News / Science & Technology

Truth and Consequences - A Dilemma for Twitter and Its Users

An illustration picture shows the logo of the Website Twitter, January 30, 2013.An illustration picture shows the logo of the Website Twitter, January 30, 2013.
x
An illustration picture shows the logo of the Website Twitter, January 30, 2013.
An illustration picture shows the logo of the Website Twitter, January 30, 2013.
Reuters
Does Twitter have a credibility problem?
       
For many, a single fake tweet from the Associated Press account that briefly roiled financial markets on Tuesday, driving the Dow Jones industrial average down about 145 points, vividly reaffirmed the fearsome, near-instantaneous power of the 140-character message.
       
But the security lapse also revived doubts about Twitter's place in the media landscape - and its ultimate value - at a moment when its status as one of today's essential information networks had seemed all but cemented.
       
Just a week after social media networks took criticism for helping circulate misinformation about the alleged perpetrators of the Boston Marathon bombing, Twitter's security shortcomings fell under a harsh spotlight Tuesday after a hacker group commandeered the AP Twitter account and falsely reported that explosions in the White House had injured President Barack Obama.
       
The AP was only the latest hacking victim in recent days after Twitter accounts belonging to National Public Radio, CBS 60 Minutes and others were breached. Last year, Reuters News was the victim of hackers who briefly took over one of its Twitter accounts and posted false tweets.
       
The latest hack was by far the most significant: the single AP tweet stunned investors and effectively wiped out $136.5 billion of the S&P 500 index's value in a matter of minutes.
       
Although the news agency later disclosed that one of its employees may have inadvertently given away company passwords as the result of a "phishing'' attack by the hackers, security experts quickly faulted Twitter for its longstanding failure to implement two-factor authentication, a double-layered password feature used by the likes of Google and Microsoft that might have prevented the spate of high-profile Twitter hijackings.
       
"It's one of those cases that we are seeing too often. It's getting unnerving,'' said Robert Quigley, a journalism lecturer specializing in social media at the University of Texas. "What media organizations need to do is pressure Twitter to have a more secure website.''
       
Although Twitter has repeatedly declined to address its product roadmap, the company has signaled that it will soon unveil two-factor authentication, including a public job posting in February that suggested the company was hiring to tackle the problem.
       
Mark Risher, the founder of a security consultancy that counts social media companies Pinterest and Tumblr among its clients, said introducing more measures like two-factor authentication would make Twitter more cumbersome to use and potentially slow its user growth - a critical concern for a company that relies on advertising revenues. But he warned that a prolonged rash of high-profile hacks, and an eroding sense of user trust, would hurt Twitter more.
       
"There's always a tradeoff between convenience and safety,'' Risher said. "But a security issue damages Twitter's brand.''

Newswire or Platform

For Twitter, the hacking has raised questions about its credibility just as it is beginning to assume a central role in a fast-changing media landscape, with the volume of tweets rising to more than 400 million a day. Earlier this month, the Securities and Exchange Commission ruled that U.S. companies may report material information such as quarterly results on Twitter, as long as investors are alerted in advance. Days later, Bloomberg L.P. said it would funnel Twitter directly into its terminals used by thousands of traders on Wall Street.
       
At the same time, the world's leading news organizations and Twitter, which has 200 million users around the world, have become increasingly intertwined in a symbiotic, if sometimes troublesome, relationship.
       
Dan Gillmor, a journalism professor at Arizona State University, said the hacks have especially hurt news outlets because their Twitter accounts are often the primary way that their news reaches consumers who may not subscribe to a newspaper or have access to a newswire.
       
Twitter has touted itself as a critical newswire of sorts, such as during the 2011 tsunami in Japan, when it helped emergency responders locate survivors, or when it became a vital lifeline for some New Yorkers as television sets fell dark during Hurricane Sandy last year.
       
But last week, in the wake of the Boston bombings, some of those who previously viewed Twitter as an indispensable news source began turning against the service upon discovering that the wisdom of crowds is, in fact, an adage not often applicable on the Internet.
       
