Nov 062012

Twitter Political Index siteThere are a number of different ways to follow the election tonight through an online election guide if you dread listening to the TV pundits or would rather just have something to balance their unsubstantiated claims. First, here’s a list of poll closing hours from First Read; early results from these states will reveal how the election is going. I’ve highlighted the swing states in red:

How to watch tonight: With several battleground states having poll-closing times at 8:00 pm ET or earlier (Virginia, North Carolina, Ohio, Florida, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania), we’re going to know a lot about how the race is breaking fairly early in the evening. How long does it take to call North Carolina (a state Romney probably wants to put away early) and Pennsylvania (ditto Obama)? Will Florida and Virginia take hours to call? (Remember, no state better matched the 2008 popular than Virginia did four years ago.) Here are all the final poll closing times in ET (NBC News will not call a race until all polls have closed in that state):

7:00 pm: GA, IN, KY, SC, VT, VA
7:30 pm: NC, OH, WV
8:00 pm: AL, CT, DE, DC, FL, IL, ME, MD, MA, MS, MO, NH, NJ, OK, PA, RI, TN
8:30 pm: AR
9:00 pm: AZ, CO, KS, LA, MI, MN, NE, NM, NY, ND, SD, TX, WI, WY
10:00 pm: IA, MT, NV, UT
11:00 pm: CA, HI, ID, OR, WA
1:00 am: AK

And here’s three sites I’ll be watching tonight:

  • The Twitter Political Index will be interesting given the out-sized role that social media is playing in the 2012 election. Not really a results site, but a snapshot of what’s going on in terms of the election in the Twitter stream.
  • Politico has a good map and site that provides results from a more or less neutral perspective. Just good solid data on a nicely designed map.
  • FiveThirtyEight: Nate Silver’s blog at the New York Times. I still like Silver the best as he is the only one that seems to do probability analysis and lay his cards on the table.

Indeed, Silver has become the big story over the past week as a number of political consultants have taken him to task for doing only a “cold” mathematical calculus. Silver did exceptionally well in the 2008 and 2010 elections and it remains to be seen if he continues the same level of accuracy. Maybe there is something of a “gut instinct” to polling; but there’s also something to mathematics that is hard to deny. With Silver now projecting Obama having a more than 90% chance of winning re-election, you’ll get to see him solidify his reputation or make a fool of himself. I think Silver will be proven right, but we’ll see.

But of course, you can always turn to the pundits if you need your (political) ego stroked.



Oct 172012

Twitter icon upside downApologies for the lack of posts but I’ve been traveling and did a lengthy talk at the Sloan Conference on Online Learning on the potential of Twitter to reinvent the traditional paradigm of learning and foster a new mode of academic discourse. I’m fascinated by Twitter – and by the resistance to it by so many faculty in higher education. It seems acceptable for their own professional development but far less use it in learning environments for students.

I’ve also been playing around with Dalton Caldwell’s project, a user-supported platform that was funded through KickStarter a few months back. is similar to Twitter with many of the same features but has a minimalist interface and space for 256 character messages. More importantly, it is a fee-based service designed to avoid the dilemma that Twitter finds itself in – having begun with an open API and now pulling back and limiting access to developers as it becomes more commercial. Twitter is still in the throes of an internal debate about its future but seems to be shifting toward an ad-supported model. As Caldwell argues, that means developers and users come last.  Not good.

There are too many issues to cover here but the talk may be republished later. If not I’ll throw it up it here after I get through a backlog of posts.


Sep 152012
Nakoula Basseley Nakoula is escorted in a Los Angeles County Sheriff's vehicle from his home by officers in Cerritos, California

Nakoula Basseley Nakoula is escorted in a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s vehicle from his home by officers in Cerritos, California. September 15, 2012. REUTERS/Bret Hartman

As protests and demonstrations continue throughout the Arab world in reaction to the Muhammad video (I still will not dignify it with the term “film” or “movie” as some do), a number of developments and articles are worth noting. But most striking – outside of the scenes of the violence in the streets – are two unfolding dramas: the questioning of Nakoula Basseley Nakoula who may be the individual behind the video and the hidden drama of the Egyptian government as it negiotiates the complexities of creating a democracy.

The Mystery Man – Nakoula Basseley Nakoula

From Reuters: Nakoula Basseley Nakoula voluntarily went with officers to a meeting in a sheriff’s station in Cerritos, Los Angeles County. This was not an arrest but an “interview” – and he continues to deny involvement in the video. Officials are looking into possible parole violations – Nakoula was sentenced to 21 months in prison (with five years of probation) for bank fraud. His release was contingent on not using aliases or accessing the Internet, both of which appear to have been done if he is the producer of the Muhammad video.

Nakoula will never end up back in jail for the video with the free speech rights in the United States, but he could for parole violations. Regardless, his name will go down as a waypoint in the history of the Internet for the havoc, destruction and death that could be brought about by a single video clip.

The Egyptian Government’s Drama Behind the Scenes

Egyptian Protestor Runs from Burning Car

Everyone is understandably focusing on the street protests in Egypt and rest of the Arab world, but there is another drama – a fundamental struggle going on behind the scenes as the Egyptian government comes to terms with a functioning democracy.

For decades,  the country lived under the iron fist of a dictatorship with protests and arrests at periodic intervals. But Mubarak could pretty much do what he wanted, with the ongoing calculation that he could only push his people to a certain point. He was a master of knowing where that (somewhat fluid boundary was).

