Even after thinking

I often find myself reminding people of the notion to think before you post. “Would you be happy if your Granny read that”, “is that really necessary” etc? I remind myself of the rule too – there are posts which I delete or rephrase on a daily basis. This post is about one of them.

Last week I was on holiday with my family. We’ve been camping, and staying in an area with little signal. As a result I’ve been fairly quiet on my various social networks, but when we visited towns with decent 3G I was trying to keep up with all the updates, posts, pictures, news and posting a few updates on one of my twitter accounts. I use one for work related matters, and one more centered around rugby and family days out. I try to keep both accounts positive and polite, but know that they’ll appeal to different audiences.

Whilst waiting in a shop I wasn’t particularly interested in and flicking through my stream, a tweet appeared from my local road traffic policing unit. They often tweet about road closures, catching drivers and vehicles without insurance, but this one was a little different. The tweet showed a picture of two people crossing a pelican crossing carrying suitcases and bags. The tweet read:

“Horbury Rd, Wakefield. Vehicle seized for no insurance yesterday. Driver living out of car. #luggagewalkofshame”

I started to ask myself if they had thought about how that would come across when they wrote the tweet. But then a second tweet came through. A picture of a car (with it’s number plate concealed) and the tweet read:

“Carr Gate, Wakefield. Driver also living out of car. Again no insurance or licence. #carinsurancenothomeinsurance”

My heart sank.

I hoped that there was far more to these tweets – although the owners of the vehicles had broken a law, and the fixed punishment for no insurance is seizing the vehicle I wanted to believe that the officers would still offer advice and assitance. I felt disappointed by the use of hashtags in this sad and sensitive situation. I decided I wanted to reply.

I quickly wrote a reply and then read it back to myself – nope, try again. A second attempt to convey my feelings within 140 characters, then a third. Eventually I decided I’d managed to convey my message of hope and disappointment and I left it at that.

My reply was the second of about ten an hour or two later, and by the next day the original tweets had been deleted. However without my knowledge they had been seen by some journalists and the story had been featured in a couple of papers, or at least their online versions. By Saturday morning the story had been featured in the Daily Mail, The Mirror, The Huffington Post, The Independant, The Yorkshire Evening Post and a number of other local newspapers. Headlines such as ‘West Yorkshire Police Slammed’ and ‘West Yorkshire Police Sparks Outrage’ might have been a little sensationalist with just ten responses but that’s what they generally originally went with. Nobody asked my permission to use it – and why should they, it was me who made the comments public?

My tweet has been featured in nearly all of the online reports. My name and the things I said has been associated with fairly strong terms – none of which I used. Outraged, Disgusting, Disgraceful etc. I stand by my tweet, I was disappointed with the lack of empathy and the flippant use of hashtags. I also do hope they had helped the people involved if they were truly homeless.

Another day, and the internet moves on. The headlines have changed as the story has progressed. The force removed the tweets and issued an apology.

“This is clearly an inappropriate tweet which we have immediately removed from our Twitter account, and we are looking into the circumstances as to why it has been posted.

Regardless of any offences people have committed they still deserve their human dignity and we would apologize for the offence this has caused.”

My words will forever be associated with this news story. I’m glad I at least gave myself some time to think.

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