Jean-Sun Hannah Ahn accepts the Miss Seattle crown before tweets she posted months before made her the centerpiece of a familiar but dangerous social media "lesson." (missseattle.org)

OK. That’s it. It’s time this social media “lesson” got a review.

On March 3, former Miss Phoenix Jean-Sun Hannah Ahn was crowned Miss Seattle.

Soon after, KIRO-FM’s website, MyNorthwest.com, reported that back in December, before Ahn had decided to compete for the Seattle crown, she had tweeted, “Ew I seriously [am] hating Seattle right now,” and “Take me back to az!!! Ugh can’t stand cold rainy Seattle and the annoying people.”

KIRO’s Linda Thomas wrote, “She should reconsider the way she uses social media if she wants to be a public figure.”

The story went viral. The Associated Press, the L.A. Times, the Today Show and others picked it up. Haters hated. Clicks soared. Ahn began her tenure in a theater of apology. And as the dust settled, The Seattle Times ran a recap that started like this:

Once again, class: There is no such thing as a private tweet.
As one social-media expert explains, “If what you tweeted would run as a headline, would you be OK with that? If not, don’t use it.”

No. No, no, no, NO.

If you are not a celebrity, a media personality, a tip-toeing brand or anyone otherwise shackled by fame or circumstance to predictable expression, then please, for the love of all we value, ignore this advice. It’s not for you. It can’t be for you.

You are the free people of the social Web. If you filter what you share based on whether it could be a headline somewhere, what is most awesome about social media — their power to help us harness our passions — could degrade into the same mix of fear, caution and artifice that cripples so much of our public discourse.

I’m not saying that venting your frustration at a city or its people is a step on the path to a better society. But feeling free to be ourselves with our own social networks, to say what we think without a blown-up fear of being misunderstood by peering strangers — that just might be.

Social media provided, in my view, the first automated documentation of a human truth — that we are more than what we say or do at any one time. Sometimes I’m happy. Sometimes I’m mad. Sometimes, you can bet, I complain about Seattle’s weather.

I’m mindful of what I say on Twitter, just like, on another level, I’m mindful of what I say out loud. But I’m not going to sum myself up in 140 characters for the convenience of quick judgment. That’s not what the medium is about. It’s by putting the pieces together that you begin to know the real person. We know that — we see that — and that’s awesome.

It’s typical and acceptable for media of all shapes, sizes and pedigrees to treat politicians, celebrities and other prisoners of scrutiny as ticking time bombs, able to blow their own character away with a single phrase.

Want it to be acceptable for them to do that to you?

It doesn’t have to be.

Let me not play innocent here. I’ve earned many a page view as a journalist off the over-judged, overblown but somehow fair-game stumbles of public figures, including public figures who didn’t know they’d been elevated to that status when they said whatever was so buzzworthy. You, meanwhile, have clicked eagerly on that story and the next, because that’s the game and that’s how we play it.

So I understand where everyone who extracts a social media “lesson” out of Ahn’s bad day is coming from. They’re giving good tips to stay safe in a cruel new world, one with more ears in more places than ever before.

But maybe this world isn’t as cruel as the lesson implies. Maybe, instead of expanding the boundaries of scrutiny, we can take a cue from what social media has shown us about ourselves and expand the boundaries of understanding. This new world has more voices in more places than ever before, too. And it’s not enough just to have a voice. We have to use it. We have to keep it sharp.

Increasingly, we’ll need to defend it.

Look at where we’re headed. Facebook’s one-click “Like” button is all over the Web. On Twitter.com, the Twitter retweet has gotten easier, while quoting a tweet to add your own comment has gotten harder. The companies, brands and content creators learning to navigate social channels don’t want you to engage with their posts anywhere near as much as they want you to pass them along. You are copy machines. Steps toward virality. Proof of penetration. Followers. Likers. Stats. If it sounds like a regression to the Nielsen rating days of traditional media, that’s because it is.

Somewhere down the line, social media voices that started out following their own rules began to fit neatly into one or another predictable package. Out of convenience, out of complacency, and yes — out of fear.

Tweet what you’d want in a headline? Nah. Tweet what you have in your heart. The big stuff and the little. The good, the bad, the human. If someone doesn’t understand it, discuss it. If someone attacks it without trying to understand it, call them out on it. It’s their problem. Not yours.

Not ours.

