Category Archives: Twitter

“This Isn’t the Petition Response You’re Looking For”

The official response from The White House to the epetition to create a Death Star is, in Internet terms, epic.

By turns geeky, funny, informative about U.S. space programs, and unabashedly supportive of science and technology education, the response to a popular petition on the “We The People” e-petition platform instantly entered the annals of online government history this Friday night.

“The Administration shares your desire for job creation and a strong national defense, but a Death Star isn’t on the horizon,” wrote Paul Shawcross, Chief of the Science and Space Branch at the White House Office of Management and Budget.

“Here are a few reasons:

  • The construction of the Death Star has been estimated to cost more than $850,000,000,000,000,000. We’re working hard to reduce the deficit, not expand it. 
  • The Administration does not support blowing up planets. 
  • Why would we spend countless taxpayer dollars on a Death Star with a fundamental flaw that can be exploited by a one-man starship?” 

However, look carefully (here’s how) and you’ll notice something already floating in the sky — that’s no Moon, it’s a Space Station! Yes, we already have a giant, football field-sized International Space Station in orbit around the Earth that’s helping us learn how humans can live and thrive in space for long durations. The Space Station has six astronauts — American, Russian, and Canadian — living in it right now, conducting research, learning how to live and work in space over long periods of time, routinely welcoming visiting spacecraft and repairing onboard garbage mashers, etc. We’ve also got two robot science labs — one wielding a laser– roving around Mars, looking at whether life ever existed on the Red Planet.

Keep in mind, space is no longer just government-only. Private American companies, through NASA’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Program Office (C3PO), are ferrying cargo — and soon, crew — to space for NASA, and are pursuing human missions to the Moon this decade.

Even though the United States doesn’t have anything that can do the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs, we’ve got two spacecraft leaving the Solar System and we’re building a probe that will fly to the exterior layers of the Sun. We are discovering hundreds of new planets in other star systems and building a much more powerful successor to the Hubble Space Telescope that will see back to the early days of the universe.

We don’t have a Death Star, but we do have floating robot assistants on the Space Station, a President who knows his way around a light saber and advanced (marshmallow) cannon, and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which is supporting research on building Luke’s arm, floating droids, and quadruped walkers.

We are living in the future! Enjoy it. Or better yet, help build it by pursuing a career in a science, technology, engineering or math-related field. The President has held the first-ever White House science fairs and Astronomy Night on the South Lawn because he knows these domains are critical to our country’s future, and to ensuring the United States continues leading the world in doing big things.

If you do pursue a career in a science, technology, engineering or math-related field, the Force will be with us! Remember, the Death Star’s power to destroy a planet, or even a whole star system, is insignificant next to the power of the Force.

Paul Shawcross is Chief of the Science and Space Branch at the White House Office of Management and Budget

When White House director of digital strategy Macon Phillips replied to a tweeted question about an outstanding petition on open access, he proved his Star Wars bonafides with a echo of Yoda’s unusual grammar.

This Star Wars fan is glad to have hilarity to share on The Kojo Nnamdi Show on the power of online epetitions on WAMU next Tuesday.

Photo Credit: Noel Dickover, Carving the Death Star Pumpkin

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Trumping Trump on Twitter

This is the most retweeted tweet I’ve ever tweeted:

It blew up so much it attracted Donald Trump’s notice. He responded:

I dream of the day that I get nearly 1,700+ retweets of a story instead of a sentiment. Apparently I touched a nerve. It just kept going and going and going.

By the numbers, my tweet was amplified five times as much as Trump’s, with a bit less than 10% of the followers. On particular count, I may have “trumped” the real estate mogul on Twitter, although I think it’s safe to say that this is an imperfect gauge of public opinion. He also shows no signs of shifting his course.

On a more qualitative level, Trump’s @mention of me exposed me to a day’s worth of emotional feedback online. I received many negative @replies on Twitter when the @WhiteHouse retweeted me last July. The angry responses after Donald Trump @mentioned me this week, however, were worse in scale and composition.

As I gain more surface area online and in the media, through television appearances, I’m finding that I’m encountering more hate, fear, ignorance and anger everywhere. Honestly, I have a hard time not responding to people online. I’ve never liked seeing broadcast journalists and celebrities ignore people, even angry viewers or fans. It’s not how I’ve worked over the last decade and I don’t intend to change.