Now that Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi leads the country, it’s not so simple. For days, he has scored points with supporters and opposition parties (particularly with the radical Islamist party Salafi Al-Nour) by keeping security low and letting the protesters have the upper hand. But the very technology that keeps the video in front of peoples eyes – and helped support the overthrow of Mubarak – backfired on the Muslim Brotherhood and Morsi who were saying one thing to the West and issuing statements with a radically different tone for domestic consumption.

Sometimes it seems like everything in the digital revolution is a boomerang - no matter how far it gets thrown, you’ll soon be ducking as it comes back at you. From the Wall Street Journal:

Until today, Mr. Morsi’s presidency had appeared less than contrite about the security lapse that allowed protesters to invade the fortress-like U.S. mission. On Thursday, the Brotherhood went so far as to call for nationwide “vigils” in front of “major mosques” throughout the country on Friday—a day in which protests in Egypt have become a ritual.

Though the call for demonstrations smacked of intentional escalation, Brotherhood leaders portrayed the call as a kind of contained catharsis that would move the focus of popular rage away from the volatile flashpoint that is the U.S. embassy.

Essam El Erian, the head of the FJP, said the Brotherhood firmly rejected any attacks on foreign missions and insisted that the continuing violence in downtown Cairo includes “mainly young men” and no politicians.

The Brotherhood’s mixed message was encapsulated by a Twitter exchange between the group and the U.S. Embassy. Just as the Brotherhood’s English-language Twitter account made earnest inquiries about the safety of U.S. diplomats in Cairo, its Arabic-language Twitter account praised Egyptian protesters for “rising to the defense of the Prophet.”

The @USEmbassyCairo Twitter handle replied: “By the way, have you checked out your own Arabic feeds? I hope you know we read those too.”

“I hope you know we read those too” – diplomacy these days gets carried out on Twitter.

Leading a democratically elected government is no simple task in a deeply interconnected world. Especially when what you say domestically (to an electorate with a widespread anti-American bias) is the opposite of what you say to people abroad. We can trip up on this ourselves – just witness how some campaign statements play differently here and overseas – but it’s even more difficult when a democracy is just getting underway. Just as the video has a viral quality about it in the Arab world, so do domestic statements for support of the protesters in the rest of the world. It’s a classic lose-lose situation, and yet, for Morsi to be a legitimate leader in the global community and the government an effective democracy at home, he will have to turn it into a win-win.

I don’t envy the challenge.

Sep 062012

Twitter Political Index

The complex relationship between elections and social media continues its rapid evolvution during 2012 election. Where we once measured media interest in TV viewers, we increasingly look to data in social media to assess interest in a supporter or candidate’s performance. Of course not everyone uses Twitter and other social platforms, but the immediacy of the feedback makes them all but impossible to ignore.

Witness the current assessment of the speeches at the Republican and Democratic conventions.  If  Ann Romney speech generated a little over 6,000 tweets a minute, Mrs. Obama shot up to 28,000 tweets per minute during her speech yesterday evening in Charlotte. The well-received speech trounced Mitt Romney’s own performance at the Republican convention in Tampa, Florida, which tallied some 14,000 tweets per minute last week.

Tweets per minute do not equal votes, but they do gauge the interest of a generally younger, high technology user demographic. And Twitter trending lines now tend to closely follow Gallup poll popularity ratings. No doubt, we’ll have a better understanding of this by the 2016 election, but it’s worth watching even now.

Bloomberg News notes how dramatically it has changed in just the past four years:

Four years ago, the term “social media” wasn’t widely used. On Election Day in 2008, there were 1.8 million tweets; now that many tweets are sent every six minutes, said Rachael Horwitz, a Twitter spokeswoman. In 2008, Facebook was popular mostly among college students. This year, there are more than 110,000 political Facebook pages in the U.S. and 11,000 pages for politicians, said Andrew Noyes, manager of public policy and communication for Facebook.

From a full election day to an equivalent number of tweets in six minutes today – with that rate of growth, picture the political environment in four years.

So, if you’re interested in elections and social media – or perhaps just one or the other – it’s worth following the new Twitter Political Index, or Twindex, put together by Twitter, the Topsy data analysis firm, and two polling outfits. Here’s the details offered by Adam Sharp, head of government, news and social innovation at Twitter:

We believe the Twitter political index reinforces the transitional models of research,” explained Mr. Sharp. “By providing more signals, more dials — that can agree or disagree — these new technologies give a more complete picture of crafting a political forecast.”

On a company blog post, Twitter said the Twindex was built in partnership with a data analysis team from Topsy, an online search and analytics company, and two polling firms, the Mellman Group and North Star Opinion Research.

Topsy sifts through Twitter messages and uses advanced semantic analysis software to determine if someone is in support of a candidate, or a detractor.

Mr. Sharp said the index had a database of thousand of words to understand if these Twitter messages were for or against a candidate. As these messages are being shared by millions of people on Twitter, the software also takes into account colloquialisms.

Mr. Sharp noted that “bad,” for instance, could mean bad, or it be slang for good. He said that Topsy could differentiate between these words in a sentence and if they are positive or negative. 

