I’m sure most of you have heard about the recent political scandal concerning Congressman Weiner and his very poorly crafted decision to lie about a “lewd photo” he had sent to a female Twitter follower. Had Mr. Weiner studied his American history he would have known that Americans react negatively not against the lie itself but against the fact that there was a lie in the first place. Coverups are for the beach, not politics. (Nixon anyone?) Aside from the fundamentally human error of his ways and the fact that the poor man will probably have to resign, not to mention the likelihood of his marriage failing, this is an incident worth noting not for its soap opera-esque feel but for its implications.
The internet, whether we like it or not, is becoming the crux of communication in the modern world. In fact, the US Postal Service is going down the toilet because no one is sending snail mail anymore. (Unless, like me, you work in a College Admissions office and stuff hundreds of envelopes on a daily basis) But like all innovations the internet must be used carefully and intelligently. Cars, radios, computers, airplanes- all remarkable achievements for mankind. But their makers also strongly advised against using these machines without some sort of substantial training, not only in how they operate but also in understanding what the consequences could be for abusing the power inherent to technological advancement. The internet must function in the same way.
Mr. Weiner has not taught us anything new about the perils of involving oneself in “lewd” photography. (Whether or not male panty shots are indeed lewd is a topic for another time) Nor has he enlightened us to the dangers of Twitter. No- he has showed us that the internet is first and foremost a responsibility that should be taken seriously. Mr. Weiner’s situation is unfortunate, for sure. Sad, even pitiful. But like everything that emerges from U.S politics we can take something more from each situation than just the situations themselves. The internet is only as destructive as the people behind it. If you’re not up for the challenge of an internet lifestyle, don’t use it. Facebook and Twitter are not the problem. Scandals emerge from situations in which the internet is used blindly and ignorantly. The failure to comprehend what it means to participate in an online culture and the consequences of abusing its power are the real problems, not the internet itself.
Because internet is power. Had Twitter not existed, Mr. Weiner could have gotten away with his probably very nicely composed panty pics. Maybe if Nixon had Twitter, his presidency would have seen a different outcome as a function of honesty rather than epically shoddy coverups. (Status update: Richard Nixon is breaking and entering. Holler at me if you wanna join) In many ways sites like Facebook and Twitter are wonderfully empowering for the masses. But on the flip side it’s also crucial not to hide behind the billions of other people who use them. Using the internet is, at the end of the day, an individual responsibility.
So let’s stop blaming the internet itself and start educating people on their own personal role in its growth. Until people recognize the realities (and potential dangers) of an internet lifestyle, Facebook and Twitter (and technology as a whole) will always be the scapegoats.
When really, if you think about it, all they’re trying to do is keep it real.