Imagine you forget to watch a new episode of Game of Thrones the night it airs. Even if coworkers stay mum about important plot points, Twitter is abuzz with spoilers. Fortunately, there’s Twivo, a new program that allows Twitter users to censor their feeds from mentioning a certain TV show (and its characters) for a set time period. Jennie Lamere, a 17-year-old girl, invented the software last month—and won the grand prize at a national coding competition where Lamere was the only female who presented a project, and the only developer to work alone. Internet: Meet the reason we need more women in tech.
Lamere is a high school senior from Nashua, New Hampshire, who likes building robots, hiking, and entering “hackathon” competitions. At her all-girls school, the Academy of Notre Dame in Massachusetts, she’s the only student participating in these sorts of events.
I’ve always thought that the UK’s libel laws were elitist, highly harmful to free speech, and a danger to technical innovation. Jonathan’s post once again demonstrates why they are badly in need of reform.
Those who didn’t see the false child abuse accusations against Lord Alistair McAlpine on an ill-considered BBC documentary may have instead heard about them through social media. This week, London’s Metropolitan Police suggested they might file charges against those Twitter users who sullied the reputation of the retired Conservative politician by knowingly repeating the lie that he was a child abuser. But the police may be less fearsome to the average BBC-linking tweeter than Lord McAlpine himself.
His attorneys say they have identified 1,000 original libellous tweets and 9,000 more retweets. Under the UK’s plaintiff-friendly libel law, the conventional wisdom holds that even a simple retweet which simply echoes others’ content could be actionable, whether or not the user thought it to be false. In addition to a £185,000 settlement with the BBC, Lord McAlpine’s lawyers are inviting implicated tweeters with fewer than 500 followers to make a donation to charity, and those with more followers to agree to bespoke settlements. Such invitations are declined at one’s peril — at least for those who live in the UK or any other place with an agreement to enforce UK civil judgments.
Such a broad-based attack on individuals is unwise and uncalled for, even as the injury that inspires it is mortifying. The problem is that what appears to be a trivial, momentary action — retweeting something of interest — can now create or magnify a falsehood as powerfully as if it had aired on national television. If a television station can be held responsible for what it broadcasts, why not the individuals whose collective megaphone rivals that of the BBC?
The answer is that television stations can and should have fact checking and legal departments as part of the cost of responsible business. Individuals cannot be held to a similar practice, and a series of uneven threats that stills the speech of only the most lawyer-sensitive will unduly undermine the huge value of a service such as Twitter. There may be call to go after the most egregious malicious actors — those who intentionally seek to sow untrue and damaging information about a specific person — but the very identification of 10,000 uncoordinated tweets and retweets suggests something other than bad faith by all. Traditional media can remain vibrant precisely by upholding a higher standard and helping social media to sift truth from falsehood.
Nor would charging Twitter itself with the broadcaster or newspaper editor’s policing function help. Trying to force Twitter to prescreen material would likely result in the service simply refusing to display any tweets to users located in the UK.
Jonathan’s book: “The Future of the Internet and How to Stop it”
India probably weighed this and decided that Nerds are less likely to get violent than tribal xenophobes and hatemongers.
The Indian government faced an angry backlash from Twitter users on Thursday after ordering Internet service providers to block about 20 accounts that officials said had spread scare-mongering material that threatened national security.
The backlash came as New Delhi turned up the heat on Twitter, threatening “appropriate and suitable action” if it failed to remove the accounts as soon as possible. Several Indian newspapers said this could mean a total ban on access to Twitter in India but government officials would not confirm to Reuters that such a drastic step was being considered.
Twitter, which does not have an office in India, declined to comment. There are about 16 million Twitter users in the South Asian country.
The government has found itself on the defensive this week over what critics see as a clumsy clampdown on social media websites - including Google, YouTube and Facebook - that has raised questions about freedom of information in the world’s largest democracy.
On October 13, the day NYPD planned to clean up Zuccotti Park, the original site of the protest, the network of people talking about the Occupy movement, represented in the graphic above, was huge. By then, entities like @HuffingtonPost and individuals like @KeithOlbermann were among the influential participants.
Researchers like Lotan are just beginning to dig deeply into the rich data sets produced every day by the users of online social networks. In the November issue of Technology Review, David Talbot describes how Bluefin Labs mines the public conversations and opinions of Twitter users for insights about entertainment, advertising, and politics.