Today marks four years since Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls accidentally tweeted his own name, and inadvertently became an internet phenomenon.
It was back in 2011 when Balls was shopping for the ingredients for a 14-hour pulled pork recipe in Asda that an aide suggested he search for an article on Twitter which mentioned him. Balls began typing in his name, but a phone call distracted him and he accidentally hit ‘send’, to the delight of the Twittersphere.
— Ed Balls (@edballsmp) April 28, 2011
Balls didn’t delete the tweet afterwards, apparently because he didn’t know he could. It has since been shared over
37,000 46,000 times. Tweeting Ed Balls became an internet meme – spawning photoshopped pictures, celebrity endorsements, media coverage and even fame on London’s tube network.
In 2013 internet users began marking the anniversary of the tweet’s now-legendary publication, tweeting Ed Balls at 4.20pm GMT. 28th April is now known as Ed Balls Day.
What can we learn from this?
- Memes and social media backlashes can come from anywhere. While Balls is in the public eye, even private individuals can find a single tweet can make them a target for mockery or even hate. Balls was lucky; most people just found it funny. However, social media mistakes may have serious consequences. Once made, those mistakes are not easy to fix. Be mindful of what you share on social media. This story about comms professional Justine Sacco’s very ill-judged tweet is a salutatory lesson.
- Tweet in haste, repent at leisure. Ed Balls’ attempts at multi-tasking made him the butt of many jokes. Take a moment to proof your social media posts, particularly if it’s anything important or serious. (That includes checking the links. I once tweeted a link to some underwear I was buying online when I meant to share a news story. #awkward.)
- The internet never forgets. Balls’ eight-character mishap happened four years ago, but it’s still very visible. Be mindful of your digital footprint. Social media has not only made us more accessible to one another, but also more accountable. Your online presence can be an asset or a liability. Any remark you post in the public domain can be found, mocked, distorted or misinterpreted – even years later.
- Acknowledging mistakes can earn you (some) respect. Four years on, the offending tweet is still up. And that Balls has accepted and even joined in the (largely good-natured) ribbing has earned him a little respect (alongside the inevitable laughter at Twitter incompetence).
UPDATE, 4.20 GMT: Ed Balls responds from the campaign trail:
— Ed Balls (@edballsmp) April 28, 2015