5 things politicians shouldn't do on social media

Our elected officials can tweet the darnedest things

Anthony Weiner
(Image credit: Spencer Platt/Getty Images )

Social media tools like Facebook and Twitter have allowed politicians to interact with their constituents to an unprecedented degree. But with great social media power comes great social media responsibility, if controversies like Anthony Weiner's tweetgate are any indication. Here, a historical guide to what politicians shouldn't do on social media:

1. "Like" obscene pages

That little blue thumb button may look inviting, but click it with discretion — you never know when your "Likes" will come back to haunt you. Such was the fate of Jersey City Assemblyman Charles Mainor, who got into a bit of hot water after a constituent complained that Mainor "Liked" inappropriate Facebook pages such as "Big Bootie Freaks" and "You Got Knocked The Fck Out Man," a page that posts videos of physical assault. The assemblyman later admitted to liking You Got Knocked The Fck Out Man, but claimed that Big Bootie Freaks must have ended up in his favorites by accident. "Listen, I love women, but it shouldn't be on there, but I don't know how to get it out," Mainor said, adding that he believes he was unfairly targeted by people opposed to the gun-control legislation he supports.

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2. Tweet a crotch shot

No matter how many youthful coeds are clamoring for them, do not send any suggestive photos of yourself (or your body parts) over Twitter (or, for that matter, any other medium). If you succumb to the temptation to tweet a photo of your junk, you won't be the first — Rep. Anthony Weiner of New York lost his job and a good chunk of his credibility in 2011 after he tweeted a photo of his underwear-clad crotch to a Seattle woman.

3. Tweet to your secret daughter

When Rep. Steve Cohen of Tennessee was caught tweeting at a 24-year-old model during the State of the Union, people feared it was Weinergate all over again. But the truth behind the tweets led to a different piece of scandalous information. Cohen initially said that the girl with whom he was exchanging messages ending in "#ilu" (short for "I love you") was a family friend, but later revealed that she was his secret daughter from a previous relationship. He added that he only learned of her existence a few years ago.

4. Declare an early victory

More than a month before Election Day in 2010, Joe Miller, the GOP's official candidate in Alaska for the Senate, took to tweeting his chickens before they hatched, claiming to be "doing some house hunting" and "picking out some office furniture" while on a trip to D.C. The tweets were soon deleted, but they weren't forgotten, especially after Miller was defeated in the general election by a write-in campaign mounted by his Republican primary rival, incumbent Lisa Murkowski.

5. Make late-night Twitter typos

If you're not communicating with secret daughters or secret lovers, Twitter can still be a major embarrassment: Just ask Scott Brown. When the former Massachusetts senator launched into a series of strange tweets one night in late January, the press was alarmed. The questionable tweets were mostly replies to haters, in which he frequently wrote, "whatever." But one tweet, a confounding "Bqhatevwr," was so inexplicable that it started a worldwide trending topic. Brown denies that alcohol was involved, and claims he was just learning the Twitter ropes when he "pocket-tweeted." Bqhatevwr, Scott… we'll take your word for it.

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Samantha Rollins

Samantha Rollins is TheWeek.com's news editor. She has previously worked for The New York Times and TIME and is a graduate of Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism.