How Fragile Is Twitter?

August 25, 2022

The question is, “How fragile is Twitter?” I am not a tweeter. I think we have a script which posts items from this blog, but I am not sure. Twitter is more of a left and right coast thing. Those who love it find that it can deliver “followers” and one hopes personal satisfaction, fame, and fortune.

The datasphere is rippling with Twitter news. I glanced at Techmeme today (August 25, 2022 at about 6 30 am) and spotted many, many Twitter stories.

There was the former DARPA technology security wizard. This individual offered assertions about Twitter’s management and technology ineptitude. The Washington Post is excited about the individual’s forthcoming testimony before the adepts on the Senate Judiciary Committee. Mark your calendar and warm up the TV. The event takes place on September 13, 2022. For the breathless explanation of how a critique of the tweeter thing becomes a Senate hearing in a few short weeks, read “Twitter Whistleblower To Testify In Congress About Security Failures.”

Twitter’s senior manager takes a different position. The tweeter is up to snuff.

Elon Musk is excited because the to and fro about Twitter may be helpful to his brilliant business maneuvering to bring the Musky scent of excellence to short messages mostly unrestrained by someone with a sense of propriety. “Twitter Lied To Elon Musk About Bots – Peiter Zatko, Ex Security Chief” explains

Following the publication of Zatko’s revelations on different news outlets, Tesla CEO, Elon Musk took to his Twitter profile to comment about the issue. Musk tweeted a screenshot of The Washington Post covering the whistleblower’s revelation, accompanied by another tweet of an image, with the phrase “give a little whistle”.

My reaction to the Twitter thing has two parts. The first part is the craziness that Twitter has engendered in its service, its management trajectory, and its PR magnetism. Twitter has zero impact on me personally or professionally, and it is remarkable that so much weirdness surrounds a text messaging service in which the content is publicly available.

The second part of my reaction is the sense that some of the journalists, pundits, and wizards who have achieved Twitter fame may be in for some life realignment. These people will either surge even higher in the Twitter Hall of Fame or end up hoping their TikTok videos deliver what has been lost.

As I reflect on the coterie of Twitter addicts users and the fascinating management history of the company, I come back to the question, “How fragile is Twitter?”

One can argue that it survived with a part time boss, technical failures which involved a very happy beluga icon, and appearing at the bottom of high-tech social media company revenue disappointments. Thus, Twitter is robust, a survivor, a resilient digital creature.

On the other hand, Twitter is engaged in a legal spat with the mercurial Mr. Musk. Twitter is in the news because it loses executives who allege silly technical policies. Twitter is getting love from the tweeters who depend on the service for fame and sales leads. The internal cohesion of a wild and crazy high tech outfit like Google makes Twitter look like a stack of objects stacked by inebriated college students.

I don’t have a dog’s musk gland in the Twitter fight. What I can say is, “Twitter. Interesting.”

Stephen E Arnold, August 25, 2022

Twitter and a Loophole? Unfathomable

April 6, 2022

Twitter knows Russia is pushing false narratives about the war in Ukraine. That is why it now refuses to amplify tweets from Russian state-affiliated media outlets like RT or Sputnik. However, the platform is not doing enough to restrain the other hundred-some Russian government accounts, according to the BBC News piece, “How Kremlin Accounts Manipulate Twitter.” Reporter James Clayton cites QUT Digital Media Research Centre‘s Tim Graham as he writes:

“Intrigued by this spider web of Russian government accounts, Mr Graham – who specializes in analyzing co-ordinated activity on social media – decided to investigate further. He analyzed 75 Russian government Twitter profiles which, in total, have more than 7 million followers. The accounts have received 30 million likes, been retweeted 36 million times and been replied to 4 million times. He looked at how many times each Twitter account retweeted one of the other 74 profiles within an hour. He discovered that the Kremlin’s network of Twitter accounts work together to retweet and drive up traffic. This practice is sometimes called ‘astroturfing’ – when the owner of several accounts uses the profiles they control to retweet content and amplify reach. ‘It’s a coordinated retweet network,’ Mr Graham says. ‘If these accounts weren’t retweeting stuff at the same time, the network would just be a bunch of disconnected dots. … They are using this as an engine to drive their preferred narrative onto Twitter, and they’re getting away with it,’ he says. Coordinated activity, using multiple accounts, is against Twitter’s rules.”

