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9 things Weinergate tells us about Twitter

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Twitter: Good and bad in 140 characters
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Twitter is very effective at spreading the news, but not as good at controlling it
  • Account hacking is more common than you might think
  • Checking Twitter on a Friday night is the new normal
  • Washington may be obsessed with Weiner, but Twitter users have moved on

Editor's note: Chris Taylor is San Francisco bureau chief of Mashable, a popular tech news blog and a CNN.com content partner.

(CNN) -- By now, unless you live under a boulder large enough to block data signals, you know that New York Rep. Anthony Weiner is embroiled in a scandal involving an extremely personal picture sent from his Twitter account to a Seattle college student.

Weiner says his account was hacked, but can't say "with certitude" if the picture is a fake.

This much we know. But what else does the story that has Washington all a-twitter reveal about everyone's favorite microblogging service?

1. Twitter is very effective at spreading the news, but it can't control it.

For Twitter itself, the Weiner story couldn't have broken at a less appropriate time. The company's CEO, Dick Costolo, and a large portion of its PR team were hunkered down at the All Things Digital conference in beautiful Rancho Palos Verdes, California, preparing to launch -- of all things -- its new photo-sharing service.

Costolo deftly batted away questions about Weiner with a "no comment." But for a company that is anxious to prove its maturity, talking about ways to share pictures on Twitter at a time when the most famous example of that is a lewd underwear snap could only have been frustrating.

2. Maybe this is a good time to launch Twitter photo-sharing after all.

Reports emerged Thursday that the mysterious sender of that photo may well have exploited a security flaw in yFrog, a third-party photo-sharing service. The loophole would have allowed anyone to send a picture from Weiner's account using tools no more advanced than e-mail.

Rep. Anthony Weiner says his Twitter account was hacked, but can't say "with certitude" if the picture is a fake.
Rep. Anthony Weiner says his Twitter account was hacked, but can't say "with certitude" if the picture is a fake.

YFrog has since disabled the e-mail feature. Still, that's a strong argument for sharing photos directly and securely from your Twitter account -- which is exactly what Twitter is launching.

3. Checking Twitter on a Friday night is the new normal.

College student Gennette Cordova, recipient of the offending tweet, wrote for the New York Daily News that she first learned about it when logging into Twitter on a Friday night.

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If you think that's unusual activity for a co-ed on a Friday night, get with the 21st century. A dozen of Cordova's friends had already seen the Weiner tweet, she wrote.

According to Twitter tracking firm Sysomos, Friday is the third-biggest day of the week for tweeting (after Tuesday and Wednesday.) Social media, it seems, is how we like to relax after hitting the books.

4. Account hacking is more common than you might think.

If it turns out Weiner's account was hacked, he can take comfort in one thing: It happened to one of his main detractors, Fox News, too.

In 2009, followers of the network's official Twitter feed were puzzled to see a tweet about host Bill O'Reilly's sexual orientation, the result of an 18-year-old hacker called GMZ uncovering the account's password.

Fox News was only the first in a series of GMZ attacks on Twitter accounts including those of Britney Spears, Facebook, the Huffington Post, and Barack Obama himself.

Little more than a year later, hundreds of accounts -- including the one owned by tech pundit John C. Dvorak -- were hacked by a spammer looking to advertise a weight-loss product.

5. There are plenty of things you can do to keep your account secure.

Twitter has spent years beefing up its security and dishing out advice on how you can help. The top tips: Use a strong password with numbers and unusual characters; use the more secure URL "https://twitter.com/"; be wary of links and e-mail phishing scammers that pretend to be Twitter employees asking for your password.

6. Always double-check the person you're tweeting.

Gennette Cordova's take on why Weiner, whom she doesn't know, may have tweeted at her? Because her name is alphabetically close to that of Ginger Lee, a Tennessee exotic dancer that Weiner also followed on Twitter until recently.

It's entirely possible, given that Twitter auto-suggests who you might be trying to reach once you start typing their names. One false click, and that racy message intended for your spouse may be winging its way to your mom instead.

7. Washington may be obsessed with Weiner, but Twitter users have already moved on.

You might expect the Twitter hashtag that denotes the scandal, "#Weinergate", to be popular right now. But you'd be wrong. It isn't even in the top 10.

Beltway pundits and politicians may be talking about little else, but Twitter's 200 million users have other things on their minds. The top trending hashtags in the U.S. Friday morning? "#myperfectmorning" and "DunkinDonuts."

8. Social media can bring unwanted attention -- but mostly from old media.

Another sign that Twitter users care little about the scandal: As of Friday, Cordova's account was being followed by less than 800 people. Compare that to Sohaib Athar, the tweeter who first noticed the Seal Team 6 raid on Abottabad that killed Osama Bin Laden.

Athar's sudden fame gained him roughly 100,000 new followers. Cordova's biggest beef isn't with anyone on Twitter -- it's with the New York Post, which she alleges wrangled an interview out of her under false pretenses.

9. Social media is really hard to quit.

Weiner may be done talking about the scandal to reporters, but he hasn't stopped tweeting. Cordova's initial response to the scandal was to disable her accounts on Twitter, Facebook, and the question-and-answer social site Formspring.

Within days, however, she was back and tweeting up a storm. Her new tagline? "I can't believe I'm back on Twitter." As fellow social media addicts, we here at Mashable.com understand perfectly.

[TECH: NEWSPULSE]

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