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The Curious Case of Jean Quan and the Twitter Spam

The mayor-elect's social media strategy appears to have earned her the ire of some constituents.

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During her mayoral campaign, Jean Quan cast herself as a hardworking, even-keeled candidate, more concerned with walking precincts and talking to voters than with cosmetic indicators of popularity such as Facebook. And her social-media presence was restrained: In the nearly nine months between when she started her Twitter account, in February, and November 10, when she declared victory, she tweeted 122 times.

But then something strange happened: in the fifteen days after her win, Quan tweeted a staggering 544 times — an average of more than 36 tweets per day. Many were puzzlingly non-Oakland-related, and peppered with hashtags irrelevant to the content of the tweets. Quan has retweeted Mistah FAB, CNN, and celebrity chef Paula Deen; she's shared recipes for turkey soup, news about police raids in Brazil, and updates about the Pope's position on condoms. In a single day, she tweeted or retweeted on topics including the Oakland Museum's Pixar exhibit, the DREAM Act, the Oakland A's, the recent tsunami in Indonesia, how to avoid holiday stress, a rain closure at Children's Fairyland, an East Oakland flower shop (twice), animal rescue, transphobia, the need for deaf-friendly movie theaters, and a downtown coffee shop's hot beverage offerings.

Quan has since been derided as something of a tweet-spammer. A parody account, @FakeJeanQuan, has mocked her Twitter activity, and it's gaining followers fast. All of this is adding up to what some are calling the mayor-elect's first public-relations misstep.

Susan Barnes, a social media consultant who doesn't work with Quan, said she advises clients not to tweet that often. "You risk annoying people, and people unfollowing," she said.

Social media can be a double-edged sword for public officials: Tools like Twitter provide an easy way to interact with constituents directly. But eagerness, inexperience, or unfamiliarity with Twitter's unspoken codes can quickly come to look like recklessness. "It's as if their son or daughter told them, 'Hey Mom, Twitter is hip; you should get into it,'" another Quan follower said. FakeJeanQuan speculated that maybe "Jean got busy and was offered help by someone who was young and close to her."

Quan's campaign spokesperson, Sue Piper, said Quan's adult daughter, Lailan Huen, had been handling the mayor-elect's social media presence, but that someone else recently took over Twitter. Huen couldn't be reached for comment.

For Quan's part, she's been cryptic about what happened. When a reporter asked her on Twitter who was handling the account, she responded by tweeting "We LOVE #twitter #oakland and the #bayarea."

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