Twitter is openly more lenient on tweets by government officials under what it calls “public interest exceptions.” Even so, we are told there are supposed to be no exceptions on coordinated behavior. The BBC received no response from Twitter officials when it asked them about Graham’s findings. Clayton generously notes it can be difficult to prove content is false amid the chaos of war, and the platform has been removing claims as they are proven false. He also notes Facebook and other social media platforms have a similar Russia problem. The article allows Twitter may eventually ban Kremlin accounts entirely, as it banned Donald Trump in January 2021. Perhaps.

Cynthia Murrell, April 6, 2022

Ommmm. The Former Tweeter Guy Says Sorry

April 3, 2022

I read an interesting Silicon Valley real news report called “Twitter Founder Jack Dorsey Said He’s Partially to Blame for Centralizing the Internet and That He Regrets It.” Gee, mea culpa. Rough wool cassock, a bit of sharp wire donned as a T shirt, and starving one in a stone cell until a certain wall decoration speaks to him? Nah, hey, regret. Cue the music:

Regrets, I’ve had a few
But then again, too few to mention
I did what I had to do
And saw it through without exemption

Fade out.

The write up is an interview with the inscrutable Silicon Valley thought leader and dual CEO capable Jack Dorsey. Mr. Dorsey allegedly said:

“Centralizing discovery and identity into corporations really damaged the internet.” “I realize I’m partially to blame, and regret it,” Dorsey continued.

Cue the music:

I find it all so amusing
To think I did all that
And may I say, not in a shy way
Oh no, no, not me
I did it my way

And consequences? For some investors, payday. For Geofeedia, a bit of a downturn for sure. For some techno pundits? Win. For those who output “alternative” information? Free nudging which can be automated?

Yes, damage. Regrets. For sure.

Stephen E Arnold, April 3, 2022

Twitter Road Paved with Tweety Intentions

December 20, 2021

It did not take long for this well-intended change to go sideways. The Guardian reports, “‘So Vague, It Invites Abuse’: Twitter Reviews Controversial New Privacy Policy.” The platform was trying to prevent the very real problems of harassing and doxxing by penalizing those who share images of others without consent. Twitter had been warned by activist groups that the policy, created with little input from communities often targeted by doxxing and harassment, would backfire. Besides the rushed implementation and vague wording, Twitter’s historically obtuse automated appeals process was a concern. Reporter Johana Bhuiyan writes:

“Hours after the policy became public, users affiliated with far-right movements like the Proud Boys and others espousing QAnon conspiracies put out calls to their followers, urging them to weaponize the new rules to target activists who had posted about them. On 1 December, for example, a member of the far-right group National Justice Party posted a list of about 40 Twitter accounts of anti-racist and anti-fascist activists who research far-right groups. The member called on his more than 4,000 followers to report their posts: ‘Due to the new privacy policy at Twitter, things now unexpectedly work more in our favor as we can take down Antifa, [gay slur] doxxing pages more easily,’ the post read.”

It worked immediately—see the article for several examples of resulting penalties and appeal results. We also learn:

“Reporters and photographers, too, have expressed concern. The new policy explicitly states Twitter will take into account whether the images are publicly available, being covered by journalists or adding to the public discourse… . Journalists have warned that leaving the decision of whether an image is newsworthy or adds to the public discourse to Twitter’s discretion could be problematic.”