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Comments

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Cameron-Newland/10700278 Cameron Newland

    I couldn’t agree more, Mónica! I’m glad that you’re defending the ability to share freely and be genuine.

    Recently when I served as a member of a volunteer Board of Directors at one of Seattle’s largest  arts institutions, I was cautioned to moderate my personal tweets at the request of a staff member. I was shocked to have been asked to do that. Their request was a contributing factor that later led me to resign my volunteer board seat. If an organization (or, in Miss Anh’s case, the media/public) doesn’t support an individual’s right to speak their mind, then I don’t want anything to do with that organization.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Stephanie-Ware/1031162773 Stephanie Ware

    Great article Monica! I have to say I love your writing style. Sincere, passionate and honest. Thank you!

  • Philip Weiss

    While I agree with you that the “lesson” is bogus, your final thoughts are bogus too.  I say what I want and it’s someone else’s problem if they don’t like it?  Not really.  Their opinion is just as valid as the original speaker.  If someone wants to bash Seattle at the same time (or within a couple of months) as attempting to be feted by the city, I am easily within the bounds of reason to call out that hypocrisy.

    • http://moniguzman.com Monica Guzman

      My point is not about the validity of differing opinions. It’s about the importance of each of us feeling free to say what we truly think without adopting as a burden the disapproval of others. If others disapprove, it is on them to challenge us with their own true thoughts before it is on us to apologize for ours.  

      • Anonymous

        Sure, people should be willing to speak their minds. But Philip’s point is important.  She accepted the role of representing Seattle.  While I think the whole “Miss Seattle” thing is deeply stupid (as is my right to say), she should have never accepted the role.  Doing so was completely hypocritical.  If I were the pageant organizer, I’d fire her tweetin’ rear.

  • Anonymous

    A good friend once shared with me that we have the freedom to speak freely, but that doesn’t make us free of consequences.

    Choose your words wisely.

    • http://moniguzman.com Monica Guzman

      Well said. What I think is often overlooked: With enough demand, momentum and reason, the range of acceptable consequences for a set of actions can change.

  • http://twitter.com/SoftwareWorlds SoftwareWorld

    Even I found seattle cold , wet and depressing when I went there from california.. so what ? It doesn’t mean I hate the place or the people. A tweet is just a tweet..lighten up folks.

  • dejavu

    “But I’m not going to sum myself up in 140 characters for the convenience of quick judgment”

    That is exactly what is wrong with Twitter. Most people do not have the time to “put all the tweets togehter to get to know the real person”.

    If you don’t care, post away. If you represent a company or an entity, beyond simply yourself, be careful.

    At the very least count to ten before pushing your thoughts out to the world….

    • http://moniguzman.com Monica Guzman

      Agree — particularly when you’re angry or feel negative, it’s important to be mindful of what you say and how you say it before you say it, for the sake of clarity. As to your comment on Twitter: Is it what wrong’s with Twitter, or what’s wrong with the way we allow ourselves to judge people? I know it’s naive to expect that we wouldn’t question a questionable statement — we absolutely should, particularly if it comes from someone in power — and I’m speaking in generalities here, but if you don’t have time to get the context around someone’s position as expressed casually in a medium that works best when it reveals bits of us at a time, how much sense does it really make to form harsh judgments about that person’s character? 

      • dejavu

        or what’s wrong with the way we allow ourselves to judge people?”

        I am not a fan of twitter. The people I care about I actually have relationships with. The people I don’t know, I don’t see the point of getting to know them by following 140 word snipits as the dribble out.

        I think it is great for news,updates and opinions (ones that people stand behind) and the like, but this is a perfect example of the fall out of instant communication to masses.

        If you are going to tweet, tweet away, but don’t put the blame on me for wondering why a gal that posts hate the weather and people is Miss Seattle.

        This is all on her. 

  • http://robiganguly.com/blog Robi Ganguly

    Yes, yes, yes! ” Tweet what you have in your heart.” 

    If we are to make technology more human and serve us, it must allow us to be more of who we are. If there isn’t space to be authentic, honest and human, then we’ve gained nothing. Great great post Monica. 

    Also, to those who say that there is hypocrisy in play here or that we have to be more mindful of the consequences I say this: bring yourself to these situations with empathy and understanding. If you’ve never been upset or had a bad day or thought a bad thought, so be it. But for the rest of us, I think that simply looking in the mirror is enough to understand the truth: we are more than just a word, sentence or a speech. Rushing to judgement about any person’s 140 character missive reflects poorly upon you. 

