Why the US Government Might Take Control of Twitter

You know how I love a good conspiracy theory, so try this one on for size.

  1. Millions of people decide they don’t like the way the US government is handling a major issue–healthcare for example–they start protesting.
  2. They use social networks to voice their concerns, Twitter almost buckles under the strain of the conversations.
  3. A group of very vocal–and sophisticated–protestors start using Twitter to put together a group of hackers willing to coordinate a DDoS attack on a prominent web site–how about Whitehouse.gov?
  4. Before they can unleash their “protest” the President takes control of Twitter and shuts down one of the most important communication channels of our time.
  5. Twitter is deemed to be of national importance and so becomes government owned and sanitized nationalized.

Pure fiction, right?

Wrong!

The pieces of the above puzzle are already coming together and, while the events above are extreme, they could actually happen–thanks to the unhealthy fascination of all things Twitter by the US Government.

First, we have speculation that the White House put pressure on Twitter during the Iran elections.

Next, we have government backed groups positioning Twitter as a prime communications channel in an emergency:

The Safe America Foundation, a national safety group working with the U.S. government, announced yesterday that text messaging, social networking sites, and Twitter could help families stay in touch in the wake of a disaster.

And lastly, the proposed Cybersecurity Act of 2009 which would give the US President* unprecedented and ambiguous control of the internet in the event of a cyber-emergency:

A proposed Senate bill would give President Obama emergency control of the Internet, potentially allowing him to shut down all online traffic by seizing private networks in the event of a “cyber-emergency.”

But nowhere in the bill is “cyber-emergency” defined, leaving many cyber security experts worried that this legislation could destroy certain industrial and civil liberties.

If I were Twitter, I’d hurry up and figure out how to make some real revenue–and do it fast! All the while Twitter grows its importance, without revenues, it risks becoming a ubiquitous service such as email. A service without revenues is arguably more likely to be “governmentalized” than one that’s a viable business entity.

Think about it. Google is massively important to, well, everyone. Yet, can you ever see the US government getting its grubby little hands on it? Not likely! Google earns billions of dollars a year and would fight the move every step of the way. Now look at Twitter. It has no business model, no revenues, yet is of extreme importance. It would make it a much easier target for government ownership.

If I were Twitter, I’d be very concerned about the growing perception of its national importance–it’s growing at a much faster clip than its revenues!

* For those of you who make it this far, note that this could all happen regardless of whether the President favors blue or red. :-)

  • http://chrisheuer.com/ Chris Heuer

    FIRST! (just kidding)

    quick clarification, its not a rumor that the government asked twitter to not do its scheduled maintenance – the guy who invited Ev on that Internet trip to Iraq (where they became friendly) called him up and asked twitter to postpone their scheduled upgrade/maintenance etc… public info and confirmed

    more importantly, conspiracy theory is right… apparently, Obama is not only trying to kill your grandma, he’s trying to kill your buzz and kill your social networking – is there anything he wont destroy in the next few years?

    C’mon Andy, I expect better from you then this sort of fear mongering – you are really stretching these proof points, especially to include the fact that government agencies and NGO’s have become as fascinated by twitter as everyone else – please remember, the people in charge of those groups are human too and are allowed to have the same sort of excitement you and I both had a few years ago… as old timers, we forget that euphoria that overtook us when we ‘got’ twitter

    that said, if this were a different era, Twitter may have become the next gen SMS at the core of the carriers infrastructure instead of a standalone service, it still might become that eventually, but its not because Obama is out to get you
    .-= Chris Heuer´s last blog ..links for 2009-08-26 =-.

  • http://www.rickwhittington.com Rick

    This is a thought-provoking article, especially your assertion that Twitter is an easy target as it does not generate revenue. Thank you for your thoughts on this topic as I’ve been asking the question as a skeptic why the government would want to take over the web.

  • http://www.marketingpilgrim.com Andy Beal

    @Chris – I note you glossed over the ambiguity of the proposed Cybersecurity Act of 2009. ;-) What’s your take on that?

    @Rick – thanks!

  • http://www.looktotheright.com/noah-boswell.php Noah Boswell

    I remember seeing an fox business interview with the guy who created and he said he drew some of his inspiration from working with taxi driver companies and government offices like police, fire etc. so kind of makes sense its geared to govt.

  • http://www.crearecommunications.co.uk Luci

    Certainly got me thinking, but it’s the first point that some are petitioning that it could be used in the wake of a emergency. emergency is sort of along the same lines as ‘disaster’ in national terms… makes me think extremes, and in extremes – would the ‘net be up and running? It never is in the movies… or that is part of the source problem. ^^

    Thanks for your post though, it was enjoyable and different, i liked it!
    .-= Luci´s last blog ..Good Link Building Techniques Video – Search Tutorial =-.

