Posted June 7, 2011 9:19 am by with 3 comments

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While you would think that you shouldn’t need to write about this kind of stuff more than once, the sheer stupidity of what people do in their online lives merits some examination of what we all should be careful of in the online world.

It’s not news that New York Democrat Rep. Anthony Weiner had a little trouble with his social media ‘habits’. If you are unaware, the very vocal official who is constantly in the media pointing the finger at his political opposites, has been ‘exposed’ as a bit of Twitter degenerate who doesn’t know a direct message from a hole in the ground.

In a nutshell (chuckle), here’s what the esteemed seven-term government official did.

May 27 – Tweeted a photo of his private part to one of his Twitter followers. The key thing here is that he intended to direct message his ‘data’ but instead sent it to everyone. He then claimed his account was hacked to try to cover up his ‘issue’.

May 28-29 – Tells the world through the press that his account was hacked.

May 30 – Threatens legal action against hacker.

May 31 – Pressure mounts as suspicious behavior from the representative gets people wondering what actually did happen on Twitter.

June 1 – When asked directly on MSNBC about the issue and whether the tweeted photo is actually his, ahem, well you get the picture. He replies “ “You know, I can’t say with certitude. My system was hacked. Pictures can be manipulated. Pictures can be dropped in and inserted,” he said. (Insert raised eyebrows and doubts as to whether he is telling the truth)

June 2-5 – Weiner goes into hiding (insert your own snide joke here).

June 6 – Andrew Breitbart reveals he has more pictures. Weiner appears to be roasted.

June 6 – Weiner is finally frank about his online dealings in a press conference. He reveals that he lied and that there are other ‘relationships’ online over the past three years and apologizes to his wife of one year and his constituents. He says he will not resign because he didn’t break any laws. His attempts to lessen the impact only ends up making him look worse.

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So what should we learn from this New York representative’s attempt to add new meaning to the term “dirty water dog”? At the risk of sounding like a broken record let’s go through the list of do’s and don’ts to protect your reputation in the new digital world order.

1. Don’t do or say anything online that you wouldn’t want in a headline – We are all prone to flex our “internet muscles” from time to time and say something over the top or act out of line. It’s part of being an imperfect human being. There are, however, limits of good taste even in a society that continues to stretch those limits. Oh, and just because YOU may think something is OK that is literally NO indication of what the world at large thinks. Don’t be so arrogant as to think that everyone will just ‘go along’ with your point of view because they won’t.

2. Don’t lie – No matter what the issue it will only get worse and the judgments will only grow more harsh when it is revealed that lies were told to cover up the truth. The likelihood of getting away with a lie like Rep. Weiner tried to in today’s world falls somewhere between slim and none. Getting away with a lie in the world of digital fingerprints being on everything has about the same odds of hitting the lottery.

If Weiner had simply admitted he was wrong from the start there is a much higher likelihood that the American public (who loves to give second chances) would have been more forgiving than they will be now. By piling lie upon lie, however, Weiner has put doubt into everything he has ever done and one wonders if he has lied to cover up things in the past. The likelihood of his recovery in this is slim but would have been much greater if he had just admitted his wrong doing from the start.

3. Don’t take aim at others if you can’t stand being in the crosshairs yourself – Look, everyone has dirty laundry. If you are in the public eye as a brand, as a persona or as anything you need to be thick skinned and prepared for a boomerang effect. Rep. Weiner made himself a target of conservative groups because of his aggressive rhetoric about them in arenas that are inflammatory. It’s somewhat stunning to think that he could be so arrogant as to think that he was going to get away scot free on this one.

4. Do some thinking – If you are a knee jerk kind of person, the online world only exacerbates that condition thus making you more dangerous to yourself than ever before. Think before you tweet. If Anthony Weiner had been paying attention to what he was doing rather than what he was actually doing he may have hit the right button and this whole thing would have been a non-issue – for today.

5. Do realize that it’s only a matter of time – Ask Tiger Woods. Ask anyone in the public eye. If you are in the fishbowl of the modern age, which has created a 24 / 7 news cycle hungry for anything to feed it, then all bets are off. There is a very good chance that you will be caught. If you can’t stop what you are doing despite the risks then don’t act surprised when it all goes away. Looking at this situation, there was literally no way that Weiner was going to be able to continue this kind of activity online without being caught. All it takes is one of these people he was ‘trusting’ with not revealing his activities, to say “Look, pay up or I go public” then the wheels will fall off the wagon quicker than you can say “Noooo! I meant to DM that one!”

6. Do pay attention to the lessons around you – It’s not as if we don’t have an ever growing body of evidence of what to do or not to do in the online space. How many of these kinds of posts will it take for people to wake up and smell the coffee? No one, as in literally, no one is bullet-proof in the online space. Hear it and believe it.

7. Do track your reputation online at all times – Why do you think there is a social media monitoring and reputation management industry that is growing so rapidly? While you may be able to limit your potential damage through the proper behaviors that doesn’t stop virtually anyone from just saying something to defame you, your brand or whatever. We can control our own actions to some extent but the actions of others need to be watched just as closely.

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I speak to people all the time who think that it’s too much work to track everything online. They are right in that it’s a lot of work but too much? Is it too much to protect shareholder value from rogue online activities? Is it too much to not invest at all in the active monitoring of what is being said? The ‘too much work’ argument is one made by a short-sighted employee and not a stakeholder in a personal or corporate brand. There is no such thing as ‘too much work’ to protect a business in the digital space.

If you thought Rep. Weiner had it bad before his online reputation monitoring (ORM) issues are just beginning. He and his staff are going to have to monitor literally EVERYTHING that is said about him because now that the cat is out of the bag (literally and figuratively). There is going to be a very intense period of judgment and ‘trial by blogger’ which will need to be monitored. It will die down to a degree because there will be another stupid human trick happening soon enough to take the spotlight off of Weiner’s weiner but this will never completely go away thanks to the online equivalent of an elephant’s memory: Google. This online saga is just starting and that’s a fact.

But there is hope. Ask Tiger Woods. Ask Eliot Spitzer. Second chances are available but after that you are on your own.

  • Social media means that no public personality or company can hide out until it blows over. Bad news travels around the world in matter of seconds and you have to be prepared to handle it. Social media is a powerful tool, not a toy, and companies have to be careful what they say and do. Someone is always going to find out.

  • UNBELIVABLE……hard to understand why anybody would be that stupid but a well known public figure its mind boggling. He must tbe sick in the head there is no other explanation. I did not believe it thought it was a hoax. What is is about the online space that makes people think they are safe to do this stuff. Its completely the opposite the online space is treacherous. There is no privacy on the web if you put something in the digitial space be prepared to see it again. Great guide Frank and like you said hard to believe we still need to remind people of this.

  • Douglas Karr

    I thoughtnthe only lesson was to pay attention to “@” versus “d”. 😉