yes, social media is being weaponized
Twitter seems to be trying its best to become one of the scariest places on the web. It’s a haven for cranks and trolls where they have the high ground on any attempt to debunk them by the very design of the platform, and the perfect medium to be called a “libtard cuck” by users with egg or an eagle avatars on one side, and a [something terrible]-ist or -phobe on the other. It would take a long time to find a mainstream platform boiled down to such angry extremes in no small part due to its intended limitations. It’s also very bad at handling harassment campaigns and getting flooded by hate in your inbox, being extremely slow to roll out tools that mute malicious tweets or mass reply to harassers, be they from the extreme right or the extreme left, only making tangible moves towards these features after years of requests and handing out random discipline and moderation on a case by case basis in actions that were typically pointless and ineffective, taking place days, if not weeks, after the damage has been already done.
But if being pummeled by angry trolls is not enough for you, WikiLeaks is happy to take things to the next level and let it slip that it’s building a task force using leaked personal information used to verify users. They will then use this data to “correct the record” by those whose tweets about Assange, or his organization, with which it disagrees. Now, normally this data won’t amount to much for many celebrities because they probably just give some publicist’s number and address, and their families are often well known or easily found with a simple search, so it’s unlikely they will be impacted by this task force. However, those who would stand to lose the most would be journalists who use verified accounts for work and couldn’t simply abandon them because they often have a tweet quota nowadays. So the message is as clear as it could be: say something we don’t like and get doxed. Go ahead, say whatever you want about WikiLeaks. Just keep in mind that they know where you live, where your family works, and where your kids go to school, and evaluate your appetite for risk accordingly before you tweet.
When even Anonymous, which frequently traffics in doxxing, thinks you’re gone too far, you’ve really lost the plot. After the dry spell during which the world’s most famous leaker signed on to work with Kremlin-ran RT Channel to produce his own talk show, he’s specialized less in leaks about wars and financial misdeeds, and more in cryptic blackmail and political muckraking, lashing out against anyone who questions him. Luckily for many journalists, it seems like the WikiLeaks Task Force isn’t doing that great of a job giving out secret relationships between their targets and all the various spies and evildoers they imply are telling them what to write, and quickly deleting the tweets which miss the mark. Making accurate connections that aren’t easily traced already via social media mapping is going to produce lots of garbage data, as the NSA quickly found out when it tried doing the same things via programs like PRISM, so it’s unlikely it will be all that effective. But the fact that implicit threats of blackmail and conspiracy-mongering are fair play in response to criticism according to WikiLeaks, is really disturbing.
Aside from the nasty implications, this is also an opening salvo in what we can expect to happen on social media when special interests with an agenda and access to confidential data want to retaliate against whistleblowers and the media. Whatever private data they might find will be leaked to discredit or encourage harassment of their target. It’s little wonder that active users of most social media sites are graying and more and more interactions have moved to encrypted, private platforms, where you can stay relatively private rather than deal with demanding real name policies so the likes of Facebook and Twitter can try to show you better ads. And while social media is really addictive today, if it turns into a vector for dangerous harassment and data mining for blackmail by shadowy interests with opaque goals, it may end up quickly abandoned as a preventative measure. If this potentially existential threat to the very idea of open, public social networking doesn’t spur social media companies to really crack down on malicious users and really bolster security, we may be looking at the start of the end of the social web…