The roots of ‘Weinergate’ — A Twitter primer

By Kimberly Lightbody

So what is Twitter, exactly — and how has it brought such shame on Rep. Anthony Weiner? If you’re over 25, read our Twitter primer to understand the newfangled world of social networking:

• Feel like you have something to say, and want some people to listen? Set up a free Twitter account and create an identity — say, @RepWeiner.

• Start posting messages, known as “tweets”— and don’t feel the need to write anything weighty, of course. Most “tweets” are just quick updates on what you’re doing, like your grocery shopping, taking grandma to the doctor or boasting about your erection. Oh, one more thing: don’t go over 140 characters (including spaces) — on Twitter, you have to say more with less, like Internet acronyms such as “LOL” if something’s funny or “WTF” if you find something outrageous. Of course, a photo of a penis can suffice.

• Friends can “follow” your Twitter “feed,” so that everything you tweet — that shopping list or your underwear-clad crotch — shows up on their Twitter homepage so they’ll be able to see what you’re doing all the time. Just before Weiner’s alleged crotch-shot became the tweet heard ’round the world, the congressman was tweeting about hockey — just like your other friends.

• But it’s not all friendly banter about hockey games and grocery shopping. Twitter has become the new soapbox, where public figures and politicians can air their views without being interrupted by pesky reporters. On May 11, Newt Gingrich sidestepped the “lamestream media” by announcing his presidential campaign on Twitter. And Sarah Palin recently tweeted her 534,000 followers a 140-character “letter” to President Obama.

So what caused “Weinergate”?

Weiner says his account was “hacked,” and that someone else was the underwear model. But other theories abound:

• Weiner might have been trying to send a private tweet, but forgot the trick to Twitter privacy: starting the message with a “d.”

• He might also have a second Twitter account and simply mixed them up.