Tweet with Care

Shot by Janis Krums (jkrums), this photo was all over the 'tubes and the TV, and it crippled TwitPic

Shot by Janis Krums (jkrums), this photo was all over the 'tubes and the TV, and it crippled TwitPic

This post features 95% more obvious than your average post, and as usual, insert Twitter disclaimer here.

Obvious Point 1: Twitter is growing fast.
According to Mashable (data from Compete), Twitter grew 752% in 2008 in terms of daily unique visitors, rising from about 500,000 uniques in January 2008 to 4.43 million in December. And these metrics only track US data.

If you’ve been on Twitter for a while, think about your own account. I stopped following everyone who follows me (sorry if that offends you) sometime last year; I now track people I know personally or have got to know on the ‘tubes. Plus some others, it’s arbitrary at best. My following count hasn’t fluctuated very much, but the number of people following me grows every day by at least a few.

One thing about Twitter (good or bad, depending on your perspective) is that unless you use a third party service like Qwitter, you don’t know when people stop following. Still, I’m pretty sure the number of people following me has been rising steadily for the last couple months.

This coincides with another data point; Twitter added one million new accounts in December alone.

Obvious Point 2: Twitter is public.
This should be obvious, especially to long-time users of Twitter. Unless you set your updates to protected, everything you tweet is public. That means it can be seen: a) by everyone who follows you, b) in the Twitter public timeline, c) by people searching Twitter, d) by people searching any public search engine.

That last bit is important.

Twitter is indexed by major search engines like Google and Yahoo. So, your tweets could show up in the results of an search for any keyword, even if the person searching has no idea what Twitter is.

Before you head to Twitter and protect your updates, which I am against, take a breath and find your center. The key piece of information here is to know that you’re being watched and behave/tweet accordingly.

Here is a sad example of what could happen when you do not.

The short version is a PR and marketing agency representative made some unflattering remarks on Twitter about Memphis, just before presenting at FedEx HQ in, you guessed it, Memphis. He quickly found out that Memphians are loyal and defensive when it comes to their hometown, by way of a message that went to a boat-load of senior executives at both FedEx and the agency.


The story is definitely worth a read, especially when you consider that the offending tweet did not mention the city by name, meaning the FedEx employees knew the representative presenting and his Twitter handle in order to connect the dots. I’m not sure if he shared that information at the presentation, which would have made it much easier.

At any rate, the incident is a spectacular fail. Shortly after reading that on Friday, I discovered that one of my followers works for SAS, in PR no less, when she retweeted some pithy comment I made about Twitter. This isn’t a surprised. I’m also followed by several people who work for SAP, and for that most part, I don’t tweet content I wouldn’t say aloud to a mixed audience.

Yeah, this is exactly the same as blogging, but not everyone gets that. And, people don’t exercise the same amount of care in 140-character bursts that they do with blog posts.

Obvious Point 3: Be careful.
The lesson here is be careful and assuming you’re being watched. Beyond trouble with work, you could be helping evil doers.

For example, this article documents how easy it can be to get into someone’s email and bank account simply by knowing a little bit, like a birthday, a child’s name, personal details that are shared readily over social networks, hence the term, social hacking.

You really should read that article and examine the strength of the credentials on your most important sites.

Maybe that’s a stretch. So, try this on for size: the use of link-shorteners (e.g. TinyURL,,, etc.) used for URL redirection can hide spurious links used for phishing, malware, and others types of bad payload.

On Twitter you rarely get a full link, due to the 140-character limit. So, there has to be some level of trust with the person posting the tweet/link in order to get you to click.

So, I should delete my account, right?
I’m not quitting Twitter any time soon. It has way too many benefits, most recently as the best source for live news on the planet. I’m talking about the US Airways plan that belly-flopped into the Hudson last week, the most recent of many examples of Twitter as a very timely and accurate source for news.

RWW correctly points out that Twitter provides a real-time Intertubes beyond anything Google could ever hope to accomplish. Twitter pwns television coverage in many cases, too, because people in the middle of the news can document it as it happens, e.g. students tweeting during the Virginia Tech shootings.

As more people join and use Twitter, the better it will get. Twitter search (formerly Summize) can tell you what people are tweeting about right now, and the list of trending topics provides a nice view of what is being discussed right now. Last week, this is how I got updates about the plane crash.

So, you made it through the obvious stuff. Did I miss anything?

I <3 Twitter, and you might too. Just tweet lightly and safely.




  1. That was a scary example and all too close to home.

    I think we traded tweets recently about something similar.

    I'm deleting my account right now. I can't afford another incident (though technically it's not the same year…), well, maybe not. (I'm not drinking I swear)

    Good points though. Admittedly, I'm not always careful…things could be easily inferred.

    (Posted from FF via Ubuntu Intrepid Ibex, Machine 3)

  2. It's tough. I know of several instances where people ran into issues over seemingly innocuous tweets (and blog posts).

    We're still finding our way through the whole transparency thing. Good news though, the White House has a blog (and many other new features) today, and the three priorities of the new media policies of the Obama administration are communication, transparency and participation.

    So, we're not alone anyway.

  3. Facebook + Twitter are officially mainstream. I have been noting that EVERYDAY both are mentioned on the news (cable and over the air). This is a good thing, more information is flowing. I also have been getting a constant flow of requests, even tough I confess I only tweet a few times a week. I tried to stay relevant but as noted, is not always easy. All and all is just another way to connect, and I welcome it 🙂

  4. Hmm, I have to say Twitter is probably a year away, don't you think? FB has four times the uniques or something similar. Although mentions in the news is just the beginning, and events like the US Airways flight will only drive more people to Twitter.

    I wonder if the new administration will stay on Twitter . . .

    Since posting this, I've come across two more instances of social hacking. Will post more on that tomorrow.

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