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“A hugely regrettable mistake”

Yesterday afternoon, the Twitter brand lost a little more goodwill, and became a little more of a cliché. Too often, people looking at Twitter from the outside see it as a club of losers. Losers like Rep. Anthony Weiner. After #Weinergate, can the Twitter brand recover?

You probably already know what happened. In a dramatic illustration of the fact that actions have consequences, Rep. Weiner held a weepy press conference admitting to tweeting a photo of his erection to a woman not his wife, lying about it, and having inappropriate conversations with several women he met on Facebook. Weiner apologized to everybody he could think of, and said he would not resign.

There’s a lot to talk about here, but you’re reading a blog about copywriting, so let’s examine Weiner’s statement about what he posted on Twitter:

“Last Friday night I tweeted a photograph of myself that I intended to send as a Direct Message as part of a joke to a woman in Seattle. Once I realized I had posted it to Twitter I panicked, I took it down, and said I had been hacked. I then continued to stick to that story, which was a hugely regrettable mistake.”

Here’s what we learned from this: The only reason the public saw Weiner’s weiner it is that Twitter’s messaging system is too confusing for a congressman to figure it out.

In a Breaking Copy post in April, I wrote a critique of Twitter’s messaging service:

“Some people use Twitter as a way to talk to their friends, but most people find it frustrating. You’re limited to short messages, and you can’t send private messages to people who don’t follow you. Only true geeks understand the difference between a DM and an @reply.”

It is confusing! You have two ways to send a message to a Twitter user, one public that always works (@reply) and one private that only works under some conditions (DM). There are several ways to access each one, including Twitter.com, SMS, mobile devices, and third-party Twitter clients. Interfaces vary drastically from one to another, and in most cases there’s no indication whether you’re sending a public message or a private one.

Design matters. We now know Twitter’s lousy messaging system made the difference between a man behaving badly in private, and a national political scandal. In this case, the cause of justice may have been served by Twitter’s lackluster product, but that doesn’t excuse it. Twitter must fix this.

As for that branding problem I mentioned earlier, remember there’s a whole economy growing around Twitter. Yesterday Apple (Apple!) announced that it will tightly integrate Twitter into the next version of its operating system. In the race to make money off social networking, Twitter is one of the biggest topics of speculation. But people still don’t take it seriously, because stuff like Weinergate keeps happening.

For posterity, here’s the tweet in question. Who wants to be part of a club where congressmen hang around and do this?

Video grab above via CNN.

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Related post: Let’s all make fun of Anthony Weiner’s name

— By Daryl Lang. Filed under Politics, Social Media, Technology

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