As I write this, President Clinton just peaked at 22, 087 tweets per minute. Not quite what the First Lady did but far above everyone else. As there’s no embed option, you’ll need to visit Twindex to see the data in action, but here’s a snapshot of the historical data:

Twindex Historical Data

Aug 202012
Apple and Twitter


With debate raging over the new Twitter API, here’s a provocative perspective from Forbes on what might be going on behind the scenes. To recap: Twitter moved last week to sharply limit API calls for an App without a specific agreement and narrowed the display guidelines for the Twitter timeline which will hamper developers. Now add in the fact that Apple is a control freak, has done poorly in the social networking arena, and the rumors flying a while back about Cupertino taking a significant stake in the popular social media platform. None of this is concrete evidence for a firm conclusion, but listen to the speculation by Anthony Wing Kosner in an article “The Anti-IPO: Is Apple Grooming Twitter for an All-Out Acquisition?“:

Twitter is now integrated in iOS and OS X Mountain Lion, and I would guess will be in the next version of the iTunes and App Stores and Apple TV, as well. But does Apple really want to do all of this with a company it doesn’t own? What if Twitter turned around and did to Apple what it is now doing to developers?

If my theory is correct, that won’t happen, because Twitter’s API policies have been seriously coached by Apple. Twitter has had API changes before, but nothing like this. The timing of Apple’s supposed negotiations with Twitter were just as Apple’s previous deal with Facebook was falling apart. Facebook wanted to go public and would not subsume its interestes to Apple’s.

So why would Twitter subsume its interests to Apple’s? To beat Facebook.

There’s a further reason, other than owning a social network, why Apple might be interested in Twitter. User experience. Twitter has done a great job of taking a simple product and, for the most part, keeping it simple. Even its sponsored tweets and the introduction of “cards” has not really bogged the system down yet or shifted the balance too far in the direction of marketing.

Apple, the user experience leaders, is actually in danger of losing the “it just works” simplicity that has been a big part of its appeal to consumers. So Apple can make Twitter bigger and Twitter can, perhaps, help Apple stay simple.

I wonder if it’s already a done deal. 

Hard to say, but with Apple’s known penchant for secrecy and Twitter surely being aware of the backlash that the new API policy would create, some sort of agreement is entirely plausible. We’ll know for sure in a couple of months and it wouldn’t surprise me in the least to see Apple make the acquisition. One nice point about this (from Apple’s perspective): Twitter is not a publicly traded company so there’s no issue with an offer for stock that shareholders want to bid higher. It would all be done through a agreement with the current stakeholders. And if it’s worth roughly $10 billion or so at the moment, Apple could still buy the entire enterprise for a tenth of its current stash of cash and resources. More likely, Apple would just take a sizable stake in Twitter – enough to ensure that the integration was complete.

Jul 072012
Twitters new search feature

Twitters new search feature

Twitter is still trying to figure out what it wants to be when it grows up – and with its rapid growth, it’s had trouble shaking its past – especially in its search and discovery features. And without the latter, it’s difficult to be a source of news.

CEO Dick Costolo has done his best to remind us that Twitter is not a media company. But as Matthew Ingram has pointed out on Gigaom, the platform is an “. . . information distributor — like a newswire — except everyone who uses it is constructing their own stream of news.” Regardless of what it wanted to be, Twitter has become a media entity.

But it’s a frustrating media platform. Try to search for something and you run into a deluge of tweets – too many, and too unorganized to do much good. So it’s remained a quick way to widely distribute short bursts of information, but not much of a discovery tool.

That changed today with Twitter’s announcement of an upgrade to its search tool. From the Twitter Blog:

After you enter your search, you’ll find the most relevant Tweets, articles, accounts, images and videos for your query. We’ve also made several other improvements to make your search experience better.

  • Spelling corrections: If you misspell a term, we’ll automatically show results for your intended query.
  • Related suggestions: If you search for a topic for which people use multiple terms, we will provide relevant suggestions for terms where the majority of that conversation is happening on Twitter.
  • Results with real names and usernames: When you search for a name like ‘Jeremy Lin,’ you’ll see results mentioning that person’s real name and their Twitter account username.
  • Results from people you follow: In addition to seeing ‘All’ or ‘Top’ Tweets for your search, you can also now see Tweets about a given topic from only the people you follow when you select the ‘People you follow’ view. Viewing Tweets about a topic from just the people you follow is a great way to find useful information and join the conversation.

So Twitter will now return “relevant Tweets, articles, accounts, images and videos” in a query. It’s not perfect and one major limitation is that you cannot search that far back in the timeline. But this is a move in the right direction and long overdue.

May 222012

Twitter Access Temporarily Banned in PakistanAnother government takes on Twitter . . .  and quickly backs down. Or so it seems. Access to Twitter was blocked throughout Pakistan on Sunday due to messages “offensive to Islam”. While there were references to “blasphemous and inflammatory content” by the Ministry for Information and Technology, no reason was given for the ban, or the face that it was quickly lifted it eight hours later. According to the AtlanticWire, the action was taken due to tweets regarding a Facebook competition that called for users to submit drawings of the Prophet Muhammad (images of the prophet are forbidden).

Ali Dayan Hasan, the Pakistan director at Human Rights Watch, told the New York Times the ban is,

. . . ill-advised, counterproductive and will ultimately prove to be futile as all such attempts at censorship have proved to be.” He added that, “The right to free speech is nonnegotiable, and if Pakistan is the rights-respecting democracy it claims to be, this ban must be lifted forthwith. Free speech can and should only be countered with free speech.  