  • anom

    With OBAMA in Office, anything is possible, OBAMA wants to control the internet as reported by CNET….http://news.cnet.com/8301-13578_3-10320096-38.html?tag=mncol -

  • http://www.theistudio.com/muse Judith

    At the core of any conspiracy theory is a lack of trust. Andy is right in that the ambiguity of the proposed Cybersecurity Act of 2009 leaves things open to interpretation based on (insert here: agenda, motives, political party, paybacks). While I can see where there may be an attack or event that would warrant wanting to get a handle on networks to either prevent or stop further harm/damage — do I trust the government to do what is right for the common good vs. political power? Nope…
    .-= Judith´s last blog ..The Winner Is … SEO or PPC? =-.

  • http://www.frankthinking.com Frank Reed

    Andy – Would you please take a position for once ;-)
    .-= Frank Reed´s last blog ..Going Viral Means Getter Better =-.

  • http://www.guerilla-ciso.com/ rybolov

    S.773 and the emergency authority applies to “critical infrastructure”. I hardly think that Twitter meets that criteria under the Homeland Security Act. Twitter isn’t even close to being important.

    Now if we could use Twitter as command-and-control/coordination for industrial control systems that make the power grid work, then maybe yes. But then we would be absolutely insane for considering using twitter for anything serious and requiring resiliency. Twitter goes down all the time out of its own accord and what happens? Some people can’t chat and PR people have to find something else to do for a couple of hours–not twittergeddon or anything similar.

    I’m a trained paranoiac–former intel collector turned IT security professional who follows legislation and public policy. And you are way over the edge of reason and have drunk your own Web 2.0-flavored koolaide. Sorry, Twitter, you’re just not that important. =) #TooSmallToFail

    Slow news day?
    .-= rybolov´s last blog ..Special Publication 800-53 Revision 3 Workshop =-.

  • http://www.jbspartners.com Jim Spencer

    Andy,

    The parts don’t equal the whole here and you know it you master link baiter.

    I don’t dispute the existence of proposed Cybersecurity Act of 2009, the value of Twitter in an emergency or that Twitter is not earning Billions yet. Nor am I blind to the many ways that government is more and more involved in our everyday lives (banking, health care and so on).

    I dispute a Nazi style overt abduction of Twitter. It will be much more subtle. ;) And besides the gov would have to grab Facebook, FriendFeed, IM, email and many other properties to effectively control communications of such a purposeful group. That was fun.
    .-= Jim Spencer´s last blog ..Twitter Tools =-.

  • http://www.obama2012.com Jim Spencer is Right

    I agree with Jim Spencer,

    Andy you are being silly!

  • http://www.barbaraling.com Barbara Ling, Virtual Coach

    The ‘president taking control of the internet’ thingee – now THAT is just plain scary.
    .-= Barbara Ling, Virtual Coach´s last blog ..Magnificently Brilliant Headline – What do you think? =-.

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  • http://www.michael-martinez.com/ Michael Martinez

    I appreciate a good joke as much as anyone, but I don’t this was a very good joke. That CyberSecurity law is just another in a series of laws Congress has enacted over the past few years that update the U.S. Code to include the Internet in our communications infrastructure.

  • http://www.jaankanellis.com Jaan Kanellis

    Cybersecurity Act of 2009 is the biggest pile of bunk we have seen since the Patriot Act. Wasn’t Ben F that said “They who would give up an essential liberty for temporary security, deserve neither liberty or security.”

    We have to pay close attention to what is being passed and make sure it doesnt infringe on our “newest” freedoms in today’s internet age.
    .-= Jaan Kanellis´s last blog ..Bing Shows You Who Is On Your Shared IP =-.

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  • http://www.pozenunti.com Poze Nunti

    To be honest the way you put it is a little strange. Come on every one knows that the gouverment it’s involved in many social structures and levels but to put their hand on twitter? Let me be a little sceptic about that.

  • http://bustedkeys.com Busted Keys

    nice V For Vendetta image reference! and the Hitler-mockup on the screen i might add! ideally i think it’s okay for the government to have a guiding hand by providing frameworks in how the private sector should behave a la Twitter.

    but for it to slowly bring in legislation e.g. the Cybersecurity Act of 2009 sounds off an alarming signal that socialism or even an autocracy could be creeping in. maybe this extreme is necessary since we can’t even control our own ignorance, cowardice, and greed.

    however it looks like 1984 is well-positioned to hit by 2014. and maybe 2012 will turn out to be an accurate prophecy that the western-dominated, quasi-democratic capitalist world would end as we know it. ;)
    .-= Busted Keys´s last blog ..7 Keys To Songwriting Freedom (Part 2 Of 2) =-.

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