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Dear Twitter, it’s time

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Posted on February 03 2019

FBy way of context and much needed content you may find re-reading these previous entries both informative and interesting.

 

 

Twitter v FTC 2011 Consent Decree

In mid-2011 Twitter and the FTC locked horns, at the time Twitter did not dispute the factual basis that their platform had been hacked, twice or that nearly all twitter employees had essentially ALL access to your account, draft tweets, direct messages. The evidence was, in a word overwhelming. You can read more about the Terms and Conditions of Twitter’s twenty year FTC Consent Decree here.

 

 

Twitter’s April 2018 - Congressional Testimony:

Like many Twitter users, I was in the post 2016 Election fog. Where you know something isn’t right but you don’t have a clue to figure out what the hell actually happened. This is where After Action Reports are critical. These reports offer a fact based “this is what happened, this is how it happened and this is how we prevent it from happening again”. Like many I found it was difficult to grasp muchless comprehend what bots, digital arnies and disinformation would do to various social media platforms. Furthermore it was exceedingly difficult to put your arms around the totality of the damage. In this entry In part 1 of 3, I attempted to provide you with a unfiltered breakdown of Twitter’s Congressional Testimony, found here.  However once facts started to emerge, it became apparent, Twitter and Facebook were caught flat footed. The reality is their platforms were weaponized and bad actors used their platforms against Americans. That’s not an opinion that’s just a brutal fact.

 

Twitter Terms of Service:

In mid-July of 2018, I once again discussed the arbitrary and capricious manner in which Twitter applies their “Community’s Terms of Service” and what I surmise as blatant deficiencies, further exasperated by known tactics of purposefully exploiting Twitter’s various algorithms. Specifically as it relates to “reporting” accounts that are clearly in violation of the Terms of Service. You can read more here or here.

Which later lead to a multi-part series. In part 2 of 3 I attempted to give you a decent dissection of how we and Twitter got “here” and by “here” I mean how their platform is consistently hi-jacked by countless digital armies, bots, foreign state actors...all of whom mean to do our Country and our Democracy harm. You can read Part 2 of 3 here, the focus of that aforementioned entry, I attempted to give you a broader picture of Twitter’s evolution.

Shortly thereafter I then pushed Twitter Part 3 of 3, this particular entry I drilled down on Twitter’s investment of lobbying Congress. I then overlapped those lobbying efforts over the various Special Counsel’s Indictments.

 

May 2018 HPSCI-Minority drops more data

At nearly each intersection, I’ve tried to give Twitter the benefit of the doubt. The reality is social media giants like Twitter and Facebook have fallen painfully short. These companies have a corporate responsibility and their lack of proactive counter measures mean that bad actors will continue to weaponize their platforms. It should not be lost on you that the House Republicans all but abandoned their investigation of the 2016 election and how Russia weaponized nearly all American owned/operated Social Media Platforms. You can read more here.

 

 

Twitter 2019...

I debated with myself, what purpose would this entry be. I vacillated between burn it all down to does the end justify the means. And by means, I’m talking about Corporate Responsibly and examining user behavior. The main goal of this entry: to better arm you with information and resources. As well as offering best practices from my own experiences. That said I think it would be prudent for you to watch this August 2018 CNN interview with Twitter’s CEO Jack Dorsey. Where he readily admits:

 

We really didn’t think of the repercussions...it depends on who you follow...there’s a lot of emphasis today on “poltics twitter”...which tends to be pretty divisive..contentiousn..and you see a lot of outrage .  

 

Full disclosure I had to watch this short interview at least 4 times because each time. And each time I found myself tilting my head back and screaming:

 what the actual fuck are you talking about Jack,

seriously you can not actually believe what you are saying

your platform is so fucked up that there’s no one actually at the helm

 

 

About twenty two seconds in to the Interview, Jack Dorsey actually makes a stunning and profound pronouncement:

 

You see a lot of outrage and you see a lot of unhealthy debate that you probably want to walk away from...it’s important to see the dark areas of society..so we can acknowledge and address them...the only way to address them is through conversation...it is hard because especially when it feels toxic and you want to walk away from it...

