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Month: August 2012

Don’t be a dickc

Don’t be a dickc

On arising this morning, I checked into Twitter and thought I’d have a look to see if CEO @dickc had acknowledged any of my messages. In a way, he had. His account page said “@dickc’s account is protected”. Now, when it says that, despite there being no padlock symbol next to the user’s name, it usually means you’ve been blocked.

Various helpful chums had been suggesting that because of the time difference between San Francisco and Lowestoft (about 43 years last time I checked) and the volume of messages that must be received by such a prominent figure, he probably wasn’t seeing any of my tweets. The blocking suggests that he saw at least some of them. Probably the one where I said he had a “fucking massive head”. Or maybe the one where I asked what sort of threat I’d have to make towards him to get an instant suspension. Rude? Or testing how quickly Twitter can respond when it wants to? Both, obviously. It might possibly have been the one where I joked that Costolo doesn’t care about this issue because after Twitter is floated, he’ll “be rolling naked in used fivers, wanking like a gibbon”. Who knows?

I wonder if he caught sight of the ones where I politely asked “Hello @dickc. You run this place, I gather. Why did it take so long after reporting to remove a child abuser’s account and pictures?” or where I said “The way it was handled makes me question how this business is run, you see, @dickc.”? I don’t think the ribaldry detracts from the serious questions I’ve been asking. Indeed, it raises questions about what Costolo notices and what he doesn’t. The only thing that can be done is to keep asking the questions.


When Internets go wrong part 3

When Internets go wrong part 3

As a result of my recent blog postings on the Twitter thing, I was asked by the Guardian to do a piece for the Comment Is Free section of their website. It took a bit of soul-searching before I said “yes”, which, if you have any idea of how a freelance journalist’s mind works, is astonishing. Normally, the “yes” is implied by the speed with which I say “How many words do you want and when?”. I suspected that I would be accused of attention-seeking. I suppose that’s exactly what I was doing, except I wasn’t seeking attention for me or my wares, but for this thing that had happened, and the questions I felt needed to be asked. Anyway, here’s what I wrote.

I’m unhappy with myself over one bit of the CIF piece. At the weekend, the Sunday Mirror‘s front page splash was headlined “Twitter paedos exposed”, and told of how an East London man and his wife had been arrested early on Friday morning. It added that “as a result of our probe,¬†Twitter closed down 36 profiles used by ¬≠individuals to discuss child abuse and swap information”. When I first saw the story, it looked to my dazed, glazed eyes as though the Mirror was doing a distasteful bit of bandwagon-jumping, the arrested man having been one of the followers of the account that caused all of the fuss on Thursday. However, it transpires that the the arrests were, indeed, largely due to the Mirror, and specifically a great deal of investigative work of criminologist Mark Williams-Thomas beginning long before anyone noticed or reported the account on which the pictures had been posted. The misunderstanding was entirely mine. Sorry.

So, it’s entirely possible that Twitter’s apparent inaction was the result of there being an ongoing investigation. If so, now arrests have occurred, what’s stopping Twitter saying that, or, for that matter, anything? Interestingly, Williams-Thomas has said that “a change in attitude of #Twitter” is required, and that “The investigation shows vital role of the media working alongside the police. Time 4 Twitter to listen & address the issue of child abuse”. So, it sounds like he’s not wildly happy with the way Twitter handles the matter either.

It’s all a question of perception. Twitter’s head of trust and safety Del Harvey can say “When we receive a report and identify it as valid, we take action ¬≠immediately” until he’s blue in the face, but we would appear to have different definitions of the word ‘immediately’. Meanwhile, Twitter CEO Dick Costolo is tweeting away merrily about basketball and what books he’s reading. You know, the stuff that really matters when your global communications company is looking like it doesn’t know how to communicate properly.



Shit, did you see that?

Shit, did you see that?

Thanks to my old bandmate and plane-spotting compadre Charlie Kennedy for alerting me to this classy bit of aviation – or, as he put it, a “comically smooth landing from the airline that gave us ‘Sully’ and the Miracle On The Hudson”. Watch this and remember every rough touchdown you’ve ever had.

When Internets go wrong part 2

When Internets go wrong part 2

I’ve reactivated my Twitter account, but I won’t be indulging in my usual Bruce Forsyth obsession and lies about 1970s newsreaders. At least not until I’ve found out why it took Twitter over 14 hours to suspend an account that had been posting images of the sexual abuse of children.

I thought I’d email Twitter’s CEO Dick Costolo to ask why the removal of the offending item took so bloody long. Mr Costolo’s email address is not in the public domain. If I had Mr Costolo’s address, I wonder how long I’d last on Twitter if I posted it on there? Under 14 hours? Under 14 minutes? Anyway, I tried a few different variations in the hope that one of them would be right.

When I woke up, I realised I could tweet Mr Costolo, so I reactivated my account and asked him this: “Hello @dickc. You run this place, I gather. Why did it take so long after reporting to remove a child abuser’s account and pictures?”

Let’s see how he responds, if at all. I encourage you all to ask him the same question.

