Monday, June 6, 2011

Social Media Crisis Management, Weinergate, Politics, Football, and the Law

Does your company or client have a social media crisis management plan? Social media crisis management is not the same as traditional media crisis management. Social media is a different animal than traditional media and those who advise clients in the social media space must understand the legal, political, public relations, and economic effects, etc... of a social media crisis.

In a social media crisis management plan, a lawyer may play a central role within the social media crisis management team. The type of role that a lawyer plays in a social media crisis depends on the matter. Legal issues appear to be front and center in many of these situations so a lawyer may act in a capacity similar to a quarterback and/or a middle linebacker on a football team. Sometimes a lawyer must go on the offensive and act like Johnny Unitas to further his client's interests. At other times, a lawyer must act like Ray Lewis to defend his client's interests. A lawyer must have a multi-dimensional background and the social media skills, knowledge, and personality to handle the situation.

Last week, Congressman Anthony Weiner of New York was embroiled in a scandal due to his alleged social media usage. A photograph of a man in his briefs was sent from Congressman Weiner's Twitter account to a college student. Mr. Weiner initially acted like this matter was a prank and no big deal. Hacking into an email or social media account is not as uncommon as some may think and there are serious security loopholes in many online systems. For example, Sarah Palin's email account was hacked during the 2008 presidential campaign and the perpetrator was sentenced to a year and a day in prison for unauthorized access to a protected computer.

The alleged hacking of Mr. Weiner's Twitter account has been called "Weinergate" by some media outlets. The story would have died a natural death within a couple of days it first becoming public; however, Mr. Weiner could not say with "certitude" that the alleged inappropriate image that was sent from his Twitter account was not of him. In addition, Mr. Weiner did not ask for an official investigation into the matter by the proper authorities. It is very troubling that Mr. Weiner has not requested an official investigation into this matter.

Due to Mr. Weiner's initial handling of the matter, the story has mushroomed and has stayed in the news cycle for more than a week. I commented about this matter on MSNBC on June 1, 2011 during the noon hour. During my appearance on MSNBC, I stated that wire fraud and/or computer fraud may have occurred if Mr. Weiner's Twitter account or other electronic systems were hacked. In addition, I stated that Mr. Weiner should request an official investigation into the matter by the proper authorities.

At first glance, it sounds ridiculous to spend precious resources to investigate whether a congressman sent an inappropriate image from his Twitter account. Our country has better things to do with its time and money than to investigate whether a congressman is sending allegedly lewd images of himself to others online. However, during the past few weeks there have been some high profile cyber attacks against some of our country's largest companies and if Mr. Weiner's Twitter account and/or other electronic accounts were hacked it needs to be investigated to determine if there are any security vulnerabilities with Mr. Weiner's electronic congressional accounts.

Hacking may be considered a game or a prank by some people. In some instances, hackers are able to find and notify the public about legitimate computer security concerns. However, hacking should not be thought of as an innocent prank because some countries now have cyber warfare units and it is alleged that the U.S. may attack another country conventionally if it is attacked online.

As I am writing this post, it appears that this may not be the first time that inappropriate photos have been sent from an electronic account purportedly belonging to Mr. Weiner. Since it appears that Weinergate may have gotten some new steam it is imperative that Mr. Weiner get his social media crisis management team together immediately. Mr. Weiner may want to avoid Tiger Woods' and Brett Favre's social media crisis management mistakes. It is too late to follow David Letterman's playbook and immediately do a mea culpa; however, if the new allegations against Mr. Weiner are true he should come clean before this scandal destroys his political career and personal life.

To learn more about the legal issues that are intertwined with social media crisis management and how to handle a social media crisis you may contact me at

Copyright 2011 by the Law Office of Bradley S. Shear, LLC. All rights reserved.


  1. Jeffrey Scott ShapiroThursday, June 09, 2011

    Well written and interesting. Having a media crisis - or social media crisis plan is at the least helpful for many people who are in positions that interact with the public, but almost vital for public figures.

  2. Mr. Shapiro,
    Thank you for reading my blog and for participating in the dialogue. After Congressman Weiner's inappropriate Tweet went viral he should have contacted a lawyer well versed in social media to advise him. The Social Media Age has forever changed the game.