wikileaks: social media strengths — a look at twitter

Twitter has played a huge role for me in Wikileaks — it’s kept me informed of the latest developments in the Wikileaks saga just for starters. But it’s really so much more than that, and right now there’s a constellation of articles that perfectly illustrate this:

To start with, take a look at this article, which discusses the “killjulianassange.com” domain: In the aftermath of Tucson, did a right-wing blogger have a change of heart?. A tweet describing this domain and querying if anyone else knew of similar domains appeared in the afternoon of January 10th. The challenge was on, and the tweets came in, until Melissa Clouthier‘s “julianassangemustdie.com” was discovered. Interestingly, the domain information (article contains screen capture) disappeared behind a proxy shortly after the discovery appeared on twitter, and was removed entirely shortly after that. We don’t know who took the domain down: Clouthier, or the web hosting company; but this illustrates the ability of twitter/social media to collect and distribute information with phenomenal speed. Not only that, but reaction to the discovered information is becoming equally quick. The narratives prompted by online social media are compressing in correspondence to the speed in which they’re created. At the same time, the documentation of the discovery & dissemination of the information is also becoming more transparent & accessible.

Now let’s look at this article: WikiLeaks: Julian Assange returns to court and the latest developments. Notice the twitter feed detailing the happenings in the court. (I was especially entertained by this note: “And it’s court time. Tweeting is allowed so I can pass on this from Esther Addley…” Courts allowing (or disallowing) tweeting. As an old school online person (dating from 1986 depending on how you count), it still strikes me as so strange to see how pervasive online communication has become. ) All this is a lovely amount of source material and showcases how it was also available, live, on twitter.

But now here’s where I was seriously impressed with Twitter: Twitter’s Response to WikiLeaks Subpoena Should Be the Industry Standard. In a nutshell, the DOJ demanded that Twitter turn over account information on individuals relating to wikileaks. (This could presumably include you and me, simply for following Wikileaks and opining online about it.) That demand came with a gag order, which prevents a company from notifying the clients involved about the demand for information. Normally, for example, Google and other companies will give a heads up on such orders unless they come with such a gag order.

To Twitter’s credit, the company didn’t just open up its database, find the information the feds were seeking (such as the IP and e-mail addresses used by the targets) and quietly continue on with building new features. Instead the company successfully challenged the gag order in court, and then told the targets their data was being requested, giving them time to try and quash the order themselves.[…]

[Twitter] briefly carried the torch for its users during that crucial period when, because of the gag order, its users couldn’t carry it themselves. The company’s action in asking for the gag order to be overturned sets a new precedent that we can only hope that other companies begin to follow.

Like the article says, this is especially gratifying to see after the dismal folding of PayPal, etc on these matters. But really, the key point of this article I find is here:

But there’s not yet a culture of companies standing up for users when governments and companies come knocking with subpoenas looking for user data or to unmask an anonymous commenter who says mean things about a company or the local sheriff.

This. This is what we need to develop, if we are to have any kind of reasonable lives in an online culture.

There is more information about why Twitter resisted the gag order here: Why Twitter Was the Only Company to Challenge the Secret WikiLeaks Subpoena.

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