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US Airways Investigates How Pornographic Image Was Shared on Twitter

Statement Points to Human Error, Not a Hack

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US Airways is experiencing some turbulence on Twitter.

The airline is doing damage control after inadvertently publishing a pornographic tweet. In response to a customer who was complaining about a flight delay in Charlotte, the US Airways Twitter account sent a conciliatory message, urging her to submit her feedback, along with a link to an extremely graphic photo of a woman and a model airplane.

The tweet remained up nearly an hour before US Airways took it down and followed up with an apology:

A US Airways spokeswoman reiterated to Ad Age that the airline was investigating the incident to figure out how its processes had failed.

BuzzFeed points out that the same image was actually tweeted at the US Airways handle earlier today, which raises the possibility that the airline's social engagement software ingested it, or it was simply a copy/paste error by whoever was manually sending tweets for US Airways' account.

In a statement provided to Ad Age, US Airways said the image was "posted into our 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."

US Airways said it is "currently reviewing our processes to prevent such errors in the future."

At this point, many brands use sophisticated technologies to prevent this kind of mishap. Sprinklr CEO Ragy Thomas observed that brands typically catch mistakes like this before they go live with an approval process that includes at least one other set of eyes on every tweet before they are published.

Mr. Ragy speculated that the US Airways gaffe happened when the photo "got saved and the wrong picture got selected because it was coming from the same library or something."

US Airways isn't the only brand to have recently committed a gaffe that went viral. In November, Home Depot tweeted out a photo with racist subtext. (The text "Which drummer is not like the others?" ran with a photo of a man in a monkey costume seated in between two African-American men.) In that case, it was chalked up to poor judgement, and Home Depot's agency (which they didn't mention by name) was thrown under the bus.

Chrysler fired its social media agency after one of its staffers tweeted from the @ChryslerAutos account: "I find it ironic that Detroit is known as the #motorcity and yet no one here knows how to fucking drive."

And AT&T was rebuked for the crass commercialism of its 9/11 commemoration tweet: an image showing beams of light shooting up from the Twin Towers site, captured in the screen of a phone.

Whether US Airways's error was the result of a software glitch or human error (or some combination) is currently unknown. It obviously wasn't intentional and then regretted after the fact, as Home Depot and AT&T's tweet were.

Brands having their Twitter accounts hacked used to be more of a regular occurrence. Jeep and Burger King's accounts were hacked within a day of each other early last year, for example. Twitter subsequently rolled out two-factor authentication, a security feature that makes it much harder to hack accounts, which brands had been asking for.

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