As I gain more of a platform to focus attention on issues that matter, this won’t get easier. The Internet mirrors what is worst in humanity, along with what’s best in us. The Web is what we make of it. It’s a bitter reality, though I think it’s been part of the public sphere as long as we’ve had one.

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Revisiting standards for moderation and community on social networks

If the Internet and social media represent the new public square, it’s important to talk about the rules of the road.

Over the past year, I’ve seen a lot of spam and pornography links on Google+, Facebook, Twitter and on comment sections of the blogs I maintain.

Google and Facebook both give us the ability to moderate comments and, if we wish, to block other people who do not respect the opinions or character of others.

Now that a lot more people are circling me on Google+, following me on Twitter and subscribing to me on Facebook, it’s time to revisit a post from earlier this years. If you have found your comment removed, I’d like to explain why and offer some guidelines. Here’s how I think about maintaining community, with a nod to ASU journalism professor Dan Gillmor‘s example:

I can and do block spammers and people posting links to pornography in my comment threads.

I generally leave comments on my blogs, precisely because I value conversations, despite the issues that persist online. I have been moderating discussion in online forums and blogs for many years, including those of my publishers. My full thoughts on the value of blog comments — and the social norms that I expect people comments to live within — are here.

Vilely insulting me won’t help your case. Insulting others will ruin it. I was a teacher in my twenties. I would not tolerate disrespectful behavior in my classroom, either to me or to other students. If you can’t be civil and continue to insult others, much less the person hosting the forum, you were asked to leave and see the principal.

If the behavior persists, you will lose the privilege of participating in the class at all. Eventually, you get expelled. On Google+ or blogs, that takes the form of being defriended, banned or blocked from my public updates. I prefer not to block users but I will do so. I respect your right to speak freely on your own blog, Twitter, Facebook or Google+ account, whether that involves cursing or ignorance.

I strongly believe in the First Amendment, with respect to government not censoring citizens. That said, I do not, however, feel obligated to host such speech on my own blog, particularly if it is directed towards other commenters. I believe that building and maintaining healthy communities, online of offline, requires that the people hosting them enforce standards for participation that encourage civil dialogue.

I hope that makes sense to readers. If not, you are welcome to let me know why in the comments. And if your approach differs, please explain how and why.

Following is a storify from a forum I participated in that featured perspectives from other people entrusted with online community moderation:

[View the story "A story of online community, comments and moderation" on Storify]

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On acts of journalism, social media, credentialing, shield laws and press freedom

Anyone with a smartphone can now do reporting: share geolocated photos, video or stream what’s happening. I’m here, you’re not, here’s what I see. Does such “citizen reporting” rise to an “act of journalism” and need to protected under the First Amendment? Increasingly, I tend to think that it does — and that’s going to be a key question in the not-so-distant future, if Congress gets around to re-examining shield laws. Shield laws have been an issue for years, in the context of how the digital media ecosystem has democratized the means of publication, particularly of reporting images and video.

Currently, there is no federal shield law to protect sources and methods. Last year’s ruling in Oregon cemented the reality that 20th century shield laws lag today’s social media realities, even if the blogger in question turns out to have gone far beyond where many of the people initially defending her realized. A subsequent clarification showed that the judge who made the ruling believes bloggers can be journalists.

Honestly, some days I find the gatekeeping and credentialism I still see and hear disquieting. Since my degree is in biology and sociology, not “journalism,” should I get kicked out of the profession? Without getting testy, this attitude is exactly what will allow governments to arrest people livestreaming because they aren’t “members of the media.” (I also think it’s why there are still tables for “print only” in Congressional hearing rooms and 20th century rules for hard press passes for broadcast, radio or print journalists in the Senate and restrictions on the use of computers in some House subcommittees.)

Who gets to decide if someone is a journalist? Is someone who works at the Daily Enquirer who posts pictures of a naked celebrity a journalist — but someone who posts pictures of a cop beating a student is not? What about a columnist who writes about the Greatest Athlete EVER versus a blogger who chronicles how well documented city council hearings are and issues with the document format or codec type from the software vendor? The odds are good that it will be U.S. Senators and judges who make that call: it’s important to think carefully about which side you come down upon and why.

This stuff is ALL really blurry. Is Twitter journalism or isn’t it?. What about tweets? Blog posts? Video?
Remember, there are companies who have tried to criminalize linking or embedding. There also folks out there in media land who have say linking is unfair aggregation. Both could be an issue for what some practitioners have called social journalism.