It sounds though as if many Pakistani were able to get around the ban by using proxy servers. According to the Guardian:

The ban was made largely irrelevant by tech-savvy users. Twitter members, many aided by online articles in the Pakistani media explaining how to circumvent the curbs, installed proxy servers to shield their web browsing. Once back online, many posted angry tweets about the shutdown.

One poster wondered how a known terrorist “can roam and operate freely in Pakistan whilst social media is banned!

Perhaps more troubling is the article by Huma Yusuf  (a columnist for the Pakistani newspaper Dawn) in today’s New York Times on the temporary ban. He notes that many bloggers feel this was just a test run:

In February, Pakistan invited bids for an Internet filtering system that could block up to 50 million URLs (the idea was shelved following a backlash from civil society). Last year, the P.T.A. attempted to ban 1,500 “immoral” terms from use in cellphone text messages. In 2010, a Pakistani court banned Facebookand other social network sites for two weeks on the grounds that they were hosting blasphemous content. A few years earlier, the Pakistani government made YouTube crash worldwide after trying to block the site for streaming the infamous Danish cartoons of Muhammad.

The government claims to be censoring only blasphemous content, but it is notable that social networking sites are among the few remaining venues in Pakistan for unfettered political debate. The IT ministry has blocked dozens of Web sites that champion the cause of separatists in Pakistan’s western Balochistan province, where human rights abuses by the security establishment are rampant. Last year, Rolling Stone magazine was blockedonline after publishing an article about the Pakistani Army’s expenditures.

Many bloggers and free speech activists in Pakistan believe that the Twitter ban was a “test run” by the IT ministry — a chance to flex its censorship muscles. With the experiment occurring months ahead of the next expected general election, Pakistanis should take any violation of their right to free speech seriously. The next ban may not be as short-lived as this one. 

A number of countries and social groups are pushing back against the new-found freedom of expression facilitated by social media. It is sad to see reactionary forces try to stifle dialogue under the pretense of offending someone or as in the case of Azerbaijan where social media has become synonymous with deviance and criminality.


May 082012

twitter logo_word bubbleTwitter filed a motion in a New York State Court to quash a court order that would force it to hand over data on Malcom Harris, an Occupy Wall Street (OWS) protester being prosecuted by the District Attorney’s office in Manhattan. Harris, arrested for disorderly conduct during last year’s march across the Brooklyn Bridge has been pursued by the DA’s office which is requesting all his tweets over a three-month period.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union:

Law enforcement agencies—both the federal government and state and city entities—are becoming increasingly aggressive in their attempts to obtain information about what people are doing on the Internet. And while the individual Internet users can try to defend their rights in the rare circumstances in which they find out about the requests before their information is turned over, that may not be enough. Indeed, even though Twitter provided notice to the Twitter user in this particular case, and even though he was able to get an attorney to file a motion seeking to quash the subpoena, the court found that the Twitter user did not have legal “standing” to challenge the D.A.’s subpoena.

The Court ruling that Harris did not have legal standing puts users in the position of having to rely on private companies to protect their Constitutional rights – even in the case as with Twitter where the company explicitly states that you own your own data. As you might imagine, Harris was understandably pleased with Twitter’s latest action:

Malcom Harris Tweet

Good for Twitter, which hardly has a spotless record in this area. But where this goes is anyone’s guess. In its filing, Twitter referred to a case where the courts ruled that attaching a GPS device to someone violates the Fourth Amendment standard against unreasonable searches:

If the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement applies merely to surveillance of one’s location in public areas for 28 days, it also applies to the District Attorney’s effort to force Twitter to produce over three months worth of a citizen’s substantive communications, regardless of whether the government alleges those communications are public or private. (from Mashable)

However, in a world where technology use is unevenly distributed and society’s understanding of it often borders on the dysfunctional, one would not be surprised to see the Court uphold the District Attorney’s position. That will send it to a higher court where, hopefully, commonsense and an understanding of liberty and individual rights in the digital age will overturn the decision. If the State can demand to see your communication with others – which you don’t even have in your possession by the time the demand is made – we are in trouble, indeed.

Mar 292012

Memorial for Trayvon Martin

Thousands rally, the news media pontificates, “experts” weigh in on one side and the other. Incredibly, an entire month has passed in the shooting of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman in Sanford, Florida, an event that had the initial investigator planning to charge Zimmerman with manslaughter.  Details continue to emerge and social media reacts, and with the exception of the crowds on the street, seems to be a primary force in pushing the investigation forward.

Unfortunately, social media isn’t always on target: the purported address of Mr. Zimmerman that was rapidly shared through Twitter turned out to be that of an elderly couple with no connection to the case.

A school-cafeteria lunch lady and her husband have received hate mail, unwanted visits from reporters and fearful inquiries from neighbors — all because their Sanford-area address is being disseminated on Twitter as belonging to Trayvon Martin shooter George Zimmerman, her son said late Tuesday.

The woman, 70, who has a heart condition, and her husband, 72, have temporarily moved to a hotel to avoid the spotlight and possible danger, said son Chip Humble of Longwood.

The woman has another son named William George Zimmerman who lived with her in 1995 and still lives in Central Florida. He is no relation to George Zimmerman, 28, who killed 17-year-old Trayvon Feb. 26, sparking national outrage and international interest.

