Let’s talk politics today, shall we?

OK, not really politics, but the politicians who don’t know how to use the web appropriately.

In one corner we have Mike Winder, West Valley City (Utah) Mayor, who was using a false identity to write news stories that were published in at least three different publications.

In the other corner we have Sam Brownback, the Kansas governor, who demanded an apology from a high school student because of a disparaging tweet she sent about him.

Let’s see who will win the biggest moron award. 

Mike Winder

The Utah Mayor used pseudonym Richard Burwash to write news articles about the city he governs, saying he wanted to highlight “good news” after cutbacks in coverage of local government.

He admitted writing more than a dozen articles under the byline, that for more than two years appeared in the daily Deseret News, KSL-TV’s website and the Oquirrh Times, a community weekly.

He even quoted himself, as Mayor, and used anonymous city employee sources in his stories.

When asked about his motive behind doing this, he said he wanted:

To try to restore balance in the Deseret News‘ coverage of his city, claiming the paper focused too much on crime and not enough on “good news” in his community.

He also defended himself by saying other American such as Benjamin Franklin, James Madison, and Alexander Hamilton all used pen names.

No matter. PRSA condemned this practice by saying:

The basic tenets of ethical communications practices, as addressed in the PRSA Code of Ethics, require that those representing organizations or governments serve the public interest by advancing the free flow of accurate and truthful information.

Sam Brownback

The Kansas governor’s office had a field day when high school student, Emma Sullivan, was visiting the capitol last week and tweeted:

Just made mean comments at gov brownback and told him he sucked, in person #heblowsalot.

Seeing the tweet, Brownback’s communication director called the principal at Sullivan’s school, who demanded she issue an apology.

The thing is…Sullivan had only 65 followers at the time. And, until her visit to the capitol, she tweeted only about Edward and Jacob and Justin Beiber. Typical teenage stuff.

Now she has more than 9,000 followers and is tweeting quotes from Ghandi, things about free speech, and thanks for all of the support she’s getting.

Turns out her tweet does fall within free speech and Gov. Brownback issued an apology to Sullivan for their “overreaction.”

The Lessons

This web thing is a hard one to figure out. You lose control of what people will say and do.

But the thing is, you never really had control. You just had the perception of control because you couldn’t hear and read what people were saying. People have always been people. Now we just have a bullhorn for our messages.

Clearly Winder never should have published news stories under a pen name. By quoting himself and anonymous city employees, he knew he was doing something wrong and unethical. Not to mention not transparent, which is one of the platforms he’ll run on as he eyes the Mayor seat for Salt Lake County.

The governor’s office should be monitoring what is being said about him online, and bravo for being on top of it. But to make such a big deal over one tweet from a teenager who has 65 followers? That’s a ton of time wasted…and a ton of the governor’s time that could have been spent, oh I don’t know, running the state.

You can create owned media, but put your own stinking name on it. You should be monitoring the web for what is said about you, your company, and your products or services. But please, please, please have a strategy. Without it you’ll overreact to a teenager with 65 followers.

Oh and the biggest moron award? I say Mayor Winder receives it because he is still unapologetic.

Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder, CEO, and author of Spin Sucks, host of the Spin Sucks podcast, and author of Spin Sucks (the book). She is the creator of the PESO Model and has crafted a certification for it in partnership with Syracuse University. She has run and grown an agency for the past 15 years. She is co-author of Marketing in the Round, co-host of Inside PR, and co-host of The Agency Leadership podcast.

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