On Monday, June 6, Rep. Anthony Weiner admitted that he sent a revealing photo of himself to a woman on Twitter. The announcement followed more than a week of extensive media coverage of the photo along with Weiner’s early insistence that he was the victim of hacks and pranks. Revelations of online correspondence with other women involving more lewd photos and explicit exchanges prompted the congressman to admit his behavior in a press conference. Weiner said that he would not resign from Congress.
Social media is the centerpiece of this story–the means by which Weiner committed his inappropriate actions, the means by which they were revealed. Weiner used Facebook and Twitter, along with e-mail and cell phones, to communicate with women. News about the congressman’s pivotal tweet and other digital assignations appeared on the blogsite BigGovernment.com.
The site’s publisher, Andrew Breitbart, took the podium at Weiner’s confessional event demanding an apology for being discredited for his initial report on the tweeted photo. This exposé marks a rebound for Breitbart who posted an edited video of USDA official Shirley Sherrod in 2010 portraying her as racist and leading to her ouster. The complete video of Sherrod’s NAACP speech showed that the initial video took comments out of context.
In the mid 1960s, media theorist Marshall McLuhan coined “The Medium is the Message,” giving the communication channel precedence over content when assessing impact on the receiver. At the time of McLuhan’s observation, television was the ascendant medium changing and reflecting society. A half-century later, social media is commanding the attention of audiences, pundits and scholars. “Users” is a more appropriate term than “audiences” since Web 2.0 has transformed us from consumers of information to creators.
Anthony Weiner provides a study in the transformative power of social media. He created secretive content, forgetting that we become broadcasters when communicating on the Web. In dealing with the dissemination of that content, Weiner also forgot his PR acumen as he alternated between lies, anger and silence in the days leading to his presser. At least he knew better than to blame the channel as a corrupting influence. “There is nothing inherently wrong with social media,” he said on June 6. There was nothing inherently wrong with television when FCC chairman Newton Minow decried its status as a “vast wasteland” in 1961. The technology may change, but the rules of conduct, common sense and choice still apply. The medium may be the message, but senders and receivers are in charge and accountable.