Read This Before You Tweet During the Next Bout of Breaking News

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 Don’t spread rumors. Unless you were there, or it was confirmed by multiple sources, just don’t retweet it. If you were there, stick to the facts.

Yes, sadly, “How to Tweet in a Crisis” still needs to be said, possibly never more before than now, almost nine years after Twitter launched.

If social media can be credited with one thing, (other than making it very easy for celebrities to post horribly embarrassing comments in real-time,) it’s that time and time again, if there’s a real-time crisis unfolding somewhere in the world, social media will be in the middle of it, and more than likely, it will be Twitter leading the charge.

While this can be incredibly beneficial for the dissemination of information, (think the Arab Spring,) it can also lead to tremendous amounts of misinformation, outright lies, and the destruction of both personal and brand reputations, all who either didn’t think their comments through, or didn’t bother to think ahead

Hopefully, with these few simple ideas below, you won’t find yourself a victim of either a lack of judgment, a forethought, or just plain empathy.

Twitter is a place for thoughts, opinion, fact, satire, and everything else under the sun. But if you want to wake up the next day with a better reputation than the one that accompanied you to bed the night before, it might behoove you to heed these thoughts, if you’re planning on tweeting during a crisis.


Just because you can spread a rumor with one click, NEVER means that you should.

I get it. I really do. That “RT” button makes it so easy, and so damn tempting. It should be renamed the “do a line of coke, no one will ever know” button. But therein lies the problem. 99.9% of the time, YOU SHOULD NOT CLICK RETWEET DURING A CRISIS.

Several years ago, a suitcase was left in front of Grand Central Station, in NYC. One tweet went out that Grand Central was under a bomb threat, and within minutes, Twitter was overtaken with stories about people dying, explosions, mass evacuations, you name it.

Except for one small fact: The only true fact of that day was that someone had accidentally left a suitcase in front of Grand Central. Nothing else, not one other item, was true. But the Twitter rumor mill had grabbed hold, and there was no stopping it for hours.

Fortunately, this was when Twitter was still relatively new – Today, there would be news stations across the country grabbing any tweet they could as fact, and running with it without a second thought.

Do not contribute to this. It is wrong, and it diminishes social media as any sort of credible news source. (And let’s face it, social media isn’t that damn credible to begin with.)

Are you there? Did you actually see something happen? If then (and only then,) by all means, contribute. But do it the right way: “Manhole explosion on the corner of 39th and 5th, flames shooting out,” with an attached photo YOU TOOK, is a perfect tweet. In fact, it’s 100% perfect. This is in complete contrast to “MANHOLES BLOWING UP ALL OVER NYC, FLAMES EVERYWHERE,” tweet, that would be surprisingly easier to tweet, and sadly, much more retweetable. Don’t give into the temptation. Think of not retweeting a bad tweet as an exercise in self-control, one which you’ll be happy to have won the next day, when your retweet isn’t one of those called out as an example of bad facts.


Let’s face it – Very few, if any of us, are anywhere near as funny as we think we are. Quite the opposite. This goes double in a crisis situation.

Here’s why you need to be very, very careful if you’re going to use humor during a crisis:

1) The situation is fluid, and could get a lot worse. A somewhat-funny joke you make when something is small becomes the poster-child of bad taste when three hours later, hundreds or thousands of people are dead.

2) There are a lot of people out there who don’t have the same sense of humor as you. They could be directly affected by whatever is going on, and your joke is insensitive at best.

3) 99.9% of the time, it’s just simply easier to not make the joke, especially if you’re a brand.  7/11 once tweeted about “National Mental Health Day,” and how the “Shadowy forces that control our brains” would want us to enjoy the day. When there are over 3,000,000 people in this country alone dealing with mental health issues, probably not the best thing to tweet. Remember – It’s a big world out there. Chances are, someone isn’t going to find what you said funny, and more often than not, it’ll be a heck of a lot more people than just one.


I can’t say a blanket “no,” here, as we all saw the success that Oreo had with their “dunk in the dark” tweet a few years ago, so I’ll just say this: If there is any chance at all of a story going negative, stay far, far away.

Examples abound of this, including the Social Media PR firm who tweeted “If the passengers on flight 370 were using social media, they’d all be geotagged and we could find them.” 

In the end, a skydiving term applies when it comes to brands or regular users on Twitter: “Have fun, be safe, and don’t do anything stupid.” (Tweet this!)

The rule I use, and I encourage you to use it as well, is this: If I have to think for more than half a second about whether my tweet is appropriate, will offend, or could be taken the wrong way, I simply don’t post it. I encourage you to do the same.

Any tips that I might have missed? Leave them in the comments, and I’ll pick one winner to join me at the launch party of Zombie Loyalists in late January, sponsored by Gogo Inflight.

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