Sparring with a 3-million-plus-follower Twitter account

I expected angry feedback to Wednesday’s post about WikiLeaks and its increasing recklessness, but I didn’t know how that would play out. The @WikiLeaks Twitter account has 3.33 million followers and a history of jabbing at critics, and the story of WikiLeaks posting a trove of Democratic National Committee e-mails–with zero attempt to blank out personal data like Social Security numbers–intersected with the angst of Bernie Sanders fans who are themselves not known for social-media silence.

WikiLeaks Twitter interactionThe WikiLeaks account quickly took exception to my post (and supportive tweets) in responses ranging from boastful–“The Hill, Gawker and others published alleged DNC docouments months ago. Only WikiLeaks had impact.”–to dorm-room BS–“Sure. Anyone who exposes the estabishment by telling you the truth is not your friend. We got it.”

Many of those three-million-plus followers then started liking and retweeting those tweets. I’m not used to seeing my notifications fill left-to-right from so many people clicking on the same tweet.

My new interlocutors came from different places. Some were hardcore WikiLeaks defenders. Some backed Donald Trump and so were in favor of anything making Democrats’ lives more difficult. Some were Bernie Sanders fans convinced that the DNC had stolen the election from him, despite the absence of proof.

(Sorry, Bernie fans: The Democratic Party–especially the woefully-mismanaged DNC–is nowhere near organized to pull that off. Also, you might want to think about where your militant confusion of a party bureaucracy’s dislike of your candidate with “rigging an election” might end up taking you.)

I tried to reply to the tweets directed at me but soon lost count, leading to me feeling I was reliving Seinfeld’s “jerk store” episode when I saw rebuttal-worthy material half a day too late.

But I did not have to answer any hateful crap attacking my gender, race, ethnicity or religion. Every time that happens, I think I’m playing this game with a WHT PRVLG cheat code.

After a day of this amusement, it was nice to see Edward Snowden come to the same basic conclusion as me and then get his own moralizing response.

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Weekly output: NSA surveillance, Tech Night Owl

It’s a short list of stories this week, because USA Today elected to run this weekend’s column on Monday instead of today (they figure it will get more readers then than today, which seems fair enough to me). Next week will be busier: I’ll be in San Francisco from Wednesday through Saturday for Google’s I/O conference.

Yahoo Tech NSA-surveillance post5/19/2015: The NSA’s Bulk Surveillance is Nearing its Expiration Date, Yahoo Tech

This column was a hairball to write–between recapping two years’ worth of breaking news about the National Security Agency’s bulk surveillance and then trying to summarize the key differences between possible reforms of that, I had a draft balloon to about 1.5 times my usual word count.

5/23/2015: May 23, 2015 — Josh Centers and Rob Pegoraro, Tech Night Owl

My conversation with Gene Steinberg about Comcast’s customer-service initiatives, NSA reform, EMV credit-card security and more was repeatedly interrupted by my coughing fits. I feel bad about the extra editing work I inflicted on my host, and I wish I knew what could escalate a slight scratchiness in my throat so badly.

Weekly output: SXSW, cable modems

Spending the first half of the week out of town for SXSW put more of a dent in my schedule than I realized–as you can see from the unusually late time I’m posting this. Seriously, where did the second half of the week go?

Yahoo Tech SXSW post3/10/2014: The News from SXSW: Technology Will Liberate Us! Unless It Enslaves Us First., Yahoo Tech

I pretty much had to focus my writeup of the conference on the remote interviews of Julian Assange and Edward Snowden–both outspoken critics of the surveillance state, both beset by glitches with their Internet-video links. It’s crazy to think that a year ago, almost nobody at SXSW had any idea of what the NSA had been up to; the mood in Austin seemed a lot cheerier about the prospects of technology back then.

3/16/2014: Buyer beware: ‘Gray market’ cable modem can trip you up, USA Today

A reader had bought a cable modem after reading my recommendation to do so last August. Then Comcast said she couldn’t use her purchase. And things got really weird. A reader has since complained that the column left him “totally confused” about whether he can buy a modem on Comcast’s approved-devices list and have it work; I’m going to have to tell him he has correctly read a confusing situation.

Potential exposure is not forced exposure

One of the foremost foes of intellectual-property extortion is shutting down. Groklaw founder and editor Pamela Jones announced this morning in a post, titled “Forced Exposure,” that the possibility of NSA surveillance of her e-mail means she can’t trust e-mail as a means of collaborative input, and therefore the blog must end.

