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Twitter's Hands-Off Approach to Tweeted Terrorism

Publication Date: 
September 13, 2011
Source: 
The Atlantic Wire
Author: 
Adam Clark Estes

A quote Ryan Calo, CIS Director of Privacy and Robotics, gave during an interview with CNN is used in The Atlantic Wire coverage of terrorism charges in Mexico over the use of Twitter.

On Friday, hackers broke into the main Twitter account for NBC News and reported a terrorist attack on Ground Zero. Twitter acted fast, pulling the accounts of NBC and the Script Kiddies, the LulzSec-lookalikes that took credit for the attack, but the tweet stirred some anxiety in the days before the tenth anniversary of 9/11. This is hardly the first time that rogue tweets have stirred fear, and Twitter is drawing an increasing amount of scrutiny for the potential dangers of people using the service to incite violence. There are also new details about how the NBC News account was hacked in the first place (hint: don't click on mysterious files that strange emailers send you). All in all, though, the burgeoning social media company has not always been so quick to address the misinformation. Twitter is a boon for free speech around the world, but considering the security problems, it's also struggling with the consequences of free speech left unchecked.

The NBC News breach could've happened to anyone. MSNBC reports that Ryan Osborne, NBC's director of social media, received some suspicious emails in the days before the attack and, probably out of simple curiosity, opened an attachment that might have infected his computer with a Trojan horse. Once installed, this type of spyware can nab passwords by recording keyboard strokes. With a stolen password from Osborne, the Script Kiddies would have been able to take control of the account and tweet about terrorism or anything else they liked. The F.B.I. is meanwhile investigating the hack, but a government official told MSNBC, "The truth is it's relatively easy to get into these accounts."

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"Once people were yelling 'fire' in a crowded theater," Ryan Calo, a researcher at the Stanford Center for Internet and Society, told CNN regarding the case in Mexico. "Now the whole world is like the crowded theater."