It looks like the U.S. military’s fears about Twitter being a tool for terrorists may not be so far off base. The Washington Post reports that the attackers who wreaked havoc in Mumbai last week used Blackberries, GPS navigators, CDs full of high-res satellite images, and “multiple cellphones with switchable SIM cards that would be hard to track” to carry out their siege. They also spoke to each other using satellite phones and kept tabs on their fellow terrorists by watching live TV reports in the hotel rooms they occupied.
The use of technology was so sophisticated and extensive that one security expert in New Delhi told the Post,
“The terrorists would not have been able to carry out these attacks had it not been for technology. They were not sailors, but they were able to use sophisticated GPS navigation tools and detailed maps to sail from Karachi [in Pakistan] to Mumbai.”
Meanwhile, civilians were making full use of available resources as well. Throughout the attack, the blogosphere, and particularly sites like Flickr and Twitter, was packed with extensive realtime coverage and updates from onlookers, residents, and potential victims trapped in hotels. And of course, afterwards, those affected were able to use the Web to share stories and vent emotions about what had happened.
The Army has always been clever at thinking up all the vast and strange ways our enemies might use to kill us (or vice versa). Now Wired writes that an intelligence report is circulating containing warnings that terrorists might plan an attack using that deadliest of all technological terrors: Twitter.
The 11-page paper in question [pdf] is not solely devoted to Twitter—in total, it includes the following topics:
Pro Terrorist Propaganda Mobile Interfaces
Mobile Phone GPS for Movements, Ops, Targeting, and Exploitation
The Mobile Phone as a Surveillance Tool
Voice Changers for Terrorist Phone Calls
A Red Teaming Perspective on the Potential Terrorist Use of Twitter
In assessing Twitter’s danger to the free world, the authors note that the micro-blogging site was used as a “countersurveillance” tool by activists at the Republican National Convention, who used it to Tweet the location of local police. (What they fail to mention is that said local police could have pretty easily monitored the Tweets in question and adjusted their plans accordingly). The paper then goes on to lay out three possible “Twitter Attack!” scenarios:
Like many, we were Twitter skeptics at first. “Who on earth would ever use this?” we thought a year or so ago, when the micro-blogging service was winding its way through the word-of-mouth (and -blog) channels.
But now, given the site’s major role in the presidential campaign, its history of freeing jailed Americans abroad, and even its ability to facilitate public safety during a national disaster, we’re convinced: Twitter is freakin’ brilliant, and may change the way we communicate on a global scale.
ABC News writer Ki Mae Heussner reports that New Orleans natives and other hardy souls who faced off with Gustav were Twittering up a, er, storm, sending messages about evacuations and shelters, letting friends and family members know their location, and reporting on storm conditions as they watched them.
The crowd was bursting at the seams in Invesco Field last night—MSM reports have put attendance anywhere from 75,000 to more than 84,000—but for those not packed into the confines of Mile High Stadium, Obama’s historic acceptance speech was alive and well on the Internet. The Democratic nominee’s address—made on the 45th anniversary of civil rights leader Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech—was streamed live on MSM sites, posted to YouTube with astonishing speed, and blogged at length. But one real winner for the night, in addition to the Democratic candidate, was Twitter.
The micro-blogging site, which has been gradually but surely infiltrating the political realm, had a huge night, with Wired‘s Sarah Lai Stirland reporting that “[m]ore than 6,500 tweets poured through the service in just 20 minutes…most of them brief, two-line assessments of Obama’s performance.” While Obama may not have the most comfortable lead in the polls, he does lead the world’s most followed Twitterer list by a wide margin, with 67,969 followers, though he wasn’t the only Democrat to inspire tidal waves of Tweets—Bill Clinton’s speech the night before also drove viewers to their computers and cell phones.
It’s no secret that, when it comes to Internet savvy, the two presidential candidates are about as different as BASIC and LINUX. And nowhere does their Web contrast play out more than in their respective campaigning. The Economist reports that in June, Obama raised $52 million in total, $31 million of which came from donations of $200 or less that were mostly generated by his Web site. He also has 1.3 million Facebook supporters to McCain’s 200,000, and also keeps regularly updated profiles on MySpace, LinkedIn, and other social networks.
And then there’s video. While YouTube has been embraced by just about everyone as a great way to spread viral campaign messages, Obama has his own video team on the payroll. So far, the group has shot more than 2,000 hours of footage and uploaded around 1,110 videos on his YouTube channel–more than four times the content on McCain’s channel. And all that work has paid off: The Illinois Senator’s videos have been viewed 52 million times to McCain’s 9.5 million.
Twitter is quickly inserting itself into the political mainstream, helping to extract American travelers from sticky situations abroad and even giving members of Congress a way to connect with their constituents. Now, Footnoted blogger Michelle Leder has discovered that the Securities and Exchange Commission has its very own Twitter feed. Under the moniker SEC_Investor_Ed, the SEC has been posting updates since late July of this year.
As Leder notes, the SEC’s Tweets are basically a condensed selection of the (not really all that exciting) press releases available on the organization’s Web site, and it was started the day before the SEC voted unanimously to provide new guidelines for public companies’ Web pages. Still, someone must be interested: So far, 275 followers have subscribed to the feed.
CNN is reporting that, in an effort to foster quicker and easier communication with constituents, members of Congress are turning to Twitter and other message-streaming sites to relay and receive information. Rep. John Culberson, R-Texas, is reportedly “at the forefront of a new effort to reach constituents” through the sites as part of an effort to “‘shine sunlight in every dark corner of the Congress.'”
Of course, how exactly elected officials plan to use/are using Twitter isn’t made clear—are Congressmen subscribing to voters’ feeds? Tweeting from their cell phones during committee meetings? But use of technology to increase government transparency has become a general theme in this election—though Culberson’s staunch support appears to carry the issue across party lines.