  

Towards the later part of this six minute interview Dorsey discloses yet another interesting item, it’s clear the Twitter culture is about open and free conversations. Notwithstanding debate and open “conversations” are a good thing. What’s not good, by any logical measure is how vulgar and toxic tweeter actually is. There’s a mob like mentality on Twitter, where people pile on.

That said last fall I went on a bit of a rampage, this particular thread was probably one of my least productive conversations however you can read Dorsey’s written Congressional Testimony in the embedded tweet below:

 



Is it a Bot, Troll or Cyborg

 

So I should repeat, that I am by no means an expert as it relates to bots, trolls, cyborgs. Often times I can barely function my own coffee maker. That said in order to survive in Twitter’s ever growing toxic cesspool, I had to learn what it is we are dealing with. Conversely, I have noticed that in general-terms my tweets seem to activate bots, bot-nets, trolls, troll networks and occasionally cyborgs.

That said not ALL bots are bad. At all relevant times, I will provide you with a link to the data/reports, I hope you will find that information helpful. In April of 2018, Pew Research published an outstanding white paper, aptly entitled Bots in the Twittersphere, link to Pew’s paper can be found here

 

...Center used a list of 2,315 of the most popular websites and examined the roughly 1.2 million tweets (sent by English language users) that included links to those sites during a roughly six-week period in summer 2017....The results illustrate the pervasive role that automated accounts play in disseminating links to a wide range of prominent websites on Twitter.

 

The following Pew Research video offers an alternative to reading their research paper, full disclosure I’m a fan of reading. Hence why I tend to take a little longer than most when it comes to reports, court filings or news worthy articles.

 If you’ve followed me on twitter you know that I occasionally tweet “eat or be eaten” and I’ve repeatedly stated “cyber Darwinism”, meaning in order to cut through the noise, facts tend to be drown out by Bots and Trolls flooding the twitter-zone. Essentially the Pew Research results concluded that Bots pushed 66% of URLs, whereas humans pushed roughly 6%. In the aggregate dataset something suprised me, I had falsely assumed that Bots were weighted towards one political party over another. The researchers found that the bots were NOT disproportionately balanced towards liberal or conservative ideologies that the estimated random review of 1.2 million tweets reviewed had a 41% to 44% average. 

 

“...additional subset of news and current events sites that featured political stories or a politics section and that primarily serve a U.S. audience. Each of these politically oriented news and current events sites was then categorized as having primarily a liberal audience, a conservative audience or a mixed readership.”

 In the most basic and simplest of terms, bots are automated accounts, that blend software and Twitter’s API and they push content with little to no human intervention, beyond setting up the parameters. Again not ALL bots are bad but Twitter has a growing bot problem on their platform. Which I find ironic given Twitter’s emphasis to “health” and a digital Open Town Square. More broadly how can a human-twitter user compete with Bots or a fortified bot-net. Simple, we can’t.

 

This video explains how certain twitter bots trick humans. And yes there have been times on Twitter where I later discovered I was arguing with a bot. 

 And yes at any given time you will see my twitter feed go off the rails, this usually occurs when a bot or troll decides to come on my timeline. When that occurs (sometimes multiple times an hour) I tend to take a step back and then run said twitter account through multiple analytical tools to determine if I’m dealing with a bot, troll or a person. Off the bat I can tell you that I have not nor will I ever buy followers. Nor am I paid one penny or buck to tweet or blog, as many of you know I made a promise back on January 20, 2017 that I would not monetize my research. However yes I gave the MaddogPAC permission to add a blurb at the end of my entries. Just so we are crystal clear none of that donated money comes back to me. Again I am not paid by a political party, candidate, PAC or special interest group for my tweets or blogs. The research cost I incur are mine (well I do write some off on my taxes). Below is a short Hoaxy thread, occasionally I run my twitter handle through their algorithm, because it helps me identify if there are bots within my own network.

