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How a one-of-a-crowd tabloid site became Anthony Weiner's problem

The formula of a New York sex scandal is well known at this point: A politician's sexual indiscretion goes public, critics use the indiscretion to question the politician's judgment, and the politician stumbles. The tabloids weigh in with off-color covers, and other news organizations treat the matter with a mix of sobriety and gleeful analysis.

But a different scandal formula, one being forged in the 21st century, was at play this week as mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner -- a married man and a father -- once again faced questions about his history of sexting young women.

The most recent allegations of Weiner's extramarital online flirting were first published by a website called "The Dirty" -- which, in taste and approach, is part of a recent proliferation of crowd-sourced gossip sites that have used social media to shift the boundaries of scandal in American life.

The Dirty first began in 2007 as a local gossip blog for Scottsdale, Ariz., taking advantage of ubiquitous smartphone cameras and social-media networking to publish user-submitted photos of local drunken college kids.

"It makes it so much more interesting to the reader because it's reality, so it's not Britney Spears or Paris Hilton -- it's in your own hometown," The Dirty's president and CEO, Ari Golden, told the Los Angeles Times in 2008. "It's so much more interesting to see something about your neighbor or your co-worker."

The site eventually started snaring minor celebrities in its fishnet hauls of local misbehavior; in 2008, the site posted photos that purported to show former USC quarterback Matt Leinart drinking with underage girls in Scottsdale. By 2010, the site had resisted a cease-and-desist order from lawyers for ESPN personality Erin Andrews and posted nude footage taken of her by a stalker through a hotel peephole.

Privacy advocates have blasted it and similar sites for their invasiveness -- one site, called Is Anyone Up?, posted naked photos of its subjects along with their social media account information -- but several of the blogs have proven adept at building loyal fans who are eager to submit more content. (They're also at least partially shielded by the Communication Decency Act, which gives sites liability protection to post third-party content.)

And so in 2013, it wasn't the investigative reporters at the New York Times or the muckrakers at the New York Post who first aired allegations that Weiner had continued his online dalliances after he claimed he'd stopped. It was The Dirty, charging in with screenshots of lewd chats Weiner allegedly had over social media and a photo purportedly of Weiner's penis.

“It comes with the territory of what I do, because I get a lot of submissions from random people, and a lot of these random people have slept with celebrities … and they don’t have an outlet to come to," said the site's editor, Nik Richie, in an interview with KLOS-radio Wednesday morning. "Obviously I’m a lot cooler than Harvey Levin [of TMZ] or some of these older guys, and they relate to me, and they’re like, 'Hey, I’m Dirty Army.' "

According to a statement on The Dirty, the unidentified woman behind the new allegations said she came forward because Weiner had decided to run for office again.

"I just want to clarify that although I was 22 and technically an adult, I was obviously immature and I acted irresponsibly," the woman stated. "I realize my correspondence with Mr. Anthony Weiner was a huge mistake and I am embarrassed by it. But the facts are the facts, and he’s running for mayor of NYC so I felt I should get my story out there."

She added, "I think it’s important to reiterate the fact that all of this happened with him after his first scandal, so all of his campaign promises about being a changed man are absolute lies."

She also wanted to make it known that she hadn't been paid to come forward. (The woman, who has been named in multiple news reports but not by The Dirty, has yet to make a public statement about the scandal.)

The scoop by The Dirty -- once called a "regular folks gossip site" by this newspaper -- almost immediately dominated the news cycle in New York: A day after The Dirty's allegation was first published Monday, Weiner was holding a nationally televised news conference to beat back calls for him to end his campaign. Weiner said some of the allegations were true and some were false, but didn't specify which.

Meanwhile, social media users salivated over The Dirty's claims that Weiner had identified himself online under the name "Carlos Danger." Opinion writers were condemning Weiner's character and his electability. The Nation's Richard Kim went so far as to pose a 21st-century question that could apply to future shamings by The Dirty and its ilk: "Should the mere existence of an X-rated selfie disqualify one from public office?"

As for Nik Richie, by Wednesday he was simply basking in the aftermath of the chaos his site had created.

"I’m just doing my job," Richie said during his interview on KLOS. "It’s not a personal vendetta against Carlos Danger, or Weiner, or whatever he calls himself. It’s just the facts, and we want to get ‘em out there."

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