William Zimmerman isn’t sure how his mother and stepfather’s address became public. He said he used it to register a car, get a drivers license and vote when he lived there briefly after college. 

Of course, weighed in the balance of the broader issues and the loss of life, this is relatively minor (though you would think otherwise if it was you). But it is still troubling how social media can be both a force for change and take on the qualities of a mob mentality. Clay Shirky’s book, Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations, was spot on. But truth and self-organizing movements are not always in sync.

Just ask the elderly couple hiding in a hotel.

Mar 122012

Social media can play a vital role in protest and it appears the NYC prosecutors office would like that to end. For the second time, they have subpoenaed Twitter records of a protester involved in Occupy Wall Street (OWS) activities. The first went to activist Malcolm Harris back in February of this year (you can read his account on Reuters) and the latest subpoena went to Jeff Rae. Both have been notified by Twitter and will fight the requests.

And the point of the government’s fishing expedition for data related to minor crimes such as disorderly conduct? It obviously undermines free-speech protections in the First Amendment, but more directly, aims at the Fourth Amendment which prohibits warrantless searches. In discussing the initial subpoena against Harris, the Electronic Frontier Foundation notes:

Cell Phone TowerBy attempting to subpoena these records, the government can get around the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition against warrantless searches by requesting information that includes IP addresses. Twitter keeps track of IP address information regarding every time a person logged into Twitter, as well as the IP address information related to a Twitter user’s direct messages to other users, and the date and time information related to these log ins and direct messages. Armed with IP addresses, the government — without a warrant — can go to an ISP to determine who was assigned that particular IP address. And if that person connected on a mobile device — which is where the majority of Twitter users access their accounts — the ISP will hand over to the government the specific cell tower (and its corresponding geographic location) which that person used to access Twitter. This allows the government to piece together a map of where a person physically is when he opens Twitter on his smartphone, sends a direct message to a friend, or Tweets. And with that information, the government could get a record of Mr. Harris’ movement over the three months it requested from Twitter. It’s no surprise then that the government singled out Mr. Harris for this request: he currently has over 1,500 followers and 7,200 Tweets. 

So you don’t need to go through the trouble of getting a court order to track someone electronically. Now you can just do it after the fact but getting hold of their Twitter feed and the IP address information, essentially gutting the Fourth Amendment against abuse of police power. There’s been some progress on the legal front here – the Supreme Court ruled in January in United States v. Jones  that for law enforcement to install a GPS device on private property, it requires a search warrant. Nonetheless, the Court also noted that the rapid technological developments of our era may require that Congress step in with legislation. And given the dysfunctional environment of Washington these days, that doesn’t seem very promising.

Amazing how quickly things can change. Back in 2009, the State Department was praising Iranian students for using Twitter and pushed the country to not cut-off Internet access. But more recently, a number of subpoenas have been issued by local law enforcement in the States for Twitter data, including the Boston Police who subpoenaed two accounts but two hashtags (not quite sure how they were to defend themselves in court).

Malcolm Harris summed up the danger here:

The biggest danger that comes from this subpoena isn’t that it’ll help convict me — I don’t think a judge will have any trouble understanding what happened on the bridge — but that it will produce a chilling effect and discourage people from using Twitter while protesting” Harris wrote for Reuters. “It’s a win-win for prosecutors: Either they use Twitter archives to build cases against demonstrators, or they scare us away from using the platform

The subpoena for Jeff Rae’s account has been posted on Scrib if you want to see it. Scary stuff and yes, protesters may think twice. Win-wins for law enforcement are never good when it comes to social protest – unless, of course, one would prefer a police state.

Jan 112012

Twitter and GoogleGoogle and Twitter go head-to-head over search – first Twitter and then Google’s response over the latter’s change to its search engine:

For years, people have relied on Google to deliver the most relevant results any time they wanted to find something on the internet.

“Often, they want to know more about world events and breaking news. Twitter has emerged as a vital source of this real-time information, with more than 100 million users sending 250 million tweets every day on virtually every topic. As we’ve seen time and time again, news breaks first on Twitter; as a result, Twitter accounts and tweets are often the most relevant results.

“We’re concerned that as a result of Google’s changes, finding this information will be much harder for everyone. We think that’s bad for people, publishers, news organisations and Twitter users.”

Google’s response?

We are a bit surprised by Twitter’s comments about Search plus Your World, because they chose not to renew their agreement with us last summer and since then we have observed their rel=nofollow instructions,” it said in a statement.

This isn’t the first time they’ve locked horns but it’s only the beginning of what the future holds.

Jan 072012

U.S. District Judge Liam O’Grady denied a motion to suspend previous orders allowing the U.S. Dept. of Justice to access account information of three individuals on Twitter suspected of having ties to WikiLeaks. According to Mashable, this case has been going on since 2010 with a judge issuing a secret order to grant access. Since then, it’s been tied up in legal motions but has now reached a critical point.

According to Salon, the request for records goes back to early 2009:

The information demanded by the DOJ is sweeping in scope.  It includes all mailing addresses and billing information known for the user, all connection records and session times, all IP addresses used to access Twitter, all known email accounts, as well as the ”means and source of payment,” including banking records and credit cards.

