Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Tweet Forces Apology from Top Defense Think Tank

Who says that nothing exciting happens in August in Washington.  Yes, Congress is in summer recess, the president is on vacation, and think tank reports slow to a trickle.  But the usually quiet August in DC got a bit of excitement early this morning due to a provocative tweet from one of Washington's top think tanks.

Here is how Mashable tells the story:
The Twitter account of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), an influential Washington-based think tank, told Amnesty International to "suck it" in response to a tweet arguing that the U.S. needs to "clean up" its human rights record in light of what's happening in Ferguson, according to screenshots taken by multiple people on Tuesday morning.
It's unclear if the tweet was a classic multi-account snafu, in which the operator of the CSIS Twitter feed intended to post with his own personal one but forgot to switch accounts, or if it was intentional. But CSIS seemed to acknowledge the tweet a little bit over an hour later.

This morning, Andrew Schwartz, CSIS's Senior Vice President for External Relations, said it was an intern who sent the tweet.  Here is more from Mashable:
"This tweet was sent by a CSIS intern who had access to our Twitter account," Schwartz said in an email to Mashable. "This intern is not authorized to speak for CSIS and I condemn his words. Apparently, he had meant to send the tweet from his personal account and got confused in the process. The tweet in no way reflects CSIS's views or any views of the scholars at CSIS. I personally apologize to Amnesty and am taking action internally at CSIS to address this incident."

Here is the Twitter apology from CSIS.  Even The Guardian picked up on the story.  Here is what The Raw Story had to say.  Here is what PR Week had to say.  And here is analysis from Muckety.  Here is more from Huffington Post.  And of course, the Twittersphere has had a field day with this tweet.  Some suggest that CSIS's brand has been damaged (doubtful).  Some think that the intern will be fired (possibly).  Others called the situation awkward (definitely).

Thank you interns, for making this Washington summer so much more interesting...By the way, is this the intern who caused all the outrage?  There are a variety of examples of interns being fired for tweets.  And for those who aren't sure about the latest Twitter etiquette, you may want to check out Mashable's "Complete Guide to Twitter Etiquette."

Think Tank Watch should also point out CSIS's joint collaboration with Amnesty.  For example, the think tank hosted a joint event with Amnesty International USA and Women In International Security (WIIS) in 2012 at CSIS's old office.  CSIS has also held events with various people from Amnesty International, such as this one on Syria.

CSIS was ranked as the 4th best think tank in the world by the University of Pennsylvania rankings released earlier this year.  It was also ranked as world's top defense and national security think tank.

Update: CSIS tells BuzzFeed that is has reached out on email to Amnesty and is following up with a phone call of apology.  When asked whether the intern would be fired, CSIS said it was "handling the matter internally."

Huffington Post is now reporting that Dawn Rennie, an Amnesty spokesperson, has said that CSIS has apologized and "no offense has been taken."

Also, the Washington Post has now weighed in, saying that CSIS's Twitter faux pas was worse than an incident in 2011 when a person managing the American Red Cross Twitter account tweeted about a plan to get "slizzerd" (i.e., drunk) on Dogfish Head beer.

Here is more from the Washington Post:
Obviously, there are some limits to the parallels: The Red Cross accidentally tweeted about some off-hour fun. CSIS, on the other hand, accidentally insulted a well respected human rights organization while endorsing a specific (and sometimes controversial) foreign policy tactic as protesters were literally running from tear gas on the streets of Ferguson. So a somber apology probably was the best way for CSIS to handle the situation.
But perhaps what's most damning about the think tank's slip-up is that readers might believe there was a grain of truth in the rogue tweet as far as policy strategy, if not the profane suggestion: While not the most hawkish of think tanks, some CSIS experts do seem to be in favor of an interventionist approach to foreign policy. In fact, the group's Internet home page is currently promoting commentary from Anthony Cordesman, the Burke Chair in Strategy at the institution and a former director of intelligence assessment in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, titled "Iraq: A Time to Act."

Time magazine has just weighed in, saying: "technically, it's the intern's human right to tell people to suck it, so maybe we should cut him some slack."  And New York Magazine has some interesting commentary...

CSIS is trying to move on from the whole incident, saying that they have kissed and made up with Amnesty.

Michael Doran, a scholar at Brookings Institution, poked fun of the incident with this tweet.

Ironically, RAND Corporation just announced it is looking for a Social Media Manager.  This could be the perfect time to jump ship...They are looking for someone "passionate about social media" (check), with a "desire to share that passion" (check), with a "working knowledge of principles of reputation management" (check?).

By the way, here is a CSIS job announcement for an External Relations intern, dated July 24, 2014.  It notes that the intern will update Twitter and Facebook.

Here is a press statement from CSIS, calling it an "unconscionable" tweet directed to Amnesty.  It also notes that CSIS is "embarrassed" by the incident.  A tweet by CSIS calls the intern's tweet "abhorrent."

Even Mia Farrow tweeted about the incident.

The Washington Post's In the Loop has now weight in with some entertaining commentary, and so has MTV.

Should CSIS Fire its Intern?
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