Tag Archives: Twitter

Margaret Atwood on Twitter

From The Guardian:

So what’s it all about, this Twitter? Is it signalling, like telegraphs? Is it Zen poetry? Is it jokes scribbled on the washroom wall? Is it John Hearts Mary carved on a tree? Let’s just say it’s communication, and communication is something human beings like to do.

Tagged ,

How To Start A Bank Panic Using Twitter

From the Irish Times, May 16, 2009:

POLICE IN Guatemala have arrested a Twitter user and confiscated his computer for inciting financial panic after he urged people to remove funds from a state-owned bank.

Jean Anleu Fernandez (37) was jailed for posting the 96-character message on the micro-blogging website earlier this week.

It is thought to be the first such case in central America.

Police raided the IT worker s home in Guatemala City on the orders of the public ministry division in charge of banks, according to local media.

The head of the banking system, Genaro Pacheco, said Mr Anleu admitted sending a message about Banrural, a rural development bank at the centre of a murder mystery which has engulfed the government in a political storm.

Mr Anleu sent the message on Tuesday of this week. It said: First concrete action should be remove cash from Banrural and bankrupt the bank of the corrupt.

Inciting financial panic is an offence in Guatemala, which like much of Latin America has a history of economic volatility.

Mr Anleu is due to be held in jail until payment of a EUR 4,800 fine, after which he will be placed under house arrest pending trial.

The detention prompted a backlash from the Twitter community.

Mr Anleu s message has been resent by other Twitters and funds are being collected to pay the fine.

Tagged , ,

What Is Twitter Good For, Anyway? Probably a Lot.

It is obvious to anyone in the business of media, advertising, and promotion that Twitter and other social networking applications have been become critically important in the generation and dissemination of information. But what else could we do with this? I have a couple ideas.

1. Elections. I was at the Young Democrats of America national convention this August in Chicago where one side of the ticket led by current YDA President Crystal Strait had the election bought and paid for.  Part of why money was so influential in this election is that you didn’t have to literally buy the entire delegation from particular states; you only had to buy the state leadership because it is the state chair who tallies and reports delegate votes. State Young Democrat leadership also rents the hotel rooms and arranges travel with the implicit message that if you are not here to vote for the person they want you to support, you’re going to have to find your own way home. It is hard to maintain the integrity of a ballot when you can control all parts of that process.

How can Twitter change this? Simple. It would be a trivial exercise to have Twitter create an elections application based on their platform. You could register the phone numbers for individual delegates at registration or alternatively assign each delegate a secure ID that they use to tweet votes. No one votes who isn’t registered and cleared by the organization, since you’re able to control access to the voting mechanism, and as a (presumptively) independent and unbiased third-party organization, Twitter can maintain ballot integrity since it’s a trivial exercise for them to ensure the secrecy of the ballot. This guts the ability of state or national officials to control their voting blocs. And since everyone has cell phones anyway, the platform’s infrastructure is already in place. You get all the benefits of electronic voting and none of the disadvantages. There are a few other objections but I’ll address them without loss of generality later on.

2. GPS navigation devices. A friend and I were driving through St. Louis today and her GPS navigation system led us to a highway that was closed for construction (and had been closed for the better part of the past year) and I was reminded of a conversation I had a couple years ago with Dr. Ron Harstad, who presciently asked how we could use cell phone technology to route traffic more efficiently.

The operative principle is that the interface determines behavior. Imagine if there was a realtime integration of GPS navigation with Twitter. Instead of unique avatar names, you could identify posts with a unique identifier for the time and exact geographical navigation and scroll the most recent and most important posts along the sidebar. Crowdsourcing realtime information about traffic routes is both eminently feasible and pretty cheap, since the only additional work you’d have to do is add on a Twitter interface specific to the GPS system. Combatting things like spam or bad information is something that we’ve learned is really feasible through crowdsourcing and the only real work is to design the interface appropriately. You can take a look at Google Earth, where crowdsourcing has added incredible richness and value to an application that would be otherwise prohibitively expensive to engineer, or Facebook or Digg, where posts are subjected to realtime evaluation as users are able to evaluate which signals are valuable and which are not. Imagine the potential for coordinating and managing large emergency situations particularly.

