But the self-taken image of a pouty Meghan McCain, daughter of former presidential candidate Sen. John McCain, posted to TwitPic Wednesday night – and her profanity-laden Tweets in response to other users' comments – has caused an uproar, and serves as an important lesson for the share-happy set.
Twitter can be something different to everyone who uses it. For one thing, there's no manual. We've seen it used as operatic inspiration, as personal shopper, even as interview platform – who can forget the "Twitterview?" It can also be a powerful tool under an oppressive government as we saw in Iran, or a great crowd-sourced fund-raiser.
But one thing that's rarely trumpeted in the headlines is that Twitter can be a great instrument of self-destruction. Sure, celebrities get most of the headlines (see: Miley Cyrus, John Mayer), but too much opining online can lead to serious offline trouble.
A classic example is the experience of "@theconnor." Last March, he turned to Twitter for advice on a job offer: "Cisco just offered me a job! Now I have to weigh the utility of a fatty paycheck against the daily commute to San Jose and hating the work," he tweeted. A short time later a response arrived: "Who is the hiring manager. I’m sure they would love to know that you will hate the work. We here at Cisco are versed in the web." The exchange earned the "Cisco Fatty" nickname, and he's become a veritable Internet meme – with a website, YouTube parodies, and, well, reference in this post.
It's easy to see why publicly badmouthing a potential employer isn't a good idea. But was McCain's deed – posting a provocative photo of herself to TwitPic – so bad? Probably not, but the truth is, it doesn't matter.
It's easy to forget, as McCain likely did, that Twitter's "Update" button could just as easily read "push at your own risk." As a public figure, (a blogger and vocal supporter of her father's campaign), her every move is watched. That doesn't stop online. As we've shown, Twitter is a powerful tool. But without calm and careful attention, the instant communication that it offers – free from the filter of PR minders and image consultants – can be a dangerous one as well.
Update: Meghan McCain posted the following to her Twitter account at 3:45 EST Thursday: "I would like to thank my family and friends for their support. This has been an embarrassing experience but also a learning one. I will not be deleting my twitter account but I will be more careful in the future about my use with the medium."
We're using Twitter, but you won't find any racy photos of us here: @CSMHorizonsBlog.