For example, as National Press Photographers Association general counsel Mickey Osterreicher observes, Twitter seems blind to the established principle that there is no reasonable expectation of privacy in public spaces. At least the company has admitted it was wrong in at least some of these decisions and is conducting an internal review of the policy. We shall see where it leads, if anywhere.

Cynthia Murrell, December 20, 2021

A New Word Dorseying: Leaving Before the Fried Turkey Explodes

December 3, 2021

Full disclosure. We post Beyond Search tweets to Twitter. We use a script, and we use an account set up years ago. I don’t recall who on my team did this work, and I am not sure I know the password. We did this as a test for one of my lectures to a group of law enforcement and intelligence professionals to illustrate how a content stream could be implemented with zero fuss and muss. The mechanism is similar to the ones used by certain foreign entities to inject content into the Twitter users’ content pool.

Why’s this important?

Twitter is a coterie service; that is, the principal users are concentrated on the left and right coasts of the US. The service meets the needs of this group because tips, facts, and observations about technology and its world are essential to the personas of the most enthusiastic tweet generators. There are secondary and tertiary uses as well. Spectrum pretends to care when its customers point out yet another service outage. Political big sparklers generate outputs for their constituents. Vendors of diet supplements find the service helpful as well.

But Twitter, like other social media services, is in the spotlight. The trucks carting these high intensity beams are driven by wild eyed and often over enthusiastic elected officials and laborers in the gray and beige government cubicles.

Write ups like “Twitter Has a New CEO; What About a New Business Model?” and “Twitter Bans Sharing Private Images and Videos without Consent” provide purported insight into the machinations of the new Twitter. But the main point is that Twitter allows humans and smart software to create personas and push content to others in the tweetiverse.

Dorseying means that one individual is getting out of Dodge before the law arrives. This exit is less elegant than the proactive departure of Messrs. Brin and Page from the Google. From my vantage point, the former big dog of the Tweeter wants to be undisturbed and work in less well illuminated locations. Is Dorseying an action similar to running away from trouble? Interesting question.

Can Twitter be enhanced, fixed, or remediated?

My view is that anonymous and easily created “accounts” required some thought. The magic of censorship is likely to be less impactful than short lived special effects in the early Disney films. (Does anyone remember the cinegraphic breakthrough of “sparkles”?) The amping up of advertising is likely to lead to a destination that many have previously visited; that is, one with carefully crafted paths, exhibits, attractions, and inducements to buy, buy, buy.

Net net: Twitter, like other social media, will be difficult to control. My hunch is that the service will continue to snip through social fabrics. Because Twitter is a publicly traded company, management has to respond to the financial context in which it operates. Fancy talk, recommendations, and half hearted editorial measures may have unintended consequences. That’s what concerns me about the tweeter thing.

Dorseying was a good move.

Stephen E Arnold, December 3, 2021

Ommmm, Ommmm: Pundit Zen

November 21, 2021

I read “How Twitter Got Research Right.” Okay, Twitter. Short messages. Loved by a comparatively modest coterie of Left and Right Coasters. Followers. Blue. Management hate from the rock star professor Scott (buy my book and invest in Shopify) Galloway. Okay, Casey Newton. Verge-tastic. Silicon Valley savvy. Independent journalist. Budding superstar with Oprah’s staff checking him out.

The write up explains “got right” as a fine expression of business savvy. The write up offered this observation:

Twitter hosted an open competition to find bias in its photo-cropping algorithms.

I think I failed a college class because I was unable to find a suitable definition for the concept “mea culpa.” I think the instructor was unhappy with my one word research paper which pivoted on the acronym PR. I was supposed to write down something like a person or entity says something that is one’s fault. (See, I am writing in a gender neutral way.” Ommmmm. Ommmmm.

In the shadow of this “real news” Silicon Valley essay, I think the proper term is apologia. As I recall from another course in which I wallowed in academic desperation, an apologia means “speaking in defense.” I wonder if I ever finished reading Plato’s Apology.

