The Public Relations Strategist

Weiner Scandal Is Latest Reminder of Power, Perils of Social Media

Publication Date: 2011, Summer

Source: SO02 Public Relations Strategist
Product Code: 6K-031102
Organization/Author/Firm: Greg Beaubien
Industry: Government - Public Affairs
Specialization(s): Social Media / Crisis Management
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When Rep. Anthony Weiner sent a lewd photograph over Twitter in May, he joined a growing list of politicians, celebrities and companies that have discovered the power and pitfalls of social media.

As The Wall Street Journal reported on June 8, the New York Democrat’s blunder was the Twitter equivalent of clicking “reply all” on an email. Weiner, who resigned from office on June 16 following a three-week saga, said that he was trying to send a Twitter “direct message” — with a link to the racy image — to only one other user. Instead, it went to tens of thousands of his Twitter followers and was quickly re-tweeted to an even larger audience.

Social networks like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube have become standard communications tools for politicians, but people in the spotlight seem to forget how quickly comments on these platforms can spread.

“People still think and behave as though they are communicating one-to-one, when in fact, digital communication is a volatile and shareable thing,” said Susan Etlinger, an analyst with the Altimeter Group.

Ken Goldstein, a media liability expert at the Chubb Group of Insurance Companies, recommended that organizations sending Twitter messages “emulate a newspaper operation” with an editorial structure that vets messages and photos before they send them.

Meanwhile, in a technology column published on June 16 at The New York Times, Paul Boutin outlined three things to remember when using Twitter:

  1. Don’t direct message (DM) anything you wouldn’t want to be public.

  2. Don’t assume that protected tweets will stay private.

  3. Turn on Twitter’s secure connection option.

An article writer for more than 20 years and a frequent Tactics contributor, Chicago-based Greg Beaubien has forgotten most of the formal rules and mostly relies on gut instinct when he writes. Twitter @GregBeaubien


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