Year dishes up many tweets

The Pope signed up to it in 2012. So too did media mogul Rupert Murdoch.

And it helped unite many in the US as superstorm Sandy destroyed their homes.

About 1.8 million Australians were on Twitter at the start of the year and by November that number had jumped to just over 2.1 million, according to marketing firm Margin Media. Worldwide there are more than 500 million users, many of whom post “tweets” about their lives. But there were others who used it to wreak havoc – sometimes unintentionally.

Former Test cricketer Rodney Hogg was one of the first to set the Twittersphere alight in 2012, tweeting on Australia Day: "Just put out my aussie flag for Australia Day but I wasn't sure if it would offend Muslims . . . So I wrote 'Allah is a shit' on it to make sure." He later apologised after users blasted him for the anti-Muslim post, saying that the original tweet was a "bad" attempt at Australian humour.

Shashank Tripathi, a New York City hedge fund analyst and Republican congressional election campaign manager, also found himself at the mercy of angry Twitter users after he posted what he thought were a series of anonymous tweets that contained fake news about superstorm Sandy. The posts, which were retweeted widely and even reported on by media, led to his resignation as campaign manager after a web sleuth uncovered his identity.

Computer maker ASUS was another that didn't think before tweeting. As a woman unveiled a new computer at the Computex 2012 conference in June, its official Twitter account posted a photo of her from behind with the caption: "The rear looks pretty nice. So does the new Transformer AIO." After people labelled the tweet sexist the company promptly removed it and apologised, saying it wasn't its intention to offend anyone.

Another unfortunate Twitter gaffe saw Celeb Boutique, an online fashion retailer, take advantage of the hashtag “Aurora”, which was used to spread news about the massacre during a screening of the Batman filmThe Dark Knight Rises in Aurora, Colorado. “#Aurora is trending, clearly about our Kim K inspired #Aurora dress,” it tweeted, along with a link to its online store. It blamed its Twitter account being handled outside of the US.

Book publisher Random House in Australia also felt the heat of the Twittersphere in 2012, when on Remembrance Day it posted a message with the hashtag "#LestWeForget" that said it was giving away a selection of war books "in honour of our fallen heroes". Twitter users labelled it, among other things, "sleazy", "dodgy" and "tacky" to hijack the hashtag. The publisher apologised for any offence caused and deleted the original tweet.

A PR attempt by Coles, which asked users to complete the sentence "in my house it's a crime not to buy . . .",also fell flat on Twitter, resulting in numerous sentences such as this one by user @downesy: "In my house it's a crime not to buy . . . BREAD AND MILK AT PRICES THAT ALLOW PRIMARY PRODUCERS TO SURVIVE" and this by @Pollytics: "Food from markets while Coles exploits mental illness via pokies."

The retail giant tried to back-pedal from its faux pas, later tweeting "It's a social media crime not to . . . finish a sentence yourself. Sorry guys that post was not meant for twitter."

Gloria Jeans also tried to use Twitter to generate some positive PR after threats of a boycott because of its donations to anti-gay groups. It began tweeting that it was also donating to charities that had no religious affiliation with the hashtag #WithHeartLocal. But Twitter users soon turned on the coffee chain and hijacked the hashtag, with one posting "Are they selling you coffee or funding hate?", appending the #WithHeartLocal hashtag.

Tiphereth Gloria, social media planner at VML Australia, said the use of Twitter and other social media meant companies could no longer hide behind PR people.

"Transparency is everywhere online," she said.

Ten Australian Twitter users with some of the biggest follow counts:

This story Year dishes up many tweets first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.