Is it just me or has the news cycle accelerated to the point of near-incomprehensability? Events which once would have been a topic of conversation for a week (if not longer) are now rapidly buried under an uending onslaught of newly-shocking developments. While that is challenge for anyone who writes a blog (or frankly, for anyone trying to simply pay attention), there are some newsmakers who probably don’t mind the hyper-acceleration of the news cycle.
Here’s a case in point. Like so many others, I woke on the morning of Tuesday, September 12, to the startling news that Senator Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) was a trending topic on Twitter. Given Cruz’s reputation, his failed presidential bid, and his largely ineffective tenure in the Senate, there was no obvious reason for the Twitterverse’s sudden interest in the junior Senator from Texas.
Even in my pre-caffeinated state, however, it didn’t take long to figure out the cause of the merriment.
At some point during the late evening on 9/11, someone with access to Cruz’s official blue-ticked Twitter account “liked” a two-minute pornography video clip distributed by the account @SexuallPosts. A snarky tweet by Wired senior writer Ashley Feinberg summed up the situation in all of its hard-core glory:
(If you are not aware that this link is NSFW, please get off the Internet now.)
According to a timeline published by Gizmodo, the video clip post was not “unliked” for at least 30 minutes. At 2:16 a.m., Catherine Frazier, Cruz’s abruptly-awoken communications director, tweeted that “The offensive tweet posted on @tedcruz count earlier has been removed by staff and reported to Twitter.”
Who Clicked the Tiny Little Heart?
As several hundred replies to Frazier’s tweet pointed out, however, there was just one small problem: nothing was actually posted to or by the @tedcruz Twitter account, so it is unlikely that the account was actually hacked. Moreover, while the original post was unquestionably pornographic, it did not violate Twitter’s terms of service. (A heads-up to parents who have not spent much time on Twitter: there is, in fact, a significant amount of pornography, some of it quite hard-core, on the messaging service.)
Soooooo … here’s the question that kept Twitter buzzing for 48 hours or so. Who was at the keyboard when the “like” button was tapped? Was some bored intern responsible or did Senator Cruz himself somehow mistake Twitter’s “like” function for a browser bookmark?
As The Washington Post helpfully reminded everyone, Senator Cruz has had at least a couple of workplace encounters with pornography before. Cruz himself recounted an anecdote in his book A Time for Truth: Reigniting the Promise of America about helping Supreme Court justices better understand the nascent online pornography industry during its deliberations on the constitutionality of the Communications Decency Act. (I spent a day conducting a similar seminar for assistant U.S. Attorneys during the litigation over the Child Online Protection Act in 2000).
More recently, during the 2016 GOP presidential primaries, the Cruz campaign created an ad attacking one of his rivals, Senator Marco Rubio. The Cruz campaign shelved the ad, however, after learning that one of the actors hired for the ad campaign was a woman named Amy Lindsay, whose numerous credits included several softcore pornography films.
Nonetheless, there is no credible evidence that Senator Cruz had anything to do with the embarrassing “like.” According to the Post, Cruz spoke briefly to the reporters gathered outside his office on the morning of September 13 and explained that the embarrassing “like” on his Twitter account “[w]as a staffing issue and it was inadvertent. It was a mistake.” He noted that several people in his office have access to the account but declined to name the individual involved. When asked if he was the watcher, he simply said “No.”
Some Insights into the Pace of Internet Business
Before we take a look at the lessons that parents can extract from this incident for the benefit of their children, it is worth appreciating just how quickly people can capitalize on this type of mistake.
Within moments of the unfortunate “like,” Twitter user @SexuallPosts added the following claim to its profile: “Follow for the Same Porn @TedCruz Watches”. Again, there is no firm indication that this is true but this is the age in which we live.
Even more impressive was the fact that the operators of the Twitter feed quickly threw together an Internet store to sell merchandise mocking Senator Cruz:
I sent some questions to the email address listed in the Twitter profile and got back the following interesting answers:
1) What is your connection to the Twitter account @Sexuallposts? Please disclose whatever identifying information you are comfortable sharing, but at the very least, your role with the feed.
I’m a 20 year old male. I run twitter accounts like @DailySexVideo, @PornHubVid, @DailyLesbianVid and many others with my 26 year old male business partner.
2) Is the Twitter feed affiliated with any of the porn companies whose clips are used?
No affiliations with any porn companies at the moment. We don’t own any of the content posted.
3) How did you find out that one of your posts had been “liked” by @tedcruz?
My business partner showed me. After that, I retweeted some funny responses/memes on all of our porn accounts (3m+ following) to make the topic trend on twitter.
4) If the post was “liked” by someone with authorized access to @tedcruz, who do you think actually “liked” it?
I think ted Cruz was beatin his meat! I could be wrong though haha.
5) Did you have the merchandise and the domain name SexualTed.com ready in advance or did you move really fast to take advantage of the situation?
We had nothing ready beforehand. Imagination and quick decision-making are both essentials in building a successful business.
6) Why only make the merchandise available for a week?
We’re selling out fast. If anybody wants a shirt they should get one before they’re gone.
7) Do you think any other high-profile Twitter accounts will like your posts?
@YoungThug the rapper has already retweeted one of my other accounts. It never made the news though.
So there you have it — a dispatch from the bleeding edge of Internet entrepreneurship.
Five Things Senator Ted Cruz and His Staff Can Teach Your Kids
Not surprisingly, would-be wits and comedians have had a field day with this incident. But notwithstanding the juvenile nature of much of the humor, this high-profile story involving a sitting U.S. Senator offers a valuable teachable moment for you and your children.
