The Answer to Why Twitter Influences Canadian Politics

Elizabeth Dubois has a great episode of Wonks and War Rooms where she interviews Etienne Rainville of The Boys in Short Pants podcast, former Hill staffer, and government relations expert. They unpack how government staffers collect information, process it, and identify experts.

Broadly, the episode focuses on how the absence of significant policy expertise in government and political parties means that social media—and Twitter in particular—can play an outsized role in influencing government, and why that’s the case.

While the discussion isn’t necessarily revelatory to anyone who has dealt with some elements of government of Canada, and especially MPs and their younger staffers, it’s a good and tight conversation that could be useful for students of Canadian politics, and also helpfully distinguishes of of the differences between Canadian and American political cultures. I found the forthrightness of the conversation and the honesty of how government operates was particularly useful in clarifying why Twitter is, indeed, a place for experts in Canada to spend time if they want to be policy relevant.


Can @Jack Save Twitter?

A long read by the author of Hatching Twitter: A True Story of Money, Power, Friendship, and Betrayal, which unpacks the return of one of Twitter’s co-founders. It’s an instructive read into the poisonous culture of Twitter and the backbiting that characterizes the company…and seemingly has meant that it’s been unable to really determine what it’s about, for whom, and how it will be profitable to investors. The end is particularly telling, insofar as Twitter is seen as having one last chance — to succeed in ‘live’ events — or else have to potentially sell to a Microsoft or equivalent staid technology company.


Twitter closes off ability to track and repost politicians’ deleted tweets | Toronto Star

Twitter closes off ability to track and repost politicians’ deleted tweets:

Twitter has shut off the ability of more than two dozen accounts to track and repost tweets deleted by politicians and other officials in 30 countries around the world, including Canada.

Christopher Parsons, a fellow at the Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs, said Twitter’s decision shows that the company “is unwilling to have its API routinely used to monitor what people have tried to delete.

“It appears as though Twitter is saying, ‘Look we know it’s possible, but we don’t want it being done.’ ”

According to Parsons, the weekend Twitter closures may force groups to analyze the different reasons tweets are deleted, rather than posting all deletions automatically, which could change the data’s impact.

“The way in which (the information is) published can be very different, the context can be much broader, and depending on the intent of the group in question, it could be more damning,” he said.

The debate, he added, shows the impact corporations such as Twitter can have on how public figures communicate with people.

“With the American election right now and the Canadian election going on, that’s where these sorts of deletions are often most interesting to the general public,” he said.



Twitter Now Has a Two-Step Solution

So, I use two factor authentication for a variety of services. It’s great for security.

It’s also a royal pain in the ass to be (re)inputting secondary authentication information all the time. That basic ‘pain point’ is sufficient to dissuade most people from setting it up. I support Twitter adopting this, and for some people it’ll be awesome. For most people it’ll just be a pain in the ass.


Social utopians like Haque, Tapscott and Jarvis are, of course, wrong. The age of networked intelligence isn’t very intelligent. The tragic truth is that getting naked, being yourself in the full public gaze of today’s digital network, doesn’t always result in the breaking down of ancient taboos. There is little evidence that networks like Facebook, Skype and Twitter are making us any more forgiving or tolerant. Indeed, if anything, these viral tools of mass exposure seem to be making society not only more prurient and voyeuristic, but also fuelling a mob culture of intolerance, schadenfreude and revengefulness.

* Andrew Keen, #digitalvertigo: how today’s online social revolution is dividing, diminishing, and disorienting us

As an early adopter I know that I’ll stumble into bugs and problems in Apple’s newest OS. The first I’m come across stems from Safari’s integration with Twitter.

Note in that in image on the left there is no ability to cancel a tweet once you click send. I suspect that I’m running into this problem because Twitter is presently (at the time of this screenshot/writing) experiencing downtime. Regardless, the inability to cancel the tweet is particularly inconvenient because the send tweet window hovers over all Safari tabs (as seen in the right-hand image).

This persistent hovering means that if integration with Twitter stalls then Safari ceases to be a useful browser until the send attempt times out. Ideally a future patch will link the ‘send to Twitter’ window with the specific tab the tweet is being sent from, as well as ensure that users can cancel tweets at all times. Hopefully we see a point upgrade soon, to iron out this and other bugs that are being reported across the ‘net.


Former GCHQ Head Calls for Greater Social Media Surveillance

There genuinely are bad people in the world, individuals and agents who largely exist to cause serious harm to citizens around the world in democratic states. These individuals cannot, however, be permitted to destabilize an entire population nor operate as reasons for totalizing mass surveillance. In the UK an incredibly senior and prominent security and intelligence expert, Sir David Omand, has nevertheless called for the following:

In a series of recommendations to the government, Sir David – the Cabinet Office’s former Security and Intelligence co-ordinator – said out-dated legislation needed to be reformed to ensure an ethical and legal framework for such intelligence gathering, which was clear and transparent.

The report recommends that social media should be divided into two categories, the first being open source information which public bodies could monitor to improve services while not identifying individuals without permission.

On the more contentious category of monitoring private social media, Sir David said it needed to be properly authorised – including the need for warrants when it was considered “genuine intrusion” –  only used as a last resort when there was substantial cause and with regard to “collateral damage” to any innocent people who might have been in contact with a suspect.

It must repeatedly, and emphatically, be stated that ‘transparency’ in the intelligence world does not mean that citizens will actually know how collected data is used. Neither does codifying surveillance practices in law minimize citizens’ concerns around surveillance. No, it instead operates as a legal shield that protects those engaged in oft-times secretive actions that are inappropriately harmful to innocent citizens. Such changes in law must be incredibly carefully examined by the public and opposed or curtailed whenever there is even the slightest possibility of abuse or infringement of citizens’ reasonable normative expectations of privacy from state intrusion and surveillance.

Making Sense of Twitter ‘Censorship’

Jillian York, the Director of International Freedom of Expression at the EFF, has a good (and quick) thought on Twitter’s recent decision to ‘censor’ some Tweets in particular geographical areas.

Let’s be clear: This is censorship. There’s no way around that. But alas, Twitter is not above the law.  Just about every company hosting user-generated content has, at one point or another, gotten an order or government request to take down content.  Google lays out its orders in its Transparency Report.  Other companies are less forthright.  In any case, Twitter has two options in the event of a request: Fail to comply, and risk being blocked by the government in question, or comply (read: censor).  And if they have “boots on the ground”, so to speak, in the country in question?  No choice.

In the event that a company chooses to comply with government requests and censor content, there are a number of mitigating steps the company can take.  The most important, of course, is transparency, something that Twitter has promised.  Google is also transparent in its content removal (Facebook? Not so much).  Twitter’s move to geolocate their censorship is also smart, given the alternative (censoring it worldwide, that is) – particularly since it appears a user can manually change his or her location.

I tend to agree with her position. I’m not particularly happy that Twitter is making this move but can appreciate that from an Internet governance – and national sovereignty – position that Twitter’s new policy ‘fits’ with international practices. Further, the company’s unwillingness to globally censor is positive, and limits that damage caused by state-mandated censorship.

Admittedly, I’d like to see the company go a bit further that is in line with their drive towards transparency. Perhaps if you did a keyword search in a particular geographic area you might receive a notice reading, “Some items in this search have been censored in your region” or something along those lines. Still, Twitter is arguably the best ‘good’ company that is prominent in the social networking environment at the moment, so I’ll hope they make additional steps towards full transparency rather than lambasting the company for its policy changes right now.