So it turns out that Rep. Anthony Weiner's Twitter account wasn't hacked after all. The New York Democrat admitted in a press conference Monday that the anonymous nether regions posted on his RepWeiner feed were, in fact, his, and that he had posted the photo himself.
"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," Weiner said to the assembled press corps.
Weiner's fatal mistake – though certainly not his only one – was confusing Twitter's "direct message" feature with its "mention" feature. As the name implies, a direct message can be viewed only by the recipient. You can send direct messages only to people who follow you on Twitter.
A mention, by contrast, can be seen by everyone on the Web, which is what happened, briefly, with Weiner's photo.
So how did Weiner mix up the two? To send a direct message, you type the letter "d" followed by a space, followed by the recipient's Twitter handle, as in "d recipient." To send a mention, you type the character "@" followed by the recipient's handle, as in "@recipient." It's possible that Weiner could have simply mixed up the two when he sent the infamous photo on Friday.
Or it could have been a more subtle error. Buried in Twitter's support pages is an ominous warning to all those using text message feature on their phone to send direct messages:
Note: If your message is longer than 140 characters and Twitter receives it intact, we will send your message in two parts for you. But, beware: if your service provider breaks up long messages into two parts before sending the message to Twitter, we will only see the d+username attached to the first message! The second part will post to the public time line as a regular update because it doesn't have the d+username preceding it.
The moral? Whether it's an email, a tweet, or a Facebook status update, always double-check before you hit "send."
Oh, and don't take lewd pictures of yourself and send them to random women on the Internet.