By Quentin Fottrell, MarketWatch
HEIKO JUNGE/AFP/Getty Images
Sticks and stones may break bones, but 280 characters can do a whole lot more damage.
The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filed suit against Elon Musk last week, arguing that he misled investors when he proclaimed on Twitter /zigman2/quotes/203180645/composite TWTR +2.03% in August that he was considering taking Tesla /zigman2/quotes/203558040/composite TSLA +4.42% private and had secured the funding to do so. Other reports have suggested that the Department of Justice is investigating Musk for potential criminal charges regarding his tweets.
Under an agreement reached with the SEC over the weekend, Musk agreed to relinquish his role as chairman, but keep his role as CEO. Musk and Tesla will each pay a $20 million fine to investors who lost money. “This was yet another slap on the wrist from a regulator that lost its teeth years ago,” MarketWatch columnist Howard Gold wrote Monday. It’s also a lesson that tweeting can be a painfully expensive pastime.
This is far from the first time that a celebrity or popular business figure has caused a company to incur a significant loss with a tweet. In February, Kylie Jenner, star of E!’s “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” and a fashion empire mogul in her own right, tweeted that she was over /zigman2/quotes/205087158/composite SNAP -1.98% . “Sooo does anyone else not open Snapchat anymore? Or is it just me… ugh this is so sad,” Jenner tweeted to her 24.5 million Twitter followers. Jenner, regarded by her fans as an arbiter of what’s hot and what’s not, was heard. Her tweet was liked 320,000 times. The following day Snapchat stock dropped 6%, or $1.3 billion in market cap, also in part over its decision to redesign its interface.
While Twitter can be a powerful social-networking and marketing tool, hasty or erroneous posts on the site sometimes get pretty expensive. Misfired tweets have ended careers, led to huge fines, and even impacted the stock market. When the Associated Press account was hacked in 2013, the Dow Jones Industrial Average /zigman2/quotes/210598065/realtime DJIA -0.88% plunged 145 points. A tweet appeared around 1 p.m. on April 23 of that year saying: “Breaking: Two Explosions in the White House and Barack Obama is injured.” The AP deleted the post and suspended the account.
Photos are not included in the character count. That also cuts both ways. In 2016, University of Mississippi offensive lineman Laremy Tunsil — who was widely expected to be one of the top draft picks this season — slid to 13th at the NFL Draft after a video of him smoking a substance from a bong appeared on his Twitter profile just moments before the draft. He quickly deleted his account, but it was too late.
4 things rich people do with their money that you should be doing too
If you want to treat your money like high-earners do, here's why you shouldn't try to get rich quick.
Based on the 2016 NFL projections, that tweet likely cost him as much as $10 million, making it possibly the costliest Tweet ever: No. 1 could earn $28.65 million for a four-year contract versus $12.45 million for 13th (although the position plays a role in the contract value too). There was also a $10 million-plus difference between first and 13th place in 2016. Tunsil was picked by the Miami Dolphins. (His agent said his account was hacked.)
The problem with Twitter, aside from such obvious security issues, is that immediacy and informality — the site’s greatest strength — are also its greatest dangers. And in many cases, there’s no turning back once you hit “tweet.” Attempts to delete tweets are often too late. Millions more of these brief musings will live on for posterity when screenshots are taken and posted online, and, yes, retweeted too. “Public tweets are a public and permanent record,” says Daniel Post-Senning, great-great grandson of the grand dame of etiquette Emily Post.
Here are five more regrettable tweets — and the estimated hefty price tags that came with them:
Anthony Weiner tweets away his career
Price tag: $174,000 salary, dreams of being mayor
lev radin / Shutterstock.com
Anthony Weiner, the former Democratic congressman for New York, last year began a 21-month prison sentence for sexting with a minor. But he first resigned in June 2011 after sending a sexually explicit photo of himself to a college student over Twitter. At first, Weiner claimed that his Twitter account was hacked, telling reporters he was the victim of a “prank.” While he lost his $174,000-a-year job — the standard salary for members of both the House and the Senate — he also walked away with the equivalent of around $1.2 million in retirement benefits after just a dozen years in office. Before his prison sentence, Weiner worked as a media pundit, political analyst and blogger, and had an unsuccessful run for mayor of New York. His Twitter account @repweiner hasn’t been active since July 13, 2014. His bio reads: “This here thing is dormant. Sleeping. Maybe dead.”