Three people are targeted in the investigation into Wikileaks and Julian Assange including a security expert, Jacob Appelbaum, , Birgitta Jonsdottir, a member of Iceland’s Parliament and the Dutch activist Rop Gonggrijp.  The order was originally issued on December 14 and kept sealed — i.e., Twitter was barred notifying even the targets of the order.  However, the order was unsealed on Twitter’s request on January 5 so that the service could inform the users and give them ten days to object, which is where it stands now.

At this point, it appears that Twitter has no choice but to comply with the court order, but there remains other issues here in that Birgitta Jonsdottir is a member of another nation’s government. According to Glenn Greenwald in Salon:

 Jónsdóttir told me that as “a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee [of Iceland's Parliament] and the NATO parliamentary assembly,” she intends to ”call for a meeting at the Committee early next week and ask for the ambassador to meet” her to protest the DOJ’s subpoena for her records.

Clearly the DOJ is going after the people involved in the controversial “Collateral Murder” video, a video released in 2008  that depicted a U.S. Apache helicopter attack on journalists and civilians in Baghdad, particularly the killing of Reuters photographer Namir Noor-Eldeen and driver Saeed Chmagh. An account of the video is at “Wikileaks Video on Reuters Story: Collateral Damage or ‘Collateral Murder?” and actual video is online on Youtube. Worth watching if you haven’t seen it already.

Final point: are they really going to get that much out of Twitter records since it would seem that there is little there that would be entirely private unless there was a host of DM’s (Direct Messages) between the three? And even then, the DM’s have to be within Twitter’s 140 character limit.

Jan 042012

This is definitely the political diss of the week, if not the entire past month of the campaign season. Sometimes, the simplicity of being limited to 140 characters just makes something razor sharp. For those of you with a bit of philosophy in your diet, it is more or less the comedy version of “Occam’s razor” from the 14th-century English philosopher, theologian and Franciscan friar, William of Ockham. Go with the simple unless forced to do otherwise.

But I digress. Here is the tweet from the Ron Paul account to Huntsman the other night, tweeted, pulled back and then republished without comment (via Buzzfeed). Actually, no further comment is needed:

Ron Paul Tweet Dissing Huntsman

All I can say is – Ouch!

Jan 032012

Though I’m quite happy to be on vacation this week and off in a remote part of the Rhodope Mountains on the Greek – Bulgarian border, I will miss the initial results on the Iowa caucuses given the time difference. Some thoughts later tomorrow if there are any surprises in the results. For now, I’ll leave you with the Google Insights for Search chart that represents the Web interest on the major candidates over the past 30 days. No surprise that Ron Paul comes out on top, with Romney in second and a surging Rick Santorum to round out the top three.

You may also want to see how the Washington Post’s new MentionMachine does as it is tracking both Twitter and Media mentions. I can’t decide if it will be that accurate a barometer or is just the Post trying anything to be innovative. Based on Twitter activity over the past week, it also has Paul – Romney – Santorum in that order. It will be interesting to see how both tools do in contrast to more traditional polling techniques.

Dec 162011

Somali islamists - Ethiopia troops quit Somali capital Mogadishu This is surreal, but a paradoxical sign of the times. One of the world’s most militant, hardline, anti-modernist groups has taken to Twitter and other social media sites. You wouldn’t think that Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia would be at the center of this – a city torn for decades by violence and brutality – but so it is.

The militant group, al-Shabab, have been facing off against African Union Peacekeepers and Kenya’s military spokesman, Maj. Emmanuel Chirchir, has been fairly prolific on Twitter, using it for commentary and announcement of operations. But now al-Shabad has opened a Twitter account and the two are trading insults and taunts through the social network.

So in a city with almost no resources and a southern part of the country that is a war-torn battle zone a midst endless poverty, we find a full blown war on Twitter.

As the New York Times puts it:

It is an odd, almost downright hypocritical move from brutal militants in one of world’s most broken-down countries, where millions of people do not have enough food to eat, let alone a laptop. The Shabab have vehemently rejected Western practices — banning Western music, movies, haircuts and bras, and even blocking Western aid for famine victims, all in the name of their brand of puritanical Islam — only to embrace Twitter, one of the icons of a modern, networked society. 

About all one can say is that they are talking to one another, though in this case, I doubt it does much good.

Dec 092011


Russian Demonstration

Russian Demonstration

Revolutions and protest movements are fought on many fronts, from battles in the streets (Syria, Egypt, etc.), acts of disobedience (women driving in Saudi Arabia), to passive actions (student protesters pepper-sprayed in California) – and usually on multiple fronts at once.

But the news out of Russia suggests that social media is also becoming an arena of struggle as the government or pro-government supporters try to disrupt conversations on Twitter.

If the protests grow, it will be a new stage in the evolution of social media in the political realm. In most of the Middle East, Twitter and Facebook were used largely by opposition groups to organize and share information. The main response of those in power was to pull the plug on Internet service altogether when unrest threatened to topple the government. But that’s not going to happen in Russia; instead, we’re seeing what appears to be a coordinated effort to redirect the flow of information on Twitter through automatic postings.

According to Maxim Goncharov at the security firm Trend Micro, pro-government posts appear to be program generated, coordinated by a botnet to undermine the use of Twitter. From BBC News:

Whether the attack was supported officially or not is not relevant,” he wrote, “but we can now see how social media has become the battlefield of a new war for freedom of speech.

