The Anthony Weiner Mistake Many of Us Make…and How We Can Learn From It

Now that Congressman Anthony Weiner has resigned following the revelations of his lewd sexting photos  let’s look at what actually happened here and what he REALLY did wrong.

First he took sexually suggestive photographs of himself–perhaps not in the best taste, but not illegal.

Then he sent them out to single women over the Internet, as attachments to Twitter–again not illegal (presuming these women were adults), but in very poor judgment.

Then he lied to the press to cover up his action. Whether or not this was illegal, it certainly was unethical–especially given the accusations he made about his Twitter account being hacked.

Weiner was forced to resign because all of this added up to behavior that was considered inappropriate for a US congressman to be engaging in.

However, Weiner did something else ALL of us do more times than we want to admit: He posted personal information casually on the Internet, thinking he was communicating securely with a chosen individual.

Here’s the lessons all of us can learn from Weiner’s mistake:

  • Public is the key word in public figure. There was a time when public figures had private lives and could keep these separate from what was discussed in the media about them. Some of our greatest leaders, from Thomas Jefferson to FDR to JFK, all had relationships that might have been considered shocking or inappropriate if revealed to the public at the time. Back then, the media knew these things and let them be. That’s not the case in 2011. Enough scandals have surfaced over the last few years that there is no excuse for public figures not knowing this and adjusting their behavior accordingly.
  • We are all public figures on the Web. For better or for worse, Web technology today allows us to become public persona–through Facebook, LinkedIn, blogs and Twitter. We may not be elected officials, but we need to be aware of how what we say and do impacts that public image available about us online with a quick Google search.
  • There is no such thing as privacy when posting on the Web. No matter how many privacy controls are setup by Facebook or other social networks, no matter how many ways there are to control access to information or limit who sees a post, you need to presume that any and everything you post can be seen by others. Forget to check a privacy box, send a Tweet to all your followers instead of as a DM like Weiner did, and what you’ve had to say is seen by the world. Oops.
  • The Web is enduring not endearing. It doesn’t matter how much you wish you hadn’t said or posted something, it’s virtually impossible to remove material from the incredible indelible archive we call the Web. Google is still indexing a talk I gave at a conference more than 10 years ago. Tools are available that allow searches on web content that is no longer posted or active. The Library of Congress is archiving the entire database of Tweets on Twitter for posterity (now that’s scary!). Presume that whatever you say or do on the web will be up there for a long, long time–like uranium, it will take eons to decay into the background.
  • When in doubt, leave it out. Whether it’s a slightly off-color joke, a photo taken after a bit too much partying, a tirade against a bad boss or overdemanding customer, or a picture of your “package,”  stop and consider whether you really want this out there for the world to see forever–with your name attached to it.

How do you stay safe? Consider Linda’s version of the well-known Miranda Warning (cue music from Law & Order…):

You have the right to remain silent. You do NOT need to respond to every web post or topic that catches your eye.

If you give up that right, anything you say can and will be held against you in the court of public opinion.

You ARE what you post. The Web is Enduring, not Endearing. What’s posted on line is practically impossible to remove.

Exercise your rights carefully.

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