Keep Calm and Just Block

It doesn’t happen often but today it happened again. I was suckered into tweeting with someone on Twitter and the endless back and forth began. I recognized it early as baiting but I tried to continue a bit further, explain my views and be polite but clear in my points. I know it’s pointless but I tried.

When I finally had had enough I informed the other that I was stopping and thanked him (?) for the discussion. Predictably he continued to bait me by “calling out” my hypocrisy. I was going to reply (I know, I know – don’t feed the trolls). But I stopped myself and I checked his profile.

It was – unsurprisingly – yet another anonymous account. Active but unnamed. Nothing in the user name or the profile gave any clue about a real identity.

I am all for anonymity and psuedonymity online. And given the right circumstances I would have not minded a discussion. But when I attempt to politely withdraw and my interlocutor is both anonymous, persistent, and baiting. I get the impression its a troll. So I have created a rule for myself. If I am arguing with an anonymous person on Twitter and they will not let me leave the argument – then it is OK to block them.

While it is perfectly OK to be anonymous online. It is also OK for me not to invest my time and energy in someone who is anonymous and disrespectful of my time and opinions. We do not have to agree, but we do have to be respectful. In particular respect is important if you are attempting anonymity.

So far I have only blocked three accounts on Twitter based on these principles. And still it makes me feel like I am doing something wrong by preventing the free flow of discussion. But there is a time when arguing with anonymous accounts must stop. It’s just not fruitful.

Twitter: Am I doing it all wrong?

Despite all my concerns about oversharing, risking careers, ruining reputations, getting you arrested, and being generally annoying. I disagree with Gopnik and think Twitter is brilliant. And yes, I may overuse the technology and annoy people with it. But there is one feature that I never really understood about Twitter and that is the favorite button.

So I asked on Twitter: Why do you favorite a tweet? Is it saving? Giving a Thumbs Up? Or maybe poking someone? Or have I missed the point? Naturally the wise crowd online replied quickly.

@tombarfield @dislexas @hannagadd All wrote that it was saving.

From a private account I got “all of those, +fun, derision, amusement, support or a combo of several #favoriting”

tweetSo most (of this miniscule dataset) are using favorites to save some also use it to make positive comments and even to politely end a conversation. My use is more in line with the latter uses. I tried the saving tactic but realized that I never went back and looked at anything saved. Which somehow defeats the purpose of saving?

The other thing I am unsure about is thanking for re-tweets. Especially when its a thanks for a link to an article. I know its supposed to be polite and I am usually a polite boy but it does seem strange to thank someone for re-tweeting a link to an article that I found interesting. Or am I just being a grumpy old bastard?

Are tweets really, really public?

There is a very interesting discussion going on at Gawker about whether Twitter is private or public. Here is a representative excerpt:

Most things that you write on Twitter will be seen only by your followers. Most things that you write on Twitter will not be read by the public at large. But that is only because the public at large does not care about most things that you have to say. It is not because the public does not have “a right” to read your Twitter. Indeed, they do. They can do so simply by typing Twitter dot com slash [your name] into their web browser. There, they will find a complete list of everything that you have chosen to publish on Twitter, which is a public forum.

If you do not want your Twitter to be public, you can make it private. Then it will not be public. If you do not make it private, it will be public.

So far, so good. But then there is the bit that made me think.

Because Twitter is public, and published on the internet, it is possible that someone will quote something that you said on Twitter in a news story. This is something that you implicitly accept by publishing something on Twitter, which is public.

This part I find less convincing. Yes, Twitter is public. But does this really mean that everything in the public could be used in any way. Am I supposed to have implicitly agreed to any form of possible, potential use of my material simply because Twitter is public?


From a copyright perspective there is a good case for arguing that my tweets are my property. But then again I would also argue that republishing the tweets falls under fair use or right to quote. Despite this, it’s still a good illustration that public does not mean free-to-use-in-any-way-I-want.

But what are the limits of re-use of Tweets? I would be offended if a militant group of madmen (take your pick) used a tweet of mine (along with my image and user name) on a poster (unlikely scenario, I know). But would I be able to prevent it?

What about using tweets in lectures? Ah yes, its fair use. What about shaming a student by displaying his/her tweets? (Not outlandish it happened here). What about the police shaming drunk drivers? What if a doctor retweets medical information tweeted by a patient? Would this breach medical ethics?

