Online Reputation: Will Miss Teen USA Lose Her Crown Over Tweets?

The Miss Teen USA pageant is currently in the middle of a social media crisis.  According to CNN, soon after Karlie Hay won the pageant on Saturday night it was uncovered that in 2013 and 2014 she had made multiple posts on Twitter that used a racial slur towards African-Americans.

Ms. Hay quickly apologized when asked about the racial slurs on her Twitter account and subsequently made her Twitter account private.  While this is a good initial response, it is too soon to determine if this will be enough to avoid a forced resignation.  
As of this writing, the pageant is still behind Ms. Hay.  However, I don’t want to speculate what the pageant organizers will do if there is a groundswell of pressure to strip Ms. Hay of her title that was not anticipated. When I advise clients about similar issues there are many factors at play.  Legal, financial, and reputation issues are intertwined in the Social Media Age so organizations generally don’t have a lot of time to make a decision.
Over the years, there have been several instances where a pageant winner was forced to resign after winning. The most famous occurred in 1984, when Vanessa Williams resigned as Miss America for posing nude before she was crowned Ms. America. According to Time Magazine, Ms. Williams was given the impression the photos would be in silhouette form and she would not be identifiable. Unfortunately, Ms. Williams signed a model release which enabled the photographer to do whatever he wanted with the photos which included selling them to Penthouse Magazine.
Old Facebook posts and Tweets are regularly held against students when applying to schools and job applicants when applying for employment. The bottom line is that you must be careful about how you carry yourself in both the physical and digital world to ensure that you don’t harm your reputation and the reputation of others.     
Copyright 2016 by Bradley S. Shear, Esq. All rights reserved.
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