Sam Harrelson

Twitter Track and Twitter Abuse

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On Saturday I noticed that my tweets were being repeated by Twitter user @panopticons (if you’re curious about the name, it refers to an 18th century jail design based on seeing every prisoner that has been extended into a metaphysical metaphor). I didn’t think anything of it at the time, but as the day went on, the retweeting was constant and annoying.

It was annoying because I use a function of Twitter called “Twitter Track” on GTalk which allows me to track terms that I am interested in such as “Wilco” or “Nascar” or “Obama” or “Ryan Adams” or “Asheville” (btw, if you use Twitter Track, I do not suggest tracking “affiliate”… omg). I also track people’s names that I am interested in, so that I can see both sides of the conversation that person might be participating in and not just one way conversation. And of course I track my own name in case someone I’m not following, etc tweets me so that I can see them and respond.

I prefer using GTalk as my Twitter client because even though I follow close to 2,000 folks I can turn device updates on and off for close friends or people in town. That makes the Twitter stream much more controlled rather than a firehose. Plus, I’m able to use the GTalk app on my BlackBerry to stay in the stream when I’m mobile.

It’s a perfect system… or so I thought until Saturday night.

I dug a little deeper into the @panopticons account and found that the account and many similar ones were set up by a guy named Noah David Simon in order to prove a (misguided) point about privacy and information:

My aliases on TWITTER are listed on my website. I’m keeping it transparent so it doesn’t bite me in the ass. Eventually I assume most of you will unfollow n block me… but by that point I will have perfected the craft of puppet accounts! puppet accounts can be fed N2 a root account, where I can follow all fools that thought they could block me. there is NO blocking! the final account will take the RSS feed of multiple accounts and run it N2 one account. you will not realize the new account is me.

Please understand that I have absolutely no problem with protests, satire, uncomfortable demonstrations with a sharp edge of irony, etc. There is a needed place for those sorts of things in every aspect of society, especially something like Twitter where the micro nature of the platform often engenders a feeling of unnecessary importance (even more so than Techmeme and the blogosphere).

However, the point being made here about privacy is just mean spirited (especially with some of the back and forths that have developed on Twitter and in the GetSatisfaction forum for Twitter) with no real point to be made beyond who can yell the loudest and longest.

Simon and his supporter (no plural there) @prokofy (see the GetSatisfaction forum if you need more) suggest that if people don’t want to be troubled by the retweeting of their messages, they should stop tracking their own names and that if you’re tracking your own name, you’re doing so just for vanity purposes. That’s a ridiculous premise to begin with, especially for people like myself who use the track feature to engage in conversations with other users we might not have otherwise met. Then, using bullying tactics and spewing pretty hateful messages (calling specific Twitter users who object Nazis, etc) is just immature and shows the lack of a well thought out intention behind this sort of purposeful abuse.

After being pestered by @prokofy, Steve Gillmor had Prokofy on an episode of NewsGang Live last week that pretty much sums up the situation (be warned if you listen… the podcast will make your ears bleed).

I use Twitter on a more than regular basis for a number of reasons. Twitter has transcended the realm of social networking or messaging for me and has become a neural center for my activity on the web. Because of the track feature, I’m able to keep up with a variety of topics throughout the day or at my pleasure through RSS. So, interruptions like this are costly both time and gesture wise for me.

And now for the final act.. it looks like the issue has caught the attention of the often hands-off Twitter staff:

We believe these accounts are in violation of the terms because the cross posting of updates from multiple accounts is a way to undermine the block and unfollow functions. Twitter is a recipient-driven service and when abusers seek to negate the ability for users to choose what content they receive from other users, they degrade our service. This is the stated intent of the abuser in question in this thread.

There’s also been a thread set up to discuss Twitter’s stance on abuse by Twitter admins:

What is Twitter’s stance toward abuse?

So hopefully this issue will be resolved soon.

In the meantime, we always have the spammers present to keep the town well full of piss.