by Carlos E. Castañeda

TEMPE, Arizona (CBS SF) — A major social media gaffe by US Airways involving a pornographic image is turning into a viral nightmare for the company.

In response to a customer who complained about a flight delay, Arizona-based US Airways sent a conciliatory message to the customer on the company’s Twitter account, which included a link to an extreme graphic image of a woman using a model airplane as a sex toy.

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Incredibly, the tweet remained on the US Airways Twitter feed for nearly an hour before it was deleted.

By that time, the tweet has been shared an untold number of times across the Internet, and #usairways was a trending hashtag on tweets and mems joking about the gaffe.

US Airways told The Washington Post their Twitter account had not been hacked, it was simple human error after the image had been posted to the company’s feed by another user.

“We captured the tweet to flag it as inappropriate. Unfortunately the image was inadvertently included in a response to a customer. We immediately realized the error and removed our tweet. We deeply regret the mistake and we are currently reviewing our processes to prevent such errors in the future.”

Social media consulting firm Sprinklr CEO Ragy Thomas told Advertising Age that companies with an approval process that includes at least two people reviewing every tweet before it goes live would typically catch such mistakes. He speculated the gaffe happened when the photo “got saved and the wrong picture got selected because it was coming from the same library or something,” Thomas told Ad Age.

BuzzFeed reported the image was originally from a German-language amateur porn site, and said it was possible that US Airways social engagement software ingested the photo or simply a copy/paste error by whoever was sending out tweets for the account.

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