Tweet This by Kris Olin CC BY NC SA

The technology is public (open for all to see). But this mean that the public has the right to do whatever they please with what they see? Even if there is no legal limits to this behavior, there are ethically questionable reuses of tweets.

The point is that when I tweet something there is a small chance that the people who follow me see it. If some of them retweet then there is a chance of others seeing it. But if @stephenfry were to accidentally retweet it – I would achieve internet fame.

My tweets do not achieve internet fame. My tweets exist within a context. Naturally there is no law preventing them from leaving that context but when they do, their meaning may warp beyond their original meaning and purpose. And when this happens – what is the ethical responsibility of the re-tweeter?

Help! I’ve been stolen

There I was calmly at home with the laptop, well prepared for the impending winter storm that is going to hit us soon when I got a message from a friend via Facebook telling me that there is a fake twitter account in my name. The message included a link to this account


At first I didn’t spot it. All I saw was the number of tweets, following and followers were wrong. Then I saw that the text was wrong, before I finally saw the twitter handle was another. Here is my twitter account


Not only had the cheeky bugger stolen my image and my (older) bio but even taken my background too. Damn! He/she has also violated the Creative Commons license for my image of the bottles in the background. No attribution!

He/she has been tweeting since August and only managed 16 tweets. But the last one was just hours ago. Why? Seriously It can’t be that difficult to create a profile – so is to somehow fool my friends? I doubt that would work.

Anyway I filed a complaint with twitter and quickly received a mail with the content

To confirm your identity, fax a copy of your valid government-issued photo ID (e.g., driver’s license, passport) to Twitter

Really!! Not only do I have to prove that I am who I am, but now I have to find two pieces of archaic technology (photocopier and fax) in order to prove who I am.

What this proves is:

  1. Stealing someones likeness and bio is easy online (duh!)
  2. In order to really prove who we are we need to downgrade to pre-internet technology
  3. First world problems are really a drag


Public shaming with technology

A question that has been bouncing around my head for a while, and maybe this is because of an article I’m working on now, is why do people use technology to shame, defame, slander or insult in ways that they would never do without technology?

This is not a new discussion. In the early Internet days part of the answer that was often used was the idea that people felt that they could be anonymous online and this made “bad behavior” permissible or possible.

The important thing about this anonymity was that it was a perceived sense of anonymity as opposed to real anonymity. This caused many to believe that if anonymity could be taken away technology users would behave themselves.

Surveillance would resolve bad behavior.

This thinking created the idea of enforcing real identities online.

Countries like China and South Korea and companies like Google and Facebook have for different reasons implemented real identities online.

Naturally policies and regulations such as these have been criticized.

But do we behave if we do not believe ourselves to be anonymous online?

Apparently not.

Look at the abuse that Marion Bartoli, the woman’s Wimbledon champion, faced.

With tweets like “Someone as ugly and unattractive as Bartoli doesn’t deserve to win” there is a direct connection between physical appearance and physical skill. Sadly, of course, this connection is more common when it is related to women.

What is interesting is that many of those who offered opinions like this (and worse) were not anonymous and yet they were still openly hostile, belligerent and maybe slanderous.

The Swedish clothes company H&M printed clothes with pictures of Tupac Shakur, a 21 year old Swedish woman, wrote to question on H&M’s Facebook page asking why they thought it was ok to use the picture of a man convicted of sexual abuse in their clothing.

As a result she received thousands of comments, she was threatened with, amongst other things, rape, stoning and drowning. The main discussion was whether or not H&M had behaved correctly by not being actively enough in removing comments.

But what is interesting is that the comments where all on Facebook, people seemed to be happily open with their misogynistic, threatening and illegal comments. There was no illusion of anonymity, the users were easily identifiable by everyone and yet this did not stop them.

Bad behavior online is not prevented by openly identifying everyone.

How I learnt to love my echo chamber

This week The Guardian had an article entitled Is Twitter anything more than an online echo chamber? Now basically an echo-chamber is a metaphor for digital spaces where opinions are enhanced and reinforced, where opposing opinion is removed from sight. This is supposed to be a form of criticism against the media implying that the users are removing the people they don’t want to hear, leaving only a group of people who think the same.

