If you’ve just moved the rock, New York Congressman Anthony Weiner is currently at the center of an ugly scandal that centers around the use of social media for private, adult conversations. Those of us that rely on social media to conduct a large number of our interactions- professional and personal- have probably felt a bit rocked by what’s happened to Weiner on a national scale, and the inevitable clucking about being judicious via social media has begun, blaming Weiner for the decision to engage in activity some see as questionable or even immoral now that it’s been blasted across digital and analog front pages across the country.
Don’t believe the hype. As a kid growing up on Long Island, the first real sex scandal I recall involved Amy Fisher and Joey Buttafuoco. Few parallels can be drawn, but the most influential comment an adult made around me during that time had to do with marriage, privacy and morality. Women often lambasted Mary Jo Buttafuoco for staying with her husband, but one neighbor of mine quietly opined that no one knew “what goes on in that house.” It was true then and it’s true here- regardless of how the scandal shakes out for Weiner and his wife, the issue we are discussing is for them to sort out, not us.
That said, another huge issue here is whether or not people are to blame when they are open and honest on social networks. And while this is largely an opinion, it’s distasteful fear of free expression, honesty and the embrace of these new technologies has become such an issue. Weiner was a rockstar on social media, and used social networks to his great benefit before he was targeted to take a huge fall.
If you consider yourself a supporter of the effective use of social media, you should recognize all this as potentially damaging to the use of it to its full potential. Either you accept people are human, make mistakes and occasionally aren’t perfect, or you should get off the internet right now and go polish your buggy whips.
Part of what makes social media so great and so powerful is its unique ability to make previously inaccessible figures easier to reach, hear and interact with. In pre-social media era, I would have not known very much about the activities of this local congressman. But I watch his videos on YouTube. I follow him on Twitter. I am a fan of four Anthony Weiner-related groups on Facebook. Had Weiner abstained from this medium, my civic knowledge would have been far more sparse prior to the scandal.
And that brings us to sex. It is my suspicion that far, far more people engage in these activities than let on, powerful people and Average Joes alike. Our collective pearls-clutching at the whole not-very-sordid affair is equal parts baffling, pathetic and hypocritical. Any one of us who has used the internet to flirt or engage in sexually risque behavior could be subject to the same scrutiny. But safe in the knowledge we are not as prominent as Weiner, we throw stones.
In this judgment, we set a dangerous precedent for the future of personal communications on the internet- that you must be 100% professional, composed and unruffled during any internet interaction. That any and all fallibility is cause to infinite damage your career and personal life, and that you are to blame for any level of ruination you or your family suffer should you make a mistake.
It’s wrong. It was wrong when it happened to Chris Lee, and it’s wrong now. Look at your life, social media. Look at your choices. You’re calling for Weiner- a man with two decades of public service- to resign because he flirted on Twitter. Many of you are doing this on Twitter.
It feels a bit like we’ve got to sort this out now- are we going to encourage the use of these technologies by everyone without fear, or are we going to encourage the luddites that don’t trust the internet or the way it fosters honesty and openness? Where do you stand on this issue?