We need to be careful about being quick to exclude or defend turf in a historic moment when the practice of journalism has become more open to all then ever before, particularly when press freedom continues to be under pressure globally and whistleblowers are being prosecuted domestically. The bloggers vs journalists debate has significant potential downstream impact that matters, even as it morphs into “curators vs journalists.”

Honestly, I’m starting to think that the term “curators” should have been left in museums, where it was quite clear what they did. How about “editors vs curators?” Fuzzier, right?

Hey, I love it when people link and share my work, personally. I hate it when they plagiarize, don’t link or attribute it. Curate me, please!

Personally, if someone produces work that is fair, accurate, adds necessary context and based on the available evidence, I’m generally happy to call it journalism, regardless of whether the author is on a masthead somewhere or has the right B.S. on a sheepskin.

This post has been updated with links and commentary.

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A few thoughts on the use of Twitter by federal officials

“Yes, saw news @acarvin retweeted from Tunisia. On it. Please @reply from @StateDept. – Hillz”

Last month, Federal Computer Week reporter Alice Lipowicz interviewed me about how federal officials and Congressmen in the United States government were using Twitter. She ended up using just one quote in her article on Feds using Twitter, regarding the reality that the division between “personal” and “professional” accounts has become quite blurred in the public eye, regardless of disclaimers made.

Look no further than the Congressional staffers who were connected to tweets about drinking during the workday and subsequently fired. With millions of people on the service and the DC media listening closely, there’s simply a higher likelihood that a bad error will be noticed and spread — and corrections never travel as far as the original error. An offhand comment, even if meant to be funny, can be taken out of context.

If a government executive or editor shared pictures of cute puppies and dogs on an official Twitter feed, they do run the risk that some people may not take their professional leadership as seriously. Then again, citizens and colleagues might connect with them as a fellow ‘dog person,’ like me. I set up a Twitter account for my greyhound some time ago. (He doesn’t tweet much.)

Alice and I talked about much more than risk, though, and since I have notes from the conversation, here are a few other observations I made. (The caption above, for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, is 100% fiction.)

First, we talked about Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who writes cryptic tweets but appears to be doing something some of his colleagues may not: listen. He told the National Law Journal that he pays attention to reactions to his tweets.

“Twitter’s a new way to communicate with constituents,” said Senator Grassley. “The real-time feedback and contact with the grassroots that Twitter offers is a real value.”

Even though some of his more partisan tweets have drawn controversy at times, he is a notable example of a lawmaker in the Senate demonstrating personal use of social media, including typos, text speak and messages that his staff might prefer he hadn’t sent, like his recent comments concerning the President.

In general, if Congress is going to draft legislation that leads to rulemaking about social media, it makes sense that Senators and Representatives should have some basic familiarity with these tools and what’s being said on them or down with them, given the role that they’re now playing in the new public square.

Their staffers certainly realize that by now, tethered by BlackBerrys and iPhone and Android devices to a 24/7 newscycle that has compressed to 24 minutes — or even 24 seconds — from 24 hours. The modern workplace may reward working long hours outside of the office, or at least the appearance of it. Late night and early morning emails are part of Washington working culture. It takes a specific attitude, boundaries and discipline to find a healthy work-life balance in the context of pressure.

That’s certainly true of officials as well, like federal CIO Steven VanRoekel, who is a father to several young children. He is an unapologetically geeky guy who has been learning to use Twitter better, as Alice described, to go “direct” in answered questions from the government IT media.

He and his colleague, US CTO Todd Park, are actually both more advanced in their use of Twitter at this point in their tenures than Vivek Kundra and or Aneesh Chopra, their respective predecessors, neither of whom were tweeting when they began work. (Both men continue to tweet now, after they’ve left government, with Chopra much more active.)

VanRoekel tweeted infrequently as the managing director of the FCC, although he demonstrated that he both knew the basics. Using hashtags for comedic effect in his tweets now strongly suggests he’s learned something about the culture of Twitter since then. Yes, it was a bit of inside baseball, since you’d need to understand the context of Molly’s column to understand his comment, but the tweet was a reply to a specific column.

I thought that he was trying to be funny, with respect to confirming that APIs would be part of the federal government’s digital strategy using a “#specialsauce” hashtag and “#thereIsaidit.” At least for my (admittedly) geeky sense of humor, I think he succeeded.

I still see a perception in some quarters that Twitter is a fad and a waste of time — and currently, given the political context around taxes, the federal budget and spending, conversations about government wasting anything trend pretty negatively. Even with 100% of federal agencies on the service, I find that it still takes a demonstration of how Twitter is useful to accomplishing a mission before an uninitiated person’s eyes open to its value. Searching for topics, events or the name of an employer or agency is often effective.