Oh look, what’s this? Anonymous are claiming to have got the offending account taken down within an hour? @YourAnonNews alerted its followers to the account at 3.04pm on Thursday, UK time. I had reported the account to at 2.54am on Thursday, over 12 hours earlier, and I know I wasn’t the first. The Internet Watch Foundation was doing serious work behind the scenes to get the account pulled long before the Anonymous intervention. Saying it all happened within an hour is unhelpful because it makes Twitter seem responsive and effective. If Anonymous had said that after 12 or more hours of inaction, the account was removed within an hour of their tweet, and that these two details were unlikely to be coincidental, that would have made for a much better line.

When Internets go wrong

When Internets go wrong

Having had access to the Internet for nearly 20 years, I’ve seen a fair bit. I have to say that the good far outweighs the bad. The information I’ve gleaned and the friendships I’ve forged make up for all of the spam and rubbish. People like to say that the Internet isn’t real life. For me, it’s part of real life.

As an opinionated sod and terrible jazz-hands show-off, I love Twitter and spend far too much time on it. The flip side of that is that I find myself involved constantly in numerous glorious conversations with hundreds of clever, funny, lovely people, quite a few of whom I have eventually met (usually on licensed premises). There is a shitty side to Twitter, as proved by the frequent ‘trending’ of hateful hashtags, promoting misogyny, homophobia, transphobia and racism, but that’s all easy enough to ignore if you follow good, decent people. And me.

Last night, though, something happened that I found myself unable to ignore. My friend @Nora_Noose re-tweeted a message asking everyone to report an account that was displaying images of the sexual abuse of children openly. The way Twitter is laid out meant that thumbnails of the images in question were visible on the profile page of the offending account. After what I saw inadvertently, reporting the account was the least I could do. I asked my followers to report the account, saying that I hoped they felt they could trust me when I said that they did not need to look at the account in order to do so. Of course, the only immediate reporting mechanism on Twitter is for spam. To report child pornography, there’s a special email address – Slightly labyrinthine, but if it deters frivolous complaints and enables prompt action where it’s needed, fine. I’m not a pitchfork mentality sort of chap. All I knew was that if enough people reported this account, Twitter would have to respond swiftly.

Twitter auto-responded swiftly, with a standard reply, the first paragraph running: “We’ve received your report of child pornography and will review it and process it as soon as possible. While we are unable to provide further follow-up to you directly, we will take action to remove and report the content once we’ve confirmed your report. Removed content may still be visible until you’ve refreshed your browser or cleared your browser’s history or cache.” Twitter is based in San Francisco. At the time I reported the account, it was around 7.30pm local time. I assumed that a multi-million pound company like Twitter might have someone on duty to process serious complaints, and, let’s be frank, they don’t get much more serious than this one.

An hour later when I went to bed, the account was still there. I saw a lot of people I like tweeting in genuine distress at what they had seen. These images had no place anywhere, but especially not on Twitter in plain view. I resolved that if the account was still live when I woke this morning, I would deactivate my Twitter account, possibly permanently. I want no part of anything that suspends a user for criticising a large American broadcasting organisation and posting an executive’s email address, but which fails to act when it is used to disseminate images of child sexual abuse. These weren’t links to external sites, by the way. These were directly uploaded images, hosted on Twitter’s own servers.

I say were. I should say are. 12 hours after I and many others reported the images, the account is still there. My account is not. This is partially principle, partially self-preservation. If I were on Twitter now, I would almost certainly be having pointless, stupid arguments I don’t want to have with people I don’t want to upset. At the time I left, a few people were suggesting, quite justifably, that I should never have drawn attention to the account. I can see their point perfectly and, on any other day, I’d probably agree with it. However, I was blindsided by the whole thing, and all I wanted to do was get the account and the images off Twitter. I did what I thought was best and most effective at the time. I can still rationalise it all perfectly. If you think I was misguided, or worse, I apologise.

Twitter know about the account. The Internet Watch Foundation is working hard to get the account closed down. Why it should have to work hard to do so beats the hell out of me. Res ipsa loquitur. The Metropolitan Police have been informed. Everything that can possibly be done has been done. There was, however, one thing we missed until the blessed @Octobrrr had an idea. The offending account was, nominally, a fan account for teenage singer and Britain’s Got Talent finalist Ronan Parke. Would Syco not be interested in hearing about one of its acts being used in such a way? I rang Sony Music and was asked to put the information in an email for the legal department. So I did:

“Subject: Ronan Parke Twitter

Hello. As requested on the telephone just now, here are the details of the offending Twitter feed. The account name is @xxxxxxxx, and the name at the top consists of Arabic script followed by ‘Ronan love’ in English. Most of the tweets consist of images of child pornography. I was made aware of the account late last night, and I immediately notified Twitter of its existence at the email address, which is their address for dealing with child pornography issues. The Internet Watch Foundation has also been notified of its existence, but the account and the pictures are still online. I felt that it was something that your legal department would take very seriously indeed, hence my call just now.

Louis Barfe”

Now, if the account is nuked as a result of intervention from the world’s most powerful music company, after 12 hours where Twitter did nothing, that will show Twitter’s priorities up once and for all. It will also put the world in the curious position of having to be genuinely grateful to Simon Cowell for something at long last.

UPDATE: “The profile you are trying to view has been suspended.” At last. A mere 14 hours after I reported it, and I know for a fact that I wasn’t the first person to do so. I wonder what clinched it for Twitter? Was it the IWF? Was it Syco? Or was it someone in San Francisco finally waking up to the fact that Twitter was hosting images of young boys being raped?