This week in tech fiascos: The Weiner and Palin edition

As the two politicians discover, it's not so easy to manipulate Twitter and Wikipedia for your own benefit

When technology meets politics, absurdity often results. There were two prime examples of that this past week that I cannot let pass without comment.

The first, of course, is Weinergate. You know that when people install a "gate" at the end of your name, you've entered one of the seven circles of hell. Congressman Anthony Weiner has found himself in Circle No. 1, wearing boxers soaked in kerosene.

[ Also on InfoWorld.com: From Anthony Weiner to Osama bin Laden, Twitter is now part of the news landscape, whether you like it or not. | Stay up to date on all Robert X. Cringely's observations with InfoWorld's Notes from the Underground newsletter and follow Cringely on Twitter. ]

I don't think it's possible to have a pulse and to have missed this story, but I'll summarize it anyway, just in case: Outspoken, recently married, unfortunately named member of Congress is accused of sending naughty pix of himself in a pair of boxer shorts via Twitter to various and sundry women. The pictures are too generic (and engorged) to be definitive, and the Congressman alternately denies, obfuscates, and prevaricates.

Then suddenly more pictures appear -- including one with a smiling Congressman wearing the telltale boxers and nothing else -- followed by tearful confessions, apologies, revelations as various "victims" climb out from under their respective rocks for their requisite 15 minutes of fame, and an inevitable tsunami of 24/7 cable/Web coverage.

Today, the New York Times' Ashley Parker published an interview with Weiner, conducted weeks before all the TwitPics hit the fan, about his somewhat risky use of Twitter (and his habit of leering at hot women):

Mr. Weiner, Democrat of New York, was charming and engaging, and he spoke frankly candidly -- and, in retrospect, prophetically -- about his Twitter persona. "I know the risk," he said. "I've seen enough stories about the risk, and I've kind of kicked the line of the risk a couple of times."

Of course, the risk I was asking about was the possibility he might offend someone with his sharp voice -- I had no idea he had been carrying on sexually explicit conversations with women on Facebook and Twitter. But some of his comments were, in hindsight, striking.

"With absolutely metaphysical certitude," he said, "I will say that I will offend somebody or make a mistake once in a while. I won't always be politically correct, and I'm sorry in advance."

I asked if he ever worried he would go a step too far and become a cautionary Twitter tale.

"Yeah, I think about that," he said, "but that's true of this interview and it's true just about anywhere nowadays. You've got to be cautious."

Cautious. Right. Or perhaps when he said "cautious," Weiner actually meant "stupid." ITworld Thank You For Not Sharing blogger Dan Tynan notes:

As political sex scandals go, I think Weinergate is still not in the same league with, say, soliciting sex in airport bathrooms, or seducing underage Congressional pages, or hiring prostitutes, or knocking up your housekeeper and keeping the love child a secret for a decade, or half a dozen other recent scandals that come to mind. What it is, though, is incredibly, unbelievably, astronomically stupid....

If you're a publicly elected official who wants to remain a publicly elected official ... don't take other shots wearing the same clothes (or lack thereof) where you're sitting there smiling at the camera like an idiot. Ever heard of Photoshop? Or plausible deniability? If you don't want to lose face, then lose the face.

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