That’s true for every other social network or tool, too. In 2012, I’m still enjoying exploring and experimenting with what the right approach to each platform, from blogging to Twitter to having family, friends and subscribers on Facebook and Google+ to tumbling or staying LinkedIn to my professional network or sharing video on YouTube. The same is true of federal officials.

We’re all “stumbling” along together.

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In the Capital, influence on social media in DC is more than Twitter followers

It’s hard to believe that it’s been over a year since I implored the DC tech community and media scene at large to stop holding influence contests. Deja vu, all over again.

It was brilliant of In The Capital to hire a smart journalist to cover notable events in the political and tech scene. That coverage put them on the District’s radar during Social Media Week.

It was not brilliant of them to put together this week’s smudged sterling example of linkbait, which stands to damage their credibility with new readers who are not friends of those selected.

Look: I’ve met 80% of the people on this list of the “DC’s Top 10 Social Media Influencers” and follow many of them. I have much respect for their smarts, digital savvy and professionalism.

But if this is the” top 10,” what, exactly, does being an DC “influencer in social media” mean here? Online influence is not just about having a lot of Twitter followers.

For instance, I’m ahead of @LukeRussert by more than 33,000+ and have a higher Klout score, due in part to a large following on Google+ and Facebook. Does that mean that I’m more influential? Maybe on social media and certainly with respect to technology, but certainly not on broadcast news, which still retains enormous influence in our country. It also wasn’t hard to think of another person in DC who’s more influential with respect to social media than either one of us:

What about more “influential in the startup and DC tech scene, which “In the Capital” says it covers? Are all ten of these people more influential than Peter Corbett, Frank Gruber or Jen Consalvo, the co-founders or DC Week and organizers of the huge DC Tech Meetup? I’d don’t think so. And neither does Russert:

In a larger sense, does anyone believe that Russert is more of an “influencer” on social media in Washington than President Obama, between @WhiteHouse and @BarackObama? (I certainly don’t kid myself about my “clout” relative to POTUS.) What about @SpeakerBoehner or House Majority Leader @EricCantor or @SenJohnMcCain? Is the rest of the list is more “influential” than @MarkKnoller or @MarcAmbinder or @MikeAllen? A recent study of Twitter use in Congress, in fact, found that SenatorSanders was the most “influential” member of Congress on social media. (Or at least on Twitter.) one could go deeper on the list of people in media and government but the point is clear enough.

Mark Drapeau, director of innovative engagement in Microsoft’s office of civic engagement — and a member of the list — offered a dissenting perspective:

all these lists are kinda different or the same based on peoples’ biases and what they hope to accomplish and the audience they hope to reach. The Washington Post turns it into a ridiculous game. In the Capital picked… people they think are cool. Politico made the same exact list [of top DC Twitterers] and it’s all – gasp – politicos! The LA Times made the same list [DC twitterers], and they simply ranked people by followers – lazy! I made the same list based on how people interact with their communities – lots of people I know from… my community! All the lists are right, all the lists are wrong, there is nothing to debate, complain about, or mock.

In DC social media, there’s lots of actual social data to crunch to enable some measure influence and connected, not just from PeerIndex or Klout but from Google back links or Twitter/Facebook engagement numbers. Or they could have run their own data on how much engagement or amplification people get on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Google+, etc. That’s just not what happened today.

This feels straightforward, at least from where I sit tonight: If editors make lists, they need to be able to back them up with criteria and methodology. That’s why people read Consumer Reports, for instance, when they buy things. Lists and ratings from credible publications influence the buying and hiring decisions of consumers. That’s why there’s a market for them and why people and brands get excited about being selected.

If “In The Capital” really wanted to measure “influence” and do a Top 10 List, “In the Capital” could have cited Klout or PeerIndex, flawed as those services may yet be. Gadi-Ben Yehuda, social media strategist for IBM’s Center on the Business of Government, made this comment:

The easiest way to have voided any controversy would have been not to use the title “DC’s Top Ten Influencers in Social Media,” which is confusing in any case. Honestly, when I saw who was on the list (the majority was women), I thought “OK, this must be people who do primarily social media activities, i.e. they don’t publish substantive articles on important government events (like Alex), they don’t run tech/innovation companies (like Peter Corbett), they don’t work in the innovation office of cabinet-level agencies (like @AlecJRoss). These are people who’s skill is in the medium that others of us use as a tool to accomplish other things.”

