Anthony Weiner, congressman and peter-tweeter, has not been the first, and will not be the last, to be damaged by his digital dumbness. By accidentally sending out a crotch shot to all his Twitter followers, rather than to the one underage woman the married man was flirting with, Weiner joined a long line of politicians undone by e-lechery. Here's a short—but very useful!—guide for politicians to help them (and, well, any high-profile person attempting to embrace technology) avoid Weiner's spectacular digital faceplant.
1. Know the difference between a DM and a not-DM
A direct message (DM) is sent directly to the momentary object of your skeaziness. A general tweet is sent to your tens of thousands of Twitter followers. Whoops! Ironically, Weiner did know the difference between that which is DM and that which is not. Which brings us to our next rule:
2. Beware third-party Twitter clients
Weiner was Twitter-savvy. A scan of his tweets shows he was down with the clipped style favored on Twitter and had mastered the art of hashtag irony. To wit, on May 27: "Tonight Me and Rachel on MSNBC. #ThePerfectFridayDateUhKindaSorta." Or, on May 25: "Next chapter: GOP tries to squirrel out of their support for ending Medicare. #NoDisrespectToSquirrels." Rather it was apparently Weiner's lack of perfect fluency with the third-party app TweetDeck that led to his humiliation. If you're not entirely confident with your third-party application, stick to sending pictures of your willy in DMs created exclusively on your browser.
3. Memorize Twitter's Byzantine "how-to" page. Or: "What Is a Direct Message? (DM)"
Twitter's page on the ins and outs of DMs makes for fascinating bedtime reading. Here's a tidbit I bet you didn't know: you can send DMs via your mobile phone by beginning a tweet "d Username," where "Username" represents the handle of the person you want to DM. However, notes Twitter:
If your message is longer than 140 characters and Twitter receives it intact, we will send your message in two parts for you. But, beware: if your service provider breaks up long messages into two parts before sending the message to Twitter, we will only see the d+username attached to the first message! The second part will post to the public time line as a regular update because it doesn't have the d+username preceding it.
So in other words, if you don't carefully count the number of characters you send in a mobile DM, part of that message may not be so direct—through no real fault of your own.
There's more: At the end of this how-to section, click on the link for the "Tweet & DM Troublshooting section," and from there click on "My Private Direct Message Posted to My Public Timeline!" for further complicating information.
Twitter blames such an event on "user error—meaning you didn't post the message correctly," though it admits some third-party apps may simply be buggy. It further notes that text messages in languages other than English "obey a different character count." Text messages are limited to 140 bytes, not characters, and some Chinese and other characters can require up to 4 bytes. Weiner definitely shouldn't send mobile DMs of his penis when in China, since the calculus of assured privacy becomes even more complex.
4. Lobby Twitter and other UI designers and coders to structure their products around your lechery
As No. 3, above, should have made clear, Twitter's DM design leaves something to be desired if your private message can so easily become a public message about your privates. Being in a position of power, you should try to legislate better user interface design, so that the congressperson who inherits your seat won't find himself in the same hot water. As Anil Dash tweeted: "Hopefully developers can remember today's example of how features define culture. @RepWeiner's DM fail shows a limit for command-line UIs." (Someone calling himself "apocryphal mat honan" replied with a fake failed DM of his own about "how hott it makes me when you talk about command line ui," together with a fairly NSFW picture.)
5. Or here's a crazy idea: Don't take pictures of your penis to begin with.
Or of yourself shirtless. Or of yourself fellating a red dildo strapped to your husband's nose at a Christmas party. Or of yourself in any sort of compromising position. You're in politics, after all, and this is the 21st century. The twuth will out.
[Image: Flickr user David Boyle]