Mid-December has recorded several key dates in communications history. My prediction: something in this week’s hot mess at Twitter will be in next year’s “on this day” December diaries.
Key moments in mid-December communications history:
- 1902, 08 December: Britain completed its trans-Pacific telegraph cable. On 26 December 1902, the cable ship Silvertown completed a telegraph line from San Francisco to Honolulu. President Theodore Roosevelt would formally open the American Pacific cable on Saturday 04 July 1903.
- 1962, 13 December: NASA launched the communications satellite Relay 1. On 22 November 1963, Relay I broadcast the first satellite television transmission from the United States to Japan.
- 1980, 12 December: Apple Computer’s initial public stock offering.
- 1994, 15 December: Netscape released version 1.0 of its commercial web browser.
- 2008, 11 December: Google released version 1.0 of its web browser, Chrome.
- 2022, 15 December: Elon Musk suspends and bans journalists after they reported news about his ban of an account posting publicly available information. He also blocked, claiming it was potential malware, links to competitor Mastodon.social.
Musk turns Twitter into a private fiefdom
Elon Musk made an offer to buy Twitter and take it private on 14 April 2022. The Board agreed on 25 April 2022. The next six months unrolled as an extended public tantrum, highlighted by Musk’s many attempts to back out of the deal. He finalized the $44 billion deal on 27 October 2022, one day before a court-imposed deadline.
The week of 12-16 December marks a new low in the Musk era:
Twitter has been engulfed in chaos since billionaire Tesla CEO took helm, cutting the company’s workforce in half, overhauling the platform’s verification system, sparring with some users and acknowledging that “dumb things” might happen as he reshapes one of the world’s most high-profile information ecosystems.
Hours after suspending @ElonJet, an account that tracked the trips taken by Elon Musk’s private plane, Twitter banned the account’s creator, Jack Sweeney, and dozens of other accounts he operates. Twitter then un-suspended @ElonJet, which was briefly tweeting to try and get its account back, before Twitter banned it again.
The @ElonJet account had a half million followers and shared publicly available information about the jet as it departed from and landed at airports. Musk now claims that this is doxxing, which is “when a threat actor publishes some of your private data on the Internet.”
The 20-year-old Florida college student started the account two years ago because he was a Musk fan. He thought “it’d be cool to track how Musk managed his business empire.”
He woke up Wednesday morning to a suspended Twitter account but with no idea of what rules he might have broken.
On Wednesday evening, the account was briefly restored, with Twitter outlining new rules seemingly designed to prevent Sweeney from posting the real-time locations of planes used by Musk and other public figures as long as he included a slight delay. Sweeney, over Twitter, asked Musk how long he’d have to delay the data to comply.
But Wednesday evening, Musk threatened to escalate the conflict against Sweeney, saying a car carrying Musk’s son, X Æ A-12, had been “followed by [a] crazy stalker” in Los Angeles, implying without providing evidence that location data had been a factor in the purported episode. “Legal action is being taken against Sweeney & organizations who supported harm to my family,” Musk tweeted.
Sweeney, 20, shared publicly available information about Musk’s flights, not his family members or his cars. The records stopped and ended at airports, and Musk has provided no further detail as to what legal basis Musk would cite in a lawsuit.
That long quote came from The Washington Post.
Threatening frivolous lawsuits and banning journalists and would be major news even if Musk had not claimed for years to be a free speech “absolutist.” Immediately after his purchase, formerly banned account holders pleaded for re-instatement. This request is from the editor-in-chief of Russian state-controlled RT:
Elon @elonmusk, since you’re all for free speech, maybe unban RT and Sputnik accounts and take the shadow ban off mine as well?
— Маргарита Симоньян (@M_Simonyan) October 27, 2022
Musk blocked Instagram link
In addition to banning Sweeney’s accounts, Musk also directed his engineers to block a link to Sweeney’s Instagram account. When a user tries to tweet the link, Twitter responds: “We can’t complete this request because this link has been identified by Twitter or our partners as being potentially harmful.”
I can’t even save the tweet that contains a link to Sweeney’s Instagram account!
Independent journalist Aaron Rupar discovered that his Twitter account had been permanently blocked after he tweeted a link to Sweeney’s Facebook page.
As of 3:06 pm Pacific, Rupar’s account has been upgraded to “suspended.”
Musk disabled Twitter Spaces.
I’m pretty sure the reference is to suspended journalists, not banned ones, but the Musk temper tantrum is still head shaking:
Link block applies to ALL of Mastodon.Social
On Friday, I discovered that Musk has directed his developers to also block links to a competing network, Mastodon.Social (hit me up for an invitation).
H/T @RubenBolling but OVER THERE NOT HERE
Thread > “History doesn’t repeat, but it rhymes”
TWITTER IS BLOCKING LINKS TO MASTODON-DOT-SOCIAL pic.twitter.com/6UqS9wreYf
— 🇺🇦Kathy E Gill | mastodon.social/@kegill (@kegill) December 16, 2022
Except now, at 3:42 pm Pacific, Twitter serving up an interstitial warning:
Do no harm
It’s at the top of the codes of ethics for all flavors of engineering. Computer science, included.
Twitter engineers are failing to honor their code of ethics. From the ACM code of ethics, 1.1 and 1.2 (emphasis added)
Computing professionals should consider whether the results of their efforts will respect diversity, will be used in socially responsible ways, will meet social needs, and will be broadly accessible.
Avoid harm… In this document, “harm” means negative consequences, especially when those consequences are significant and unjust. Examples of harm include unjustified physical or mental injury, unjustified destruction or disclosure of information, and unjustified damage to property, reputation, and the environment. This list is not exhaustive…
When harm is an intentional part of the system, those responsible are obligated to ensure that the harm is ethically justified. In either case, ensure that all harm is minimized.
I understand that many software engineers are in the US on work visas. Nevertheless, they need to leave sooner rather than later.
If you were a manager looking at their resume, would you applaud their staying or leaving?