German foreign ministry backtracks after sense of humor failure

BERLIN (Reuters) – Social media can be a minefield for the strait-laced world of diplomacy, as the German Foreign Office just found out, when it was forced to delete a tweet and apologize for its contribution to a mildly off-color Twitter meme.

The meme was the hashtag #SeduceSomeonein4Words. Submissions on Thursday ranged from “You hungry? I’m cooking” to “Donald Trump Is Impeached”. Then @GermanyDiplo, the foreign ministry’s English-language channel, came up with “Your visa got approved”.

That got hundreds of retweets and thousands of likes. But it also got a fair amount of criticism, much of it from people suffering through the process of acquiring a German visa.

Germany attracts migrants from the world over, with its free universities, strong economy, high wages and almost full employment. In 2015’s migrant crisis, hundreds of thousands from the Middle East and Africa overwhelmed Europe’s border controls and flooded into Germany.

But eye-catching influxes like that mask the thousands of daily frustrations and family tragedies that take place at the consulates of rich countries. Would-be immigrants spend fortunes and wait weeks and months applying for visas that would let them work, study, or be reunited with loved ones far away.

That gives the consular officials who award the coveted stamp immense power. British and U.S. officials have been investigated for abusing that power, allegedly requiring sex in exchange for visas.

So Twitter reaction was mixed. “Even though it’s terribly hard and sometimes humiliating to try to get visa from German Consulate, the joke is still very funny!” wrote Turkish journalist Rahsan Gulsan.

GermanyDiplo rapidly backtracked, deleting the tweet and four hours later issuing a rueful apology.

“Being funny is apparently not always our strong suit,” the ministry wrote. “We know the visa process is complex, and visa decisions can deeply affect peoples’ lives. Our colleagues take these decisions very seriously.”

(Reporting by Thomas Escritt)