Reducing Trolling on Twitter

In Australia, television celebrity Charlotte Dawson has recently been hospitalized twice because of suicide attempts that were blamed, in part, on trolls inundating her with abuse on Twitter. Whether or not the trolling was responsible for Dawson’s suicide attempts, Julia Baird argues that something needs to be done about online trolls. Specifically she recommends that users should:

Encourage Twitter to keep a record of those who are blocked for bullying; if a certain number is reached, delete accounts. If persistently savage, violent attacks occur, there should be consequences. There must be a way to punish serial bullies without triggering the possibility of broad censorship.

That, of course, is an awful idea since it would take about 5 seconds for the folks who controls hundreds of thousands of fake Twitter accounts to realize they have a quick way to remove any Twitter account. Instead of preventing bullying behavior, such a simplistic solution would quickly enhance and enable the trolls.

Instead, Twitter seems like one of the few cases where something the like a Real Time Blackhole List could be useful. Twitter already has a Lists feature that allows users to assemble lists of users, typically related to subject categories (top soccer players, famous atheists, etc.)

Why not take that a step further and allow me to turn the people I am blocking into a list that others can subscribe to and, if they wish, in turn block anyone I block.

There are few people whose judgment I’d trust enough to automatically block, but there are some. I’d like to automatically block anyone that my wife and a few trusted friends block. Moreover, once such a feature was implemented, there would certainly be Twitter accounts created to serve as a Real Time Block List for Twitter which users could decide for themselves whether to trust or not.

This would not, of course, eliminate trolls or all abuse on Twitter, but it would have the advantage of being at least as effective as Baird’s solution while still offering a solution that errs on the side of free speech.

CrypTweet

CrypTweet is an attempt to create a tool to encrypt Twitter DMs. Unfortunately, pretty much as soon as it was released it faced an enormous backlash for a number of implementation errors. The author frankly admits to the numerous problems on the CryptTweet website now and says the tool is only for experimental purposes.

Personally, if I had a need to send encrypted Tweets I’d use one of the PGP tools for smart phones or computers (such as AGP for Android) and encrypt the text before posting.

Some critics of CryptTweet wondered what the point would be of encrypting Twitter DMs. However, I can think of some interesting ways to use something like Twitter in conjunction with PGP to securely coordinate activities that might otherwise be easily observed/intercepted by police and other government authorities.

Death of Email, Episode VII

It seems like someone is constantly proclaiming the death of email as in this GigaOm article about IT firm Atos Origin planning to stop using email in its internal operations.

GigaOm writer Miguel Valdes Faura points to things like social networking and tools like Salesforce’s Chatter as things that are gradually replacing email.

Look, here’s the thing — the beauty of (most) email is that it is based on an open protocol, SMTP. I have email I sent and received in the late 1980s that I can still read on an email client that was just released yesterday, thanks to the wide support for SMTP.

I’ve also had the same email address for 16 years even though I’ve changed email hosts 6 or 7 times during that period. During a small part of those 16 years, my email was hosted at another company, but for most of the time I’ve owned the server that my email domain ran on. Today, it is dirt cheap for anyone to grab a domain name and a hosting account that includes a mail server.

Social networking and similar systems are largely the antithesis of prevailing state of affairs with email. I can use my Google+, Twitter, Facebook and other accounts only because those companies have decided to continue to allow me to — and their Terms of Service make it clear they can change their mind at any moment and cut me off for pretty much any reason.

On the other hand, if I get fed up with one of my social networks, there’s little I can do but close my account and leave. Since all of these companies use proprietary standards, I can’t easily move my Twitter account to Facebook, much less even consider moving either account to my own webserver.

I can (and do) get my data out of these systems, with varying degrees of difficulty, but just having static copies of the data doesn’t come close to replicating my account. Moreover, most of these systems seem to be getting less open. Twitter, for example, used to make it obvious where the RSS feed for your tweets was, but now they hide it like they’re ashamed of it (or, more likely, can’t figure out how to monetize it).

Every time I read someone write about relying on social networking or closed systems, I always think of the BBC’s Domesday Project — an early attempt at creating a digital artifact in which more than a million people participated. But, of course, the Domesday Project is famous in part because the BBC chose to use a proprietary technology that quickly became obsolete and almost rendered the entire project unreadable.

Social networking, as it is currently constituted, is one giant Domesday Project just waiting to happen.

WordTwit Pro

WordTwit Pro is one of the few commercial WordPress plugins I’ve paid for, and am extremely happy with. This is another plugin designed to let users automatically tweet blog posts. I’ve played around with quite a few of these, but this is the only one that had all the features I needed.

What I especially liked was the ability, seen in the screenshot below, to schedule tweets to occur a certain amount of time after a post gets published. WordTwit Pro also supports a variety of URL shorteners, including self-hosted YOURLS installs, and has a very simple but thorough interface for editing what finally gets tweeted.

Finally, I didn’t have any problem at all actually getting it to tweet without having to jump through a bunch of hoops. Most of the other post-to-Twitter plugins I tried were a pain in the ass to configure to actually work properly with Twitter.

Expensive ($39 to $99 depending on the number of sites you want to install it on) but worth it.

YOURLS – Self-Hosted Link Shortener

There are a number of open source, self-hosted link shortener packages out there, but YOURLS (Your Own URL Shortener) is by far the best one I’ve come across. Along with it being extremely simple to install, it is also being actively maintained. The developers are currently working on the next version which will include more advanced statistics reporting.

I was bored one night and so decided to register a domain name, lnks.tv, and set up a private link shortner using YOURLS. Everything went smoothly and it is nice to be in control of the whole link shortening process and especially be able to reserve specific links that would almost certainly already be taken at public sites (for example, I can link to this site in Twitter or elsewhere simply by using http://lnks.tv/brian).