Updated 1:20 p.m.: A week ago, Emma Sullivan was just suburban high school student who liked to tweet to her friends, but with less than 100 critical characters about Kansas Governor Sam Brownback, she's quickly become a minor Twitter celebrity. As the blowback spreads across other social media platforms, Sullivan's also become a surprisingly sharp thorn in the governor's side. And no, she will not apologize for it. By Monday afternoon, however, it was Brownback who was apologizing. "My staff over-reacted to this tweet, and for that I apologize," Brownback told Yahoo News. "Freedom of speech is among our most treasured freedoms."
It appears the entire country is coming to Sullivan's defense after Governor Brownback's office called her principal over a tweet she sent after after meeting the governor on a November 21 field trip. "Just made mean comments at gov brownback and told him he sucked, in person #heblowsalot," the 18-year-old tweeted to her 65 followers the same day. Whomever watches Brownback social media presence noticed and alerted her principal, Karl R. Krawitz, who called Sullivan to his office, called her actions "unacceptable and an embarrassment" and demanded she write a letter of apology. Sullivan's sister contacted the local Wichita Eagle who reported the story and quoted Sullivan saying "Im mainly shocked that they would even see that tweet and be concerned about me … I just honestly feel they’re making a lot bigger deal out of it than it actually was." Within a couple of days, of course, the story went viral, Sullivan's Twitter following exploded — she had nearly 7,000 at the time of this posting — and Brownback's social media team found themselves attacked on all fronts not only for tattling on a teenager but for stomping on a citizen's right to free speech. We've embedded a sampling of the latest vitriolic response on Brownback's Facebook page to the right.
The First Amendment advocates kind of have a point, and Sullivan seems hell bent on following through with it. Sullivan says that she was "just joking with friends" when she sent the original tweet, but after the torrent of support for her on Twitter says she "would do it again." She tweeted Sunday night, "I've decided not to write the letter but I hope this opens the door for average citizens to voice their opinion & to be heard!" This came right after she posted the famous Gandhi quote, "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win."
Brownback's office is neither laughing nor fighting. They didn't respond to our phone calls or emails on Monday morning, but the governor's director of communication told the Kansas City Star last week "That [tweet] wasn't respectful," said Sherriene Jones-Sontag. "In order to really have a constructive dialogue, there has to be mutual respect." She added, "It was important for the organization to be aware of the comments their students were making … It’s also important for students to recognize the power of social media, how lasting it is. It is on the Internet."
And isn't the Internet a powerful thing when it gets upset? Sullivan's staying humble, though. About the response to her tweet, she told the local NBC news station, "I'm trying to get involved because I just registered to vote."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.