Category Archives: Twitter

Thank you Herkimer Elementary for a Twitter spam case study

As my Twitter followers and other friends will know, I actively campaign against balloon releases — they litter, and harm wildlife.

This post isn’t about that, but about something odd which I discovered while doing so.

Each day, I search Twitter for people who are planning a balloon release, and politely ask them not to do it. A sufficient number to make this worthwhile, oblige.

About a year or so ago, give or take, I saw a tweet, the URL of which I have long since lost track of, saying:

Thank you Herkimer Elementary for a beautiful balloon release. Headed to Slavic Pentacostal Church.

(Both venues are in Herkimer, New York, USA, if you wondered.)

But then a while later, I saw exactly the same text tweeted by someone else. Then again by another account, a few days later, then again. This went on, week after week. Gradually, the frequency increased, and now at any time there are hundreds of recent tweets with that text:

https://twitter.com/charolettetm/status/292294397670850561

https://twitter.com/lashernndshane/status/292287884197773312

https://twitter.com/janinemccormi/status/292286193079566336

https://twitter.com/trishadicksonuk/status/292270073828212737

https://twitter.com/lavelleboothjnu/status/292224663940128768

You can try the ‘Herkimer Elementary beautiful balloon release’ search yourself.

If we examine one of the accounts tweeting that, say @janinemccormi (picked at random), we can see he’s tweeted other things:

https://twitter.com/janinemccormi/status/291091194732244993

https://twitter.com/janinemccormi/status/289943029542961152

(Interestingly, a Google image search shows that @janinemccormi’s avatar is shared with @sanevekaxu7, whose account is suspended.)

Those messages have each been tweeted by lots of other people:

https://twitter.com/AugustaGriffit9/status/292298948205502465

https://twitter.com/ChristyFry7/status/292288707422220290

https://twitter.com/GustavoMcclain/status/292285011686723585

https://twitter.com/lawanavdqplaza/status/292249058641338368

https://twitter.com/RenaldoJames2/status/292231467197661184

(‘ASOS Topshop killlllllllling meee’ search).

and again:

https://twitter.com/darcijvgsledfor/status/292313158306111489

https://twitter.com/ErickStephenso2/status/292137319039893504

https://twitter.com/LillianRogers18/status/292135322765103104

https://twitter.com/YolandePowell/status/292116140837191680

(‘preciso sair e passar nos outros fcs ‘-‘ beeijos.’ search).

And so it goes on: hundreds of identical tweets, from accounts making hundreds of other duplicate tweets. You’ll be able to find plenty more examples.

Now, at the risk of casting aspersions on innocent bystanders, I think it’s safe to assume that those are not genuine accounts (or if they are, they’re compromised).

If I were Twitter, I’d be looking into this and suspending some accounts. A lot of accounts.

How may I merge or duplicate Twitter accounts?

I manage multiple Twitter accounts. At some point, I will need to retire one; let’s call that Account A.

Is there a tool which will allow me, with ease, to make my Account B follow all the people currently followed by Account A?

Some people may find it useful, too, to be able to create a new account and have it follow all the people followed by an existing account which they or a third party own.

If there isn’t such a tool, would somebody care to make one?

Any such tool would need to deal with any duplicates (i.e. people already followed by Account B); and perhaps any limits set by Twitter on the number of follows made in a short period.

Don’t link to my Twitter profile!

From time to time, people are kind enough to mention me, with a link, in their blog posts. Usually, in a positive way. I’m very grateful when they do.

A rusty chain

Lovely links (geddit?)
Photo by pratanti, on Flickr, CC-BY

But…

They often link to my Twitter account, like this::

Here’s something about .

or like this:

Here’s something about Andy Mabbett (he’s @pigsonthewing on Twitter).

(the relevant HTML markup being, in the first example,
<a href="http://twitter.com/pigsonthewing">Andy Mabbett</a>).

Now, like I say, I’m very grateful for the attention. But I do wish they would link to my website, instead:

Here’s something about Andy Mabbett.

or even both:

Here’s something about Andy Mabbett (he’s @pigsonthewing on Twitter).

(the relevant HTML markup being
<a href="http://pigsonthewing.org.uk">Andy Mabbett</a>).

Why?

For two reasons. Firstly, though Twitter is fun, and I use it a lot, it’s ephemeral, and not everyone reading those post will want to use it. My website, on the other hand, has more about me and the work I do. Secondly, I need the Google juice (the value afforded to incoming web links by , the Google search algorithm ) more than Twitter does.

This isn’t just about me, though. The same applies every time a blogger or other web page author — and that probably includes you — links to anyone or any organisation, with their own website or blog. Please don’t just link to their page on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or on some other social networking site. Of course, do that as well, or if it’s the only online presence they have.

