Sometimes Even the Weiners Are Losers: Learning the Pitfalls of Social Media the Hard Way
After a week of denial, yesterday Representative Anthony Weiner finally admitted to posting a lewd photo of his manly parts on Twitter.
Following the commotion on May 27 when the photo in question was first discovered, Weiner made a loser mistake: he lied. Not entirely surprising, since realizing you’ve accidentally sent a photo of your personal bits into cyberspace while holding a spot in Congress would be enough to have anyone gathering up excuses.
The Tweet Not Meant to Be Seen
Weiner, meaning to tweet the photo directly to a friendly follower, accidentally broadcasted the pic live—a reply-all disaster of gargantuan proportions. Weiner, realizing his error, tried to remove the post, but of course it was already too late and the drama spread like Nutella on toast.
Desperately, Weiner claimed his account had been hacked, and when asked, purported that he could neither confirm nor deny if the junk was, in fact, junk from his own trunk.
Blame it on the blender
Mounting media attention and pressure from Andrew Breitbart, a conservative critic who began leaking the photos, resulted in Weiner’s confession.
“I Don’t Know What I Was Thinking” – Neither Do We
We can all chide Weiner for his irresponsible and idiotic behavior.
It’s wrong enough to be a married man sending questionable photos of yourself to a mysterious woman.
It’s foolish enough to do it via Twitter, which has never been a social media platform with privacy in mind (its very purpose is to broadcast messages to thousands of people. Why on earth would it ever be considered a viable option for an e-ffair?).
It’s unlucky enough to have a surname that begs to be ridiculed.
But to do all this as a Congressman with ambitions to become Mayor of New York City? Downright moronic.
Google Trends had “rep weiner” in the number one hot spot for June 6. They say no publicity is bad publicity, but it’s unlikely to be a PR stunt by Weiner.
The Painful Press Conference
Watching Weiner throw himself to the wolves during Monday’s press conference, I initially was amused and a bit embarrassed – is this really news warranting hours of interviews and discussion? But watching Weiner stammer teary-eyed through a seemingly sincere apology brought out my sympathy.
Behind the snide and not-so-clever dong jokes is a real man who has been utterly humiliated by his lack of judgment and by the era in which we live. Blame can’t be diverted – Weiner made some big mistakes. But the use of social media made what would have once been a personal embarrassment into a public circus.
The Virtual Life vs. the Offline Life
The problem is that a clandestine romance simply can’t happen online. People often mistakenly equate the vastness of the online world with anonymity, when in fact an online presence leaves a ridiculously unsubtle paper trail of likes, uploads, tweets, and IMs. The internet is the elephant that never forgets.
“With the Internet, there is a false sense of security,” Susan Etlinger of social media consulting group Altimeter Group notes. “People still think and behave as though they are communicating one-to-one, when in fact digital communication is a very volatile and sharable thing.”
Weiner’s online correspondence isn’t so different from the bar flirtation that plenty of married men might participate in on a night out. But online actions are an entirely different species than their offline counterparts. As Monica Hesse of the Washington Post notes:
“We treat our virtual lives as if they have the same meaning, depth and repercussions as our offline lives, which is a noble impulse. But there is a difference. Having a Facebook friend is not the same as having a friend, tweeting a politically charged hashtag is not the same as being an activist and sexting is not the same as having sex.”
Social media is a powerful tool. It can be used to promote campaigns, organize revolts, announce new products, and deliver the latest news developments.
But it utterly fails in keeping secrets—discretion is not Twitter’s forte.
What do you think? Does Weiner deserve to be judged harshly or should we go soft on him?