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Want to keep it private? Don't tweet it

By Sarah Evans, Special to CNN
  • Sarah Evans says she fretted over the news of "hacking" of Rep. Weiner's Twitter account
  • Turned out he was not hacked, he lied; he'd carelessly shared photos on Twitter, she says
  • She says Weiner's a case study: Don't share anything you don't want everyone to see
  • Evans: Don't count on "private" messaging on the public platform of social networks

Editor's note: Sarah Evans is the owner of Sevans Strategy, a public relations and new media consultancy. She runs her own blog at and shares a daily resource for PR professionals called Commentz. She is also the founder of the first live Twitter industry chat, #journchat.

(CNN) -- Since I eat, breathe and sleep social media, when I hear someone's online account has been hacked, tampered with or altered in any way I can't help but feel bad. When Rep. Anthony Weiner announced last week not only that his Twitter account was hacked, but also that someone had apparently gained access to his personal photos along with access to a Twitter photo application, it made me sick to my stomach.

Then, the wheels in my head started to turn. Was this a prank? Was a competitor or political foe waging war? Was Weiner the victim of a new hack or virus I'd yet to learn about? I went into action mode. I connected with peers and clients to educate them on social network protection tactics, including password best practices.

I began to update client crisis communication plans to include a section on "online hacks resulting in sensitive information being shared." This seemed like a learning opportunity. And if Rep. Weiner, for his part, handled it correctly, he could emerge unharmed.

Perhaps it was naive, but I didn't consider the alternatives: that he had used and taken advantage of a real-life issue that many, from media outlets to, yes, other politicians, deal with on a daily basis -- the dreaded hack; that he would risk his career and credibility by sharing private information on a public platform. That he lied.

Millions of us use social networks to communicate with friends, share news, build business, etc. We rely on free, third-party networks to help us reach a community or an audience. There's a give and take. We don't pay for the access to these sites, and in return we give up or accommodate certain things, like allowing a third party access to personal information. That's why the hack didn't seem like such a farfetched story.

And then, the big reveal: He did, in fact, lie. Apparently the only thing he was a victim of was good old-fashioned human error. Or, as a previous IT team member liked to call these incidents, 1D10T errors (for those less tech savvy, it spells out idiot). He accidentally posted a very private photo, meant for a direct message, to his public Twitter feed.

He acknowledges that he then deleted the tweet. He didn't tweet about the mistake, just deleted the tweet and, I presume, hoped no one would notice. Only it doesn't matter. The mistake had been made in a social network where, at the time, 47,000+ people followed his account.

This is where I insert my social network public service announcement:


In the past few months we've seen many organizations accidentally -- or sometimes not so accidentally -- tweet information from their Twitter accounts that didn't accurately reflect the brand. Those who handled the situations with immediacy and truth fared rather well. Others who didn't? Not so much.

Weiner is a case study in what not to do. With one accidental tweet and the events that followed, he violated that precious political commodity: trust. He didn't fess up to his mistake and took us all for a little ride until he was ready to share.

In the fast-paced world of social media, news travels at the speed of light and the news cycle never rests. Anything you post online is potentially available forever. Your posts and other online content are available for comment by anyone who comes across them. Even your "private" information on social networks can be made public by the right hacker or through user error.

This isn't meant to scare people away from social networks -- it's just a reminder to use common sense before you post. It really is that simple. If you need to add, "Don't share lewd photos on social networks" to a reminder list, so be it.

Weiner's online error resulted from using a "private" messaging system on a public platform. It just doesn't work. Never share anything online, even in a private forum, that you wouldn't be comfortable with the entire world seeing. Why? Because it's not private!

Interestingly, Weiner didn't use his social networks to propagate his story. He did, however, rely on mainstream media, which gave him additional prominence and attention. When he decided to come out with the truth, he didn't use his own broadcast mechanism (i.e. Twitter) to set the record straight, he once again went to the press. In fact, Weiner hasn't tweeted since June 1. Perhaps he didn't only violate our trust, but his own.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Sarah Evans.