But if they have a website, as I do, please make that the primary destination to which you link. And hopefully, they will reciprocate.

Thank you.

Idea: A tool to make it easy to subscribe to web-based lists of Twitter accounts

Here’s an idea: a tool (which could be web based, or a browser plug in, or a mobile app; or a feature added to existing Twitter clients such as TweetDeck), which would take the URL of a page with a list of links to people’s Twitter profiles, like the one at http://www.birmingham.gov.uk/twitter, which I set up and maintained in a previous career,

Part of Birmingham City Council's list of Twitter accounts, showing those of parks' rangers

and either subscribe the operator to them all, or do that and then create a Twitter list containing them all.

Optionally, it could first present a checklist, from which individual accounts could be selected, or removed.

Would someone like to make this happen?

The Prime Minister, Social Media Surgeries and Me

The Prime Minster, David Cameron, really likes me. He’s just given me a “Big Society” award.

Well, not just me, but the whole Social Media Surgery movement, of which I’m proud to be a part. I’ve been standing on the shoulders of, and often shoulder-to-shoulder with, giants.

It all started in 2008, when a couple of very clever friends of mine, Pete Ashton and Nick Booth, decided to hold an event, in Birmingham, to which anyone from a not-for-profit organisation was invited, and where they would get free assistance in using the web, and especially social media tools, to promote or conduct their socially-useful activities, with “no boring speeches or jargon”.

The event — dubbed a Social Media Surgery —  went so well that they decided to repeat it regularly, and as soon as I head about it, I offered my assistance. I’ve been involved ever since.

Over the last three or four years, as well as the original and on-going Central Birmingham surgery, I’ve helped at Social Media Surgeries in Aston, Coventry, Digbeth, Dudley, Perry Barr, Stourbridge and elsewhere, I’ve also set up and run sessions near where I live in Oscott, north Birmingham, and in Walsall, and more impromptu Social Media Surgery sessions at unconferences like LibCamp.

I’m not alone. Surgeries directly spun off from what we do in Birmingham have been held in over 50 towns and cites, in pubs, community halls and cafes, on trains, and in tents at country fairs, and in several other countries.


Me, in my cool shades, helping at Central Birmingham Social Media Surgery in July 2011. © Gavin Wray, CC-BY-NC-SA

Literally hundreds of organisations have benefited. I personally have helped bereavement counselling services, organic fair-traders, residents’ associations, target-shooting rifle clubs, arts festival organisers, parks’ friends groups, model railway clubs, Oxfam supporters, art galleries, cyclists’ groups, hospices, local historians, and many others, to use Facebook, Twitter, WordPress, Flickr, Google Docs, and a host of other online tools. I’ve even taught a few to edit OpenStreetMap or edit Wikipedia, and to avoid conflicts of interest when doing the latter, by declaring them and not being overly promotional.

It’s been one of the most rewarding of the many voluntary activities I’ve performed. And as a result of all our work, we have now received the aforesaid award.

The Prime Minster said:

This is an excellent initiative — such a simple idea and yet so effective. The popularity of these surgeries and the fact that they have inspired so many others across the country to follow in their footsteps, is testament to its brilliance.

Congratulations to Nick and all the volunteers who have shared their time and expertise to help so many local groups make the most of the internet to support their community.

If you work or volunteer for a non-profit organisation, why not pop along to your nearest surgery? And if you already use such tools, even a little, why not pop along and offer to share your knowledge? If there isn’t a surgery near you, why not set one up?

On the other hand, your work is commercial (or you work for a not-for-profit organisation, but require additional or more intensive support), that’s part of what I do for a living. I’d be happy to hear from you.

I should also comment on the name of the award, since the surgeries have been running long before the current government came to power and before their “Big Society” brand was heard of, and would be held even if neither of those two things had occurred. We do this because we want to give to the community and help those who are prepared to try to improve their world, not because of a political ideology.

In closing, my thanks and congratulations, to my fellow surgery managers and surgeons (many of whom have written blog posts about receiving the award), especially those who’ve helped at the surgeries I’ve run and to the patients, whose appreciation and continued use of what we’ve shown them, make it all worthwhile.

Bullet points from UK Govcamp 2012

I spent Friday and Saturday at UKGovCamp2012, a splendid unconference, in London, for people interested in the use of digital technologies in local and national government. Or “Glasto for Geeks” as it has famously been described. My friend and fellow attendee Dan Slee has suggested that we all blog a list of 20 thoughts we brought away from the event. I’m happy to oblige.

Steph Gray planning sessions at UKGovCamp 2012. Picture by David J Pearson; some rights reserved.

