Fashion legend's 'funny' Egypt tweet triggers firestorm

Kenneth Cole deletes Twitter message, apologizes, but furious reaction continues

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The text above two fashion models on the Facebook page of Kenneth Cole Productions says, "Make a statement."

And make a statement the company's chairman and namesake did Thursday, on Twitter. Unfortunately for Kenneth Cole, his lame stab at humor regarding the violent protests in Egypt sparked a wave of anger that forced him to issue an apology and led dozens of people to condemn his words on his Facebook wall.

Around 10:30 a.m. Cole tweeted, "Millions are in uproar in #Cairo. Rumor is they heard our new spring collection is now available online... -KC." The tweet included a link to the Kenneth Cole online store.

Cole's attempt to tie political violence and death to his spring fashion line didn't go over so well in the Twitterverse. Within an hour Cole tweeted, "Re Egypt tweet: we weren't intending to make light of a serious situation. We understand the sensitivity of this historic moment - KC"

Hmm. The evidence indicates otherwise.

By late Thursday afternoon, the tweet was deleted. Too late, however, to avoid a PR disaster. Not long after, Cole posted a groveling message on his Facebook page:

I apologize to everyone who was offended by my insensitive tweet about the situation in Egypt. I’ve dedicated my life to raising awareness about serious social issues, and in hindsight my attempt at humor regarding a nation liberating themselves against oppression was poorly timed and absolutely inappropriate.

In foresight would have been better.

Let's see how the apology played with some of the folks who left messages on Cole's Facebook page:

"You are an a**hole! No excuses." -- Cristian

"I still can't get over how you could even think of making jokes about Egypt/Cairo when people are dying in the streets." -- Bruce

"If you have dedicated your life to social issues, why are you a designer?" -- Nicole

"Thank you for making a sincere apology. Well put." -- Scott

"I think is a bit to late. People are dying, I think keneth Cole feels that is light and funny. Jokes like this don't have a room when situations like this happen. I feel bad for Keneth Cole, hes an idiot." -- Juan

"YOU SHOULD BE ASHAMED KENNETH COLE. AND YOUR TWEET IS STILL POSTED!! AND NOW MORE BUSINESSES ARE FOLLOWING YOUR DISGUSTING TWEET STYLE TO PROMOTE THEIR BUSINESSES. CAPITALISM DISGUISED AS DEMOCRACY CAUSED THIS, HOW DARE YOU RIDE ON THE BACKS OF THOSE DETERMINED TO GET OUT FROM UNDER YOUR KIND." -- Kristen

"Thank you for apologizing instead of making excuses. You're going to still face backlash, but this goes a long way in my books." -- Genifer

No doubt, you can't defend such an insensitive public comment. But from what I just read on Wikipedia, Cole has a long history of supporting positive social causes, particularly AIDS awareness and research. Clearly the man has a big heart. On Thursday he could have used a better head.

The lesson bears repeating, people: Think before you tweet.

Chris Nerney writes about the business side of technology market strategies and trends, legal issues, leadership changes, mergers, venture capital, IPOs and technology stocks. Follow him on Twitter @ChrisNerney.

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