quite offensive, it was actually part of Colbert’s jab at Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder. Snyder announced recently that he won’t change the Redskins name, despite criticism that it is offensive to Native Americans, but plans to form a Washington Redskins Original Americans Foundation to make up for it.

Colbert’s bit accused Snyder’s gesture of being less-than-sincere.

The sentence before the quote in the tweet:

“Folks, this move by Dan Snyder inspires me, because my show has frequently come under attack for having a so-called offensive mascot, my beloved character Ching Chong Ding Dong. …  Offensive or not — NOT — Ching Chong is part of the unique heritage of the Colbert Nation that cannot change.”

The tweet has since been removed, but not before The Colbert Report caught a crossfire of angry fans sharing the hashtag #CancelColbert. @ColbertReport clarified that Stephen Colbert did not send the tweet:

Colbert sent a similar tweet in his naturally humorous nature:

Make sure your 140-character message is clear.

Unfortunately, Colbert isn’t the first, and won’t be the last, to see a social media crisis emerge from out-of-context posts. With Twitter’s 140-character limit, it’s easy for tweets to convey the wrong message or be taken the wrong way.

Actor Patton Oswalt demonstrated how easily people can misread tweets when he wrote a series of tweets last August, breaking the tweets apart mid-sentence so that they conveyed different meanings. Here is the thread:

Other tweets that received criticism after they were taken out of context include:

Mike Huckabee’s ‘Libido’ Comment

Mike Huckabee, former Arkansas governor and possible presidential candidate for 2016, spoke to members of the Republican National committee about women’s rights and big government policies. Kasie Hunt of NBC news tweeted the speech out of context, which made Huckabee seem extremely sexist:

However, news determined that the quote was only part of sentence in Huckabee’s attempt to make it seem as though Democrats viewed women that way. The full quote is:

“Our party stands for the recognition of the equality of women and the capacity of women.  That’s not a war on them, it’s a war for them.  And if the Democrats want to insult the women of America by making them believe that they are helpless without Uncle Sugar coming in and providing for them a prescription each month for birth control, because they cannot control their libido or their reproductive system without the help of government, then so be it.”

Rick Pitino Says Social media Users are “Not All There”

FOX Sports highlighted a comment from Rick Pitino, head basketball coach at University of Louisville, during a press conference. FOX only highlighted a portion of Pitino’s comment, however, making it seem like he was belittling all people who use social media. FOX even added the comment, “Apparently, Rick Pitino doesn’t like our social media team here at @FOXSportsLive very much.”

Pitino, however, was actually addressing a conversation with Louisville player Russ Smith about facing racism on social media. The comment was meant to encourage Smith not to listen to racist comments.

McDonald’s #McDStories Campaign

A Twitter campaign launched by McDonald’s backfired when people used the hashtag in the wrong context.

#McDStories was meant to encourage McDonald’s customers to share their favorite experiences about the restaurant, but people used the hashtag to instead talk about their bad experiences.

Bottom line: be careful what you write on Twitter — especially if you’re quoting sources or articles. While it might truthful, there’s the chance readers could take it the wrong way.

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One thought on “Twitter Flubs: The Colbert Report’s Out-of-Context Tweet Backfires

  1. Pingback: Journalism Ethics that PR Should Consider Adopting | Gloria Wilhelmina

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