Twitter's outrage engine kicked into high gear late Monday night after the popular Twitter account for frozen pizza line DiGiorno tweeted this:
The tweet was an attempt to capitalize on the popularity of a trending hashtag, a common trope within the quirky corporate Twitter account genre. The problem here was that the tag, #WhyIStayed, was not a particularly appropriate avenue to sell pizza from: the thread was created as a way for women to share stories of spousal abuse to show support for Janay Palmer, a woman who was assaulted by her partner in an Atlantic City elevator back in February.
The person managing DiGiorno's account quickly realized the error, deleting the original tweet and appearing to compose personal apologetic responses to anyone who had voiced disapproval.
Nevertheless, the tweet sparked considerable outrage, with some users mocking the professional talent of the account's operator, while others voiced more prescient disappointment with the potential distress the tweet may have caused some women using the hashtag.
Compare this to the reaction to a promotion tweeted by Spirit Airlines last week, which made light of the systemic theft of intimate images of dozens of high-profile women that had dominated headlines at the time.
The teachable moment in DiGiorno's offensive tweet is "make sure you understand what a hashtag means before you tweet about it;" an important lesson no doubt, but clearly not one based on calculated contempt for the agency of women over their bodies and identities.
Spirit's teachable moment is almost too sweeping to articulate, and extends from the judgement of individual decision makers to the mangled corporate culture that precipitated it. More significantly, their teachable moment never actually came: faced with significant public outcry and negative media attention, a Spirit representative eventually told HuffPost "It coincides with a trending news story that's out there... It was not meant to be offensive," adding "[o]ur ads are meant to be different. We acknowledge and accept that some people may not feel the same way."
Even in this scenario, where an apology would almost certainly not have been enough to repair the damage, it is somewhat remarkable Spirit Airlines couldn't even muster that.
In general, intent is a clumsy and even problematic way to explain people's actions on the internet. Token fauxpologies like Spirit's are a dime a dozen in the high-stakes world of free opinion.
But there are also times when the people (yes, people) that represent organizations online make unintended but deeply offensive mistakes, and make an immediate, human effort to correct them. In some cases, they may just have earned the benefit of the doubt.