by Ellen Brandt, Ph.D.

The twin forces which could destroy Twitter are immature game-playing and political correctness, both taken to unreasonable – and sometimes illegal – extremes. The antidotes? Maturity and a renewed sense of inclusiveness.

It begins and ends with security. No one – at least no one sane – wants to participate in any Internet forum where one’s data, identity, and the basic integrity of one’s computer system are at risk. Twitter’s celebrated Denial of Service attack a few days ago simply verified what many had suspected for some time: That Twitter was being sabotaged from within and that if they didn’t clean up their act very soon, those well-publicized 40 percent quick dropout rates could go even higher.

In Twitter’s case, security equals maturity, which in turn equals the willingness of all participants to tolerate members and opinions they do not like, rather than bully them into a clique-induced submission by means fair or – mostly – foul.

I don’t know if I buy Twitter’s public explanation that the DOS attack was an attempt to stifle an outspoken Georgian blogger. My first thought was that it was my own Twitter Stalker’s – Agatha-Anne’s – crude attempt to stifle me! (See We’ve Sent You Black Roses and Are Coming to Slaughter Your Pet Hamster http://wp.me/pycK6-L

I am probably just being paranoid. But no matter which Enemy of the Clique was targeted in the massive attack, Twitter’s willingness to discuss openly what kind of attack it was shows that they – and everybody else – now acknowledges the seriousness of the problem.

An organized Clique of Script Kiddies – mostly under 25, if not 18 – with numerous chips on their shoulders and a vast amount of “talent,” when it comes to the creation and spreading of malware, can no longer be allowed to run roughshod over the vast Twitter community. Unpopular opinions – at least unpopular to this Clique – must be allowed to be voiced without impediment. And Twitter members the Clique doesn’t like must be allowed to be part of Twitter, without being persecuted, harassed, and bullied.

In the 21st Century, Do We Really Want “Tribes?”

I believe there are two things wrong with Twitter, stemming from who its early initiators were and what they wanted from the service.

One major group of early initiators were Kids – teens and some preteens, most of them nice, normal, wholesome Kids out to have fun, rather than make trouble. But whenever you assemble large numbers of Kids on the Internet today, the Script Kiddies are sure to follow.

Script Kiddies, in case you just bought your first computer yesterday, are young people who like to hack, or play games with computer code. Some of them are extremely good at it. And some of them – alas! – have axes to grind, sharpen, and wield to chop off all of our figurative heads.

Twitter itself helped the Script Kiddies greatly by permitting them – it still permits them – to join the service under multiple identities. So an expert 19-year-old hacker in Sweden – let’s call him Thor – could not only sign up for Twitter under his real name, with his real photo attached. He might also sign up for Twitter as Stephanie, a Mom of three from Pasadena who’s a part-time Yoga instructor; Hang, a 47-year-old biology teacher in Taiwan whose hobby is bonsai; Eric, a 31-year-old attorney from Toronto who likes motocross; or Buffy, a 4-year-old Siamese cat, who blissfully Tweets “Mew, mew, Meow, mew, Meow” to her little kitty friends at 15-minute intervals.

The ability to use such multiple identities – 15? 20? 700? – allows individual Script Kiddies, or worse yet, organized groups of them, to bend Twitter quite literally to their advantage, spreading news, product reviews, political opinions, or anything else they wish around the globe by pure volume of posts, or in Twitter parlance, Tweets.

Some, like advertisers or political organizers, might think of this as a very good thing, provided they somehow “owned” the Script Kiddies and could get them to do what they wanted. To marketers of any ilk, this is the bright upside of Twitter, a world where a hot new phone, CD, movie, or political candidate can get oodles of attention very fast. And if those touting said “product” are actually ten teens in ten different countries with 100,000 different identities, so be it.

Some companies advertising things have used Twitter well by cultivating Cliques of both ordinary Kids and computer-savvy Script Kiddies. But political groups, like the Far Left Moveon.org, have used it much better, their triumph being the effective use of Twitter in the nomination and election of Barack Obama.

But these political groups, mostly on the Far Left, seem to have conveniently forgotten that the Script Kiddie portion of their eager Twitter Troops are not only good at organizing things, but also very good at attacking “enemies,” real or imagined, with malware, because they’re deluded into thinking it supports a “greater good” or, more likely, because they think it’s “fun.”

