So conducted a Twitter contest. There are Twitter contests every day, these days, like IPL matches.

It’s a simple enough contest:

It’s as banal as it can get. Zero imagination and perhaps intentionally pandering to lowest common denominator to get maximum entries and also trend the hashtag. But, that’s hardly wrong – it’s just one way to do a contest – you can’t blame someone for trying something banal and populist. Bollywood does it day in and day out.

But today, when the contest ended, they announced 2 winners… I believe the winners were selected by Chetan Bhagat.

Many people noticed a particular tweet from one of the winners (an entry which did not win) that sounds offensive and bigoted. It says,

Yeah, looks mighty offensive, but that is the lady’s prerogative. As is your and my prerogative to outrage over it.

This entry did not win the contest. This one, from the same lady, did.

Silly? May be, but that’s an opinion. If the contest owners felt it was funny, at best you can blame their level of intellect. But, for some reason, many people seem to be blaming for awarding a MacBook Air (yes, that’s the prize!) to the lady who also happened to tweet that offensive tweet.

Now, let me get this straight.

That offensive tweet did not win the contest. But many feel that somehow Shaadi is responsible for bringing out the bigot in that lady.

Or, the other version – since people have pointed out to Shaadi that one of their winner has a bigoted, offensive tweet as one of her many entries, she should be disqualified.

Both these seem silly to me.

Shaadi is a brand with a contest on Twitter. They do not own the lady or her thoughts.

Let’s accept the fact that people will get desperate for a free MacBook Air. I purchased one recently, at Rs.69,000 – it is definitely drool-worthy.

Is it worth sending an offensive tweet as a contest entry? Of course not. But who is to blame for that? Shaadi, or the lady? (In another dimension – who are we to blame her? Isn’t she entitled to those thoughts however offensive they are to you and me?)

Should Shaadi disqualify the lady for her offensive tweet that did not win the contest? I don’t think so. She could have tweeted something offensive 2 days from now. Should Shaadi track her tweets and ensure she’s holier than thou and send her the reward?

Some added that within the purview of the contest, she had tweeted that offensive thought with the hashtag. So, since Shaadi is aware of it, they should disqualify her or not have announced her a winner to not encourage others to do the same. This is nonsense, in my opinion. People are entitled to tweet any crap. We, as readers, have the power to read them, or not read them. If it offends you, close your eyes. Shut your internet, or take a walk. Don’t behave like the Indian government that wants to ban porn to curb rapes. Or control social media because some people are offensive to few other people.

We are on social media by choice. That choice extends to following individuals and ignoring them too. Exercise that choice.

Few people online spread the word that Shaadi selected the offensive tweet as the winning entry. Or, something that almost amounted to that, like this:

That – understandably – got a lot of people riled up. I’d too, because that means the brand is endorsing that line of thought. It’s none of my business to tell Shaadi to not endorse that line of thought, but as a communications professional, I can tell them that such endorsement will impact their brand adversely.

But… but, but… that entry did NOT win the award. Shaadi did endorse that tweet with an RT, if I were to trust a few people who pointed out that they did and later deleted the RT. That is a massive blunder by Shaadi, of course.

But, it was one among many entries – that’s it. Shaadi bore the brunt of someone spreading something that didn’t quite happen.

The thing is that brands will continue to run such contests and people will send absurd, offensive, silly and idiotic tweets as entries. Brands can’t pull a Minority Report style precog on them to anticipate such entries. The only thing they can do is not endorse them with a retweet.

In Shaadi’s case, it looks like their Twitter community manager goofed up by retweeting the offensive tweet (if it did happen – but I can’t see that now, or it has now been deleted) and making a mess of the brand image (before deleting the retweet).

Also, they were late in damage control, to let people know that the offensive tweet did not win the contest. It looks like they woke up only after the mighty Gabbbar Singh prompted them, at 12:41pm (and they tweeted something to clear their name at 12:44pm).

But I’d not blame them for rewarding the person they did just because she had an offensive tweet amongst her many entries. That’s like saying every song of Pritam or Anu Malik is copied (I hear this very, very often) because some of their older songs are copied. And that they do not deserve an award for an original soundtrack just because they had a few copied songs in the past.

Just imagine… what if she tweets that again from her brand new, free MacBook Air? Shaadi to be blamed? Or, in Indian Government style, can we blame Apple for it?