With some ten messages (almost identical) posted per second, it would appear that these are program generated and not the tweets of individuals. We will see much more of this in the future. Yes, social media is empowering but it’s only a matter of time before entrenched powers use it to undermine free expression.

Many have argued (and rightly so, I think) that privacy will be a critical issue born of the technology revolution. It already is – but it would be shortsighted to not see that in a revolution in communications, the battle for free speech will be fundamental. I’m not sure when, or that any of us could ever predict how, but somewhere in the next decade, there will be another Gettysburg, a virtual battlefield (this should be in the plural) upon which the future of free speech is decided. Though like Gettysburg in the history of the United States, even the victories here will not put the issue to rest. It will be an ongoing struggle of which Russia is only the latest chapter.

Dec 082011

This takes work: Destroy your career and simultaneously Tweet it.

Three Legislative aides for Rep. Rick Larson (D-Wash.) were fired today after drinking, trashing Larson’s office, and tweeting the entire bizarre event. Calling it a “December to Remember” the three spent their time according to RollCall:

. . .boozing it up in the office, destroying government property and badmouthing their boss — and obliviously bragged about it on Twitter.
Legislative aides Seth Burroughs and Elizabeth Robbee and legislative correspondent Ben Byers were terminated as a result of the Northwest Daily Marker story chronicling their baffling display of bureaucratic bravado. The article included screen grabs of since-deactivated Twitter posts in which Burroughs (@therocketship1) and Robbee (@betsysbites) openly banter back and forth about trashing a government-supplied Blackberry, taking shots of Jack Daniels at their desks and watching music videos on YouTube during work hours.

Rep. Larson terminated them this afternoon but you have to wonder just what was going on in their brains (perhaps lack of is more appropriate). Not exactly an Anthony Weiner episode with towel-draped torsos but no less puzzling.

They have indeed done a “December to remember.”

Oct 032011

Security for heads of state was once just physical safety and phone lines. Now it includes everything digital. Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra found herself with a hacked Twitter account and significant embarrassment as someone posted to her account at least eight times. The posts accused her of incompetence and probably reflect opposition to her brother, former PM Thaksin Shinawatra.

The final post ended with a brutal taunt:

If she can’t even protect her own Twitter account, how can she protect the country? Think about it.

A few days before this, someone defaced the government’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs web site. Might be about time for some new security protocols.

Sep 292011

Our Mood on Twitter. Copyright: NY Times

Interesting article in the NY Times on a Cornell study that mined Twitter data for a glimpse of our moody personas. No surprise that we’re collectively happier during the morning and evening hours (late afternoons at work are a bummer), and happier as we get toward the end of the end of the week, and of course, even more so on weekends.  This is the first study to mine the data this way, and while it is based on two million people in 84 countries, it is skewed in that it reflects those that use the social network – a group that tends to be young, tech-literate and relatively well-off.

And no doubt the software used here is not entirely accurate, particularly since it depends upon singling out specific words and emoticons as positive or negative. For all the brevity of our tweets, the use of language is complex, both self -referential and distantly related, embedded with irony, and immersed in a rapidly evolving context. But the study is interesting nonetheless and of course we should expect many more as we increasingly live our lives online.

I would be one of those falling into the 7% considered “night owls” . . . yawn . . .

Aug 112011

Like the global stock markets, Twitter (along with other social networking sites) has had its share of ups and downs over the past week with the riots in London. Cursed, blamed, absolved, celebrated . . . everyone seems to have their own perspective on the role social networking has played. So, here’s a bit of news on the good side: the @Riotcleanup account has over 87,000 followers (as of 1:00pm EST, August 11th) as people are organizing to clean up their communities.

On the other hand, PM David Cameron is talking about the possibility of shutting down Twitter and other social networking sites during future civil disturbances. As he put it before the House of Commons:

Mr. Speaker, everyone watching these horrific actions will be stuck by how they were organized via social media.

Free flow of information can be used for good. But it can also be used for ill.

And when people are using social media for violence we need to stop them.

So we are working with the Police, the intelligence services and industry to look at whether it would be right to stop people communicating via these websites and services when we know they are plotting violence, disorder and criminality.

I have also asked the police if they need any other new powers.

No specifics on how this would be implemented, but he could always just ask one of the dictators in the Middle East to help him out. Perhaps they could use the consulting income as their bank accounts get frozen due to uprisings on their own turf (especially if Saudi Arabia stops providing safe refuge). Sadly, it sounds like perhaps 38% of the public agree with him on this though one might surmise that many of those are not Twitter users. As Jeff Jarvis tweeted:

I hear an MP in essence asking for social media to be regulated. Danger, friends, danger. #ukriots

We’re venturing into scary territory here.

Jun 192011

An interesting article in the New York Times on Julie Taymor’s take on the new version of the Broadway play, Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark. If you recall, she was fired from the play during the preview performances after poor reviews, extensive technical difficulties and injuries to members of the cast. So now the show has been reborn with some new musical numbers by Edge and Bono and scaled back scenes, or as she put it: “The production today has become much simpler.”

After four major accidents perhaps that was inevitable. But what interested me here are her comments criticizing the use of focus groups to help put the show together and the impact of Twitter on the perception of the show. She may have a point that audience feedback early in the development of a show may be damaging – as she notes, there will “. . . always (be) something that people don’t like.” But the Twitter comments are more curious as she seems to feel that the creative process is damaged by people posting instant reviews of what they go see on Broadway these days:

“It’s very hard to create, it’s incredibly difficult to be under a shot glass and a microscope like that.”