Groklaw signoffThey tell us that if you send or receive an email from outside the US, it will be read. If it’s encrypted, they keep it for five years, presumably in the hopes of tech advancing to be able to decrypt it against your will and without your knowledge. Groklaw has readers all over the world.

This news bothers me deeply–because Groklaw has provided an immense public service in collecting and presenting evidence of grotesque IP abuse such as the SCO Group’s prolonged and mendacious attempt to claim copyright over code in the Linux operating system, and because I don’t like finding fault with somebody whose work I and so many other people admire.

But look: Potential exposure is not forced exposure. Or if it is, it’s always been there. Yes, the NSA might be reading my e-mail and PJ’s. But keyloggers planted by the Russian mob might be reading it too. The NSA might have the ability to crack PGP encryption in five years–or they could have had it all along and haven’t told us, or they could decide to ignore that five-year timeline. Your own computer might be airtight, but what about the machines of all your correspondents? For that matter, how can you be sure you’ve maintained your privacy offline without going into Kaczysnki-esque seclusion?

If your reaction to those possibilities is to declare that all is lost and that you should “get off the Internet to the degree that it’s possible,” as PJ wrote in this morning’s post, then how are you not tumbling into the same existential fear that the defenders of the surveillance state sometimes seem to think is the right and proper state of a compliant citizenry?

I don’t know PJ (friends whose judgment I trust do and profess a deep respect for her) and only have a vague notion of what her life has been like running Groklaw (it’s entailed being the target of an unhealthy dose of character assassination). But with my limited knowledge I can’t endorse her stance. I wish she’d at least found somebody else to run the site: While we’re having this hypothetical discussion, very real copyright and patent extortion is going on, and Groklaw was doing a damn good job of exposing it.

Weekly output: Slashdot, online journalism, Ron Wyden, This Week In Law, Washington Apple Pi, prepaid data, mobile sites

It’s been a busy week, and I still have to pack for a flight tomorrow morning. (I’m off to San Francisco to speak on a panel about “Blogger Language 4.0” at PR Summit.) I’ll have to be a little more concise than usual in these descriptions…

7/22/2013: Former WaPo Staffer Rob Pegoraro Talks About Newspapers’ Decline (Video), Slashdot

Robin Miller, aka “roblimo,” asked me a few questions about the state of the newspaper business and the future of journalism.

7/24/2013: Online Journalism Not All Doomed (Even If You Count Past 538), Disruptive Competition Project

And speaking of the future of journalism, here I argued that the ability of a local-news site called ARLNow.com to hire its first full-time reporter is probably a better sign of the health of my profession than Nate Silver’s headline-making move from the New York Times to ESPN.

Ars Technica Wyden post7/24/2013: Senator: Weak oversight of NSA may lead to massive location tracking, Ars Technica

I wrote up the speech Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) gave at the Center for American Progress about government surveillance and the secret body of law that barely constrains it.

7/26/2013: #221: We’re #9! We’re #9!, This Week In Law

The number in the title of this week’s episode refers to the U.S.’s ranking in a recent survey of broadband access; tune in to see host Denise Howell, Public Knowledge president Gigi Sohn and me talk about the state of our broadband market and a grab-bag of other issues.

7/27/2013: Rob Pegoraro talks about things that beep and blink, Washington Apple Pi

The last time I spoke at a monthly meeting of the D.C. area’s Apple user group was in February 2011. A few things have changed since then (my ability to get lost on the roads of George Mason University’s Fairfax campus is not among them), so I enjoyed catching up with my friends at WAP.

7/28/2013: To get online during vacation, consider prepaid data, USA Today

A reader wanted to know a cheap way to get a laptop online during a long cross-country trip, so I suggested some prepaid data services–most reselling Sprint’s old WiMax network. I also shared a tip about using mobile sites when you’re starved for bandwidth, one of the things I’ve resorted to in the face of uncooperative WiFi at conferences and elsewhere.

Sulia highlights: Excoriating the worse-than-Apple performance of Nokia’s Windows Phone mapping app, noting the impending arrival of a $999, 50-inch 4K TV, celebrating a pathetically overdue tech-patent ruling and wondering if faster WiFi on Amtrak will induce demand that leads to the same slow wireless as before.