Chris Huhne, the Energy Secretary, discovered the perils of social media last night when he appeared to accidentally post a private message to his almost 8,000 followers on Twitter.
Within minutes, it was shared and forwarded across the web before the minister hit the delete button.
Mr Huhne wrote: "From someone else fine but I do not want my fingerprints on the story. C"
The message revealed that Mr Huhne had sent it from his phone in the form of a text message. Twitter allows users to do this by starting the message with the letter "d" followed by the recipient's user name. It appears the minister forgot to do this. Consequently, what was meant to be a private message was published for every Twitter user to see.
To make matters worse, the message was also automatically posted to Mr Huhne's Facebook account. The tweet was deleted within 20 minutes of its appearance – but too late to prevent others from preserving it in the form of a digital image.
The mistake is intensely embarrassing, because it appears to suggest that Mr Huhne was conspiring to get information into the public domain, hoping that no one would know he was involved.
Last night there was lively speculation on what the story might be that Mr Huhne did not want his "fingerprints" on.
But intrigue followed Mr Huhne's mishap as Twitter users pointed out that it is only possible to send a direct message to someone you follow, and who follows you. Mr Huhne was following 87 people last night.
Mr Huhne is not the first politician to learn the perils of Twitter. The Labour MP David Wright landed himself in trouble last year by tweeting that he would not vote Tory because "you can put lipstick on a scum-sucking pig, but it is still a scum-sucking pig."
Even David Cameron got into trouble – over the fact that he has never tweeted. When asked why not, during a radio interview in July 2009, he replied: "Too many tweets might make a twat."Reuse content