A military agency’s attempt to grab online attention on New Year’s Eve sent its PR team into a tailspin.
The U.S. Strategic Command has apologized for a joke that, ummm, bombed—immediately stoking backlash on Twitter. The tweet drew an apparent parallel between the Times Square ball dropping to ring in 2019 and the dropping of bombs.
“The command that is responsible for the country’s nuclear and missile arsenal for some reason thought it would be appropriate to celebrate the new year with a tongue-in-cheek tweet about bombs,” Slate reported.
The embedded video showed footage of a B-2 stealth bomber. As the words “STEALTH,” “READY” and “LETHAL” flashed across the screen, the aircraft released bombs. They fall to the ground and crash with a fiery explosion.
It also tagged the Whiteman Air Force Base and the Air Force Global Strike Command, which is responsible for nuclear and nonnuclear strategic bomber fleets.
The unified command, which is part of the Department of Defense and whose slogan is “peace is our profession,” readies and controls the nation’s nuclear arms, among other things. It wasn’t clear if the “something much, much bigger” was a reference to conventional bombs or the country’s nukes, though many interpreted it to be about the latter.
As social media backlash erupted, the tweet was deleted, but screenshots still made the rounds online:
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) December 31, 2018
Another Twitter user shared the video:
I’m so glad I had decided to download this video from the #UnitedStates StratCom Tweet earlier.
Here’s the video the StratCom had released earlier today. They took down the tweet.
Here’s the video for any of you looking for it.#HappyNewYear2019 #StealthBomber pic.twitter.com/QEkEkuCNCr
— Deven_Intel (@Deven_Intel) December 31, 2018
Though the move earned U.S. Strategic Command kudos from a few supporters, it mostly took flak, as in the following tweets:
Maybe a little more “Happy New Year!” and a little less “Watch the our powerful bombs our powerful bombs of mass destruction.”
— Dani Bostick (@danibostick) December 31, 2018
Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you @US_Stratcom, the stoic guardians of several thousand nuclear missiles who definitely don’t think raining death and destruction from above is some kind of joke. pic.twitter.com/4OWcGMtfCj
— Derek Johnson (@derekjGZ) December 31, 2018
After deleting the video, U.S. Strategic Command tweeted a mea culpa:
Our previous NYE tweet was in poor taste & does not reflect our values. We apologize. We are dedicated to the security of America & allies.
— US Strategic Command (@US_Stratcom) December 31, 2018
The agency’s PR team also scrambled to launch damage control.
A spokesperson told NPR in an email that the video was actually reposted from earlier this year and “was part of our Year in Review series meant to feature our command priorities: strategic deterrence, decisive response and combat-ready force.”
The Washington Post reported:
“We admittedly erred in connecting it to New Year’s Eve festivities, and we apologize,” said Meghan M. Liemburg-Archer, a U.S. Strategic Command spokeswoman. “We remain dedicated to the security of America and our allies.”
The tweet pales in comparison to some of the worst PR missteps of 2018, but it did not help the government agency end the year on a high note. The miscue also underscores the potential perils of newsjacking.
It’s not the first social media flub from the military, either.
NBC News reported:
When an audio clip went viral because some heard “yanny” while others heard “laurel,” the U.S. Air Force tweeted that the Taliban would have preferred to hear either word over gunfire. They later apologized and deleted the tweet.