Silicon Valley Watcher - Former FT journalist Tom Foremski reporting from the intersection of technology and media

MediaWatch Monday: Twitter Censorship Of #Flotilla Tag? And Circuit Breakers On Viral Media...

Posted by Tom Foremski - May 31, 2010

The Israeli interception of a flotilla of boats carrying aid to Gaza sparked a furor on Twitter with people spreading the news of deaths, injuries, and protesting the action, using the Twitter hashtag #flotilla to group all the messages.

However, that hashtag stopped working for an undetermined period earlier today. Was Twitter censoring the #flotilla hashtag because most of the Tweets were critical of Israel? That was the view of many Twitter users.

Charles Arthur at Guardian.co.uk: Did Twitter censor the #flotilla hashtag following the Israel attack? | Technology | guardian.co.uk

...at around 11am, as #flotilla began "trending" - rising to the topmost-used hashtags on the service - it seemed to vanish.

Was this censorship by Twitter? Quite a few asked the question.

Matthew Ingram, a reporter for GigaOM, tweeted: "Twitter spokesman says problem with #flotilla hashtag was a "short-term technical issue" that is being investigated."

It seems that the problem was likely due to anti-spam filters being triggered (The mystery of the disappearing #flotilla on Twitter [Updated]).

However, I'm wondering if future news distribution services might be required to carry filters of another kind, ones that would seek to dampen down news dissemination if it could result in great distress.

Israel, and its activities in the Middle East, is an emotional subject that drives many people to action, both pro, and those anti-Israeli policies. For example, here in San Francisco, large crowds are already gathering to protest the flotilla attacks. Similarly, there will be pro-Israel demonstrators there too.

What will happen in the future, when news dissemination is far faster, far more viral, and the subject might be something which could trigger in riots, violence, or other possible distress, to a society or region?

Misinformation within such a future scenario could be extremely damaging, and misinformation is highly likely because there are organizations that would benefit from such tactics. By the time any information is checked and verified and put into context, etc, the damage could already be done.

The stock market has "circuit breakers" that halt trading if the market falls too far and too fast. The goal is to avoid problems from automated trading systems that react to bad news and all try to sell stock at once, lowering the price and setting off even more sales, in a massive avalanche of sell orders.

I can foresee the possibility that any news dissemination service, such as Twitter, might in the future be required to have "circuit breakers" that would stop the sudden dissemination of news so that it can be checked, verified, and put into context by news organizations, by journalists putting the story together, trying to be truthful and objective.

Journalists have done that job for a very long time, taking time to evaluate, check sources, and then publish. Too bad we are losing that tradition. We might be faced with a much more volatile world in the near future.


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