Tag Archives: Twitter

Can journalists change their social media avatars to political symbols?

Nisha Chittal asked a number of journalists (including me) about where they stand for on using same-sex marriage symbols on their social media profiles.

Here’s what she found: “The answer is a multi-layered one: it depends on the journalist, the outlet they work for, the social media platform, and whether the journalist is covering this week’s Supreme Court hearings.”


I was honored to see that Nisha gave me the “kicker quote” at the end. If you’d like to weigh in on your stance on this ethical issue, comment away.

Here’s the statement I submitted to her inquiry:

In general, the consensus answer amongst the journalists I respect is that changing your avatar to a symbol like this is not OK, based upon the ethics policies of places like the AP, WSJ, NYT, PBS or NPR.

I think the capacity to demonstrate support for one side of a contentious social issue like this varies, depending upon the masthead a journalist is working under, the ethics policy of that masthead, the role of the journalist and the coverage area of the journalist. Staking out positions on a reporter’s beat is generally frowned upon.

Opinion journalists who regularly take positions on the issues of the day as columnists have often already made it clear where they stand on a policy or law. Advocacy journalism has an established place in the marketplace for ideas. Readers know where a writer stands and are left to judge the strength of an argument and the evidence presented to back it.

If a reporter takes on overt, implicit position on an issue that she is reporting on, however, will it be possible to interview sources who oppose it?

On the other hand, there are a number of social issues that may have had “sides” in past public discourse but have now become viewpoints that few journalists would find tenable to support today.

How many journalists were able to remain neutral or objective in their coverage of slavery in the 1860s? Womens’ suffrage in the early 20th century? Civil rights in the 1960s? Child slavery, sex trafficking, so-called “honor rape” or the impression of child soldiers in the present?

Interracial marriage was illegal in some states in the Union, not so many years ago. That is not the case any longer. It seems to me that gay marriage is on the same trajectory. The arc of the moral universe is long indeed, but I tend to agree with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on its trajectory: it bends towards justice.


Filed under journalism, social media, technology, Twitter

Hacks at Twitter, New York Times, WSJ and Washington Post highlight need for better security hygiene

email_header_710Earlier tonight, I received an email I would just as soon not have gotten from Twitter, along with 250,000 Twitter users who had their password reset. Twitter security director Bob Lord explained why I’d received the email on the company blog:

“This week, we detected unusual access patterns that led to us identifying unauthorized access attempts to Twitter user data. We discovered one live attack and were able to shut it down in process moments later. However, our investigation has thus far indicated that the attackers may have had access to limited user information – usernames, email addresses, session tokens and encrypted/salted versions of passwords – for approximately 250,000 users.”

Mike Isaac has been following the story the hack at Twitter at AllThingsD, if you want the latest news tonight.

After the password reset, I went through revoked Twitter authorization access to a number of unused apps, something I’ve been doing periodically for years now. That habit is among Twitter’s security recommendations.

I’m thinking about other social media accounts now, too. Shortly after Nicole Perloth began covering IT security for the New York Times, she shifted her practices:

“Within weeks, I set up unique, complex passwords for every Web site, enabled two-step authentication for my e-mail accounts, and even covered up my computer’s Web camera with a piece of masking tape — a precaution that invited ridicule from friends and co-workers who suggested it was time to get my head checked.”

She talked to two top-notch security experts and wrote up a useful list of good digital security practices. Unfortunately, it may be that it takes getting hacked and embarrassed (as I was on Twitter, on Christmas Eve a couple years ago) to change what how people approach securing their digital lives.

I don’t recommend that sort of experience to anyone. I was lucky, was tipped nearly right away and was able to quickly get help from the remarkable Del Harvey, head of the Twitter Safety team.

It could have been much, much worse. I’m thinking of Mat Honan, a Wired journalist who experienced an epic hacking that came about through a chain of  compromised accounts at Amazon, iTunes, Gmail and Twitter. After a lot of work, Honan managed to recover his data, including some precious pictures of his child. In the wake of the hack, he turned on 2-factor authentication on Google and Facebook, turned off “Find my” Apple device, and set up dedicated, secret accounts for password management. Honan isn’t alone in the tech journalist ranks: he just happens to have a bigger platform than most and was willing to make his own painful experience the subject of an extensive story.

A jarring reality is that even people who are practicing reasonably good security hygiene can and do get p0wned. Unfortunately, the weakest point in many networks are the humans — that’s reportedly how Google ran into trouble, when key employees were “spear phished” during “Operation Aurora,” targeted with social engineering attacks that enabled hackers to access the networks.

The last paragraph of Lord’s post suggests that a similar expertise was at work at Twitter, although he does not specify a source.

“This attack was not the work of amateurs, and we do not believe it was an isolated incident. The attackers were extremely sophisticated, and we believe other companies and organizations have also been recently similarly attacked. For that reason we felt that it was important to publicize this attack while we still gather information, and we are helping government and federal law enforcement in their effort to find and prosecute these attackers to make the Internet safer for all users.”

It’s been true for a decade but it’s even clearer in the second month of 2013: practicing basic information security hygiene is now a baseline for anyone else online, particularly those entrusted with handling confidential sources or sensitive information.

Chris Soghoian was clear about the importance of journalists and media companies getting smarter about keeping sources and information safe in 2011. Tonight, I am not sanguine about how much has changed since in the news industry and beyond.

Two days ago, the New York Times disclosed that hackers had infiltrated …the New York Times. The next day, The Wall Street Journal has disclosed similar intrusions. Earlier today, Brian Krebs reported that the Washington Post was broadly infiltrated by Chinese hackers in 2012. The Post confirmed the broad outlines of an attack on its computers.

If you’re a journalist & you’re not using a password manager+unique, long random passwords per website: stop, install and configure one now.

— Christopher Soghoian (@csoghoian) February 2, 2013

If you have a moment this weekend, think through how you’re securing your devices, networks and information. If you use Twitter, visit Twitter.com and update your password. If you haven’t turned on 2-factor authentication for Facebook and Gmail, do so. Update your Web browser and use HTTPS to connect to websites. disable Java in your Web browser. Think through what would happen if you were hacked, in terms of what numbers you would call and where and how your data is backed up. Come up with tough passwords that aren’t easily subject to automated cracking software.

And then hope that researchers figure out a better way to handle authentication for all of the places that require a string of characters we struggle to remember and protect.


Filed under journalism, security

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.


Filed under microsharing, personal, social media, Twitter

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]


Filed under blogging, journalism, microsharing, social bookmarking, social media, technology, Twitter

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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Filed under article, social media, technology, Twitter, video

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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Filed under blogging, journalism, microsharing, social media, Twitter

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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Filed under scifi, social media, technology, Twitter, video