Spider-Man Turn Off the Dark

Two points; first the show was probably doing preview performances before it should have as the producers were desperate to begin covering expenses. It simply wasn’t ready and if the comments on Twitter were damaging the creative process, that says less about social media than it does about the decision to do an early release. Secondly, social media is rapidly becoming part of the fabric of our lives these days and no doubt, it will impact the creative process just as it is having an impact on the political process. I’m not sure what that means for Broadway theater, but preview performances are no longer going to just be seen by limited audiences and discussed at the dinner table – the reactions will be discussed online and available to all. Perhaps it means the end of preview performances, or perhaps it means trying to shape the dialogue about the show. Simply put, the artist can no longer work in the studio and expect isolation while simultaneously opening the door a crack. Once a few get a peek at the work in progress, everyone will want to have their say.

Taymor is an incredibly gifted director but the world has changed from when she did the Lion King. And ironically, Spiderman almost represents that change, wearing a costume that looks like the web of a network structure and flitting around via transitory linkages to buildings, places, and things. Spiderman is an entity not beholden to gravity like the beings he interacts with, and with social media, communication is entering a very similar de-centered realm. Despite all our technology, we are still very much grounded in a face-to-face world; but our communication spirals out in a thousand directions.

Just ask former Rep. Weiner.

Jun 082011

Or to just having it all laid out online. First, the Cartoon of the Day from Politicalwire – too funny for words:

Of course, now that Rep. Anthony Weiner is trying to hang on, more and more is coming out in terms of his alternate life. First TZM reports that he was coaching Ginger Lee, his pornstar friend on how to handle the press and offering to help with PR. Perhaps no big deal, unless he was planning utilizing his staff or other government resources. And he appeared to be joking around with her while his career (and one assumes, marriage) is spinning out of control. And now Radar Online has the complete transcript of his Facebook conversations with Lisa Weiss, the Las Vegas Blackjack dealer. Very sad to think of Huma reading this, but did he seriously think this would never under any circumstances be public? There’s probably much more to come, and while I doubt text will factor much in the public’s perception right now, it will make interesting reading for the ethics investigation.

Indeed, images have a lifespan and at some point, we will grow tired of them (The Weiner photos have already disappeared from the nightly newscasts). But words have staying power, and can grow in significance over time. It doesn’t bode well for his political future and I still think he’ll be stepping down in a few weeks.

And if all of this is not enough, Canadian Progressive Conservative candidate George Lepp seems to also have caught the itchy Twitter finger as a close-up photo of his privates appeared online. The excuses here took an interesting turn: first it was that the phone was in camera mode and just took the picture on its own (a pocket with a transparent lining and a light source?) and now he claims that his Blackberry was stolen and someone else did it. How did Weiner put it before his confessional? “Pictures can be manipulated. Pictures can be dropped in and inserted.” But I do like the Examiner calling it a “dick twit” – might as well give it a name if we’re going to see enough of these. And I might add, in both of these cases, the lifespan of a dick-twit seems to be about twenty minutes. Enough said.

Jun 062011

High drama as Rep. Anthony Weiner holds press conference and admits to tweeting image to Seattle student. And Andrew Breitbart, who earlier today posted more photos and said more were coming from another young woman with whom Weiner had an online relationship, showed up before the press conference and took the microphone to demand an apology. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called for an ethics investigation and one would assume that Weiner’s political career is over – even if he claims he will not resign. More to come and we’ll follow through on yet another instance of technology ensnaring a politician. Here’s where we are at the moment and it isn’t pretty:

And here’s Breitbart’s pre-conference press conference:

Jun 012011

When you’re digging yourself into a hole, it’s time to put aside the shovel and Rep. Anthony Weiner seems incapable of doing so. The latest go around, this time an interview with Luke Russet on MSNBC (and I thought we were no longer going to talk about this?), makes yesterday’s feisty press conference look good. One line says it all:

We don’t know for sure what happened here. My system was hacked. Pictures can be manipulated.

Well, it increasingly sounds like we do know what happened and Russert is probably right in suggesting these are the type of photographs you remember (unless of course you do near daily photo shoots of this type). Compared to the words of the intended recipient, Gennette Cordova, who sounds sincere and heartfelt in her written statement to the Daily News, Weiner just sounds evasive and deceitful. First it was a hack, now it’s become a prank. And now photographs can be “manipulated” and “dropped in” someone’s account. But it’s still you or it isn’t you, and while that may not ultimately matter (beyond some utterly public self-embarrassment), sounding like you’re telling the truth does factor into political longevity.

I don’t think the press will let this pass, particularly since he just becomes more evasive. Unless there’s a startling disclosure about account manipulation, I’m anticipating a confession by the weekend and another case of a politician being tripped up by social media. And then we’ll see if he can stay in office (or married). Short clip from Russet is painful to watch if you’re a supporter (and no doubt a joy from the opposite side of the political spectrum) but put aside your political leanings for a moment and just watch it for what it is – someone who has been badly tripped up by new technologies whether through their own stupidity or the work of a scheming opponent. I’m wondering if a decade from now we will be savvier about social media or if new platforms will offer yet greater potential pitfalls (with correspondingly greater opportunities for public humiliation):