Game Informer / Adam Orth
Your tweets are always on: Adam Orth leaving Microsoft proves personal twitter accounts are dead
Microsoft Studios creative director Adam Orth caused quite a bit of controversy when he defended the idea of consoles that require an always-on Internet connection to function. He claimed the concept was the way of the future, and likened it to buying electronics knowing that your electricity may go out. The tweets made him a minor celebrity on NeoGaf, and his remarks were widely reported around the Internet.
Game Informer is reporting that Orth has since left Microsoft, although no one seems willing to clarify whether he resigned, or was fired. Orth’s Twitter account has since been made private, and his LinkedIn account has been deleted. Stories about his Tweets overwhelm the first pages of results when you Google his name. Fair or not, this incident may be his professional legacy.
“Sorry for expressing my personal opinion about what I want from the electronic devices that I pay for on Twitter,” he tweeted during the firestorm. “Jesus.” This is where Orth messed up: He believed that we’re able to have and share personal opinions in the age of social media.
The idea of a personal Twitter account is dead
While the listing has been removed, Orth’s account clearly stated his position at Microsoft, and offered no disclaimer about whether his account was personal or promotional. Anyone could follow him before the account was made private. Like it or not, everything we tweet is an on-the-record statement, and gaming news sites and blogs are more than happy to publicize your feelings on certain matters while pointing out exactly who you work for.
The question of whether or not Orth should keep his job is moot; that decision is up to Microsoft. The reality of the situation is this: An employee of the company who was not acting in a public-facing capacity made several inflammatory and controversial statements about one of the most talked about potential “features” of his company's largest upcoming product. These statements became news, and will likely be brought up again and again as speculation continues about the features and limitations of the next Xbox.
His words, in a very direct way, harmed Microsoft.
Telling potential customers to “deal with” an aspect of the unannounced hardware many of them claim to hate isn’t going to endear Microsoft to anyone, and that message was spread far and wide. Boosting the signal of Orth’s words wasn’t unfair, as he was someone with power and authority within Microsoft, and he made sweeping statements about explosive topics in the public forum.
Orth's tweets, by any definition, were news. You can’t separate your work from your rhetoric these days, especially when you’re in a position to have an informed opinion on the matters. The NDA that keeps people from talking about the upcoming Xbox is also notoriously strong; try to get a developer or publisher to even say the words “next Xbox” instead of the more generic “upcoming next generation systems,” and see how far you get. It may sound absurd, but it’s very possible that Orth violated his NDA by simply implying this feature might be coming to Microsoft’s next-generation system.
Microsoft took the situation seriously enough to issue an apology:
“We apologize for the inappropriate comments made by an employee on Twitter yesterday. This person is not a spokesperson for Microsoft, and his personal views do not reflect the customer centric approach we take to our products or how we would communicate directly with our loyal consumers. We are very sorry if this offended anyone, however we have not made any announcements about our product roadmap, and have no further comment on this matter.”
You are always on the record
This is a situation that doesn’t just happen with people in the developer community; I’ve had my own tweets make their way to stories about myself and the outlets I’ve worked for. Once you see how quickly a statement can be used to support a certain point of view, even one you don’t agree with, you begin to be more careful about the content of your tweets.
There are limits to what you can say publicly about your employer on your personal account, even in the most liberal of workplaces. Things get even murkier when you consider how many Twitter accounts are used to promote everything from games your publisher releases to stories your outlet runs; the personal account is often used, in many ways, for your work. Especially if you work in the video game industry.
Companies like Microsoft spend massive amounts of time and resources crafting a narrative and a series of talking points for products as large and important as a next-generation console, and the amount of money at stake in launching a new console is staggering.
That carefully composed corporate message falls to pieces when you have employees aggressively defending practices that you have yet to announce, but are already causing substantial conversation on Twitter, in forums, and in stories about the console. If you work for a company and decide to comment on a controversy brewing over a product, expect to be quoted in the media. Or at least on Reddit and NeoGaf, two communities that could give two shits about the disclaimer on your profile stating that you’re only giving personal opinions. We're all bait for messages going viral, and memes to be created based on our statements.
Remember that Twitter isn’t a private conversation with friends who follow you; other people will assume that each tweet is more or less a press release, and the media is more than happy to provide you with a megaphone for your messages, even if you didn't ask for one. The personal Twitter account is a concept that has been dead for some time, and reports of Orth leaving Microsoft are yet more proof. Proceed with caution.