The mayor who Twittered (or didn’t)
Note: The following contains some language you might not normally expect to read on a Sunday afternoon. You’ve been warned.
It was dinnertime on Friday night and the city of Greenville, SC was ramping up to another night of revelry. Summer in the city would see thousands of people milling around the downtown bars and restaurants. It was all a testament to the success of a two-decade revitalization project, most of it overseen by local boy done good, Knox White.
The mayor looked out over his domain, and if we’re to believe his Twitter feed, decided to tell the world, “I don’t know, but he’s being a real motherfucker about it. Call me.”
Those of us who have met the smiling, glad-handing mayor could picture the friendly vitriol. It was certainly possible somebody had crossed the mighty mayor on Friday afternoon and the city’s leader had committed the equivalent of the “open mike at a press conference” sin. It was no scandal. You don’t change the face of a city this fast without a few blue words. And it looked like Mayor White was going to dispose of his slip of the fingers as quickly as possible.
Eleven minutes later came the next Twitter post. It read, “sorry about that folks guys, was intended to be a private message. my apologies.”
Folks guys around the Upstate snickered, “Somebody needs to teach Knox to delete his Tweets.”
Anybody can create a Twitter account under any name they choose. When I began using the social networking service, somebody had taken the name “Otis” already, so I created the _Otis_ account and have been using it ever since. After using Twitter for a while and realizing it wasn’t going to die off quickly, I made sure to secure my real name. My reasoning was two-fold. First, I might need it in the future. Second, I didn’t want anybody else pretending to be me. I went to this effort despite my only lasting fame being based on eating keno crayons for money.
There are a ton of cases of real celebrities getting on the Twitter wagon too late. The most famous is probably Shaquille O’Neal. Somebody took Shaq’s name before he could get to it, forcing Shaq to do the next best thing and create THE_REAL_SHAQ account. Baseball’s Tony LaRussa just went one step further down the baseline and sued Twitter because someone was impersonating him online.
But that’s for the big celebs, right? That’s for the people who come to Greenville to play in the BMW Pro-Am Golf tournaments with Kevin Coster and Cheech Marin and then walk a red carpet in front of Knox White’s City Hall. The mayor of the little city should never have to worry about that, right? He should never have to worry about people looking for his face and seeing…
By 10:30 that Friday night, the bars in downtown Greenville were hopping. Hundreds of people had looked at a screen capture of the mayor’s misstep and asked, “Seriously, is he ever going to delete that? One little motherfucker isn’t going to hurt anybody, but he really should delete it.”
By 10:45pm, the mayor of Greenville, SC had become der fuhrer. The photo of the smiling White had been replaced by the black and white visage of Adolf Hitler. The user name read “Adolf Hitler” instead of “Knox White.” The bio had been changed from “Hey, y’all! Would like to talk to my fellow Greenvillians” to “PISSY!” The offending “motherfucker” comment had finally been removed. The last message (and the one that remains of this writing) is the undecipherable “Tickle es Jungs.”
Knox White Adolf Hitler only lost two followers.
There are several explanations for what transpired over that few hours and none of them are particularly helpful for the mayor’s reputation. The most obvious is that he messed up and is now trying to cover his tracks. It’s been suggested by local Twitter maven Amy Wood that the account never belonged to the mayor in the first place. Based on the number of celeb impersonations, that is a likely story, except for the fact the impersonator would have had to have been really good at finding the right people for the mayor to follow. The people the knoxwhite account followed were a who’s who of the city’s inner workings, and not exactly the kind of people your average huckster would know about. Case in point: I’ve been in a fantasy football league with a guy for the past eight years and worked with him for six of those years. He now works in local government and has a Twitter account that I didn’t know existed, but whoever ran the knoxwhite account did.
The next scenario seems to be the most likely to me–the mayor messed up, his account became public very quickly because of the publicity, and then somebody hacked the account and changed it to make White look worse.
Finally, it very well could be as Amy suggests, that someone has been impersonating White all along. If so, I don’t get it. The whole idea behind a hoax like this is to make a big splash during the reveal. Instead, if there was an impersonator, he chose to make it look like the mayor slipped up and used some bad words and then changed the account to portray Hitler?
So, what really happened? Who is the motherfucker? What does Tickle es Jungs mean?
Maybe the mayor will tell us when he gets back to the office. Or maybe he has no idea.
Maybe that’s the real problem here.
Let’s be clear: If you are a public figure, ever hope to be, or are serving as a PR consultant or publicist for someone who stands to be even mildly famous, you are being irresponsible for not securing a spot on Twitter and Facebook. Yes, Twitter and Facebook can be vapid holes of despair from which nothing good can ever rise. They also happen to be places where hundreds of thousands of people spend hours each day. If you are a politician or leader, these people are your constituents. If you have any hope of connecting with these people you need to be on top of it. At the very least, you need to have “your people” on top of it. And you need to check out who is using your name. In this case, we’re supposed to believe White has the ability to change the face of a city, but isn’t keeping tabs on what his face looks like online. (Knox, right now it looks like Hitler.)
Whether this is a wakeup call for people of Mayor White’s ilk, we’ll have to wait and see. It may very well be the good ol’ boys would prefer to keep doing things the good ol’ fashioned way. And, you know, maybe that’s for the best.
Because, as Mayor White learned this weekend, technology can be a real motherfucker.
Update: Rather than write a whole new post on this, here are a few updates.
Late last night, a local reporter tipped me that “Tickle es Jungs” is a bad Babel Fish translation of “Tickle it, guys.” That’s the catchphrase of local shock jocks, The Rise Guys. Since then, the Rise Guys have denied any responsibility for the impersonation/hacking. That’s pretty smart, because to claim responsibility for it would mean the Rise Guys aren’t funny. They are smart enough to pull off better gags than this. That is a long way of saying, “Hey, mayor, we’re funnier than that. Blame somebody else, man.”
Update: #2: WYFF is now on the story and reports White denies any connection to the account. White said, “I do not have a Twitter account. It’s too bad people can get on there and act like an imposter. We will be investigating this.”
Good luck, there.
Update #3: And now the @knoxwhite account has been deleted.