The Script Kiddies were already swell-headed with their success in the Obama campaign and their supposed success in promoting political instability prior to the Iranian elections. So lately, they’ve been emboldened to bully, harass, and send repeated doses of malware to more or less anyone on Twitter they just don’t like: the Georgian blogger, Britney Spears, the political Right, or your Aunt Nancy in Cleveland who fired them from their babysitting job for dropping that newborn . . . Even a politically-Centrist sweet, lovable, inoffensive little Baby Boomer like me can get hacked to death on Twitter by Agatha-Anne, because she didn’t like a Tweet I made my first few days on the service!

And while I hate to criticize a blameless idol, this fella Godin’s best-selling book about Tribes and how they are the in-thing to emulate in social networking hasn’t helped, either. Godin’s thesis is that Collective models, with everyone being essentially equal, are not as viable, in terms of Internet interactivity, as Tribal models, where a small number of trendsetters take over and dominate.

In many ways, this is simply an apologia for the Followed and Followers scheme at Twitter, where if you Follow few but are Followed By many, you have achieved true Celebrity status, whether or not you in any way deserve it. You are a trendsetter and you are Chief of some sort of Tribe, even if you’re Buffy the Siamese cat and your Tribe is other cat avatars who answer your every Mew with Mew-Mew-We-Love-Mew-Buffy.

Frankly, if I have to be part of a Tribe, then I choose the Yanomami in the Amazon, with their cute little poison darts. Or those brave Native Americans in coastal Alaska who harpoon great whales from rawhide dinghies the size of my desk.

But I digress. Whether or not the Tribal model is useful for anything but setting Twitter apart from Linked In and Facebook, many already swell-headed Script Kiddies have taken it as a sort of philosophical excuse for very bad behavior.

We are not Followers, we’re Followed. We are not Soldiers, we’re Generals. We are not Apache warriors, we’re Geronimo. Or if we’re girls, Geronimette. So we can do whatever we want, ethical or not, legal or criminal. If you make a Tweet we consider politically incorrect, we can send you as many viruses as we want to, keylog you until your fingers are arthritic, write hatchet blogs saying you’re a serial mistress of wildebeests, or if Twitter itself offends us, lock it down for days to make ourselves perfectly clear.

Tooth Whiteners, Ladies of the Night, and CNN

The second group to embrace Twitter avidly early on was, of course, Big Media – both Big Media West, or Hollywood, and Big Media East, those (very) few dominant print and television outlets which have sought to crowd everyone else off the Internet since there was an Internet. Lately, these few Big Media dominators have permitted a (very) few Internet blog groups, like the Huffington Post and Mashable, to join them in a dubious quest for Twitter supremacy.

Like any advertisers, Big Media loves it when trendsetting cliques, whether Script Kiddies playing at being Tribal Leaders or anyone else, up to and including Buffy the Cat, touts their products, be they films, music, TV shows, or newspaper articles.

But Big Media has been far less successful in corralling and micro-managing such Tribal groups than have some political organizations. It’s hard to convince ordinary Kids, let alone ornery Script Kiddies, to tout something they don’t like or don’t agree with, even if it’s a movie from a major studio or a feature story from a dominant outlet. So we’ve experienced Celebrity feuds, Celebrity stalkers, Celebrity defection, and ultimately, disgust with All Things Celebrity on the part of many Twitterites.

More serious to me, as a member of Little Media, is Big Media’s remaining silent in the face of malicious attacks on independent media outlets, whether on the Internet or off, on the basis of political or ideological orientation. It’s a case, as I said in a controversial blog title – if not a controversial blog – of We Don’t Like What You Wrote. You Should Be Poisoned, Garrotted, Stabbed With Stiletto Heels, Thrown Off a Tall Building, and Have Vultures Eat Your Liver (See http://wp.me/pycK6-5 )

Although I’m an outspoken Centrist, by no means on the Far Right, my already popular Internet series, Baby Boomers-The Angriest Generation, has been maliciously attacked by Script Kiddies Bearing Malware, on the grounds that I support Boomers’ right not to be forced into retirement decades too early, so more jobs can open up for young Obama election workers – excuse me, Millennials. (See http://wp.me/pxD3J-3>

I’ve heard numerous horror stories of others who’ve made an “upsetting” – to the Far Left – Tweet or two becoming instant victims of malware, threats, or other forms of harassment. One particular tactic that I find especially disturbing – so much so that I intend to write another blog on this topic alone – is Script Kiddies’ making “spam” accusations about Tweets which in no way fit the definition of “spam.” These accusations have serious Freedom of Speech implications, and instead of ignoring them, Big Media should be jumping all over the accusers.

