I don’t use Twitter. Never tweeted. I crow about things too often, and then am treated to dining on said crow an appropriate number of times most would agree. I also never got hooked by Friendster, nor MySpace, Facebook’s wall where “edzuger” holds a place in its house is blank. Here, for you the Times-Tribune reader, I exhaust or maybe exorcise my yen to express. Sometimes I contribute at LinkedIn, too. What’s left, then, for me as a sounding board is limited to IRL, in real life, expression.
Real life confrontation can be a little more risky than online, such as in the case of extending feedback about an experience dining out (that, you will recall, is when we gather the household, put shoes on, get into a car and then sit down in a building other than our homes for an hour or so). In the restaurant review world you can either tell the server how much the kitchen screwed up your pasta, and the four special requests you’d made, and risk them returning with a new plate from the kitchen with its [ah-hem] feedback in kind. Or, you wait until you get back home and deposit your commercial intelligence into Yelp, thereby sparing all future diners from your sufferings.
I write in limited doses. Here, for instance, I spend mere hours each week. As a professor I write for a goodly portion of my work day. When I take legal cases, most rarely when such occasions pop, I write, but attorney work products are called “briefs” for a reason, though the descriptor is often as ironic as it is fitting. You try to push a lawyer off her verbal platform, eh? Point is some out there write as their profession, and I have a family member that fits into that mold. They in fact are a travel writer, and have wholly embraced the online forums as channels of communication. Part of that is to “build a brand” online using Twitter and others as marketing vehicles. They also deploy Twitter as a weapon, of sorts, and find corporate offices by way of its unilateral position. See, they have many followers. When they embark on a trip to New Guinea, and their luggage heads to New Zealand instead, their Twitter readers immediately learn about the gaffe. And, the airline’s marketing team does, as well. Then, action ensues.
Twitter, and the rest, can thusly be an important, moving tool of communication. There’s someone wa-a-ay more important in the world than the travel writer in my family who’s going to get some airline miles for their tweets. Hint: He resides on Pennsylvania Avenue in a most famous White House. In that example, Twitter’s become almost indescribable as a force of communications. Public policy gets set. Global diplomacy takes place. Defense positions and strategies are honed. Twitter, these days, feels far more imperative than its trinkety, even toy-like, name may imply. I trust you sense that too even if, like me, you’ve never used it.
Twitter’s inception rose during a brainstorming session attended by one key NYU student, Jack Dorsey, and others who were kicking around the notion of using text messaging technology to communicate in small groups. In March of 2006, Dorsey activated Twitter with, “just setting up my twttr.” Since then it has become a big Wall Street player, one of the S&P 500, with a multi-billion-dollar valuation. Former St. Louisan Dorsey is now worth seven of those billions of dollars. The platform is no longer a mere solution for some collegiates’ texting needs, either. “Twitter Revolutions” now exist in the world’s history annals where protesters leveraged the tech to conceal governmental eyes from their plans. Governments also use the tool for spying and espionage. Its effectiveness has the more oppressive regimes—North Korea, China, Iran—outright ban the channel. News, education, emergency communications, politicking, of course, and on and on does the list of Twitter’s impacts go.
Twitter’s enmeshment in modern communications, even into the most otherwise nationally secured messages, is what got me so excited last week when we saw the Wednesday news: “Twitter Hacked!” More accurately, hackers didn’t exactly break open the Twitter doors. Rather, they snuck their ways into the Twitter accounts of some real muckety-mucks: Barack Obama, Bill Gates, Elon Musk, Kanye West, and a hundred others. You might believe, as did I, that people of this celebrity, many of whom are celebrities because of their tech acumen, would be immune to hackers. No one is. The scam, basically, was that hackers seized control of the players’ Twitter accounts, many with millions of followers. Then disguised as the celebs, the criminals created an “opportunity” for those followers. All you had to do was to deposit some money into, say, Elon Musk’s Bitcoin account and in return the electric car guy, now worth more than Warren Buffet, would double your money! In the nineties, there were actually some people who gave their hard-earned scratch to a “Nigerian prince.” No surprise that in 2020 people, most embarrassed now, forked over a total of $120,000 in the scam before Twitter and law enforcement shut it down.
Security will never be more than a goal. You think that tweeting to your small circle of friends is private, right? Maybe. Do you think that these A-listers and their nearly limitless resources ever thought they’d have their Twitter accounts hijacked? Doubt it. The armor is never impervious though. This time, it was an insider deal. Twitter staff absconded with a company tool that allowed anyone to take over an account. They sold that tool to hackers, who then perpetrated the crimes.
We don’t know the ultimate motives in this case. It’s still being investigated. To me, it’s more concerning than a hundred saps ponying up money to Kanye with dreams of riches.
I see you, November.
Ed is a professor of cybersecurity, an attorney, and a trained ethicist. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.