The 10 greatest scandals ever tweeted

Twitter's greatest scandals

Anthony Weiner
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It was once possible to keep public figures' outrageous behavior a secret. This is 2013, however, and those days are long gone.

Thanks to the digital revolution, it now takes just seconds for an ill-chosen word or indiscreet photograph to reach millions of people worldwide and cause damage that can be almost impossible to undo (even for those with top-tier public relations teams).

One of the primary vehicles for modern scandal dissemination is Twitter. Launched in 2006, the service has more than 200 million active users, and according to data the company released in March, those users create over 400 million messages, or tweets, a day.

With that kind of platform and that kind of reach, it's an understatement to say that what happens on Twitter doesn't stay on Twitter. It's more accurate to say that the world is quite literally watching, and many public figures have had to find that out the hard way.

What follows is a list of 10 cases in which a single tweet took over an entire news cycle, almost always to the chagrin of the person who sent it. Some of these tweets brought their senders notoriety and free publicity, but in some cases they ended what seemed to be promising careers.

Read ahead for the 10 greatest scandals ever tweeted.

By Dan Bukszpan
Posted 01 August 2013

CNBC tells the story behind the rise of Twitter, the social media giant whose 200 million active users have made it a fixture at home and around the world. Twitter Revolution arrives Wed., Aug. 7, at 9 p.m. ET/PT.

Ashton Kutcher

Ashton Kutcher
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Actor Ashton Kutcher was a prolific and popular Twitter user. In 2009 he became the first person to have over 1 million followers, beating his closest rival, CNN. But even the most experienced Twitterer will occasionally step in it, and in November 2011 that's exactly what he did.

When Penn State football coach Joe Paterno was fired over revelations of sex abuse in the school's athletic program, Kutcher, who was unaware of the whole story, took to Twitter.

"How do you fire Jo Pa?" he tweeted. "#insult #noclass as a hawkeye fan I find it in poor taste."

After doing himself the favor of finding out what had actually happened, a chastened Kutcher went back to Twitter. "Fully recant previous tweet!" he wrote. "As of immediately I will stop tweeting until I find a way to properly manage this feed."

Dane Deutsch

Source: Dane Deutsch

Dane Deutsch was a Wisconsin state Senate candidate. In March 2010, he tweeted, "Hitler and Lincoln were both strong leaders. Lincoln's character made him the greater leader whose legacy and leadership still lives on!"

According to the Associated Press, Deutsch later explained that he only meant to contrast Lincoln's "righteous character" with the considerably less upright one of the dictator of Nazi Germany.

The explanation did nothing to put the controversy to rest, and Deutsch lost the 2010 election to his opponent, Democrat Robert Jauch.

Alec Baldwin

Venturelli | WireImage | Getty Images

Alec Baldwin's accomplishments as an actor have at times been overshadowed by his periodic Twitter outbursts. He has sent inflammatory tweets about American Airlines, Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe and country singer Hank Williams Jr., to name but a few. But his most recent Twitter outburst may be his last.

Reporter George Stark of the UK's Daily Mail reported that the actor's wife, Hilaria, was tweeting at the funeral of "The Sopranos" star James Gandolfini. Baldwin took to Twitter to unleash a barrage of hostility in which he called the reporter a "toxic little queen" and used other homophobic slurs.

After he calmed down, Baldwin apologized to both the reporter and to the gay rights group GLAAD for the rant, then deleted his Twitter account.

Roland Martin

Frederick M. Brown | Getty Images

Former CNN contributor Roland Martin raised the ire of the gay rights group GLAAD during the 2012 Super Bowl when he tweeted about an H&M underwear advertisement that ran during the broadcast. "If a dude at your Super Bowl party is hyped about David Beckham's H&M underwear ad, smack the ish out of him!" the Tweet said.

GLAAD interpreted this message as an incitement to violence against gays and called on CNN to fire Martin. Martin explained that his comments were not about gays but actually about soccer fans. Nobody bought it, and he released a formal apology on his website.

CNN suspended Martin, releasing a statement that read, "Language that demeans is inconsistent with the values and culture of our organization, and is not tolerated. … Roland will not be appearing on our air for the time being."

Associated Press

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The Associated Press didn't cause a scandal, but its Twitter account was hacked in April, and the hackers issued a phony tweet that caused brief but very real panic. It read, "Breaking: Two Explosions in the White House, and Barack Obama is injured."

But the wire service organization quickly set the record straight. "The @AP Twitter account has been suspended after it was hacked," it tweeted. "The tweet about an attack on the White House was false."