Steve Brunetto, a senior executive at Edgewave, a network security company, said Tuesday's hacking undermined Twitter at a sensitive time.
       
"On the heels of the Boston Marathon bombing, everyone's trying to figure out, 'Okay, where does Twitter fit into that news cycle? Where does Twitter fit into disseminating information?''' Brunetto said. "They've got an opportunity to legitimize themselves as a real player in that information life cycle but they get knocked down a peg every time somebody says, 'Oh, you can't believe what you read on Twitter.'''
       
Jeff Jarvis, a prominent Internet pundit and a journalism professor at City University of New York, said that the confusion caused by social media in recent weeks was not an indictment of social media but rather a reminder that the onus falls on professional reporters to verify information.
       
"No, the Internet's not broken,'' Jarvis said.
       
The rise of social media means that "you now hear more bar-room debates and speculation than before,'' he added. "But that doesn't mean you should believe it more than you ever did.''
       
Tom Schrader, managing director for U.S. equity trading at Stifel Nicolaus Capital Markets in Baltimore, said there were a lot of clues in the false AP tweet that should have kept traders from reacting, in particular the wording of the message.
       
"We saw it, we saw the initial reaction. Initially our reaction was, pull your bids [until we] see whether this is legit or not. We found no legitimacy to it and went back into the market as normal,'' he said.
       
Oli Freeling-Wilkinson is chief executive officer of Knowsis, a London company that picks out and amalgamates financially relevant tweets and other social media content for traders.

"We do have spam controls in place, but it's an ongoing war,'' he said. "It's much more  difficult to work out what's going on when people are hacking into official accounts, especially in the heat of the moment.''
       
While Twitter has occasionally signaled that it believes it could become more than a passive distribution network - a shift marked by last year's purchase of Summify, a small startup that specialized in surfacing relevant news - it has also taken pains to distance itself from the content of tweets and maintain strict neutrality from a legal perspective.
       
Twitter Chief Executive Dick Costolo told an Online News Association gathering last autumn that Twitter's primary responsibility was to create a platform, rather than to play an editorial role in determining which tweets people should see.
       
"A company trying to build media is creating or curating content, and that's not the kind of company we're creating,'' Costolo said.
       
Gillmor, from Arizona State, said Twitter did not need to guarantee the quality or veracity of its content in order to grow into a media juggernaut.
       
"It's not whether Twitter is credible or not, it's what people do with it,'' he said. "Every news organization feels it has no alternative but to use Twitter. But everyone at the traditional news organizations has to be thinking really hard about what that means, from whether the security is sufficient on these third-party platforms to what it means to be turning part of your stuff over to new kinds of publishers.''

You May Like

Australia-Cambodia Resettlement Agreement Raises Concerns

Agreement calls for Cambodia to accept refugees in return for $35 million in aid and reflects Australia’s harder line approach towards asylum seekers and refugees More

India Looks to Become Arms Supplier Instead of Buyer

US hopes India can become alternative to China for countries looking to buy weapons, but experts question growth potential of Indian arms industry More

Earth Day Concert, Rally Draws Thousands in Washington

President Obama also took up the issue Saturday in his weekly address, saying there 'no greater threat to our planet than climate change' More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?i
X
Steve Sandford
April 17, 2015 12:50 AM
Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?

Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Overwhelmed by Migrants, Italy Mulls Military Action to Stabilize Libya

Thousands more migrants have arrived on the southern shores of Italy from North Africa in the past two days. Authorities say they expect the total number of arrivals this year to far exceed previous levels, and the government has said military action in Libya might be necessary to stem the flow. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Putin Accuses Kyiv of ‘Cutting Off’ Eastern Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin, in his annual televised call-in program, again denied there were any Russian troops fighting in Ukraine. He also said the West was trying to ‘contain’ Russia with sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports on reactions to the president’s four-hour TV appearance.
Video

Video Eye Contact Secures Dog's Place in Human Heart

Dogs serve in the military, work with police and assist the disabled, and have been by our side for thousands of years serving as companions and loyal friends. We love them. They love us in return. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports on a new study that looks at the bio-chemical bond that cements that human-canine connection.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Search for Bodies of Missing Soldiers

