Politicians live in a day and age where it’s easier than ever to write up a quick message to say hello to constituents or give their opinion on breaking news or hot issues. Social media can be elected officials’ greatest companion -- it was pivotal in reaching out to young voters for Barack Obama’s first presidential campaign and has since been a tool to easily create name recognition nationwide.
But on the flip side, the ease of composing a tweet or a Facebook post can sometimes put politicians in a precarious position.
Take, for example, Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Fla., who came under fire this week for a tweet he posted about police.
“Every time we occupy a neighborhood with militarized police, we not only attack the mischievous, but also the innocent,” read the tweet.
The problem wasn’t with the tweet itself, but the photo accompanying the caption. In it, police in camouflage uniforms and gas masks point their guns at a black person with their hands up. On the far right of the photo is a graffiti-adorned mailbox which reads “F*** the police.”
The same post was made on Facebook, but with the graffiti-laden mailbox removed.
Grayson’s camp went into damage control after the tweet came under fire, saying his staffers who posted the tweet didn’t realize the issues with the photo.
“This graffiti, and this image, should not distract from the real issue, which is how the militarization of the police has harmed the relationship between the police and the public, especially neighborhoods with people of color,” read a statement from Grayson’s office.
“The tweet sent out by Congressman Grayson’s staff about the militarization of the police included some graffiti that used an obscenity to disparage the police,” the statement continued. “This graffiti was part of the original image, and the photo house’s agreement does not allow altering of the image (outside of cropping) in any way. No offense was intended towards anyone, and had we been able to alter the image we would have.”
Grayson’s not the only one to commit a social media faux pas in Florida politics. Rep. Matt Gaet, R-Fort Walton Beach, was the center of controversy at the end of this year’s regular legislative session.
When Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, and her fellow Democrats filed a suit with the Florida Supreme Court over the House adjourning early, Gaetz was quick to fire back on Twitter over their legal action.
"This lawsuit reads like it was researched and drafted by Sen. Joyner and spell-checked by Sen. Bullard,” tweeted Gaetz.
Even though 140 characters may not seem like a lot of space to cause a commotion, sometimes that’s all it takes.
Gaetz’s tweet made waves across Twitter, with Joyner denouncing the tweet as racist. House Speaker Steve Crisafulli came to Gaetz’s rescue, saying although he didn’t condone the tweet made by Gaetz, he certainly didn’t think he was a racist.
“He is an agitator, yes, but not a racist,” Crisafulli tweeted. “Please accept my apology to those offended.”
Even former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has had issues on social media. Though Bush himself wasn’t guilty of posting anything off-color, a staffer on his Right to Rise PAC resigned his job -- Buzzfeed discovered he had posted inflammatory tweets referring to women as “sluts” and made other inappropriate tweets.
In a world where 140 characters can mean a significant change of opinion, Floridia politicos have taught us it’s important to think before hitting send.
Reach Tampa-based reporter Allison Nielsen by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter: @AllisonNielsen