When I logged on to Twitter last week, I was expecting to see the typical tweets about how great people’s weekends were or how busy everyone is with midterms. It was a Sunday, so naturally I wasn’t expecting anything exciting. Instead, my timeline was filled with chaos. Everyone from Billboard to TMZ to my fourteen-year-old sister was freaking out because Justin Bieber’s Twitter account was hacked.
Although Justin Bieber’s Twitter hack was the main concern on my timeline, he wasn’t the first high-profile Twitter user to be hacked last week. On Monday, February 18th, Burger King’s Twitter account was also hacked. The hacker replaced the Burger King logo with a McDonald’s logo and tweeted fake announcements for an hour before Twitter stepped in and suspended the account. Many of the tweets included obscenities, racial slurs and drug references. One tweet said, “We caught one of our employees in the bathroom doing this… #soldtomcdonalds #failurewhopper @McDonalds” and included a picture of a man injecting himself with a syringe.
After this attack, both Burger King and McDonalds needed to respond. McDonalds tweeted, “We empathize with our @BurgerKing counterparts. Rest assured, we had nothing to do with this hacking.” A few hours later, Burger King released a statement apologizing to fans and explaining their efforts to regain control of the account.
Unlike Burger King, Justin Bieber’s hacker was not creative. Instead of tweeting false announcements, the hacker simply deleted all of Bieber’s previous tweets. Fans everywhere were worried that Bieber had deleted his Twitter account, sending fans into frenzy. But once news of the hack went public fans calmed down and began anxiously awaiting Bieber’s return.
Burger King and Justin Bieber aren’t alone. Jeep, NBC News, USA Today, Donald Trump, and many more have also fallen victim to Twitter hacks this year. As technology is changing, hackers are improving their techniques and finding quicker and easier ways to gain access to high-profile accounts.
What do twitter hacks mean for PR practitioners?
Public Relations teams need to be prepared for the possibility of a hack. According to Ryan Holmes, chief executive of Hootsuite, “If you’re a competing brand to Burger King, you’re immediately going to be thinking about how to protect your brand and how you can prevent this from happening to you.” (New York Times) Twitter is supposedly working on better security measures to better identify hacks and fake accounts.
Since technology doesn’t exist yet to prevent Twitter hacks, PR teams need to be prepared to respond immediately if they do occur. The nature of this response depends on the extent of the hack. While Burger King’s team needed to publicly apologize for the controversial and offensive tweets, Justin Bieber’s team didn’t have anything controversial to apologize for. Instead, Bieber’s response included tweeting, “hi,” and going right back to posting shirtless pictures and making teenage girls swoon.