I’ll give only a brief synopsis here. The term “spam” should refer to excessive and offensive advertising announcements aimed at those who would prefer to “opt out.” That’s why there are pop-up and mail filtering options on the Internet, to prevent all those “Cure for Impotence” and “Here’s a Hot Stock Tip” ads from reaching your E-mail or your sensitive eyes.

By definition, “spam” has a money-making dimension. Someone wants you to part with your dollars. An invitation, a political announcement, or a free newsletter are not “spam,” and those who say they are distort the definition solely to express their personal preferences.

A print article or blog, whether of a political nature or not, is most assuredly not “spam.” Yet this is the primary non-definition of “spam” various Far Left Script Kiddies have been spouting and making accusations about at Twitter and some other sites. It’s gotten so bad that whenever I see a post on Twitter accusing somebody of “spamming,” I know automatically that what they’re objecting to is a link to an article or blog with a message that is considered Right-of-Center, from a source that is part of Little Media and therefore unprotected.

Never once have I seen anything from the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal or CNN described by the Script Kiddies as “spam.” Never once have I seen a blog from the Huffington Post or Mashable so described.

But even more shocking, never once have I seen the Script Kiddies incensed about real spam! They don’t complain at all about “Profit from Foreclosure” or “Get 10,000 Followers” or “The Best Tooth Whitener Available” ads that pollute Twitter incessantly.

They don’t complain about the monotonously horrid advertisements for the Trump Network. Nor even about the numerous solicitations from Ladies of the Night, who regularly post photos of nude body parts on Twitter, much to the delight, I’m sure, of 11-year-old boys and others of a prurient nature.

But post a link to an article or blog from a source that the Script Kiddies consider Non-Left, and accusations of “spam” will come out of the Cyber-woodwork in three minutes flat.

To Cure Doctrinaire-itis, Let in Fresh Air

So is there any hope for Twitter?

Strangely enough, I think the system was already beginning to self-correct, even before the massive Denial Of Service attack linked to hacker havoc.

Clearly, the humongous dropout rate now confirmed for Twitter, at the same time other social media sites like Linked In are growing steadily, proves that there are almost as many people who don’t like the current situation there as do.

And frankly, I think the two elements of Twitter most adult users – anyone over 30 – dislike most are the flaws in its security and the whole Followers-Following business, which advertisers, Big Media, and that Godin fella may find appealing, but which a large proportion of The Rest of Us consider elitist, insulting, and socioculturally retrograde.

Since these are also the two elements of Twitter most closely associated with bad behavior by Script Kiddies, I think we’re seeing a general dissatisfaction with Script Kiddies being given the run of the place. Why do I say so? Here are some hints that people are creating Their Own Private Twitters beyond the reach of arbitrary Tribal rules and pressures:

Equal numbers of Followers and Following: More and more often, we see users whose Follower-Following ratios are just about dead-even, meaning they are shunning the concept of following Celebrities or Big Media pundits and choosing to connect more naturally and equally with potential friends the way they do on Linked In and Facebook. There are now some applications that allow you to see if any Followers have recently dropped you, in which case you can easily drop them, too.

Reluctance to Retweet – Or Blindly Recommend – Pieces of Information On Somebody’s Say So: As a lifelong member of the Media, I find it absolutely appalling that anyone should agree to Retweet a link to an article, blog, or any other kind of commentary without first reading it themselves and agreeing it is worth recommending. I don’t want people to Retweet my articles and blogs unless they like them and believe they might be informative and enjoyable to others. And I would not consider Retweeting other people’s work I didn’t like and find interesting. Thankfully, more Twitter users are beginning to agree.

Refusal to Follow Someone Without Making the Choice Oneself: It may be profound heresy to say so, but I think Twitter’s popular Follow Fridays are essentially silly. It’s bad enough that Twitter’s one- or two-sentence profile bios tell you next-to-nothing about candidates you might want to connect with. But at least they tell you something. (Buffy the Cat’s says she’s a astrophysicist who plays the clarinet and reads Proust.) More Twitterers are passing on the chance to add folks to their Following roster because that fella with the beard in Pensacola – how the heck did he get into my network? – says they should.

Shunning the Concept That the More Followers You Have, the Better Off You Are: Not only is Twitter ineffective when viewed as a popularity contest, but networks patched together randomly can easily harm their amassers. Take a look at virtually any politician’s Followers list on Twitter, and you’ll find crowds of Ladies of the Night, Tooth Whitener salesmen, Stock Tip purveyors, and Trump Network groupies. Opposing politicians could have a field day publicizing these lists, if it weren’t for the fact that theirs are probably just as bad.

