Politics and Social Media: the Weiner Story

I’m so sick of talking and hearing about former Congressman Anthony Weiner that I put off writing this post for a while, but the lessons from his story are important from a social media standpoint. And, since I’m a political news junkie, I was really just putting off the inevitable.

Lesson number 1: ANYONE can see what you put online and the things you put online STAY THERE. This is the message we’re trying to drill into high schoolers heads through those PSAs. The fact is, it’s not just teenagers who need to know this, just like its not just, or even mostly, teenagers who are putting us all in dangers by texting while they drive. For everyone dabbling with social media: jsut because you’re typing from your phone, doesn’t mean your sending a private message to another individual phone. There is one PSA I couldn’t find that stuck with me for years: a girl posts a racy photo on a bulletin board at school to show a friend, but everyone in the hallway can see it starts laughing. She tries to take the racy photo down to hide it, but another magically appears in its place, and reappears everytime she tears it off the wall. This is the internet, folks, its a big deal – the whole world is online.

Lesson number 2: don’t lie. Another oldie but a goodie. I firmly believe that if Weiner had just owned up from the start, he’d still be a Congreeman today and maybe even get a boost from the experience instead of sacrificing his career. Krystal Ball, who ran for a Virginian Congressional seat last year, wrote as much in The Atlantic, citing her own experience running for office with racy photos from her past available online.

Maybe Weiner could have said “I’m terribly sorry for my oversight – what I thought would stay a private message between close acquaintances turned out to be a very public embarrassment for me and my family. I made a mistake underestimating the internet that I won’t make again.” Or something like that; I whipped that up off the top of my head and I’m not a political strategist, but something like that would have cut this story short by about 6 days and we call could have gone on with our lives apprecaiting that Weiner is human, makes mistakes, but at least owns up to them and therefore is worthy of our trust. Now, we know he’s as lazy and cowardly as a child, who’s first instinct is to lie, and blame someone else, to protect himself. It’s very easy to say what someone should have done, of course, when, if I were in that position, maybe I’d have done the same thing.

But I doubt it.

Lesson number 3: Twitter is a very powerful tool. For anyone who doubted it before, doubt no longer. Twitter has shown time and again how it’s changing the game, slowly but surely. And it’s changing things in more ways than anyone can predict, or even keep track of as more people adopt it. Consider this post about Twitter journalism from one of my favorite blogs, The Next Great Generation, or this point of view from PRWatch, which says the only winner in this story was Twitter. I agree.

Twitter is going to be a significant factor of how people consume and share news for a long time. We all need to pay attention to how we use it to avoid mistakes like Weiners (albeit not as public mistakes for most of us) and businesses need to pay attention to how they are using Twitter to communicate to customers and manage their brand. It’s not a fad and its not trivial.

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