Add Baltimore mayoral candidate Catherine Pugh’s name to the list of politicians whose social networking gaffes (or hacks, depending on whom you believe) have become news stories. While Pugh was attending a gala for the Associated Black Charities Saturday night her Twitter account published a tweet that read: “Mmm mmm good looking men here,” which is fairly tame as regrettable tweets go. It’s unbecoming of a state senator and mayoral hopeful, maybe, but it would be a stretch to call it scandalous. Pugh denies sending the tweet.
Certainly it’s nothing compared with the over-reported (and over-photo-illustrated) “sexting” scandal of the unfortunately named Rep. Anthony Weiner, whose confusing half-denials gave way to defiant confessions as photo after half-dressed photo of the New York congressman surfaced on the Internet as evidence of his inappropriate cyber-behavior. The two stories are similar only in medium, but the medium is the message to the larger story here.
Social media scandals could be the wave of the future. Digital information is particularly leaky, and once out is quickly copied and distributed. A single private message intended for the eyes of a friend or family member can become a media event in a matter of minutes.
It’s possible that these scandals could become less common as the current politicians are succeeded by a more tech-savvy generation, but I have my doubts. So often I’ve seen younger people post information to their Facebook pages that I would never dream of posting. I wonder if these immature and inappropriately personal messages will cause problems for them in the future with relationships, employment, or running for public office.
It’s unclear how culpable the news media are in the reporting of these scandals. Certainly Rep. Weiner’s social networking “affairs” are some kind of news story, but how relevant are they really? Are the media working in the name of greater transparency or simple voyeurism? Perhaps blaming news outlets is itself outdated. Even without coverage of Weiner’s Twitter scandal by legitimate news sources, surely the story would have spread far and wide through retweets and Facebook posts. Have we come to a time when the people determine what’s newsworthy? And is this the kind of thing we’re into?
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