On the other hand, those who regularly prune the unsolicited Followers from their networks and build them slowly but surely by connecting with those who seem sympatico can actually achieve quality over quantity. And more are trying to do it.

Yes, Twitter seems at last self-correcting. And those who are taking the above actions and creating their Own Private Twitters overwhelmingly seem to come from two unlikely groups: Baby Boomers and the GOP.

The Right – and the Center – have begun to assert their interests quite enthusiastically on Twitter over the past few months. For instance, no other bloc of Twitter users has taken so avidly to the use of hashtags, little identifying badges that proclaim a Tweet is coming from someone who’s proud to display an affiliation with this, that, or the other informal group.

Among the most popular are #tcot, used by conservatives; #tlot, for libertarians; #teaparty, a grab bag of those disenchanted with the Obama administration; and #freedom, which sounds a bit like a feminine hygiene product, but which I suspect has something to do with the Right.

No matter what your political beliefs, if you’re a Twitter user, you should welcome this new broadening of the spectrum of active Twitterers. I say this, because those on the Right tend to be both security-conscious and, nowadays, the primary champions of Freedom of (Social Networking) Speech, since they are the ones the Script Kiddies have been harassing. A slew of local Republican politicians and candidates have recently jumped into the Twitter pool. And one feels they’re not gonna put up with a lot of the nonsense that has previously gone on.

And while the hashtag business seems in keeping with the Tribal thesis, even a cursory survey of Right-leaning Twitter users proves they tend to have much more balanced Followers-to-Following lists than the general Twitter public. This is probably partly a function of there being fairly few Celebrity Republicans on the network for potential groupies to pant after. But it also undoubtedly has something to do with the non-Far Left trending older.

Which brings us to the group which will literally save Twitter, the same way it has saved Linked In and other social networking sites. That group, of course, is we Baby Boomers.

For one thing, like the Right-of-Center population, Boomers have borne the brunt of a great deal of Internet-based bullying and harassment lately. (See my article on Anti-Boomer propaganda: http://wp.me/pxD3J-8 )

We are sick and tired of being “dissed,” and we are unlikely to let a social network like Twitter “diss” us, either via malware exploits from the Script Kiddies or by inane urging to participate in Tribal rites like Celebrity-gawking.

On the other hand, we Boomers are exceptionally comfortable with the essential concept of Internet networking – much more so, IMO, than are younger or older generations.

I don’t know why this has not been more widely discussed – but Hey! let’s discuss it now: We Boomers are and have always been both intensely independent and a generation of gung ho joiners.

Does that sound contradictory? Because it’s not. Boomers have been fanatic about self-actualization and improvement from the womb on. We don’t just root for our favorite teams. We’re active in sports on both the team and the individual level. We don’t just watch cooking shows on television. We devise our own recipes and plan elaborate dinners. We don’t just listen to political speeches. We debate political policy or are active in politics ourselves.

But Boomers also tend to be extremely social animals. We gravitated to various clubs from kindergarten on up. We were Cub Scouts and Brownies and belonged to 4-H. We were active in drama or band or the school newspaper. We played football or tennis or golf or field hockey. We joined sororities and fraternities. And we may still be active in P.T.A. or Rotary or Kiwanis or church and synagogue groups.

We’re good at it, too! Some think we’re the last generation to have cultivated the social skills, from saying “Please” and “Thank You” to throwing fun parties, writing persuasive letters, or supervising effective business meetings.

Boomers have taken to Internet social networks as ducks to water. We make friends. We establish business contacts. We collaborate on projects. We moderate and steer on-line discussions, because we tend to do it better than most others.

In short, when we start to populate a social network, we invariably make it better.

Twitter will be no exception.

What Do You Think?

What do you like most – and least – about Twitter?

How could Twitter and other social networks improve to satisfy Boomers?

Does Godin’s “Tribe” construct appeal to you – or should Tribes be relegated to the deepest reaches of New Guinea and Borneo?

Have you been harassed for your political beliefs or anything else you Tweeted on Twitter?

Do we need to bring the guillotine back specifically for Script Kiddies?

I’ve now written that article on False Spam Accusations Used As a Political Weapon: http://wp.me/pycK6-1b

Readers might also like to see the Introduction to the new Media Revolution subseries at EllenInteractive: http://wp.me/pycK6-19

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