1. Pornography Is Everywhere. The single most important take-away from this episode is the reminder that pornography is basically everywhere on the Internet. Yes, there are online services that severely limit the availability of pornography (most notably Facebook and Instagram) but the majority of the major social media services make little or no effort.
Just this week, for instance, people working in the porn industry were quoted extensively about how good Twitter is for their businesses. Porn stars make extensive use of services like Pinterest and Tumblr, and many online photo-sharing sites like Flickr are awash in images intended for adults but still accessible by children. And of course, with a few well-chosen words known to virtually every child above the age of 8, any search engine is a portal to nearly limitless sexual content.
No parent should have any illusions about their ability to completely shield their children from exposure to sexual material online. Software can diminish the level of exposure, as can near-constant and invasive supervision, but perfect purity is a pipe dream.
Increasingly, the only meaningful response for parents (and for schools) is to contextualize what children see online. We need to more honestly and proactively discuss with children the kinds of materials they might see and help them understand the implications. These are not comfortable conversations but the reality is stark(-naked).
2. Looking at Pornography at Work Is a Problem. A particularly good reminder for older children (high school and up) is that looking at pornography at work is a really bad idea (unless, of course, your child works for an adult business, which probably sparked an entirely different conversation). There are a number of possible negative outcomes:
- At the very least, looking at porn at work raises concerns about focus and productivity.
- It may also result in the creation of a hostile work environment, if a co-worker sees the material and objects.
- Since online activity is typically tracked in most workplaces, there is a very good possibility that the IT department will flag the activty and pass the information on to a supervisor.
- As this case illustrates, there myriad ways in which the porn-surfing can be revealed online, usually to the great embarrassment of the person doing the surfing.
3. The Internet Amplifies and Perpetuates Mistakes. One of the on-going challenges for parents is helping their children fully appreciate both the reach and the rapidity of the Internet. This incident offers good lessons on both points. After all, “liking” a particular tweet is a pretty minor action on the Internet. Nonetheless, it almost instantaneously attracted attention (almost all of it negative) from quite literally around the world.
Admittedly, much of that had to do with the fact that Ted Cruz is a U.S. Senator, which means that his online accounts are monitored pretty closely. But even though your child may not be a national figure, what he or she does online is probably followed with similar intensity by the people in his or her peer group. There is a very good chance that a unkind act or even just a sill mistake may generate an unwanted response.
And depending on the medium your child is using, there is a good possibility that the response may not be limited to his or her local peer group. Far too many cyberbullying incidents, for instance, start off as local spats but quickly balloon to include people from across the country or around the world.
Senator Cruz presumably can shrug off the cloud bullying that erupted online but it can be much, much more difficult for children to do so. Ideally, these types of teachable moments can reduce the likelihood of children making a mistake online that exposes them to ridicule and derison.
More daunting, in the long run, is the fact that the Internet simply does not forget. For the indefinite future, regardless of whatever else Senator Cruz accomplishes, this story will appear in any online search for information about Senator Cruz (and yes, I appreciate the fact that this contributes to the problem).
4. It Helps If You Are Not Smug, Sanctimonious, and Sermonizing. This incident is a great opportunity to underscore the lesson contained in Galatians 6:7 (King James Bible): “[F]or whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.”
At least some of the glee over the appearance of hard-core pornography in the “like” tab of @tedcruz undoubtedly stems from the fact that Ted Cruz is one of the most obstreporous legislators in the United States. After he all but single-handedly shut down the U.S. Government for 16 days in 2013, he was dubbed “the most hated man in Washington.” Nor is it just Democrats who feel that way; as this online gallery of trenchant quotes illustrates, antipathy towards Senator Cruz may be one of the leading bipartisan positions in the Capitol.
Adding fuel to the fire is the fact that Cruz is also one of the most socially conservative members of the United States Senate (a title he will have to concede, however, if Republican nominee Roy Moore wins the special election for U.S. Senate in Alabama later this fall). Among other things, Cruz is a staunch opponent of abortion, even in cases of rape and incest, and he strongly opposes gay marriage (although he is willing to let individul states make their own decision). During his tenure as Solicitor General for the State of Texas, his office defended a state law that prohibited the sale of “obscene devices,” including dildos and other sex toys. And if all that were not enough, Cruz actively courted the evangelical vote during his Senate and Presidential bids; that is not a constituency famous for its live-and-let-live attidue on sexual issues.
The lesson here is that when mistakes are made online — and rest assured, mistakes will be made — it is helpful to be a generally kind and compassionate person. As playwright Wilson Mizner said way back in 1932, “Be kind to everyone on the way up; you’ll meet the same people on the way down.”
5. If You Make a Mistake, Confront the Issue (And a Sense of Humor Can Help). To his credit, Senator Cruz did not avoid discussing the issue or rely on his staff to answer reporter questions. He has addressed the issue in several interviews, in each case explaining that the untoward “like” was a mistake by a staff member.
He also suggested that the notoriety might have been helpful during his presidential bid last year. During his interview the morning after, Cruz admitted that “This was not how I envisioned waking up this morning. If I had known that this would trend so quickly, then perhaps we should have posted something like this during the Indiana primary.”
He even took the time to clarify his stance on sex toys on CNN: “I worked for the attorney general,” Cruz told Dana Bash. “The attorney general’s job is to defend the laws passed by the Texas legislature. One of those laws was a law restricting the sale of sex toys, which is a stupid law. Consenting adults should be able to do whatever they want in their bedrooms.”
That last comment may cost him support among the more hard-core members of the evangelical community but there is no question that it helped to dampen the media bonfire that could have lingered for far longer. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the current White House makes so much noise on Twitter that even a salacious story like this one has a difficult time attracting attention. No doubt Senator Cruz “likes” that happy state of affairs.