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#MyNYPD: Why It's Impossible to Control Online Conversation

The open nature of social media makes it impossible to control the conversation.
Image: People walk by an NYPD outpost in Times Square
People walk by an NYPD outpost in Times Square in New York City.Spencer Platt / Getty Images file

The failed #MyNYPD Twitter campaign is the latest example of a big organization attempting to rustle up goodwill, only to find that the open nature of social media makes it impossible to control the conversation.

The New York City Police Department's nightmare began Tuesday with a request from its official Twitter account:

While the NYPD did receive a few feel-good responses, other Twitter users quickly took over the campaign. An Occupy Wall Street Twitter account helped fuel the onslaught.

The NYPD said in a statement that it is "creating new ways to communicate effectively with the community ... Twitter provides an open forum for an uncensored exchange and this is an open dialogue good for our city."

It's hardly the first time that such "uncensored" responses have derailed organizations' social-media campaigns, as a trio of recent high-profile #fails proves.

Back in November, JP Morgan invited Twitter users to participate in a question-and-answer session with one of its executives, using the hashtag #AskJPM.

Clearly, JP Morgan didn't realize the level of lingering anger over the role played by big banks in the financial crisis -- and a feeling that the people responsible had not been taken to task for their actions.

"Did you have a specific number of people's lives you needed to ruin before you considered your business model a success?" one woman asked. Another tweeted: "Does it feel better paying the biggest bank fines in history so far, or did the satisfaction of the crimes outweigh the fines?"

After only seven hours of online vitriol, JP Morgan called it quits.

R&B singer R. Kelly landed in his own social-media hell in December, when he invited fans to tweet him questions as part of a promotion for his new album "Black Panties."

Instead Kelly received scores of tweets referencing sex-crime allegations the singer has faced.

Despite JP Morgan's and R. Kelly's back-to-back doomed attempts at a Twitter Q&A, education reformer Michelle Rhee took her own whack at a Twitter chat in January.

Rhee served a turbulent period as chancellor of the Washington, D.C., public schools, garnering a reputation among some as being anti-union and anti-tenure for teachers. She also faced allegations of inflating D.C. schools' test scores while she was chancellor. Rhee's detractors were quick to hijack her chat.

Big brands like McDonald's and Starbucks have suffered their own social-media blowback, periodically serving as a reminder that when it comes to the Internet, there's no containing the conversation.