N.Y. Rep. Anthony Weiner, 46 years old, was forced to make a pretty humiliating admission that ultimately cost him his job—that he "sexted" numerous explicit body part photos to various young women he'd connected with through social media.
You'll remember that at first he denied it, but the momentum was just too much that he eventually came clean. I've written before that in the digital universe, we have to live more transparent lives than ever.
The river of information that flows through social media or search engines such as Google is so exhaustive that you just can't hide anymore. We need to think about Google less as a search engine and more as reputation management. So now Weiner's reputation is in tatters, and most likelihood his goal of being mayor of New York is over.
But my point isn't to trash the man, but on the contrary—show just how the rest of us really aren't that different.
While we look at a case like his and think about what an idiot he must have been to send explicit photos like that online, the truth is—millions of us do something similar every day. Think about it—how often do you pass on that slightly suggestive joke, that racist cartoon, or that funny, but sorta dirty picture? Or how often do we criticize someone in an email, or damage someone's reputation in the eyes of others?
Sure, we say it was just fun—or we were only defending our turf at work, but the truth is that most of us have emails or texts that if they were read out loud in a courtroom or to the press, it would be humiliating. So while you probably haven't sent a photo half dressed in the bathroom to someone you don't really know online, if we were honest, we'd all have to admit that there's embarrassing stuff out there we've forwarded, sent, or re-tweeted.
Why the temptation?
The question is, why is it so easy to do? Here are a few good reminders:
1. EASY—that's the word—the Internet, email and social media is so easy. One click and you've just sent that dirty joke or porn photo to everyone in your address book. When I was 14, we really had to plan how my older buddy Rusty would sneak into the drug store, buy a Playboy magazine, and sneak it out. At least that worked until Rusty ran into his mom coming out of Eckerds Drug Store. That ended that. The point is, when I was a kid, the only dirty pictures I had access to were in National Geographic. Today, it's way too easy, and that gets us into trouble.
2. It seems private. I've heard it a million times: "But I'm just sending it to a friend." Yeah, but he may not be your friend a year from now, and he has that email, and has the ability to send it to NBC, CNN, your ex-wife, boss, or the world.
3. Finally, how it sounds as you write it, isn't the way it would sound when read publicly. Think about that. Would you be proud to have your emails read or shown in public with your spouse or mom listening?
Here's the weird thing—while we think teens are the ones doing all the "sexting"—a recent study revealed that people over 40 do it more than anyone. Worse—it's growing in popularity with seniors. Barf.
The point is—what Anthony Weiner did was wrong—very wrong. But the truth is—we face the temptation to send, forward,and share questionable stuff online nearly every day.
How are you dealing with that?
Cooke, Ph.D. is a filmmaker and author of "Jolt!: Get the Jump on a World That's Constantly Changing." Find our more at www.philcooke.com.
Published, July 2011