As we all know, if you fail it means you’ve – well, screwed up. Spectacularly, in fact, if you do it online (and countless people do) or, especially, on Twitter. Here, if you try to tweet and see the “Fail Whale” symbol, it means the network is overloaded. Also, “Fail” has come to be used for blunders such as sending a private message by mistake to all your contacts or followers, thus making it – very – public.
The politicians and celebs who send the most tweets are obviously the most likely victims of a Fail. It happened recently to TV presenter Russell Brand, who tweeted a photo of his now ex-wife, singer Katy Perry, without makeup. He claimed it had been a mistake. Or Britain’s best-known black politician, Diane Abbott, who rather rashly tweeted that “white people love playing divide and rule”, which earned her a reprimand from the party leader. There’s nothing you can do to un-tweet a Fail. Once tweeted, it’s out there. Even if you delete the message from your own Twitter account, there are hundreds or thousands of followers who still have it on theirs. It’s also possible to Fail on Facebook, if you post a message on your wall that was only meant for one of your friends – but to do that, you have to suffer a real loss of concentration. It only needs a moment’s inattention on Twitter.
There are several options if you commit a Fail: You can deny it and claim to have been the victim of a hoax or a hacker (“It wasn’t me who wrote that message on my Twitter account, it was a pirate”). The kind of thing tried by US Senator Anthony Weiner, in an attempt to explain away his infamous “boxer shorts” Fail…. before he caved in and admitted it.
You can try to put a positive spin on it or subtly change it’s meaning, or claim it was a DM (direct message) fail – but that’s unlikely to be very credible either.
Or you can do it the Spike Lee way: after a Florida teenager was recently shot by a neighbourhood watch captain, the director retweeted what he believed was the address of the killer to his followers – over 250,000 of them. It was the wrong address. Lee is reported to have paid an undisclosed sum of money to the real owners of the address, a retired couple, as compensation.
Ashton Kutcher, a serial offender, is rumoured to have handed over control of his Twitter account to his manager.
If the Fail ends up costing you your job, your reputation or your marriage, that’s called Twimmolation.