Time to hold the funeral. Oh, it will live on as a pipeline to move data, but as a community, as a trendsetter and mememaker, it’s done.
It’s been brewing for awhile, beginning with Michelle Malkin’s ridiculous Twitchy site. For those unfamiliar with Twitchy, Malkin trolls those she disagrees with, retweets and/or has one of her trolls blog about it, then the army of fake accounts jumps in and trolls the unsuspecting person who dared to say something Malkin didn’t like.
There are three elements to Malkin’s scheme that spell Twitter’s doom: Trolling, fake accounts, and gamed hashtags.
Ask Professor Anthea Butler, who is a frequent target. Malkin must be very afraid of Butler, because she sets her trolls on her regularly. This tweet set the Malkin Morons off immediately, where they proved her point by criticizing her appearance and anything else they could think of.
Before I leave to enjoy the sunshine, one thought: Invective from both the right and left on twitter is reaching epidemic proportions.
— ProfB (@AntheaButler) April 7, 2013
Twitchy doesn’t use hashtags now that they have nearly 87,000 followers, many of whom are fake, but that hasn’t stopped other groups from using them, in combination with other multilevel marketing schemes to flood Twitter with spam and artificially inflated popularity scores. Todd Kincannon’s nonsensical #TGDN hashtag is one example and #UniteBlue uses the multi-level marketing model via Twitter lists for theirs.
Imagine, for a moment, being someone who is actually a real person who would like to discover interesting accounts to follow, who has a voice and something to say running up against the likes of Kincannon or Malkin. All they have to do is pull the block/report trigger using a few of their fake army, and that real person is suspended, reduced to begging Twitter’s pardon for daring to actually, you know, participate.
Twitter’s fatal flaw is their refusal to deal seriously with identity. The New York Times recently reported on the multi-million dollar business based upon creating fake Twitter accounts and then selling them to anxious users who want to appear as though people care about what they have to say:
Mr. Stroppa and Mr. De Micheli noted that while Facebook requires that users use a real e-mail address, Twitter does no such thing. To prevent fake accounts, or what are called “bots,” Twitter asks people trying to create multiple accounts from the same I.P. address to answer a “captcha.” Captchas — those puzzles used by e-commerce sites that require people to type in a set of distorted letters and numbers — are relatively easy for humans to read and retype but difficult for machines to decipher. But the researchers point out that new software can beat captchas, or people can be paid to type them in, in real time, for as little as a penny per captcha, or even less.
The two spoke with one reseller who had written software that could create up to 100,000 new accounts in five days.
“Business is great,” he told them, adding that he had hired a couple of freelance programmers, and that “a kid could bypass Twitter’s defenses.”
Jim Prosser, a spokesman for Twitter, said the comparison between Facebook’s and Twitter’s authentication processes was an ill fit.
“Twitter and Facebook differ on concepts of identity,” Mr. Prosser said. “Facebook ties one person to one account. At Twitter, one individual can have multiple accounts. We have a difference in philosophy.”
Actually, Mr. Prosser, you have a lazy and ill-informed opinion about the harm done when you not only permit, but encourage fake accounts which do not require any form of identity management.
But wait, there’s more. Let’s talk for a minute about Twitter’s process for verifying celebrity accounts, shall we? Mathew Ingram at GigaOm took Twitter to task about a year ago for their lack of transparency around their verification process, how they chose accounts to verify, and what behind-the-scenes process constituted ‘verification.’ Recently, the answers to that question came to light, via Anil Dash, who received the magical Twitter invitation to Greatness.
Let’s just say it has more to do with being able to self-promote than whether you are who you say you are. The screenshots are self-explanatory and insulting. Here’s just one example of the eight or so questions they ask:
After you answer that question and other inane questions similarly, they ask one factual question:
I guess that means I shouldn’t have bothered to use my phone number to actually start up my account back in the days when one’s phone number was actually their identifier. No verification checkmark for ME. But there wouldn’t be anyway, because it’s clear they’re really interested in giving away that checkmark to celebrities and others who care about the number of followers they have rather than whether they add value. I appreciated Dash’s conclusion:
What I’d love to see is ways to either make more accounts have meaningful verification (I’m not sure how that would scale) or at least ways to indicate a Twitter account is an “official” one for a particular website or organization. Twitter’s analytics tools already allow me to claim my domain name and get stats on tweets about it; Being able to verify that @anildash is the official Twitter account of Dashes.com might be a happy medium between verifying every account on Twitter and simply providing another layer of trust and identity on top of Twitter’s existing account names.
Or perhaps simply allowing users some form of voluntary identity verification. Somehow Paypal and other services manage to do this without being too terribly intrusive.
Once again, I repeat for those who think I equate identity with real names: IDENTITY CAN BE A PSEUDONYM.
This isn’t all that difficult, truly, but it isn’t in Twitter’s best interests to do it, it seems.
Hashtags and MultiLevel Marketing Schemes
Let me show you visually why metrics and data-driven marketing schemes aren’t all that. UniteBlue markets itself as a way for the left to come together visually via a Twibbon identifier and hashtags in order to demonstrate solidarity and amplify the message. They then use analytics to share the “top tweets” with their followers. Here’s one from last week that was tweeted out as the “most shared political tweet” because the only thing that matters is the metrics, per UB’s spokesperson, Zach Green:
Note to UB acolytes: I’m not saying Zach Green or UB is the antiChrist. I’m simply pointing out the flaw in absolute reliance on metrics with no humans involved. Evidently this is something Green is coming to understand, given his disclaimer that there would be no further autotweeting without human scrutiny first.
Critics of UB should really be criticizing Twitter, because Green and UB are simply doing what Twitter encourages: using their service to create metrics that favor their cause. Retweets Rule! The number of followers you have determines the weight your participation carries! These are the principles that Twitter embraces, and UniteBlue is simply expanding upon them.
It’s also why Twitter is dead. Gamed hashtags, fake followers, meaningless identity verification, and metrics-driven celebrity.
Those who care about such things care, but don’t confuse that concern with community. It’s no different than a sales competition to see who can move the most units in the shortest amount of time. It’s boring, predictable, and synthetic. Public relations rolled into a Big Data bundle and handed off to corporate handlers for analysis.
Some think if they can game the metrics well enough, they’ll control the message, but they won’t. Soon the worthwhile journalists will leave for social media that converts to clicks (fake followers and gamed hashtags don’t translate so well), and then Twitter will be what it is destined to become and what Steve Gillmor said it would be five years ago: A dumb pipe to transport data to places where real people give a damn.
There is no community in a dumb pipe. Just clutter.
- It’s Not OK When Liberals Commit Crimes. Stop Defending It.
- Twitter and Identity, Chapter Two: Verify Jack’s Parents