That seemed to answer the question of what the article was about, but only if one focused on the words “in social media.” But what about this words “top” and “influencer” what do those words even mean? Klout defines influence as the ability to spur others to take action. If that’s what an influencer is, then I don’t think there can be a top ten list without Obama, or at least Macon Phillips. Again, Peter Corbett (he got more than 10K people here for DCWeek, after all). Alan Rosenblatt should also likely be on that list.

Based upon Byrne’s comments and some background gathered at last night’s DC Social Media Happy Hour, the list was originally pitched to be about 10 awesome women who consult and teach others in the DC community about how to use social media. Shireen Michell, for instance, is influential with segments of the District’s community who are not in the government or media space.

Then In The Capital appears to have dropped two of them, added Russert and Drapeau, and changed the title and premise, which was not and is not supportable based upon qualititative or quantitative grounds. When asked about the substance behind the list, the author of the post offered this response:

Lisa Byrne, a social strategist at the Pappas Group who was put on the list, offered some insight into what seems to have happened:

“I actually gave a lot of input (originally it was all female so I never spoke of any guys who should be noted),” she commented. “I was not advised it would be titled Influencers. I listed people who were community leaders in the social space – online and specifically offline.”

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Collecting stories

On his personal blog, New York Times technology journalist Nick Bilton mused about “collecting air” in his travels around the globe. He closes his post with this thought, drawn from a recent conversation on a flight:

The man looked at me and asked, “Do you collect anything?”

At first I didn’t know how to respond, I hadn’t thought about it in some time. And then I instinctively told him that I actually collect stories —about people, or events, or places, or companies, or moments in time. That I collect these stories and keep them as words and photos.

I looked out of the plane window for a while as we zipped above the clouds at 35,000 feet, and then I looked back at the man and said, “I guess you could say I collect air.”

I felt the same instinct over the holidays, when asked to describe what I do or what a day in my life is like now. The photostream I’ve shared to Twitter or Tumblr over the past two weeks offers vignettes of a mobile life:

public Instagram photostream shared to Twitter

My Instagram photostream on Twitter

Those windows on my worlds, reflected as they are in a growing multitude of glowing screens, are a collection that I value much in the same way that a philatelist or numismatist in a previous generation might adore her stamps or her coins. I hope that some of the stories they represent are at least as enduring.

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New Sky News social media policy would cripple journalists working on the real-time Web of 2012

Another month, another firestorm over a poorly thought out social media policy from a massive media company. This time, it’s Sky News that’s made a misstep.

I think Reuters social media editor Anthony De Rosa is spot on in his assessment of assessment of the failings of the new social media policy advanced by Sky News: it’s longing for a return to the Victorian Internet

Cory Bergman nailed why it’s OK for journalists to be human on Twitter and Mathew Ingram, as usual, offered his usual common sense analysis of what makes sense, in context. (

Where I think Anthony knocks it out of the park, however, is with respect to the professional rationale for retweeting other accounts: “The idea here at Reuters when it comes to social media is to be the beacon for all news, which makes us the go-to source, no matter what the source may be, after being put through our own filters of verification.”

Just so.

If you’re on a beat, you want to be THE source for news on it. Generally, that means you’ll get beaten on being first to a story. No worries: RT them, then blog it, and link in articles. Over time, people (and algorithms) will value you for that work.

Any entity that distributes content online — whether they’re in the media, government, academia, nonprofit or other organizations, needs to be thinking about search engine optimization (SEO) and social media optimization (SMO) in 2012. Any policies that force journalists into internal silos will eviscerate that capability.

A RT is social media currency. Instructing journalists not to give them out where deserved is like sending them into a conflict or disaster zone with no funds for a fixer, fuel or food. It’s not just bad form. It’s bad business.

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Begun the Drone Wars, have they [VIDEO]

“Luke, you must use the Forge…”

The video above shows a series of experiments performed with a team of “nano quadrotors” at the GRASP Lab in the University of Pennsylvania. These wee vehicles were developed by KMel Robotics.

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Visualizing conversations on Twitter about #SOPA

Kickstarter data dude Fred Berenson visualized conversations around SOPA on Twitter: View visualization

@digiphile snapshot

His data crunching strongly implies that I’ve been a “supernode” on this story. I’m not surprised, given how closely I’ve been following how the Web is changing Washington — or vice versa.

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