Now to address objections. Generally speaking, objections to these proposals are all parametric questions that we can easily engineer around. Questions of security: how can we preserve a ballot’s integrity or prevent people from misusing realtime emergency navigation data can generally be addressed with the right set of protocols (you have a 3rd party control the voting platform or time-delay realtime emergency tweets in appropriate situations). Questions of workability: can we depend on telephone communications and satellites? What if Twitter goes down? These problems are generally managed by ensuring redundancy in the system. Questions of access: not everyone has a  cellphone (fortunately almost everyone does and they are really cheap).


Tagged , , , ,

Corruption at YDA and a Modest Proposal for Change

I was hoping to finish the political blogging from this weekend’s Young Democrats of America national convention and get back to economics blogging, but there are too many issues that I feel are unresolved. The most pertinent ones right now are the rather credible (in my eyes) allegations of voter intimidation, outright bribery, and other mechanisms of vote fraud that came out of the election.

The basic problems are these. Voting at the YDA elections happens via an open ballot as per DNC bylaws. What this allows is for state chairs to functionally control their voting delegates: there were numerous allegations of blatant voter intimidation that came to my ears. The basic scenario is that state presidents can control their delegates by holding things like the plane ticket home as leverage.

There are two solutions. The first is obviously moving from an open ballot to a secret ballot. However this involves changing the DNC national bylaws, which might not be politically possible given the resources of those concerned with YDA elections. The second is to introduce some kind of structural change to the election process itself, where the people (state presidents) who are in charge of their delegation’s votes can’t control their delegations. Allowing state presidents to be the ones signing off on the legitimacy of the votes cast by their delegates allows them to control those votes and auction them off to the highest bidder. In this election, that’s precisely what happened; I know personally that a political deal was struck that cut Missouri’s votes in half and I have heard very credible allegations that the delegation from Washington D.C. received $2,500 to vote one way.

So what kind of structural change would fit the bill? I have a suggestion: use Twitter to conduct elections. The basic framework is that you have delegates register their twitter names when they register for the national convention. As candidates come up for election, all eligible candidates tweet their vote using a randomly selected hashtag. Now we are looking at an election where votes are not filtered through state presidents and a system where vote fraud is a lot more difficult. You can only count votes from twitter handles that have been registered, so you can ensure that the people casting the votes are the people who registered. And you make all votes 100% transparent, which massively increases the amount of leverage that any single entity has to have over voters to control their votes.

There are a couple objections. First, it’s possible that outside parties could try to hijack the hashtag and spam votes. However, the use of hashtags that have been randomly selected immediately prior to the vote makes this difficult. And the fact that Twitter is searchable means that you could create a simple program to filter out only the votes cast by registered delegates. Second, not everyone has Twitter; but that’s not a truly meaningful criticism, since signup is easy and free and it takes less than a minute to learn how to vote.

This obviously wouldn’t work or necessarily be appropriate for real governmental elections, which are conducted by secret ballot. But YDA isn’t a governmental organization and it isn’t even that big so it’s not plausible to imagine anyone having the resources to make a serious attempt at rigging the vote or crashing Twitter. If Twitter got involved as an independent third party and and set up/managed the back end of open elections, we can eliminate all the problems associated with the status quo and the massive conflict of interests involved. This might even be a viable revenue stream for Twitter.

I will posting more emails from Martin Casas and the St. Louis Young Democrats bearing out my allegations of misconduct and corruption in that organization either today or tomorrow.  I don’t want him to be able to continue to operate in ways that are unethical if not blatantly illegal and hopefully my small corner of the internet will be a place where that can happen.

Tagged , , , ,