  1. Our national and London rail systems are overpriced, and the former’s ticketing is ridiculously over-complicated.
  2. It’s a good idea to walk (or cycle) through London, rather then getting the tube. You’ll see great architecture and public art, and get a better impression of how the various districts are laid out. But wear sensible shoes.
  3. Geeks do have great senses of humour. Especially those at our generous hosts and butt of jokes, Microsoft.
  4. There is still a lot of uncertainty about Open Data — what’s it for, what do we want, how should we use it. This is good, because — despite some valid concerns about the centralisation of innovation more generally — there is still room for us to innovate with Open Data.
  5. There are a lot of Brompton bikes in London. I’m determined to take mine on a future trip.
  6. We need better systems in place for using social media in responding to emergency situations. Expect some exciting news about a new project I and some fellow attendees are planning, soon.
  7. Anke Holst does not appear old enough to have a teenage child.
  8. When beta.gov.uk comes out of beta, and current .go.uk domains are “retired”, it’s really, really important that existing links to them, from external sites, still work. And by work, I mean go to relevant content, not a home page. As a very wise man once said, “Cool URIs don’t change“.
  9. It’s possible to spend one or two days at an event with good friends, and still fail to manage to say hello to them. Apologies if that’s you.
  10. Open Data and Freedom of Information are the two are opposite sides of the same coin. If an organisation has people responsible for Open Data and FoI and those people are not either the same, or closely linked, then that organisation has a problem.
  11. Terence Eden is not only (with ) a generous host, but also an impressively entertaining speaker. If his day job fails (it won’t) he has a viable alternative career in stand-up observational comedy. I went to his QR code session not only to learn, but to enjoy.
  12. If you ask them, people who share will kindly change their settings, so others can tag them.
  13. If you put three expert™ Wikipedia editors together in a room you will get at least four interpretations of the Conflict of Interest policy.
  14. Twitter still rocks. Its so ubiquitous (to us) that we forget that; and that some people still don’t get it.
  15. There are — contrary to popular perception — people working in Government who are keen to and do, make the images they produce available under open licences, so that others may reuse them. OpenAttribute may be useful to them.
  16. I want a Scottevest!
  17. People like having the #ukgc12 bookmarks curated on Pinboard.
  18. People recently turned, or thinking of becoming, freelance need more advice and help, and perhaps a support network.
  19. If our wonderful organisers Dave Briggs and Steph Gray are “the Lennon and McCartney of gov digital people”, who is going to be The Frog Chorus?
  20. Beer tastes even better when it’s free. Thank you, kind sponsors.

See you there next year!

The BBC’s fundamental misunderstanding of copyright

On 6 August, I sent a complaint to the BBC:

Your reporting of this evening’s riot in Tottenham included photographs which you said, were “from Twitter”.

You may have found them via that website but they would have been hosted elsewhere and taken by other photographers, whom you did not name and whose copyright you may have breached.

You have done this with other recent news stories such as the Oslo attacks.

This is not acceptable.

In future, please give proper credit to photographers.

Here’s their reply, with my annotations and emboldening:

Dear Mr MABBETT [I’ve no idea why thay capitalised that — AM]

Reference CAS-918869-HR7W5Y

Thank you for your contact.

I understand you were unhappy that pictures from Twitter are used on BBC programmes as you feel it may be a breach of copyright.

Twitter is a social network platform which is available to most people who have a computer and therefore any content on it is not subject to the same copyright laws as it is already in the public domain. The BBC is aware of copyright issues and is careful to abide by these laws.

I appreciate you feel the BBC shouldn’t be using pictures from Twitter [I didn’t say that — AM] and so I’ve registered your comment on our audience log. This is a daily report of audience feedback that’s made available to many BBC staff, including members of the BBC Executive Board, channel controllers and other senior managers as well as the programme makers and producers of ‘BBC News’.

The audience logs are seen as important documents that can help shape decisions about future programming and content.

Thanks again for taking the time to contact us.

I’m speechless.

Update: I’ve sent a follow-up complaint to the BBC, you can see it below.

Update: Please note this comment, by Chris Hamilton, BBC News Social Media Editor.

Update: I have now received a further response from the BBC; quoted below with my reply to it.

Update: On 18 August, I received another response from the BBC; also quoted below.

Can you make a Freedom of Information request via Twitter?

I subscribe to a mailing list on United Kingdom Freedom of Information issues. Ironically, it doesn’t seem to have public archives, so I’m not going to name it here, and the quotes below are therefore anonymised.

One of the regular participants recently posted this:

The just published ICO newsletter contains the following :

The ICO has also been asked whether a request in a tweet that only refers to an authority in an @mention, for example @ICOnews, is really directed to and received by that authority. The ICO’s view is that it is. Twitter allows the authority to check for @mentions of itself, and so it has in effect received that request, even though it was not sent directly to the authority like an email or letter.

