It's happened time and time again. Most recently, to Nick Vallelonga, a producer for "The Green Book," a feel-good story about interracial friends during the era of American segregation. He had to answer for an Islamophobic tweet from 2015
in which he supported President Donald Trump's false claim
that Muslims in New York City cheered during the 9/11 attacks.
It happens to stars on the rise and stars at their peak. Late last year, actor Kevin Hart stepped down from hosting the Academy Awards
, a gig he once described as a "dream," after tweets from 2009 to 2011 surfaced that contained homophobic language. In the world of sports, athletes at a critical juncture in their career -- an important game, a draft decision -- have been repeatedly waylaid by their own words that could have been dug up by anyone with a Twitter account and a vague inclination.
The question is, how does it keep happening at all? We live in an age of tweeting grandmas and child YouTube stars, of hyper-curated Instagram universes and infinitely expanding digital literacy. A reasonable level of social media awareness is not too much to expect -- for stars or the people that manage them. Why do famous people, whose images are central to their relevancy and livelihoods, keep letting themselves get played for their old bad internet behavior?
The question has some practical aspects and some philosophical ones.
Of course, the most practical -- and best -- solution would be to not throw problematic things into the public sphere at all. But, philosophically, things don't work that way.
"Every single one of us has bad thoughts," says Brian Harrington, a personal branding consultant in Los Angeles. He helps people build digital footprints that communicate an authentic image, and that can mean contending with controversy.
"As cool as someone like Kevin Hart is, there are going to be parts of him or anyone else that someone isn't going to like."
This disconnect between who someone wants to be
to the public, and who someone is
, was apparent last July when "Guardians of the Galaxy 3" director James Gunn was swiftly fired after old tweets surfaced
that contained crude sexual jokes from 2010.
In his apology, Gunn said the version of himself he knowingly presented to the public was different then.
"Many people who have followed my career know when I started, I viewed myself as a provocateur, making movies and telling jokes that were outrageous and taboo," he said. "As I have discussed publicly many times, as I've developed as a person, so has my work and my humor."
Celebrities and other public figures may have an image they wish to present, but they also represent the projects they work on and the opportunities they court.
While authenticity may build fan bases, the host of a major awards show saying homophobic things or the producer of a race-themed movie expressing racially-charged language is, at the very least, a bad look.
"It used to be that the overarching brand had more power than the individual and that is no longer true," Harrington says. "The majority of these 'called-on-the-carpet' moments come from personalities that are trying to have a personal voice but are still at the mercy of the overarching brands, producers or channels for their income and popularity."
Why they get caught
It's also common wisdom that certain language is not going to play well with the general public. Whether or not someone is at risk of showing their proverbial backside can depend on how they view the role of social media, and how far back their public comments go.
"You have a generation coming up in social media who were there before they got famous or got into politics or sports," says Carol Brown Andrews, a partner at Grindstone Research in Nashville. Grindstone conducts opposition research for political candidates and interest groups. When people transition between the private and the public sphere, she says, all of that online behavior, conducted when no one was really watching, is suddenly under scrutiny.