Kasey Kahne was shopping in a Mooresville, NC, grocery store yesterday when he unexpectedly encountered a woman breastfeeding her baby. What followed was a textbook example of the power of social media, and explains why some public figures, athletes and celebrities are now reluctant to comment candidly on social networking sites.
His comments ignited a firestorm of controversy and a torrent of negative feedback. One woman wrote, “I hope someday you have a kid and someone tells your wife that feeding your child looks nasty." Kahne then poured additional fuel on the fire, calling the woman, “a dumb b*tch" to which she replied, “Stay classy a**hole."
While Kahne eventually deleted many of his more colorful comments, “Breast-gate” was eventually picked up by news outlets and wire services around the world. Late yesterday, the driver issued an apology via Twitter and a more lengthy explanation on his Facebook page, writing, "I understand that my comments regarding breastfeeding posted on Twitter were offensive to some people. For that, I apologize.
“It was in no way my intention to offend any mother who chooses to breastfeed her child, or, for that matter, anyone who supports breastfeeding children,” wrote Kahne. “I want to make that clear. In all honestly, I was surprised by what I saw in a grocery store. I shared that reaction with my fans on Twitter. It obviously wasn't the correct approach, and after reading your feedback, I now have a better understanding of why my posts upset some of you. My comments were not directed at the mother's right to breastfeed. They were just a reaction to the location of that choice, and the fashion in which it was executed on that occasion.
"I respect the mother's right to feed her child whenever and wherever she pleases."
Whether or not you agree with Kahne’s stance on breastfeeding in public, there is no question that he violated the cardinal rule of social networking: “Never say something you may later regret.” Used properly, social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook are valuable tools for professional athletes and other public figures. Five-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson is a poster boy for proper Twitter use, communicating daily with fans and displaying a sense of humor that is not always on display at the race track. Like Johnson, Brad Keselowski uses social networking to his advantage, speaking directly to followers, answering their questions and sharing snippets of information on both his private life and racing career. Even controversial figures like Kurt and Kyle Busch use social networking, showing their calmer, more human side in a series of spontaneous interactions with fans.
Clearly, there are both good and bad sides to social media. Today’s digitally connected world allows an unprecedented degree of contact and interaction with the general public. But as Kasey Kahne learned this week, not all interaction is of the positive variety.