Lessons from online screw-ups by Ted Cruz and PewDiePie

In today’s digital-focused world, a screenshot is often worth a thousand
words—and videos, even more.

Unfortunately for some, that means their errors can quickly become
full-blown PR crises.

Here’s what PR pros can take away from a politician and YouTube personality
who recently learned this lesson:

Cruz ‘likes’ a pornographic video on Twitter

Sen. Ted Cruz, a 2016 presidential candidate, made headlines Wednesday when
Twitter users discovered that his account had “liked” a tweet containing a
pornographic video.

The tweet remained on Cruz’s account for nearly an hour. In the early hours
of Wednesday morning, Cruz’s communication director, Catherine Frazier,
tweeted that it had been removed and reported to Twitter:

The Verge

The bit about “and reported to Twitter” would seem to indicate that Cruz
and Co are preparing an “I was hacked” defense popularized by the disgraced
Anthony Weiner. Though it sounds terribly unlikely that a malicious hacker
would take over Cruz’s account just to like a single porn video. The other
option is to blame a lackey with access to the account. Who’s taking odds
on which way this will go?

Cruz later blamed the situation on a “staffing issue”:

TV host Jimmy Kimmel roasted Cruz on his show:

The jokes continued on Twitter and in headlines, including Andy Borowitz’s
satirical piece in The New Yorker, “Porn industry irrevocably damaged by association with Ted Cruz.”

PR lesson: Social media isn’t a game.

Don’t hand over your social media accounts to a PR intern or someone fresh
out of school just because they’re young and seem better connected with
social media users. Handling online accounts for organizations, celebrities
and public figures is hard work, and one wrong click can quickly undo your
branding efforts and get you the kind of engagement you don’t

Though even PR and marketing veterans make mistakes (as anyone who has
handled multiple social media accounts can attest), you should entrust your
social media efforts to those that have an eye for detail and a knowledge
of the online news cycle.


Discover the digital strategies you need to break out of your silo
and succeed in today’s changing marketing communications mashup

Bonus PR lesson: When opportunity knocks, answer the door.

Another lesson PR pros can take from this situation is to jump on marketing
and PR opportunities while they’re hot. Cruz and his staff might have egg
on their faces, but Pornhub is capitalizing on the spotlight.


Corey Price, VP of Pornhub (the parent network of Reality Kings), said in a
statement provided to Motherboard that in light of the now-viral like,
they’re making the video publically available instead of keeping it behind
a premium paywall: “Now our fans can check out the same video a
Presidential nominee, and current Senator, watched in its entirety. Rest
assured, there will be no staffing issues on our end and/or inadvertent
button pushing.”

The video is “the fastest porn video to reach one million views,” Price
said. “That number will only climb as the day unravels.” The title is now,


PewDiePie apologizes for using racial slur

Felix Kjellberg, known to his more than 57 million subscribers as
“PewDiePie,” is the most popular YouTube personality in the world. Though
he often posts videos laced with profanity and controversial content,
people lashed out at the vlogger after he used the N-word during a game he

The criticism intensified after Sean Vanaman, co-founder of video game
company Campo Santo, posted a series of tweets
slamming Kjellberg and his behavior, along with announcing that the company
was filing a Digital Millennium Copyright Act takedown request for any of
its games that the vlogger has streamed:

On Wednesday, Kjellberg apologized in a YouTube video. At the time of publication, the video has racked up more than 5.47 million views:

“Being in the position I am, I should know better,” Kjellberg said in his
video. “I know I can’t keep messing up like this.”

Though his apology was an honest admittance of his misstep along with a
promise to do better, not everyone applauded the move.

The Guardian

Kjellberg’s statement has received a mixed reception from commentators.
While it is a more conciliatory apology than that issued by the star
following the Wall Street Journal’s investigation –
where he railed against “out-of-context” reports
into his use of antisemitic imagery as punchlines to jokes – it repeats the
defence that Kjellberg used racist language only “in the heat of the

Emanuel Maiberg wrote

Kjellberg seems sincere, but it’s a frustrating response. I’ve played video
games my entire life and I’ve definitely done and seen people do dumb
things “in the heat of the moment.” I once saw a friend beat another friend
with an Nintendo 64 controller because he kept using the same cheap move
with Pikachu in Super Smash Bros! But I’ve never seen a friend
hurl a racist slur at another player just because they were angry.

I have, of course, heard every possible racist slur from anonymous players
while playing online. Hearing people yell the n-word over voice chat is
easily one of the worst things about video games and internet culture in
general, and this is the type of behavior Kjellberg participated in and
promoted to his 57 million subscribers on YouTube, many of which discover
new video games thanks to his videos and emulate his behavior in online
games and on their own YouTube channels.

PR lesson: Include action in your mea culpa.

What could Kjellberg have done differently to get critics on his side?
Though he fessed up to making a “stupid” mistake and said he “really wants
to improve [himself],” he didn’t offer his viewers a plan to change his

A plan of action (and restitution, if necessary) are especially important
when your crisis stems from a repeated offense. You must show your audience
that your apology is more than empty words. Without committing to certain
actions, your fans and critics have no way to help you change course and
hold you accountable. In order to foster greater trust after a PR misstep,
include action.

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