What Can We Learn from U.S. Airways' Twitter Mistake?

US Airways Boeing 767-200ER (N253AY) lands at London Heathrow Airport, England.

If you've been keeping up with the news, you may have heard about the latest social media brand disaster. U.S. Airways, in an effort to respond to a complaint, accidentally re-posted a pornographic image someone else had tweeted to the company's American Airlines Twitter account.

Apparently, someone managing the merged companies' social media accounts accidentally attached the extremely graphic picture to a tweet intended for a different customer. The intent was to include a link the unhappy customer could use to provide feedback regarding her travel. No doubt, the recipient was surprised with the resulting photo, which was not-safe-for-work.

The image was live on the company's U.S. Airways Twitter feed for about an hour before they removed it and issue an apology:

"We apologize for the inappropriate image we recently shared in a Twitter response. Our investigation has determined that the image was initially posted to our Twitter feed by another user. We captured the tweet to flag it as inappropriate. Unfortunately the image was inadvertently included in a response to a customer. We immediately realized the error and removed our tweet. We deeply regret the mistake and we are currently reviewing our processes to prevent such errors in the future."

Aside from the fact that tweeting pornography from a company's account garners lots of attention from the media and from Twitter users, who had plenty to say in response, what can the average social media user learn from this episode?

Anyone can make a mistake

Presumably, this was an honest mistake on the part of someone tweeting for U.S. Airways. The image was originally sent to one of the company's accounts, which explains why it was so readily available on the tweeter's device. What about the rest of us? While you may not keep pornography on your desktop or Smartphone, judging from images posted on various networks, many social media users have easy access to photos they wouldn't necessarily want to post to a public forum.

If you use your computer and phone for work as well as personal use, how easy would it be to make an error and send a career-killing image to the masses? Keep this in mind when you're using social media to post links and images. It can be especially challenging to double-check that you have the correct links via a Smartphone.

You never know where your updates will lead

Elle, the woman who accidentally received the lewd image, had been complaining to U.S. Airways about her travel. She had sent several unhappy messages without a reply from the airline. Once the mistake on U.S. Airway's part hit the media, her Twitter feed, which she uses to complain to various companies, came under scrutiny. While her recent Twitter bio alludes to the fact that she only occasionally turns to Twitter to complain, the stream of tweets doesn't do anything to help her image. If a potential employer saw the Twitter stream (assuming it is under her real name), the tweets may cause him or her to think twice about hiring her.

Even though, in the big picture, Elle may actually only occasionally complain, the fact that a casual view of the tweets in her stream gives the impression that she does noting but gripe leaves a poor impression. It's unlikely she anticipated being under scrutiny for her tweets, which she may have thought were innocuous.

Keep in mind -- anything you post online has the potential to go viral when you least expect it. If you wouldn't want your name or Twitter handle mentioned in association with everything you post, keep it to yourself. And employers will search for and find your social media updates to help them assess your emotional intelligence, even if you don't share them in your application materials.

Originally published