ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — All of this hullabaloo about Winston Brooks behaving boorishly on Twitter is a little hard to follow for those of us who didn’t follow Winston Brooks on Twitter. All 6,999,999,629 of us.
I’ll do the math: The world population has reached 7 billion and Brooks had 371 people following him on Twitter before he went barnyard and shut the whole thing down.
More than 300 followers isn’t bad for a guy so new to social media that he tweeted he was learning “tweeter.” But it turns out that any followers were bad news for Winston Brooks.
I don’t subscribe to Twitter or any of the other social media platforms. Not because I have anything against them. It’s just that I already have plenty of opportunities to make a fool of myself in public, including right here twice a week.
So I had to go looking for the tweets that landed Brooks in hot water.
First stop: Winston Brooks’ Twitter account, @winston_brooks. His Twitter profile quotes that sassy Kelis song: “My milkshake brings all the girls to the yard.”
Oops, wrong Winston Brooks. That guy appears to be a college student who likes to post pictures of his sandwiches and was considering going as a sexy fireman for Halloween.
Winston Brooks, the Albuquerque Public Schools superintendent, was @SuptBrooks on Twitter. His Twitter profile: “Husband, father, & grandfather. I love my dog Elvis & the @KCChiefs. Lifelong educator & superintendent of APS (@ABQSchools).”
Or at least that was his Twitter handle until Friday when his Twitter account was shut down.
In his brief life on Twitter, he posted pictures of his granddaughter and shared his obsession with the Kansas City Chiefs. All good, I guess. But he also used the public messaging tool to air juvenile, snarky comments about Hanna Skandera, the chief of the Public Education Department, with whom he is locked in a policy battle over teacher evaluations.
Brooks, the professional educator, argues that the new system, imposed by fiat after it failed to pass the Legislature, uses flawed methods and won’t improve educational outcomes.
Brooks, the tweeter, makes a fat joke about Skandera, referencing her taking a space in “the livestock truck” and adding “Moo, Moo, Oink, oink!!”
Skandera isn’t fat, but that’s beside the point. And Brooks apologized the next day after he was confronted with it, but that isn’t the point, either. Predictably, the governor, who has been at war with Brooks over a number of education policies, called him out as a poor role model (as if children look up to a school superintendent). And just like that, Brooks lost all leverage and credibility in making his case against Skandera’s policies. He was suspended from his job for three days and he’s lucky he didn’t get fired.
And that’s the point. A pattern of intelligent discourse can be wiped away with one dumb tweet.
The tweets came about in a chatty exchange with a female TV reporter that was weird enough already. Brooks should have been signed up for a class in how to use social media before he ever opened a Twitter account. If he had, he would have learned this handy rule: Grandpa guys in positions of authority are discouraged from tweeting directly to younger women who, because of their jobs, must follow older guys on Twitter, whether or not they find them fascinating.
Brooks, who arrived in Albuquerque from Wichita, Kan., (go Chiefs!) five years ago, is an acquired taste. Some people (I’d count myself among them) like his directness. But his interpersonal skills have time and again fallen into the “needs improvement” category, and he has his filters set on “low.”
Brooks was sued by a female associate superintendent who alleged a pattern of “sex-related bullying,” which included comments about short skirts. A female assistant principal sued him after he told others she “slept her way to the top.” He denied a report that in Wichita his staff had unplugged his computer keyboard to keep him from popping off when he was angry.
Social media platforms are good places to market the carefully created self image you’d like to share with the world. The key words there are “carefully” and “share.” Not “recklessly because a thought crossed your mind and you thought it was a hoot” and not “overshare.”
Giving Brooks a Twitter account is like giving a chimpanzee a paint ball gun. It’s going to be fun to watch what happens, but you know somebody’s going to get hurt – or at least there’ll be a mess to clean up.
You can’t blame the chimp. And you can’t blame Twitter for “Moo, Moo, Oink, oink!!” Twitter was just the platform Brooks was using to be himself.