Can You Keep a Secret in the Twitter Age?

Twitter has change how we communicate these days, and those who thought that the service is going to change the world in ways we cannot foresee, like Jeff Pulver, the founder of #140Conf. have proven to be correct.

But Twitter is, in a way, a double edge sword. As much as it can bring people together, pass information quickly and tell news as it happens, it is also a potentially dangerous tool.

The last events in the Middle East were enabled and perpetuated by the use of social media and especially Twitter. Whether you look at the way demonstrators passed information or cases such as Al Jazeera tweeting from Cairo when they could not report the news in any other form, social media played an important role.  The latest cases of relying on Twitter were reported in an article in Lancer, a medical magazine, when Japanese doctors used the network to get medicine to their chronically ill patients after the earthquake. The telephone communication was disrupted but the internet stayed on. It has become a convenient and wide spread tool, an “excellent system”, as one Japanese doctor puts it.

But consider other information that has been passed lately through Twitter that might have had an adverse result; during the raid on Osama Bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Sohaib Athar, an IT man living nearby, twitted:  “Helicopter hovering above Abbottabad at 1AM (is a rare event).” He continued tweeting about the explosions and gunshots he hears, but had no idea what was going on.

Had Al Qaida done its due diligence and monitored the tweets of a resident living near their leader, they would have known about the raid a little earlier. We can’t know for sure if there was something they could have done, but it raises the question; can you keep a secret anymore? He later tweeted:  “Uh oh, now I’m the guy who live blogged the Osama raid without knowing it.”

What did an actor, Dwayne Johnson (“The Rock”) know about the raid before the news broke? He suddenly tweeted “”Just got word that will shock the world – Land of the free… home of the brave … PROUD TO BE AN AMERICAN!” 45 minutes before the news broke.

What will happen with all the secrets? Remember the mayor of Los Angeles, Mayor Villaraigosa who was caught in an affair with a news reporter? All that would have come out earlier, had the neighbor who saw him in the middle of the night going into her apartment with dinner and a bottle of wine, had tweeted about it. It could have potentially changed the results of the elections.

In the days of Twitter, information can come from unexpected sources and has to be reckoned with if a secret is important and has to be kept under wraps. Twitter has had its moments, and while some believe that Facebook is the powerhouse behind social communication, I would argue that a Facebook message takes far longer to make its way around then the 140 characters that are breaking news, leading revolutions around the globe yesterday, today and tomorrow.



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