Blown To Bits

Twitter Is Wonderful Except When It Isn’t

Tuesday, March 10th, 2009 by Harry Lewis

Twitter is the the new hip tool with which you can blast all your friends with quick updates on what you are doing. The messages must be short and only text, but type a few characters and hit the button and there they go, onto the screens of a hundred of your closest friends. The standard use is to invite people into your daily life: What are you doing RIGHT NOW?

Different folks may have different views about the social thrill of learning that their friends are eating donuts in Walla Walla or are enjoying the view of the Grand Canyon (except they aren’t watching at all since they are thumb-typing instead). But sometimes you really, really shouldn’t twitter, no matter how excited you are to share with a few special friends the wonderful news about what’s happening to you.

Like for example if you are a US Congressman on a top-secret diplomatic tour of Baghdad. No, bad idea to twitter then. You see, when you twitter, what you say isn’t secret. In fact, do I really need to explain that the reason for twittering is to tell lots of things to lots of people, which then pretty much inevitably become not secrets? You can read the rest of the story, including the tweets of Congressman Pete Hoekstra (R-MI),¬†here. He even announced the time he would be entering the Green Zone. A big help to the soldiers charged with keeping this genius safe on his trip.

I wouldn’t want to suggest that the Republicans are having more trouble than the Dems, but it’s less than a 1 in 4 chance that both Congressmen involved in spilling the beans via Twitter today are members of the GOP. Jeff Frederick of Virginia announced in an elated tweet that State Senator Ralph Northam was switching from Democrat to Republican. Except that, oops, the tweet fell into Democratic hands, and Northam’s colleagues waterboarded him until he changed his mind about changing parties. (OK, that last part about the waterboarding was just a metaphor, but the rest is true.)

Guys, tweets are public. Don’t get carried away by the metaphor that because it’s so easy and quiet it’s a neat way to share secrets. You aren’t whispering into the ear of a trusted confidante, you are screaming it from the mountaintop! Or to put it more succinctly: Grow up.

Thanks to MIT student Xiao Xiao and to Hal Abelson for these pointers.

One Response to “Twitter Is Wonderful Except When It Isn’t”

  1. Blown to Bits » Blog Archive » Twitter Evolves Says:

    […] that other people were actually reading what they were writing, maybe people who aren’t nice. A US Congressman forgot that his diplomatic mission to Baghdad was supposed to be secret, and that guys with guns and bombs […]