NBA fines tweeting team owners
Estimated price tag: $525,000
Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban / Reuters
The National Basketball Association has fined team owners thousands of dollars for tweets. In November 2011, Miami Heat owner Micky Arison was fined a reported $500,000 for commenting on the player/trade union bargaining process, which is a no-no for a team owner, according to NBA rules. In 2009, it fined Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban $25,000 for using Twitter to publicly criticize officials after the Mavericks lost a game against Denver. The Miami Heat and the Dallas Mavericks did not comment. A spokesman for the NBA, says both parties were fined, but declined to confirm the specifics. “You’re accountable for what you do on Twitter just as if you put up a sign in the main street of your town,” Post-Senning says.
Spirit Airlines ad blast for $9 fares
Price tag: $50,000
Spirit Airlines /zigman2/quotes/205782179/composite SAVE -2.21% tweeted about $9 one-way tickets from Los Angeles in June 2011, but failed to mention the additional taxes and charges in its brief 140-character ad blast. In November 2011, the Transportation Department fined the Florida-based airline $50,000 for deceptive advertising practices. The taxes and fees were disclosed on the airline’s website, but only after clicking on a second link. (Spirit did not respond to requests for comment.) At the time, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement: “Consumers have a right to know the full price they will be paying when they buy an airline ticket. We expect airlines to treat their passengers fairly, and we will take enforcement action when they violate our price advertising rules.”
Fired for tweeting an opinion
Estimated price tag: Future earnings
Rob Wilson / Shutterstock.com
Everyone is just one tweet away from being fired. In 2010, a 20-year CNN veteran, Octavia Nasr — then a senior editor covering the Middle East — was fired after sending out a tweet saying she had respect for Shiite Cleric Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah. It read: “Sad to hear of the passing of Sayyed Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah. One of Hezbollah’s giants I respect a lot. #Lebanon” During his lifetime, Fadlallah was a vocal critic of U.S. foreign policy and supported suicide bombings against Israel. Nasr apologized for her tweet and said it was an error of judgment. She further defended Fadlallah because she said he took a contrarian and pioneering stand among Shia clerics on women’s rights. (CNN /zigman2/quotes/203165245/composite T -0.48% did not respond requests for comment.)
Time has given Nasr perspective on how fast people react to tweets. “The respect I expressed towards a cleric for his contrarian stance on women and for his openness to dialogue with the west, was a professional opinion based on years of in-depth coverage of the region and in my capacity as a Middle East expert and analyst for CNN,” she told MarketWatch. “The tweet was taken out of context by an extremist group that waged a hate campaign against me.” In such circumstances, journalists often can’t respond or fight back until it’s too late, Nasr added. “Nowadays, everyone wants to play judge as soon as something surfaces on social media. Reporters and media executives must not jump to conclusions, and they must not fan the flames of hatred or sensationalize stories.”
She is founder of Bridges Media Consulting, “a firm that helps businesses and media organizations synchronize traditional and digital strategies,” according to her website .
Fired for tweeting ‘satire’
Estimated price tag: Six months of earnings
In December 2013, Justine Sacco, a PR executive for InterActiveCorp , which runs dating websites Match.com /zigman2/quotes/207178501/composite MTCH +0.79% and OkCupid , was fired after tweeting offensive comments about AIDS in Africa, before stepping on a plane to go there. The company said at the time: “The offensive comment doesn’t reflect the views and values of IAC.” Sacco later apologized “for being insensitive to this crisis — which doesn’t discriminate by race, gender or sexual orientation.” Sacco later said the tweet was intended to be satirical. She spoke to Jon Ronson for his 2015 book, “ So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed ,” about becoming the subject of a global hashtag #HasJusintineLandedYet. “Of all the things I could have been in society’s collective consciousness,” she said, “it never struck me that I’d end up a brutal nadir.” She resumed working in communications for a fantasy sports site in August 2014.
This story was updated on Oct. 1, 2018.