Thursday, August 6, 2009

The Important Democratic Roll of Twitter

As I began this, Twitter was down. According to their blog, they are experiencing an Denial-of-Service attack, which Wikipedia defines as:

A denial-of-service attack (DoS attack) or distributed denial-of-service attack (DDoS attack) is an attempt to make a computer resource unavailable to its intended users. Although the means to carry out, motives for, and targets of a DoS attack may vary, it generally consists of the concerted efforts of a person or persons to prevent an Internet site or service from functioning efficiently or at all, temporarily or indefinitely. Perpetrators of DoS attacks typically target sites or services hosted on high-profile web servers such as banks, credit card payment gateways, and even root nameservers.

For the uninitiated, this might not seem like much of a big deal. Truth be told, on the surface, Twitter sucks. What’s the point of having the ability to inform the world of your every move in 140 characters or less? “Just cleaned navel, fixin’ to make a sweater.” Who cares, right? People create an account thinking that they’ll be getting into this cool world where Ashton Kutcher and Anderson Cooper hang out, only to find a blank screen with a box, which is starving to share their thoughts with the world. So they share, only to find out that they’re sharing with themselves and those unfortunate souls that turn on the global feed at the exact moment they post. Sadly, for most people, their Twitter journey ends there.

For those that get in the sandbox and play around, however, Twitter is a very powerful, and rewarding, tool. And not just for folks that will sell you the 50 greatest money making secrets of the internet. No, Twitter is a very powerful tool for democracy. There are thousands of people from all political stripes sharing information and stories, getting messages out to the world. Regular folks with a personal interest in, and love for, our country are promoting ideas that would normally get ignored.

The best proof yet as to the importance of Twitter came during the Iranian presidential election protests. After the Iranian Government shut out foreign journalists, citizens with cell phones and Twitter, along with Facebook, YouTube, and MySpace, became the only conduit for information. I’ll say that again in case you missed it…citizens with cell phones delivered the truth. Regular folks like you and me making sure the world knew what was going on inside. Without it, the world would have had no idea.

That is why today’s Twitter outage is a little frightening. Granted, Twitter has not been the poster child for reliability, but it’s always come right back. It’s been down for a few hours now. I know that sounds like I’m some Twitter addict. Far from it. I just understand its value to a free and open society. There are also grumblings about attacks on LiveJournal and Facebook. Again, on the surface, it could be some hackers trying to flex their technical muscle with a little prank, and not a big deal. However, should Blogger, WordPress.com, and TypePad go down, we have a big problem on our hands. People must be able to express themselves and ideas must be exchanged. Otherwise, we’re as good as Play-Doh for the children in Government and the media.

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