Now that Anthony Weiner has resigned from the House of Representatives, the frenzy surrounding the sexually explicit messages he sent women on Twitter is beginning to die down. But similar scandals are cropping up elsewhere in the world. It's an age, as The New York Times put it yesterday, when the Internet has become "the place where anonymity dies."
Let's start in China. Earlier this week we learned from the Guangzhou Daily--visuals and all--that nude photos of Liu Ning, a district official in Guangzhou, were circulating on Chinese social networks after he posted them to the Twitter-like Sina Weibo during an online chat, and that local authorities were investigating the incident. Then we found out that Xie Zhiqiang, the head of the Liyang City Sanitation Bureau, was under investigation for similar behavior. According to the Xinhua news service, authorities are poring over Xie's flirtations on Sina Weibo with a married woman with whom he appeared to be having an affair, in which the two discussed topics ranging from hotel dates to the illegal redemption of personal expenses. "Amazingly," writes Li Chen at Penn Olson, "even after their Weibo chats attracted thousands of followers, they had no idea that Weibo was a public place," instead believing it was a private instant-messaging service. In fact, when Xie was confronted by a local newspaper, he asked, incredulously, "How can you view our messages on Weibo? It is impossible, isn't it?" (in one of his chats, Xie advised the woman to avoid the phone and text messages and stick to Weibo instead). The Chinese website SHM.com.cn posted the screenshot on right of Xie's account:
Now let's move to Belgium, where the tabloid Story reports this week that Prime Minister Yves Leterme sent 849 text messages--some of a private nature--to a mistress in Antwerp whom he met on Facebook while he was serving as foreign minister. The magazine, which interviews the alleged mistress and publishes some of the texts, adds that Leterme tried to arrange a ministry job for the woman. Leterme, according to Le Soir, denies the report, explaining that he did advise a woman from Antwerp to apply for a temporary position with the ministry, which she ultimately didn't obtain, but that her testimony to Story isn't credible. Politico's Ben Smith points out that Leterme got himself into trouble on Twitter last year when he sent an eyebrow-raising tweet in English: "Not at all. Want to learn to know you. You too?"
All these reports, of course, are invoking Anthony Weiner--we're seeing a lot of "China's Weiner" or "Belgium's Weiner." We wonder how long that designation will last.