Somewhere in my lousy college education I learned about the dialectic or motive force of an action that creates a thought or reaction. The subsequent events go off the rails, and the actors do the explaining away thing.

What’s up in the Twitter mea culpa / apologia event is that social media have been quite significant in several ways: Amplification of certain information and providing a free, unfettered mechanism to whip up frenzy. (Some examples come to mind, but I shall refrain from writing their names because stop word lists….

To sum up: Quite a rhetorical tour de force, and I don’t buy into the Twitter is trying to do good despite the got right assurance. Ommmmm. Ommmmm. That’s the sound of regulators calming themselves before actually regulating.

Stephen E Arnold, November 22, 2021

Twitter: Breathe Deeply. And Again. Now Write a Check for $800 Million.

September 22, 2021

I read an interesting story called “Twitter to Pay $809.5 Million to Settle Lawsuit Alleging Jack Dorsey, Others Misled Investors.” What? a super trendy SMS company adored by those in Silicon Alley and Silicon Valley allegedly doing some Fancy Dancing with the money crowd? Who ever heard of such a thing?

The write up states without the snappy writing of yore:

The original lawsuit, filed in 2016 by a Twitter shareholder, alleged Dorsey and others including former CEO Dick Costolo and board member Evan Williams hid facts about Twitter’s slowing user growth while they sold their personal stock holdings “for hundreds of millions of dollars in insider profits.”

Then the Hollywood “real” news publication notes:

Twitter, in an 8-K filing Monday, noted that the final settlement agreement will not “include or constitute an admission, concession, or finding of any fault, liability, or wrongdoing by the Company or any defendant.”

Of course not. This is an allegation.

Quick question: Did the parties to the litigation tweet the news? I know everyone downloads and reads the outstandingly compelling prose in SEC documents, but social media is now the source for real news. A recent Pew study does not include the SEC in its list of sources. This is an obvious oversight.

Stephen E Arnold, September 22, 2021

Milestones in Management: Twitter and India

July 14, 2021

When I graduated from a so-so university, I participated in an interview day. I signed up with some companies which seemed interesting to me. One of them was an outfit engaged in manufacturing massive earthmoving equipment painted what today would be a NASCAR color. I spoke with the individual representing the company, and that individual asked me what my major was. I replied, “Medieval religious poetry.” The recruiter laughed, and I felt as if I were a total failure. How could that human resources professional not see the direct correlation between my knowledge of religious poetry and the design and engineering of sheep foot rollers. (You drag or push these gizmos over trees and the irrelevant bounty of nature is crushed like a bird run over by a tractor trailer on I-80.)

I wish I had known about the job “resident grievance officer.” I learned about this thrilling position in the article “Twitter Appoints Resident Grievance Officer in India to Comply with New Internet Rules.” The write up explains:

Twitter identified Vinay Prakash as its new resident grievance officer and shared a way to contact him as required by India’s new IT rules, which was unveiled in February this year and went into effect in late May. Twitter has also published a compliance report, another requirement listed in the new rules. Earlier this week, the Indian government had told a local court that Twitter had lost the liability protection on user generated content in the country as it had failed to appoint compliance, grievance, and a so-called nodal contact officials to address on-ground concerns.

What are the qualifications for this lofty and crucial role? My thought is medieval religious poetry. Here’s my logic. The part-time leader of Twitter needs an individual able to make sense of Christianity and the Celtic legend of King Arthur. Creating the mental bridge between a nation state and a high flying technology giant requires imagination. One cannot just follow the rules. One must elaborate, understand metaphors, and appreciate the value of short items of information, opinion, and fiction which can be marshaled to create a reality for some users.

Alas, I missed an opportunity to apply for this Twitter job. I can hear the words of this unknown writer now:

Ech day me comëth tydinges thre,

For wel swithë sore ben he:

The on is that Ich shal hennë,

That other that Ich not whennë,

The thriddë is my mestë carë,

That Ich not whider Ich shal farë.