But did you really believe that people would use the web to seek out opposing views? Is this what we do in real life? Do you chose newspapers based on the fact that you like the topics, language and opinions you read or do you actively seek out the people who annoy you? Of course twitter is an echo chamber.

For those who feel that this is a problem I would recommend trying to enter into a discussion forum with people you dislike and attempt to have a discussion with them. All you will face is exhaustion, annoyance and probably a fair amount of abuse. You will not have enlightened either yourself or the people you are discussing with.

The point of twitter is to surround yourself (as in life) with interesting, amusing, useful, friendly people. So making twitter into your personal echo chamber is the whole point of twitter. This is the strength of the net – you can always find people who share your most bizarre interests whether it’s 18th century dutch polka music or copyright licenses.

Recently I began working with my echo chamber to actively make it more of an echo chamber. Instead of attempting to include more people I actively began removing people who were “doing twitter wrong”. Of course this is subjective. It has to be. And I fully expect to be treated in the same way.

Some of my simpler criteria for removal are:

  • People who say tweeps regularly
  • People who say good morning/night every day
  • People who say thank you for every reTweet
  • People who insist on telling me where they are (Yes I’m a Foursquare hater) or how far they have run (& a Runkeeper hater)

I’m sure they are all nice people but I don’t want that kind of information there. Once I began doing this my flow of information has become more focused and more interesting. It’s developing into a nice useful and pleasant echo chamber. What are your criteria for exclusion from your echo chamber?


Democracy in action: Why @Sweden is brilliant when its bad

In an interesting marketing strategy Visit Sweden decided that Sweden cannot be defined by a single voice and began letting “ordinary” Swedes have control over the @Sweden twitter account. It was cute, it was fun – but basically it was boring.

Recently 27 year old Sonja Abrahamsson took over the account and things began to heat up. Her comments are earthy and borderline questionable. None of the ones I have seen are directly racist but they may be seen by some as politically incorrect.

This was too much for several people and the so called scandal was a fact. Just check out the headlines

CNN writes Foul-mouthed Bieber-hating mother takes over @Sweden

Adland writes Sweden – the Worlds most democratic twitter account dissolves into pure anarchy

CIO writes Sweden teaches us how not to do social media

MSNBC writes Swedens democratic twitter experiment goes haywire

But is this really a problem? It feels like the world media is working hard to feel truly insulted over nothing. Sure the author may be non-pc, maybe a person I would prefer not to talk to or read but so what? The whole point of allowing “ordinary” Swedes to take over the account was to demonstrate that Sweden cannot be represented by one voice. Those who would argue that only a specific brand of politically correct Swedes should be allowed to talk miss the whole point. If you come to Sweden you will meet all kinds of people – the same is true if you visit any other country.

The main difference is that instead of a bland mix of picture perfect illustrations that ordinarily bore us with the falsehood this marketing of Sweden shows that ordinary people exist here. The fact that the experiment with @Sweden has achieved little public debate abroad shows that it was not really an exciting thing to do.

Those who argue that Abrahamsson is causing bad publicity for Sweden should think again. How may of those who are insulted (if there are many of those?) are actively cancelling trips to Sweden? Visit Sweden should stand by their choice and behind their idea – in Sweden we believe in freedom of expression. This means that often we hear about stuff we would prefer to avoid.

The critique is more amusing than relevant, a storm in a tea-cup. Unless Abrahamsson has broken any laws then I salute her ability to create a discussion about Sweden that goes beyond the boring stereotypes.

Social Media gets boring

The Sysomos blog has a post claiming that 2011 is the year that Social Media gets boring. At the heart of the argument is the fact that eventually the flashy, shiny new image of the thing will wear off and people will want a new toy.

By that, I mean the novelty will start to wear off as social media becomes a more engrained part of how we communicate, market and sell. Rather than being shiny, new and fascinating, social media will just be.

Social Media is still growing but I agree that its novelty has peaked. It didnt kill all the blogs or destroy old media. To those who find the tool useful it will survive to those who don’t it will eventually be abandoned along with so many other projects intended to change the world.

Despite this peaking of social media many government offices and municipalities are rushing in to the great communications hope. In social media they see a way of invigorating citizen communication but there is a problem – what does my municipality have to tweet that I want to read?

