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Open Letter to Twitter, Ev, Biz, followers, unfollowed and followed alike

Dear Twitter, Ev, Biz, Twitter followers and Twitter followed:

It’s time to grapple with identity and behavior in communities in a realistic way. It’s wonderful to stand up and claim to love the first amendment and set extremely loose community standards. As an ideal, it’s laudable. As reality, it demands your attention and the attention of your engineering staff.

I understand the one-to-many concept. I understand the power of it in positive and negative ways. Here is an example of how it can be used in a negative way:


This series of tweets represents a small sampling of the sort of harassing behavior some indulge themselves in on Twitter. And as many have said to me privately and publicly, people who know me know they’re impersonations and distortions. That is true. They do.

It’s not the ones who know you. It’s the ones who don’t. There have been reams written about reputation management on the web. Reams. This is no different and in fact, poses a possibility of greater damage. Take, for example, this impersonation of Jason Leopold, editor of TruthOut. You suppose he appreciates this sort of nonsense littering a reputation search?

Or perhaps the death wish?

Share photos on twitter with Twitpic

Death wishes aren’t pretty. They’re a cry for help. But here’s another fact: Anonymous people who send out death wishes to others via a service like twitter aren’t looking for help. They’re looking for attention, attention at others’ expense. There’s absolutely nothing anyone can do when someone sends out a message like that, or even a message like this one threatening Keith Olbermann.

So the story goes like this: If you don’t like it, report it and block. Done. In fact, this person had been reported and blocked months ago, when she engaged in similar behavior. It might have remained thus, but for the fact that she escalated her efforts over the past couple of weeks.

Twitter, consider stepping it up a bit

And you, Twitter, have received numerous reports but have done nothing. This is partly because there isn’t anything for you to do. What can you do as you sit here today? Not a lot. So here are some things to consider:

  • Mute harassers’ access to search and the public timeline – If a person is reported again and again for the same violations but does not spam, why should they have a microphone? At some point, with an eyeball review of an account to see if what is reported is actually happening, Twitter should have the ability to allow someone to tweet, but remove their access to the megaphone. Let them tweet their followers and no one else.
  • Keep private timelines private – One of my first actions was to lock down my twitter account and make it private. That didn’t stop this person from finding my tweets. You’ve taken an half-step with the RT function block on private accounts; however, I was still able to search and find tweets in Google.
  • Decide whether you are going to be a community or a protocol. You’ve acquired nearly all the twitter clients out there, including Tweetdeck. That seems to indicate that you want to be a community. On the other hand, you have almost no community standards that are enforceable. That seems to indicate you want to be a protocol. Seems to me you do the protocol thing pretty well, but more or less suck on the community end. Surely there must be some middle ground between Facebook and Twitter. Asymmetrical follows are great; anonymous stalking, not so much.
  • Apply privacy features to lists. If someone doesn’t want to be on a list, they should have the right not to be.

To those I unfollowed today

Because Twitter has no enforceable community standards, and because this nonsense has gone on for longer than a week, some of it even before I was made aware of it, I had an uncomfortable choice to make. The only way to sever the social graph between her and me is to either unfollow anyone who also follows this person, or ask you to unfollow her. In some cases, I made that request. I also sent out tweets to people with the chirpstory explaining that I was going to have to separate anyone who had a common link to her.

I have said this again and again, and I will repeat it once more: The value of twitter is not who follows you, but who you follow. With that maxim in mind and with the understanding that I felt I had made way too much noise about this person already and simply wanted the drama to go away, I chose to unfollow people who also followed her. I did send out a message to that effect several times. I have also, in the process, hurt feelings. So let me repeat this: the one hurt by that choice was me, because for me, it is about who I follow, not who follows me or how many followers I have.

However, I understand that feelings were hurt. I apologize and reiterate that nothing is personal. There was, however, some urgency to the social graph severance on my part, given the escalation seen over the past few days. And I repeat: It is my loss not to see those people in my twitter stream. Mine. At the same time, all it takes is a mention or retweet by one of you to set the other one off again, because the common social graph allows for her to have access even though she is blocked and even though my account was private.

Until Twitter can fix this in a way that allows for users to control their content without concern of impersonation or other mangling such as what has gone on over the past few days, the only option is to separate the social graph entirely, then set my account to private.

I repeat: this was not personal, nor was it intended to hurt anyone’s feelings. If it did, I apologize for that and hope you’ll understand how I use the Twitter asymmetrical follow function – lists and search are other ways to follow someone.

Community online has to grapple with identity

By identity, I do not mean real names. I mean identity. If your identity is a pseudonym, that’s fine, provided there is still accountability. This is an age-old problem. We’ve seen it with spam, we’ve seen it with hackers, and hell yes, we just saw 2 bloggers have to own up to the fact that they presented themselves as something they’re not. When 2 men pass themselves off as lesbian bloggers and not just for days, but in one case for years, there’s a problem with identity as it plays on the internet today. When the military can organize itself to game social media to create problems for people they don’t like, when the right wing can game social media to make it appear as though there is overwhelming support for that which there is not, we have a problem.

Call it sock puppetry, impersonation, whatever. It boils down to identity. Twitter will only verify the identities of public figures, and limited ones at that. I requested verification long ago, with no response, proving I am not a public figure and not worth the time it takes them to verify and assign that verification. At the same time, that also leaves me vulnerable to the types of nonsense that has gone on in front of me and behind my back. Identity theft has many manifestations, from outright theft to impersonation and identity hijacks online. It is a problem which can’t be solved easily or simply. But it must be solved sooner rather than later.

There is nothing social about what is happening here. Nothing at all. It’s antisocial. And if Twitter wants to move ahead of Facebook, it should start by resolving these issues without leaving users in the situation where they have to take matters into their own hands.

And like magic, this article comes out, driving home the point. It seems that the Breitbart right-wing cabal may have invented identities to sting him.

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