Armchair auditors at work

Which has led to a series of comments and questions, which I’ve read with a growing sense of disbelief. Some are shown below, with my replies:

Does that mean that an FOI request pinned to a public notice board in a library has been received as we can check that just as easily as an @mention? What about letters to the local rag ? Is there a logical difference here?
Yes; there is a logical difference. The council chooses to operate a Twitter account, thereby creating a reasonable expectation that it will communicate via that channel.
How on Earth do you respond in 140 characters or fewer?
You post the response on your website, and tweet the URL.
How long would @mentions be stored on an authority’s feed?
Irrelevant. They’re permanently on Twitter.com — all you need to do is to bookmark them.
What happens if Twitter suddenly implodes and you no longer have access to it?
In the unlikely event that Twitter permanently disappears in the 28 days you have in which to reply, you’d reaonably be able to say that you were prevented from replying. How much money do you want to put on that happening?
Most users will have a [pseudonym] type user name […] so couldn’t it be argued in the majority of cases that they have not provided their name and the request isn’t valid anyway?
A request is not invalid just because a pseudonym (a uniquely identifying pseudonym) is used.
Why stop at Twitter? There are a myriad of different social media on the web.
Indeed. And FoI requests addressed to an eligible organisation’s self-created presence on them should be answered, as they would if received by e-mail or post.

It would be nice to see FoI officers in councils, universities and other public bodies discussing innovative ways in which to make information available, rather than finding reasons not to.

Image credit: Deutsche Fotothek‎ via Wikimedia Commons, under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Germany.

An open letter to Iain (M) Banks: please give Twitter a try

Dear Iain,

We met this evening at your talk to the Birmingham Science Fiction Group, part of their 40th birthday celebrations. While you were signing my copy of ‘The Spheres’, the limited edition booklet they’ve produced, of your short stories, I asked why you’re not (yet) on Twitter. You said, and I have to paraphrase, that “it’s just like work — I do text entry for a living” and that you “don’t want to be too easily contactable; to be connected all the time” as you like to go walking in the woods.

Well, with the greatest of respect, you’re wrong. Using Twitter is not writing, in the sense of your day-job. It’s more like talking, in that your comments can be instantaneous, requiring no planning or copy-editing, and there’s no plot development or characters to invent. It’s something you do on the fly, in (virtual) company, not to a deadline and locked in a garret. Think of it as being like sending an SMS text message to lots of people at once.

Twitter is all about conversations. And it will let you carry on those conversations as much or as little as you want to, and as often and whenever you want to. There will be no intrusion because you will be in complete control. You can turn off e-mail and mobile phone notifications, and block people who annoy you.

It’s quite clear that you absolutely love talking to your readers. You spent more time on the question and answer part of this evening, than you did giving your talk. You hardly stopped smiling. For each question, your answer was filled with tangential anecdotes and asides. You even ran over time. And the same thing happened on the previous occasion when I saw you speak, as your alter-ego Iain Banks.

John Jarrold‘s article about you in the Novacon 40 programme says you are “garrulous and fast of thought”, “interested in everything” and “love chatting”.

And all that means you’d really, really enjoy Twitter.

Plenty of other authors use Twitter, effectively, and seem to enjoy it. They include Neil Gaiman, Stephen Moffat, Polly Samson, Ben Goldacre, Cory Doctorow and many more. Oh, and me. None of them — apart from me — has anything to prove any more, nor needs to work hard at selling their wares, so they must find some other benefit in tweeting. They all have a mutually-beneficial relationship with their readers, but are not enslaved by them. I’m sure at least one of those is in your address book, so why not call them up, or drop them a line, and ask them what they think?

I make my living by helping people make the best use of online communications, so I’ll make you an offer: I’ll give you an hour or two of my time, on Skype or the phone (or in person the next time you’re in Birmingham), and help you get Twitter set up and running. I’ll find you some good software to use (because Twitter’s own website is pants). I’ll explain the culture (no, not that culture!) of tweeting, and I’ll suggest some accounts to follow, which I think will interest you. You needn’t pay me. If you don’t like it after, say a month or six weeks (I’ll wager that’s not going to be the case), you can say goodbye and kill the account, and tell everyone to mock me. If you do like it, you can mention me in your next book (a credit, or name a character after me). Or you can commission me to do the same job for a charity of your choice.

Why don’t you give it a go?

Poll: To at or not to at?

Today, while other people are out enjoying the warm sunshine, I’ve been sat at my computer, grappling with one of life’s big issues:

at symbol @

When we link to somone’s Twitter profile, should we include the liquorice allsort charcter, the “@” symbol, in the link, or not?

In other words, should my profile be linked to as:

@pigsonthewing

or as:

@pigsonthewing

What do you think? Have your say below (using the WP-Polls plugin for WordPress, which coincidentally I’m trialling); and please ask your friends to do so, too.

Where should the "@" go?

View Results

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Thank you.