Lucky person, that Vinay Prakash. Grievance officer and a nodal contact to boot.

Stephen E Arnold, July 14, 2021

Preserving History? Twitter Bans Archived Trump Tweets

April 19, 2021

The National Archives of the United States archives social media accounts of politicians.  Former President Donald Trump’s Twitter account is among them.  One of the benefits of archived Twitter accounts is that users can read and interact with old tweets.  Twitter, however, banned Trump in early 2021 because he was deemed a threat to public safety.  Politico explains the trouble the National Archives and Records Administration currently has getting Trump’s old tweets back online, “National Archives Can’t Resurrect Trump’s Tweets, Twitter Says.”

Other former Trump administration officials have their old tweets active on Twitter.  Many National Archives staff view Twitter’s refusal to reactivate the tweets as censorship.  Trump’s controversial tweets are part of a growing battle between Washington and tech giants, where the latter censors conservatives.  Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas lamented that the tech companies had so much control over communication.

Twitter is working with the National Archives on preserving Trump’s tweets.  Twitter refuses to host any of Trump’s tweets, stating they glorified violence.  The tweets will be available on the Donald J. Trump Presidential Library web site.

“Nevertheless, the process of preserving @realDonaldTrump’s tweets remains underway, NARA’s [James] Pritchett said, and since the account is banned from Twitter, federal archivists are ‘working to make the exported content available … as a download’ on the Trump Presidential Library website.

‘Twitter is solely responsible for the decision of what content is available on their platform,’ Pritchett said.’“NARA works closely with Twitter and other social media platforms to maintain archived social accounts from each presidential administration, but ultimately the platform owners can decline to host these accounts. NARA preserves platform independent copies of social media records and is working to make that content available to the public.’”

Is it really censorship if Trump’s tweets are publicly available just not through their first medium?  Conservative politicians do have a valid argument.  Big tech does control and influence communication, but does that give them the right to censor opinions? Future data archeologists may wonder about the gap.

Whitney Grace, April 19, 2021

Security Gaffes and the Tweeter

February 2, 2021

The Next Web has some advice for those going online to discuss how a security breach has affected them—“Don’t Dox Yourself by Tweeting About Data Breaches.” Writer Ben Dickson noticed several NetGalley users doing just that following the breech of that site’s database backup file last month. He writes:

“The database in question included sensitive user information, including usernames and passwords, names, email addresses, mailing addresses, birthdays, company names, and Kindle email addresses. Unfortunately, many users took to social media and started discussing the incident without thinking about what they are putting up for everyone to see. And in their haste to be the first to tweet about the breach, many users made awful mistakes, which could further compromise their security.”

A couple examples include the person who announced they use the same password everywhere (!) and someone who revealed their full name by reproducing their NetGalley notification. (Her Twitter account uses a pseudonym.) To make matters worse, it appears the database stored user information unencrypted. Though NetGalley itself does not keep incredibly sensitive data like banking information, hackers have ways of twisting even the most benign information to their dastardly goals. The write-up continues:

“After the NetGalley hack, the attackers have access to a fresh list of emails and passwords. They can use this information in credential stuffing attacks, where they enter the login information obtained from a data breach on other services and possibly gain access to other, more sensitive accounts. Cross-service account hijacking is something that happens often and can even include high-profile tech executives. The attacks can also combine the data from the NetGalley breach with the billions of user account records leaked in other data breaches to create more complete profiles of their targets. So, alone, the NetGalley data breach might not look like a big deal. But … every piece of information that falls into the hands of malicious actors can become instrumental to a larger attack.”

Dickson hastens to add that people need not stop tweeting about data breeches altogether. Doing so can actually provide valuable discussion, as his closing examples illustrate. One should just be careful not to include personal details the hackers’ might add to their collection.

Cynthia Murrell, February 2, 2021

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