Transcript & comments from "Twitter against Tyrants" Congressional hearing

Some choice adhoc quotes that tumbled out of my brain during the Congressional hearing on new media, titled “Twitter against Tyrants”, that I spoke on last Thursday in Washington, D.C..

“I’ve learned an important lesson in working with the Tibetan
independence movement and others:  It’s that we can’t presume what people are
willing – are or are not willing to do for their own freedom and liberty and
democracy.  We can’t say, oh, if they do that, they might get arrested or go to
jail or get killed and we can’t do that.  These are people, as we saw in Iran,
who are willing to take to the streets and die for their freedom, and you know,
the – it’s an important fact to remember to not presume that you want to
protect them.”

“I get asked this question a lot as well because I’m building,
like, an encrypted phone and people are like oh man, the Mafia is going to love
that, or something.  So it is – and my students ask me this as well – and I
don’t, from an engineer perspective, I don’t want to be the guy that said yeah,
just, I made the AK-47 and you know, it’s a great gun.  (Laughter.)  So you
have to be careful.  You need to inject morality into these things, but you do
– it’s a slippery slope.”

“I’m happy for tools like Twitter, that they can be used just as well to cover
the daily lives of Ashton and Demi or break the news of Michael Jackson’s
death.  But the fact that they can be used to broadcast updates from the
streets of Iran or spread the news of political prisoners in Tibet being
executed is a very weighty obligation and responsibility that they’ve taken on.”

Many thanks to my fellow panelists (Daniel Calingaert, Evgeny Morozov, Chris Spence and Shiyu Zhou) for the enjoyable discussion.

Shout-outs to Ushahidi, Alive in Baghdad, Lech Walesa and more in the full un-official transcript.

This Thursday: Speaking at US Congressional Commission on "Twitter v. Tyrants"

I’m honored to have been asked to participate in a hearing being held by the US Helsinki Commission this Thursday, in Washington, D.C. While my enthusiasm for the power and potential of new media will be evident, I hope to bring a metered tone to this discussion, laying out a number of issues, including the risks to activists utilizing these tools, the role of corporations in surveillance, as well as issues with the U.S. Government’s own position towards the use of these tools for domestic dissent…

“Twitter against Tyrants: New Media in Authoritarian Regimes”
Thursday, October 22, 2009, 2:00 p.m.
1539 Longworth House Office Building

This briefing will consider the ways in which new media and Internet communication technologies affect the balance of power between human rights activists and authoritarian governments. Panelists will focus on new media’s role in protests and elections, the ways in which it empowers civil society activists, and the darker side: how dictators use new technology to control and repress their citizens.

The following panelists are scheduled to speak:

• Daniel Calingaert, Deputy Director of Programs, Freedom House
• Nathan Freitas, Adjunct Professor, New York University Interactive Telecom Program;
developer of groundbreaking technology for protests
• Evgeny Morozov, Yahoo! Fellow at Georgetown University’s E.A. Walsh School of
Foreign Service; contributing editor, Foreign Policy
• Chris Spence, Chief Technology Officer, National Democratic Institute

Read more about the briefing… Hope to see you there!

Attack of the "Mad Men" Twitter-Bots

I experienced an interesting phenomenon this morning using Twitter, and I have to believe some sort of automated twitterbot marketing network is behind it.

It all begin with an innocent tweet about how I spent the weekend: “MC and I were sick all weekend, so we watched the entire first season of “Mad Men”…. time to start wearing my fedora again!”. My wife Micaela and I have been avidly watching the second season of AMC’s Mad Men, and took the $20 plunge on iTunes to catch up on the first season.

A few minutes later I received an email notification from Twitter that bettydraper was now following me. I laughed, and thought it was cute that some person out there loved “Mad Men” enough to a) impersonate one of the main characters, b) notice my tweet and c) actually then follow my feed. I followed Betty in return, and noticing she referenced @don_draper in a recent tweet, I followed him as well.

Now, I quickly realized this must be some sort of viral marketing campaign, or at the least an obsessed group of fans, role playing and recreating these characters in Twitter, hoping to tap into some of the magic of infamous twitterers such as DarthVader or Fake Steve Jobs. Then, however, something strange began…

Within minutes, I was also being followed by jane_segel, Ken_Cosgrove, and harrycrane, all characters from the show. Not that intrusive, but obviously my twitter account was being glommed onto by more make believe twits… how many more should I expect? The whole Mad Men crew?!

What to make of this? Well, considering the timing, either there is a dedicated staff of trained twitter monkeys, or someone has built a bot engine using some combination of Twitter Search and the Twitter API. Nothing mind blowing here, but interesting to come across it in the wild and to see how multiple twitter identities are weaved together to create, or perhaps recreate, the relationships of the show in this online environment.

What did bother me, was the speed at which I was picked up and followed by all of these other characters… just because I was interested in Betty and Don’s tweets, doesn’t mean I want to also know that Cosgrove and Harry Crane are out there, too. Now that they’ve got me hooked, perhaps the bots could monitor the frequency at which I mention Mad Men, and follow me, draw me into, their twitterweb over time. That would be more natural, and reveal the truth of itself in a much less obvious way.

The obvious irony is that this whole post is about viral marketing for a show that is all about the greatest era of marketing that ever existed… the era that created much of how we think about mass marketing and advertising. While digital campaigns such as this pique my imagination for a few moments, they unfortunately don’t have the staying power of an Oscar Meyer weiner tune.