Weiner, Favre and the 38th Thesis

When I first heard about the racy photo tweeted from Rep. Anthony Weiner’s account, I thought the “I’ve been hacked” defense seemed dubious, especially since Rep. Weiner had not chosen to have law enforcement authorities investigate the alleged crime.

I thought it was much more likely that he had simply made a mistake, and replied to a tweet from the young lady in Washington state instead of sending a direct message with his photo. It’s a difference between typing “@” before her username instead of “d “ – which made the photo link visible to his 45,000 followers, and by extension, to the world.

Following his mistake, we now know Rep. Weiner broke just about every rule of PR and crisis management – making up a story about being hacked, denying that he had sent the picture and evading the question of whether the photo was of him. I thought the low point was when he berated ABC News’ Jonathan Karl for “not understand(ing) how social networks work.”

Monday we learned that the simple explanation was in fact the right one. As The Hill reported:

“Once I realized I had posted it to Twitter I panicked, I took it down, and said that I had been hacked,” Weiner said at a press conference in New York. “To be clear the picture was of me and I sent it.”

In actuality, Weiner had committed one of the classic errors of the micro-blogging platform: tweeting a message that was intended to be sent as a direct message. Direct messages are private messages that can only be sent to a user to one of their followers.

This outcome, especially when considered in light of a similar issue involving former Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre (OK, he played for the Vikings, too) and the allegations of his “sexting” a female sideline reporter when he played a season with the New York Jets, provides a fitting illustration of a principle I’ve found myself regularly mentioning in presentations, and which I am now codifying as my 38th Thesis:

Social media raise the cost of bad behavior because they make it more likely misdeeds will be discovered.

By the account of Jenn Sterger, the photos Brett Favre allegedly sent her via text message were at least as explicit as Rep. Weiner’s. But we’re still saying “allegedly” in the Favre case, partly because the photos were sent via SMS instead of on a social network like Twitter. And her revelation came about two years after the alleged incident. The first news story about the Weiner tweet, by contrast, showed up within just a few hours.

Twitter is much more powerful as a communication vehicle than text messaging is because tweets can be discovered and spread by anyone, and because for regular tweets (as opposed to direct messages), there are no intended “recipients.”

But the same tools that can be so beneficial when used for good can have devastating effects when mishandled. The Favre sexting controversy took two months to be resolved,  with the NFL commissioner finally settling on a $50,000 fine. The Weiner case took 10 days from tweet to tearful confession.

Of course there were various differences between these two examples, and it isn’t my point to go through these fine distinctions. I just think it’s interesting to see how rapidly the Weiner case developed, and to consider how social media accelerated his decline. Two weeks ago tomorrow he was being mentioned as a leading candidate for mayor of New York. Today he has many of his party members in Congress urging him to resign.

In my presentations I have often suggested that users should apply the “front page” test to all of their online postings. As we’ve seen recently with Rep. Weiner, sometimes those postings really do make the front page.

What do you think? What are the social media lessons you take from this case study?

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Author: Lee Aase

Married father of six and grandfather of seven, and the Chancellor of SMUG - Social Media University, Global. By day I'm the Director of the Mayo Clinic Social Media Network. Whatever I say here is my personal opinion, and doesn't reflect the positions of my employer.

4 thoughts on “Weiner, Favre and the 38th Thesis”

  1. Ok, Weiner cooked his little hot dog on a public grille – but he, like many other of us humans, are, well human, and at times-okay, it appears several, and likely thousands of times-but, before the media-and all of us critics & commentators-me included-should take a step back and look at the bigger picture and realize, it really doesn’t matter when u consider Fukishima, the tornadoes, wildfires, e-coli, and God knows, how many other crisises that affect us. He’s the 21st century version, of the 8 year old boy (and many grown men on construction sites!) drawing his version of naked pictures on a bathroom stall to get his kicks. The real kick he should get is from his wife, and his constituents. All the Democrats now calling for his resignation are probably to some degree or another, rumbling thru their closets trying to hide the skeletons deeper, so they don’t end up next in the ridiculous news babble. Everyone needs to find something else to do, and unless he was behaving as a pedophile online, let it go. His behavior appears to be not unlike a kid addicted to video games, tagging or writing on b’room stalls-and it appears the females in contact w him, were doing the same-getting imaginary kicks by communicating w him. Why doesn’t the media look at the GOOD things he’s done-assuming there are some. God will hopefully judge us all not by the bad deeds, but by the sum of all of our parts, which will hopefully far outweigh the bad. Pray for Mr.Wiener, his wife and family. Don’t partake in the feeding frenzy to destroy him-he’s done that quite well on his own-give him a chance to live.

  2. Speed is the demon. It’s so easy to click ‘send’ or ‘post’. Ten seconds to reread or rethink could have made all the difference in these instances. But then there’s ego. That’s another topic.

    In general I think society is in such a hurry these days to get on to the next thing, and mobile media makes that really easy. So these powerful tools in our hands that can do so much good (see Joplin) also suffer the fool.

    Front page test indeed. Slow down and make sure it’s fit to print.

  3. Lee- very interesting thesis. I would agree, but only to a point. I’m not sure that Social Media alone makes the cost go up, it just increases the likelihood that someone will pay. Social media helps increase transparency because of the large audience watching.

    The real costs Weiner will – and should pay – are the result of his terrible mismanagement of the situation “post tweet”. I would not say he is unqualified to be in a leadership position simply because of the choices he made regarding his sexting practices, BUT I am appalled by his aggressive treatment of the media shown this interview and his “jackass” comment in another press engagement. One small “lie” is not the problem, it is the lies that have to be manufactured later to cover it up that become the problem.

    In spirit of bi partisan bashing, it is somewhat similar to the “blame the media” excuse making that Sarah Palin recent made in response the the “Gotcha Question” in Boston. “What have you seen so far today and what are you going to take away from your visit?” hardly seems like media entrapment to me. It was her response that has been expensive for her credibility.

    Leaders are often defined by how they react in difficult situations… these “leaders” didn’t score any positive leadership points here.

  4. I’ve been trying to think of what to say “professionally” and you have helped me refocus from my personal opinion. I agree you have to think “front page” when you Tweet, even if it is a direct message. There is just too much power to expose any bad, or even inappropriate, behavior to the world. Professionals need to manage their reputation, and that of their organization, just as they are expected to do in-person.

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