The hoax wreaked considerable havoc in the short time it was believed to be true. The Dow dropped from 14,697.15 to 14,548.58, and although it stabilized minutes later, the incident had erased $136 billion from the equity market, according to Nikolaj Gammeltoft of Bloomberg News.

Anthony Weiner

Anthony Weiner
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Former New York Rep. Anthony Weiner was a rising star in the Democratic Party. His impeccable liberal credentials included 100 percent ratings from both NARAL Pro-Choice America and the Human Rights Campaign, and he seemed poised for a high-profile political career.

His dreams of higher office collapsed in the wake of a scandal in which he tweeted a link to a photo of his bathing suit area to a 21-year-old woman in Seattle. After weeks of denials, he ultimately fessed up and resigned from Congress.

Weiner staged a comeback in the 2013 New York mayoral campaign and even led in the polls for a hot minute. It all disintegrated into an ugly déjà vu on the revelation that he had continued sending lewd texts under the name "Carlos Danger" long after his resignation from Congress and despite assurances that he had changed his ways.

Kenneth Cole

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In February 2011, Egypt was engulfed in protests directed at President Hosni Mubarak. As the world watched, clothing designer Kenneth Cole used the occasion to tweet about his company's latest shoe line.

"Millions are in uproar in #Cairo," he said. "Rumor is they heard our new spring collection is now available online at http://bit.ly/KCairo -KC"

The designer faced immediate criticism. The tweet was deleted and he issued a personal apology. "Re Egypt tweet: we weren't intending to make light of a serious situation," he said. "We understand the sensitivity of this historic moment -KC."

In addition to the criticism, Cole had to contend with a spoof Twitter account called @FakeKennethCole. "We stand with the people of Egypt," it said, according to the Los Angeles Times. "President Mubarak -- step down NOW, and I'll give you 15% off any non-sale item in our stores."

Meghan McCain

Meghan McCain arrives for the Trevor Project's 2013 'TrevorLIVE' Event Honoring Cindy Hensley McCain at Chelsea Piers on June 17, 2013 in New York City.
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The Daily Beast's Meghan McCain is the daughter of the Senator and former presidential candidate John McCain. In October 2009 she posted a photo of herself to Twitter in which she brandished a copy of Andy Warhol's biography.

The photo also contained a considerable amount of cleavage, and she soon received a slew of hostile responses from some of her followers, many of whom branded her a "slut" for the way she was dressed in the photo, according to the New York Daily News.

"[When] I am alone in my apartment, I wear tank tops and sweatpants, I had no idea this makes me a 'slut', I can't even tell you how hurt I am," she said. Eventually, she simply apologized. "I have clearly made a huge mistake and am sorry 2 those that are offended." According to the Daily News, the photo was viewed 103,911 times.

Courtney Love

Amanda Edwards | Getty Images

Musician Courtney Love is no stranger to controversy—or to tweeting. In April 2011 she took to her personal Twitter account to offer some choice words about the Foo Fighters' Dave Grohl, formerly known as the drummer for Nirvana, the band led by Love's late husband, Kurt Cobain

Love accused Grohl of trying to seduce her daughter, Frances Bean Cobain. "I hear from frannies roommate that @davegrohl hit on frances, and that she was curious," Love said.

"Unfortunately Courtney is on another hateful twitter rant," Grohl said in the New York Daily News. "These new accusations are upsetting, offensive and absolutely untrue." This statement was corroborated by Cobain.

"I have never been approached by Dave Grohl in more than a platonic way," she said in a statement. "Twitter should ban my mother."

Paraskevi Papachristou

Matt Dunham | AP

Paraskevi "Voula" Papachristou is a Greek gold medal triple jumper who distinguished herself in multiple competitions between 2008 and 2011. She was part of the Greek team that competed at the 2012 London Olympics, but she was expelled after making comments on Twitter about African immigrants that were deemed offensive.

There had been an outbreak of West Nile virus in Greece before the Olympics, and the athlete took to Twitter to say, "With so many Africans in Greece ... the West Nile mosquitoes will at least eat homemade food!!!"

Though Papachristou apologized, calling the message "an unfortunate and tasteless joke," the damage was done. Greece's Olympic Committee kicked her off the team on July 25, just two days before the opening ceremonies.

It's been called the pulse of the planet -- home to Lady Gaga, LeBron, foreign revolutionaries, journalists, tech geeks and the Pope himself. CNBC tells the story behind the rise of Twitter, the social media giant whose 200 million active users have made it a fixture at home and around the world.

CNBC tells the story behind the rise of Twitter, the social media giant whose 200 million active users have made it a fixture at home and around the world. Twitter Revolution arrives Wed., Aug. 7, at 9 p.m. ET/PT.