Delta Learns Its Lesson About Giraffes (& Africa)

On Monday night, Delta Airlines' social media team fell into the all-too-common trap of treating Africa like a country, rather than a continent. Delta tweeted a picture about the U.S.-Ghana World Cup game, which depicted the U.S. as the Statue of Liberty, and Ghana as a giraffe. Unfortunately, as Delta soon learned from the flurry of Tweets that followed, giraffes do not live in Ghana. The confusion appears to have stemmed from the fact that both the country of Ghana and giraffes occupy the very large continent of Africa. However, giraffes don't live anywhere near Ghana, as the country is on the west coast, and giraffes live south of the Sahara.

After Delta realized their mistake — or rather, a bunch of other Twitter-users realized their mistake for them — Delta tweeted an apology. Unfortunately they got something wrong in their apology as well, referring to their giraffe tweet as their "precious tweet" rather than their "previous tweet." Precious, indeed, Delta. This mistake was fixed a few minutes later, at which point we imagine Delta's social media director breathed a sigh of relief, and thought, "Okay, one factually correct tweet out of three. Not too bad."

The tendency to treat all African countries as the same is all too common in popular culture. As the the Africa is a Country blog points out, novels about Africa almost always use the same or similar images on their front covers.

Usually, it's a picture of an acacia tree with an orange sunset in the background. According to The Washington Post , a book designer at Knopf commented on the similarity of the covers, saying it was a product of "laziness, both individual or institutionalized," and that the stereotype has grown because "We're comfortable with this visual image of Africa because it's safe. It presents 'otherness' in a way that's easy to understand."

On the Africa Is A Country blog, the author wrote: "In short, the covers of most novels “about Africa” seem to have been designed by someone whose principal idea of the continent comes from The Lion King." It seems that Delta, too, has also been watching a little too much of the Disney film.

But, then again, maybe Twitter isn't for everyone. After all, this isn't the first Twitter debacle an international airline has brought upon themselves in the past few months. In April, US Airways tweeted this extremely NSFW image at a customer who was complaining about tarmac delays.

US Airways has said that they meant to flag the image, which comes from a German-language porn site, but accidentally pasted it in their tweet to the complaining customer. You can't make up a Twitter goof that crazy. But seriously, can someone please assign these airlines some social media directors who know what they're doing? Or, are they just letting their drunk pilots do the tweeting?

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