Twitter gaffes foster sense of authenticity

Ambassador to the US, Joe Hockey, got in trouble recently for "liking" a tweet that called the Prime Minister a “cranky p...k”.

Hockey quickly blamed hackers for accessing his Twitter account illegally, although he did not expressly reject the sentiment the hackers endorsed on his behalf.

The cyber-scandal occurred during an ABC Q&A program, on which Turnbull appeared solo, very much in a post leather-jacket mode, and where he snapped at many of the audience members who irritated him with questions.

The tweet, from noted economist (and former adviser to prime minister Julia Gillard) Stephen Koukoulas, read in full: "Turnbull – wow. Showing what a cranky p...k everyone who has worked with him says he is #qanda".

Sometime later Hockey's account "liked" the statement.  Everyone jumped on him, in a sort of group cyber-snigger, and Hockey, back in the driver's seat of his account, tweeted: "Don't get too excited. It looks like I've been hacked. AFP now investigating."

Later in the week the AFP issued a statement saying it had been contacted by Hockey about "alleged unauthorised access of his Twitter account" but as it hadn't received a formal referral, it was not investigating.

One of the dreadful ironies of social media is that it feels so ephemeral, but it can, at its worst, blow up into an enormous, public shame-bomb that splatters throughout your life and is impossible to erase from the record.

This is a lesson contemporary parents are forever trying to impress upon their teenagers. Members of my generation were able to smoke jazz cigarettes at parties,  commit low-level sexual stupidities, and wear risque clothing – like scrunchies – without fear of photographs being posted anywhere, except, perhaps, on the wall of your best friend's bedroom.

You could change your mind from minute to minute and no one would know, because it wasn't recorded.

Perversely, this meant you could be authentic in a way that is barely possible now.

Social media, particularly for politicians, is supposed to break down walls and allow direct and free communication.

It is supposed to help foster the authenticity they are always chasing.

We should let them make mistakes on it, and they should feel free to make them.

  • Jacqueline Maley is a Fairfax Media columnist