Recently I got an email informing me that the municipality of Uppsala is following me on twitter. It isn’t my first municipality or government but I can’t help but feeling a bit paranoid – the whole municipality is following me? Talk about pressure – what can I say that the municipality would like to hear? On the lighter side of social media and governments I am waiting to receive an email that the secret police are now following me on twitter. It’s not paranoia – it’s technology.

There are many interesting projects dealing with the uses of social media in local government and the tools can play an important role but they require work. Opening up a channel of communication requires an organization around the tool – to read and reply to messages, to handle questions that come up and at the same time ensure that the established norms of integrity and professionalism are maintained even in this new toy. Unfortunately many organizations see social media as a free toy that will require little effort but provide great publicity. These hopeful people need to be reminded that there is no such thing as a free lunch.

The coming boredom of social media is a good thing. It will enable us to see beyond the hype and get on with the work of organization.

ReTweet: the power of twitter

An interesting thing happened at a conference I was attending last week. The were three speakers giving talks to all the attendants (c:a 300 people). First up was the minister of communication (unexciting but well formulated explaining new broadband policy), the was James Boyle discussing Cultural Agoraphobia (an excellent presentation on the public domain). Finally was a CEO who was supposed to be talking about mobility but spent the entire time promoting his own company and explaining why they were great.

In most such situations the crowd fidgets but endures. But not with a crowd that has access to twitter. The first tweets were bored comments about ill concealed marketing but this was soon followed by harsher comments. The tweets were ReTeeted and commented upon. There was an amazing difference between the online/offline reaction to the speech. Like an iceberg, the real action was under the surface.

Obviously he should not have been invited as a speaker. Nor should he have accepted to speak. And at least he should have respected those sitting listening to him enough not to turn his time into a blatant advertisement.

One of the questions tweeted at the time was why there wasn’t a screen where the speakers could see the reactions of the crowd. But is this a good idea? What are the social conventions of twittering in lectures? In non-tech situations we may allow our minds to wonder, occupy ourselves, maybe talk to our neighbors. Or in a gesture of our dissatisfaction walk out of the lecture hall.

Angry tweets to the world seem acceptable – But would nasty comments flowing along on a computer screen in front of the speaker be considered ill mannered?

Twitter has already been the subject of discussion in academic circles. In October (2009) Laura Bonetta Should You Be Tweeting?

In May of this year, Daniel MacArthur, a researcher at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in Cambridge…reported live from the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) meeting Biology of Genomes.

A participant from the online news site Genomeweb protested that MacArthur was twittering and blogging about the meeting. The basis of there protest was that while media had to obtain permission to be able to report from the meeting but MacArthur was attending the meeting as a participant and therefore was not required to obtain permission. As a result of this complaint the CSHL notified a change of its rules:

“any participant intending to blog, twitter or otherwise communicate or disseminate results or discussion presented at the meeting to anonymous third parties must obtain permission from the relevant presenting author before communicating any results or discussion to third party groups, message boards, blogs or other online resources (other than your own lab or departments).”

But this seems to be an extreme way to go…

Social Networks & Law

Ryan Calo over at the Standford Center for Internet and Society (is this the new Berkman?) is asking some very interesting questions about the legal issues of web2.0

An Australian court rules that a mortgage company can issue notice of a lien over Facebook. A court in the UK permits an injunction to be served via Twitter. A woman is arrested in Tennessee for “poking” someone over Facebook in violation of a protective order. Meanwhile, a 1978 provision of the Bankruptcy Code still provides that notice shall “be published at least once a week for three successive weeks in at least one newspaper of general circulation.” New forms (and norms) of communication are both expanding and contracting the avenues for legally meaningful notice. Just how do we know, in this uncharted new landscape, when notice is enough?

  1. Is the communication sufficiently engaging to reflect the gravity and context of the relevant legal process?
  2. Where’s the Miranda warning page?

In our joy of technology we must ensure that we do not forget to transfer the civil liberties developed over the course of our legal cultural history. To his list of examples I just want to add two more headlines New York man accused of using Twitter to direct protesters during G20 summit and Fraud Fugitive in Facebook Trap.

Also I want to mention the early work of Caroline Wilson who presented “Twit or Tweet? Legal Issues Associated with Twitter and other Micro-Blogging Sites” at GikII Amsterdam. (Jordan Hatcher’s liveblog of the event) for some additional questions.