The Air Force just learned the hard way that, sometimes, it’s best not to try to latch on to the latest viral internet meme.
On Thursday morning, the Air Force’s official Twitter feed posted a tweet that referred to the viral “Yanny or Laurel” meme, in which people disagree over which word is being said on a sound clip, in connection to a fierce battle in Afghanistan.
“The Taliban Forces in Farah city #Afghanistan would much rather have heard #Yanny or #Laurel than the deafening #BRRRT they got courtesy of our #A10,” the tweet read.
The tweet also linked to an Air Force Times story about Tuesday’s battle to prevent the city’s fall to the Taliban. The story reported that A-10 Warthogs conducted shows-of-force while MQ-9 Reapers and Afghan A-29 light attack aircraft and Mi-7 helicopters carried out multiple strikes.
The tweet was not well received by some parts of the internet. Critics felt its lighthearted tone was crass and flippant, especially in the context of a serious battle in the nearly 17-year-long war.
When asked about the appropriateness of the tweet in a briefing, chief Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White said she hadn’t seen it, but would look into it.
“What’s important to understand is that this is the Afghans’ fight,” White said. “We are working by, with and through these partners. And they are dying to secure their own future, and I think that shouldn’t be forgotten in any of this.”
Less than five hours later, the service had deleted the tweet and apologized.
“It was made in poor taste and we are addressing it internally,” the Air Force tweeted. “It has since been removed.”
But ― in the latest example of a seemingly ironclad rule of internet controversies ― the backlash drew its own counter-backlash. Several people responded to the Air Force’s apology tweet by saying they shouldn’t have backed down.
This isn’t the first time the Air Force’s official Twitter feed has gotten itself into trouble.
Last October, the @usairforce account intervened in a lighthearted quarrel between the Twitter feeds for Minot and Whiteman Air Force bases, and eventually declared “Santa will bring you nothing this year...becuase [sic] he isn’t real!”
Pentagon Bureau Chief Tara Copp contributed to this report.
Stephen Losey is the air warfare reporter at Defense News. He previously reported for Military.com, covering the Pentagon, special operations and air warfare. Before that, he covered U.S. Air Force leadership, personnel and operations for Air Force Times.