Alec Baldwin’s Twitter tirade, Facebook’s Starnes block highlight social media perils

By Alex Weprin 

As a whole, there is no doubt that social media has made the world of television even more awesome. Viewers can interact directly with actors, producers and executives, and the water cooler effect makes talking with friends about the latest episode of “Homeland” (or “Masterchef,” or “Big Bang Theory” or whichever show you prefer) that much more enjoyable. That said, there are still perils associated with social media, and a pair of incidents in the last few days offer learning experiences.

The first is Alec Baldwin’s Twitter tirade. Baldwin, best known for his turn as Jack Donaghy in NBC’s “30 Rock,” referred to a columnist in The Daily Mail as a “toxic little queen,” and seemed to make homophobic threats against the columnist for a column that said that Baldwin;s wife was tweeting at James Gandolfini’s funeral. As it happens, The Daily Mail column was false, based on a misreading of Twitter’s timestamp system. Nonetheless, Baldwin’s tirade drew sharp criticism, and the actor once again left Twitter. He previously left the social network after he went on a tirade against American Airlines.

While it is terrific that public figures now have a way to interact directly with fans, it is sometimes easy to forget that the world is watching. The damage to a brand, be it of an actor, TV show or network, can be harmed dramatically by one stray comment, or in the case of Baldwin, a series of bad comments.

The second incident involved conservative radio host and Fox News contributor Todd Starnes. Starnes wrote a comment on Facebook about how he is “as politically incorrect as you can get.” He did not curse, or make threats, but Facebook nonetheless blocked his account for over nine hours for violating its community standards. The social network would later admit it made a mistake, but the damage was done.

It was similar to an incident in 2010, in which Facebook removed a similarly innocuous post from Sarah Palin after people on the site complained about its content.

Services like Facebook and Twitter are great, but they are not perfect. To a certain extent everyone–even high profile people–are at the whim of the companies that operate the services. Mistakes, as with Starnes and Palin, will undoubtedly happen in the future. The fault lies with the companies, but we all have to remember that no one person or organization has a guarantee that their accounts won’t be subject to similar problems down the line.