October 27, 2008 |
To me the most fascinating meme of the past weekend was that about Twitter and how it could potentially be used by terrorists. The meme started on Friday after Wired contributing editor Noah Shachtman published a story on his national security blog Danger Room about a report on the potential dangers of Twitter and various new mobile technologies to the society.
The draft report (pdf) published by the US Army intelligence shows that Twitter along with other mobile tools and technologies can be used by various groups to distribute information about their operations, to deliver their message and to rake recruits as well as collect information required to plan and schedule their terrorist activities.
The report was not focused on Twitter only but it looks like since Twitter is a relatively new tool, it looks like something the military authorities do not seem to be capable of grasping immediately. And it is quite understandable that people often are scared of things they don’t comprehend. Among other potentially dangerous things were digital maps, GPS locators, and photo swappers.
An important thing is that Twitter with its large user base “has also become a social activism tool for socialists, human rights groups, communists, vegetarians, anarchists, religious communities, atheists, political enthusiasts, hacktivists and others to communicate with each other and to send messages to broader audiences.” Honestly, I don’t know what is wrong with vegetarians and why they are considered to be a potential danger by anyone – from what I’ve seen they tend to be quite nice and peaceful people.
MG Siegler over at VentureBeat has absolutely clear and valid explanations of where exactly the army is wrong in understanding how Twitter works. In the post he points out obvious mistakes and things that seem to be more of fantasies about how Twitter should work instead of how it actually works in reality which must prove that instead of actually familiarizing with how Twitter works they decided to draw the report based on some theoretical knowledge which obviously is not enough to actually understand the technology.
Of course it is quite understandable that the Army is mainly interested in getting some justification to track Twitter for potential threats to identify suspicious activity and probably take some counter measures against people behind such activity. Anyway I myself don’t see any problem with the intelligence officers engaging in tracking public timeline on Twitter while I honestly think private feeds and direct messages don’t really sound like the tools actually useful for terrorists in their activities – my opinion is that private channels of information exchange like simple text messages will serve better for any such purpose anyway. But if the Army actually has all the resources (and money involved) to ensure tracking of the public timeline on Twitter, I am really happy about the state of the military forces in the US, honestly.
But in the case of Twitter as a terrorist tool, I personally believe this is a typical case of blaming the messenger. Does the fact that Twitter can be used by terrorists mean that people should be cautious about it? Maybe we should ban all phones completely because they can be used for communications between members of terrorist groups?
Twitter is only a tool and I don’t understand how it happens that people only hear the word “terrorists” in relation to Twitter and immediately start thinking of Twitter as a potential threat – forgetting immediately that Twitter is often widely used for good causes as well, like drawing everyone’s attention to finding a missing child or for fundraising. It is obvious that any tool can be used both for good and for bad purposes and I don’t think it’s fair to speak about the bad things ignoring the good ones or forbidding useful tools because they can be potentially dangerous without paying attention to things where they already are beneficial.
Twitter is nothing but a smaller copy of the society now that it is slowly but steadily reaching mainstream popularity. So obviously everything that exists in the society itself can be found on Twitter now – be it non-profit organizations or terrorists (possibly). And if it is impossible to cure the society, blaming the tools that reflect what the society is for the fact that negative things exist does not seem to be fair to me.