Oops. Someone in the U.S. Justice Department appears to have made a colossal error with the agency’s official Twitter (TWTR) account on Tuesday morning.
At around 10 a.m. EDT, the verified account belonging to @TheJusticeDept sent out a tweet linking to a CNN story in which Donald Trump’s presidential campaign denies that a speech by the candidate’s spouse, Melania Trump, was plagiarized from a 2008 speech by First Lady Michelle Obama.
The Justice Department tweet also contains a vulgar acronym, “LMAO,” and the hashtag #petty.
The tweet was deleted almost instantly but not before it was noticed and retweeted by others, including by the legal reporter for The Atlantic, who added tongue-in-check, “the Justice Department weighs in.”
So why exactly is the Justice Department, which normally only uses its Twitter account to announce serious policy and criminal justice matters, making remarks about Melania Trump?
The answer, as Twitter users have pointed out, is almost certainly that a staffer, who has access to the agency’s social media tools, inadvertently tweeted from the @TheJusticeDept account rather than his or her personal one.
These sort of foul-ups are not uncommon in the corporate world, where social media marketers have tweeted embarrassing messages from official brand accounts. The most notorious example is a U.S. Airways dispatch from 2014 in which the brand tweeted an extremely graphic photograph involving an airplane.
While few will think the Justice Department tweeted the message about Melania Trump and CNN (TWX) intentionally, the optics are nonetheless pretty bad.
While the top level of the agency is staffed by officials chosen by the White House, the Justice Department is supposed to undertake legal obligations of the U.S. government in a non-political fashion. The tweet, even if it was sent by a staffer, undercuts that image of impartiality and comes at a time when partisan tensions are running high ahead of the presidential election.
Update: the Justice Department confirmed the tweet was indeed “intended for a personal account” of a staff. The agency added the staffer no longer has access to its social media passwords.