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

    Video Rubio Looks to Surge in New Hampshire

    Republican presidential candidate has moved into second place in several recent surveys and appears to be gaining ground on longtime frontrunner Donald Trump

    UN Calls for Global Ban on Female Genital Mutilation

    Recent UNICEF report finds at least 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone female genital mutilation in 30 countries

    UN Pilots New Peace Approach in CAR

    Approach launched in northern town of Kaga Bandoro, where former combatants of mainly Muslim Seleka armed group and Christian and animist anti-Balaka movement are being paid to do community work

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibiti
    X
    Hamada Elsaram
    February 05, 2016 4:30 PM
    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video Former Drug CEO Martin Shkreli Angers US Lawmakers

    A former U.S. pharmaceutical business executive has angered lawmakers by refusing to explain why he raised the price of a life-saving pill by 5,000 percent. Martin Shkreli was removed from a congressional hearing on Thursday after citing his Fifth Amendment right to stay silent. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Super Bowl TV Commercials are Super Business for Advertisers

    The Super Bowl, the championship clash between the two top teams in American Football, is the most-watched sporting event of the year, and advertisers are lining up and paying big bucks to get their commercials on the air. In fact, the TV commercials during the Super Bowl have become one of the most anticipated and popular features of the event. VOA's Brian Allen has a sneak peek of what you can expect to see when the big game goes to commercial break, and the real entertainment begins.
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.
    Video

    Video Microcephaly's Connection to Zika: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

    The Zika virus rarely causes problems for the people who get it, but it seems to be having a devastating impact on babies whose mothers are infected with Zika. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
    Video

    Video Solar Innovation Provides Cheap, Clean Energy to Kenya Residents

    In Kenya, a company called M-Kopa Solar is providing clean energy to more than 300,000 homes across East Africa by allowing customers to "pay-as-you-go" via their cell phones. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from Kangemi, customers pay a small deposit for a solar unit and then pay less than a dollar a day to get clean energy to light up their homes or businesses.
    Video

    Video Stunning Artworks Attract Record Crowds, Thanks to Social Media

    A new exhibit at the oldest art museum in America is shattering attendance records. Thousands of visitors are lining up to see nine giant works of art that have gotten a much-deserved shot of viral marketing. The 150-year-old Smithsonian American Art Museum has never had a response quite like this. VOA's Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Apprenticeships Put Americans on Path Back to Work

    Trying to get more people into the U.S. workforce, the Obama administration last year announced $175 million in grants towards apprenticeship programs. VOA White House correspondent Aru Pande went inside one training center outside of Washington that has gained national recognition for helping put people on the path to employment.
    Video

    Video New Material May Reduce Concussion Effects

    As the 2016 National Football League season reaches its summit at the Super Bowl this coming Sunday (2/7), scientists are trying to learn how to more effectively protect football players from dangerous and damaging concussions. Researchers at Cardiff and Cambridge Universities say their origami-based material may solve the problem. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Saudi Arabian Women's Sports Chip Away at Stereotypes

    Saudi Arabian female athletes say that sports are on the front line of busting traditions that quash women’s voices, both locally and internationally. In their hometown of Jeddah, a group of basketball players say that by connecting sports to health issues, they are encouraging women and girls to get out of their homes and participate in public life. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.
    Video

    Video A Year Later, Fortunes Mixed for Syrians Forging New Lives in Berlin

    In April of last year, VOA followed the progress of six young Syrian refugees -- four brothers and their two friends -- as they made their way from Libya to Italy by boat, and eventually to Germany. Reporter Henry Ridgwell caught up with the refugees again in Berlin, as they struggle to forge new lives amid the turmoil of Europe's refugee crisis.
    Video

    Video Zika Virus May be Hard to Stop

    With the Zika virus spreading rapidly, the World Health Organization Monday declared Zika a global health emergency. As Alberto Pimienta reports, for many governments and experts, the worst is yet to come.