It doesn't take a bad deed to plunge into online hot water. All it takes is poor judgment.
SpaghettiOs, a division of Campbell Soup, learned that the hard way when it posted a well-intentioned tweet to commemorate the 72nd anniversary of Pearl Harbor Day. The tweet displayed the pasta brand's lip-licking mascot in tennis shoes holding an American flag. The post ignited a firestorm on social media.
Typical of the indignant tweets was this one, "@SpaghettiOs really?? C'mon corporate morons. Ridiculous and frankly offensive."
SpaghettiOs took down the tweet and apologized for the offense. But it left pundits to wonder why someone thought it was necessary to interject a brand into a commemoration, raising questions about whether it was an attempt to exploit the occasion for profit.
In reality, the tweet probably represented a well-intentioned effort to add the brand's voice in remembering when Japanese planes bombed Hawaii, catapulting a stunned United States into World War II. It's doubtful the corporate tweeter was thinking about sales or profits. He or she was trying to engage online.
This is where judgment should have entered the picture. Someone should have paused before hitting the "tweet" button to assess potential reaction to the post.
Reading reactions on BuzzFeed, most centered on use of the mascot holding the flag. The mascot's smiling face seemed out of step with the import of the post. It would like a corporate spokesman smirking while announcing a round of worker layoffs.
In the anything-goes world of social media, engagement is a good thing. But it needs to be married to a healthy dose of good judgment.
If it is any consolation, people can be insensitive in physical as well as virtual space. A Chicago bar near Wrigley Field advertised on its outdoor marquee, "Remember Pearl Harbor with Bombs & Kamikazes." The bar owner quickly took down the sign after regulars at the bar and community members protested. Naturally, he went on Twitter to apologize "to our whole country."