As the cease-fire becomes more fragile in eastern Ukraine, a team of volunteer body collectors travels to the small village of Savur Mohyla in the what pro-Russian separatists call the Donetsk Peoples Republic - to retrieve bodies of fallen Ukrainian servicemen from rebel-held territories. Adam Bailes traveled with the team and has this report.
Video

Video Xenophobic Violence Sweeps South Africa

South Africa, long a haven for African immigrants, has been experiencing the worst xenophobic violence in years, with at least five people killed and hundreds displaced in recent weeks. From Johannesburg, VOA’s Anita Powell brings us this report.
Video

Video Sierra Leone President Koroma Bemoans Ebola Impact on Economy

In an interview with VOA's Shaka Ssali on Wednesday, President Ernest Koroma said the outbreak undermined his government’s efforts to boost and restructure the economy after years of civil war.
Video

Video Protester Lands Gyrocopter on Capitol Lawn

A 61-year-old mailman from Florida landed a small aircraft on the Capitol lawn in Washington to bring attention to campaign finance reform and what he says is government corruption. Wednesday's incident was one in a string of security breaches on U.S. government property. Zlatica Hoke reports the gyrocopter landing violated a no-fly zone.
Video

Video Apollo 13, NASA's 'Successful Failure,' Remembered

The Apollo 13 mission in 1970 was supposed to be NASA's third manned trip to the moon, but it became much more. On the flight's 45th anniversary, astronauts and flight directors gathered at Chicago's Adler Planetarium to talk about how the aborted mission changed manned spaceflight and continues to influence space exploration today. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Badly Burned Ukrainian Boy Bravely Fights Back

A 9-year-old Ukrainian boy has returned to his native country after intensive treatment in the United States for life-threatening burns. Volodia Bubela, burned in a house fire almost a year ago, battled back at a Boston hospital, impressing doctors with his bravery. Faith Lapidus narrates this report from VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko.
Video

Video US Maternity Leave Benefits Much Less Than Many Countries

It was almost 20 years ago that representatives of 189 countries met at a UN conference in Beijing and adopted a plan of action to achieve gender equality around the world. Now, two decades later, the University of California Los Angeles World Policy Analysis Center has issued a report examining what the Beijing Platform for Action has achieved. From Los Angeles, Elizabeth Lee has more.
Video

Video Endangered Hawaiian Birds Get Second Chance

Of the world's nearly 9,900 bird species, 13 percent are threatened with extinction, according to BirdLife International. Among them are two Hawaiian honeycreepers - tiny birds that live in the forest canopy, and, as the name implies, survive on nectar from tropical flowers. Scientists at the San Diego Zoo report they have managed to hatch half a dozen of their chicks in captivity, raising hopes that the birds will flutter back from the brink of extinction. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Exhibit Brings Renaissance Master Out of the Shadows

The National Gallery of Art in Washington has raised the curtain on one of the most intriguing painters of the High Renaissance. Mostly ignored after his death in the early 1500s, Italian master Piero di Cosimo is now claiming his place alongside the best-known artists of the period. VOA’s Ardita Dunellari reports.
Video

Video Sidemen to Famous Blues Artists Record Their Own CD

Legendary blues singer BB King was briefly hospitalized last week and the 87-year-old “King of the Blues” may not be touring much anymore. But some of the musicians who have played with him and other blues legends have now released their own CD in an attempt to pass the torch to younger fans... and put their own talents out front as well. VOA’s Greg Flakus has followed this project over the past year and filed this report from Houston.
Video

Video Iran-Saudi Rivalry Is Stoking Conflict in Yemen

Iran has proposed a peace plan to end the conflict in Yemen, but the idea has received little support from regional rivals like Saudi Arabia. They accuse Tehran of backing the Houthi rebels, who have forced Yemen’s president to flee to Riyadh, and have taken over swaths of Yemen. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA, analysts say the conflict is being fueled by the Sunni-Shia rivalry between the two regional powers.

VOA Blogs