Twitter Bomb

A new phenomenon has appeared on Twitter: The Twitter Bomb. A couple of good rundowns appear here, and here.

The short of it is, Republicans were using a “hash tag” (#dontgo) on Twitter to mark all their tweets about the “speak in” the GOP House members have been staging over off-shore oil drilling. Liberals decided to start using the same hash tag, to fire back at the Republicans and, there’s no doubt, disrupt the virtual oil-tweet-fest.

Hence, the Twitter bomb.

Don’t Go has been called a “movement” by Patrick Ruffini; others call it nothing more than astroturf. In any case, a website has been created, and Republicans are making what they can of it. And as someone who has talked about the potential social networking tools bring to our politics, while I disagree on the issue, I certainly agree with the innovation.

What’s most interesting aside from the politics, though, is a debate that started up on Twitter about the tactics here. NPR’s Andy Carvin, for example, asked, “aren’t these tweets just going to cause tit-for-tat retaliation and ruin tagging as a tool for everyone?” Micah Sifry pointed out that “breaking #hashtags as a useful tool for everyone is hardly going to beat the GOP.”

While I see the point, what the twitter-bombers did was find an exploit; that is, an unexpected vulnerability in the system that can be used in a way the designers never intended. Not that the use of hash tags was “designed” by the folks that started Twitter — they more or less grew organically, a social by-product of the user base.

While we might think it’s possible for social norms to prevent people from not doing things like twitter bombs, the reality is, when it comes to code, social trust mechanisms don’t work — you can’t expect people to all behave in a certain way. On a blog, you don’t stop trolls by just hoping no one acts like a troll. You have a ratings system, and you ban people who violate the rules.

More importantly, you want exactly the opposite — you want people to make social media their own, and find new things to do with these tools, and new ways to use them. That’s exactly where hash tags came from.

The reality is, the twitter bomb was an exploit waiting to happen. In fact, it’s surprising it hasn’t come out before this, as it’s a fairly easy way to disrupt the stream of tweets, provided you have enough people doing it.

But, then again, nothing like a political debate to really get people thinking…

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2 responses

  1. [...] are earlier references to Twitter Bombs, but the usage of the term seems to have shifted. An August 2008 post on Twitter bombs refers to the practice of tweeting using the hashtag favored by a political opponent. And an [...]

  2. [...] are earlier references to Twitter Bombs, but the usage of the term seems to have shifted. An August 2008 post on Twitter bombs refers to the practice of tweeting using the hashtag favored by a political opponent. And an [...]

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