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  • Law, Policy -- and IT?

    Tracy Mitrano explores the intersection where higher education, the Internet and the world meet (and sometimes collide).

The Internet Makes Fools of Us All: Leave Weiner Alone Now
June 17, 2011 - 2:15pm

He resigned. That was the right thing to do. Washington is about politics. He got caught in that vortex. Having elected to play that game, he lost by breaking the rule of making your party vulnerable. That was the fault. Now let's take a look at the underlying behavior.

What he actually did is such a small, personal thing. It is far more of a concern to his mental health (given its adolescence aspect by an adult with public exposure and responsibilities) and therefore his marriage (so between them, not us) than it is to the well-being of the public weal. In that sense, he is a mirror to our own missteps on the Internet everyday. The embarrassing post of last night's party with the lampshade on our head. The revelation of a social/sexual/personal kind on Facebook that changes the next day. The gossip site bait your sorority sister fell for badly.

Lots of human-computer interaction studies demonstrate the highly revelatory quality of communication that exists not only between people on-line, but between the individual and the computer/Internet. One student I counseled for days about juicycampus could do almost anything: cry, get angry, consider legal action against the alleged perpetrators of the defamatory remarks about her posted on the site, except stop going to it for awhile. Even when that which is associated with you is the worse possible thing, untrue statements of the most salacious kind, the very fact that one has presence in this larger world sometimes is too irresistible to ignore. So, too, it might be with the ease of sending sexy stuff that went on with the Facebook and Twitter exchanges that have made the news this week.

Combine the power of technology to allow almost anything without providing warnings about consequences with a penchant for some sexual naughtiness, add a dash of marriage anxiety, not to mention a scoop of "yikes! -- baby on the way!" and Mr. Weiner's behavior is so utterly understandable we should all go screaming into the arms of our family and friends to share a moment of ineffable humanity. Who among us hasn't acted out in some untoward way? Gotten drunk at our own wedding? Wondered if we married the right girl or guy on our honeymoon when s/he licked their fingers in a three star restaurant ? Or when you looked across the room and for one second caught someone's eye and thought, hmmmmmm, is s/he for me?

Don't get me wrong. I am not encouraging such behavior, and to be sure, it is often a sign of something that needs attention, indeed. But if ever there was a "throw the first stone moment" this one has to be up there among them. For distracting his party at a time when there is serious business on the table, he did the right thing by resigning. But in the scope of human things, these sins sure seem venial to me. Compare it to what I consider cardinal transgressions -- engaging in credit default swaps that have had a truly deleterious impact on the lives of millions of people, for example -- and I can get in a forgiving mood very quickly, especially as I observe many of those transgressors prancing around Wall Street today in their fancy suits and cars.

The Internet makes fools of us all. Give the guy a break, some time to grow up, adjust to marriage, find his real talents (not in sexting, but in a communication that might genuinely help society) and press the reset button for us all to give him a chance for public service on another day.


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