 

 

 

Bot tools and other resources:

 

Again I am NOT compensated by any of these Companies, Research Organizations or their affiliates. Below is a short list and hyper-link to various tools I use on a semi-regular basis:

 

Hoaxy, link found here. I personally like this tool because it allows you to look at a network, how it interconnects with other networks. I also like the integration of news and potential fake news. The longer I stay on twitter the more I see fake news, lies and rumors/gossip travel far faster and wider than truth or facts. 

 

Botometer, link found here, is another tool I like, it allows you to look at little bit deeper into an account, where you can get a quick snap shot of an accounts behavior and stats.

 

Allegedly, link found here, is one of my favorite tools. It offers users to obtain a quick view of an accounts frequency and various platforms they use to access Twitter. Overall I find that if any account is almost exclusively >97% of accessing twitter via one method (Web App, Android etc) that account is suspect, at least for me it is.

 

Botcheck.me, link found here, I like the aggregate of hashtags and words as well as the @ data.

 

Foller, link found here, offers users the ability to look at an accounts, word cloud, use of hashtags and interactions with other accounts. I like this tool because it aggregates a lot of data into a quick snapshot.

Aa you might recall, a few days ago Twitter released their second or third trenche of data and it’s probably worth your time to review the data. But remember this is what Twitter released so, the likelihood of data being withheld is probably high, particularly when you review Twitter’s data to other organizations who’s numbers are substantially higher.

 

 

As I mentioned earlier, Fake News and  propaganda spread faster, it’s typically more concentrated and typically powered by a Bot-Net(s) and digital army. This was confirmed by this October 2018 Knight Foundation, link to their research paper can be found here. This report, researchers focused on Disinformation and Fake News.

 

The Knight Institute found that various known fake news Twitter accounts are still very much active, so one has to wonder, Twitter knows there’s a significant Bot issue on their platform yet it is incomprehensible that Twitter has not taken more proactive and aggressive measures to clean up their yard. This particular passage of the Knight Institute Report certainly stuck out:

 Twitter has claimed repeatedly that it has cracked down on automated accounts that spread fake news and engage in “spammy behavior.” Yet of the 100 accounts that were most active in spreading fake news in the months before the election—the large majority clearly engaged in “spammy behavior” that violates Twitter’s rules— more than 90 were still active as of spring 2018. Overall, 89 percent of accounts in our fake and conspiracy news map remained active as of mid-April 2018. The persistence of so many easily identified abusive accounts is difficult to square with any effective crackdown.

 

The point of all of this? Yes bots are a problem but now you have tools to quickly identify bots. With respect to Trolls, my only advise, DO NOT ENGAGE. These trolls have no decency, no boundaries and certainly no morals. One has to wonder if they are being paid per tweet or per account they get suspended. The Trolls goal is to trigger you, so they can report your account and with the ultimate goal of having  your account suspended. So do not engage.

 

A decent rule of thumb I use is, if said account makes an appearance on my tweet or twitter timeline. I then go look at their timeline before responding. If the account does not pass my 80/20 test, meaning 80% of their tweets are informative, whereas 20% of their tweets are attacking or there is little to zero Orginal research I’ll immediately block or mute the account. Generally speaking Trolls are used to be emotionally abusive. So before you respond ask yourself is it worth having your account locked or suspended? If the answer is yes, then you should have an Alt account set up. If the answer is no, then I’d recommend you run their twitter ID in one or all of the aforementioned analytical tools, that way you can identify their network and tune them out. And lastly if Twitter actually gave a damn about the “health” and “authentic” user experience, they would take far more meaningful steps to clean up their growing toxic cesspool. Until then, you need to come to terms with Twitter is being used as a weapon in the information war. 

Also apologies for being silent on the blog as of late, last week was in fact one of those weeks where I was lucky I did not throw in the towel by Tuesday afternoon and sadly I’m not a cyborg. Between my actual job, family and other issues outside of this blog and twitter I had to drop a ball. And that ball was going dark on this blog. At any rate I hope this entry is of use to you. -Spicy 

 

 

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