    • http://moniguzman.com Monica Guzman

      “If we are to make technology more human and serve us, it must allow us to be more of who we are. If there isn’t space to be authentic, honest and human, then we’ve gained nothing.”

      Love the way you put this. Thanks. 

  • http://twitter.com/katemats kate matsudaira

    Monica – this is a great post.  It is nice to see someone standing up for being authentic and real.  Plus even though that reported skewered her – who doesn’t hate winter Seattle weather sometimes?

  • http://twitter.com/jclaussftw Jason Gerard Clauss

    I totally stand by her. The only thing that sucks worse than Seattle’s weather are its passive-aggressive yupster denizens.

  • http://twitter.com/EricBurgess Eric Burgess

    Monica, did you have a chance to ask her what she meant by “the annoying people” statement? I’m just curious. Everyone rants about the weather but I’d be curious to know who/what she was referring to by her “annoying people” comment.

    • http://moniguzman.com Monica Guzman

      No, I didn’t. She’s said she was having a bad day, and those can lead to an overflow of statements that reflect a general mood more than a specific position — a distinction friends are quicker to pick up than strangers, though it’s no less real. After all, how many people actually believe, do you think, that an entire population of a city could possibly be “annoying” when they say as much, most likely in anger or frustration? It sounds to me like a statement that isn’t meant to reflect an absolute fact, but maybe one or two unfortunate encounters. Of course, none of us can know what precisely motivates a person’s statements. We have to go by a mix of their explanations and our emotional intelligence.

  • Jim Westley

    Monica, I take it you didn’t see her Twitter feed before she cleaned it up? You wouldn’t be writing an article in her defense if you’d seen the 20 or so other tweets she deleted. They were beyond the weather, and beyond Seattle residents being annoying. 

    • http://moniguzman.com Monica Guzman

      I didn’t get to see the other tweets before she cleaned them up, but I heard about them, and heard that she tweeted with what sounds like a negative attitude about more than just the city. This column is less about Miss Seattle’s particular case than about the broader practice of judging someone by a tweet, so I don’t know how much to comment on that. It’s true that there’s no such thing as a private tweet, but in another way it’s not true at all, or at least, it’s complicated. She had a limited number of followers who actually saw the tweets as they came, and may have gotten accustomed to tweeting certain moods over others to this group of people. I’ve known people to be jerks/clowns/goofs in one part of their lives but serious saints in another. We expect consistency of character in public life where we don’t necessarily demand it in our private lives. I think that’s interesting.

      • dejavu

        “We expect consistency of character in public life where we don’t necessarily demand it in our private lives. I think that’s interesting.”

        Pretty simple really. Geekwire has standards I am sure where there is a boundry of what you can tweet as it pertains to representing the company.. You may think CEO is a clown, or company XYZ is a smoke screen, but I doubt you tweet that, especially if they are an advertiser.

        As an individual, nobody can dictate or put boundries on what you say, do or tweet.

        The lines get fuzzy, as when you tweet as an individual, it still in some ways represents your employment.

        You might do a piece on why companies are now looking at facebook pages prior to a hire decison. They would like you to walk the talk.

        • http://moniguzman.com Monica Guzman

          Yeah, no doubt. I recently read an article about how some employers, notably in security-related industries, are asking applicants for the passwords to their Facebook accounts. Their passwords! I get the motivations behind the ask, and know that in certain fields maybe this is inevitable, but I still hope that people are able to keep some independence in their social networks from all facets of their professional lives, just to let us breathe, be ourselves, and get creative freely. Granted, this is easier on Facebook, which has gradients of visibility, than on Twitter, where you’re either public or not. Here’s the article: http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2017797105_apusjobapplicantsfacebook3rdldwritethru.html

  • http://twitter.com/voipnorm Chris Norman

    As a person who moved to Seattle from a bright sunny place, the weather in Seattle does suck at times and yes people even those in Seattle can be annoying. She said nothing that all of us haven’t felt or said at some time. She has a right to say it as does everyone else. 

    Everyone just needs to get over over it and move on.

    Good article Monica.

  • LNGU

    you should have gotten a real response from Miss Seattle. She would have loved to contribute to your article! nice job! a fresh, fresh seattlite-like view of social media! love it!

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