Sunday, March 8, 2009

tt4t_077 Twitter, the end of innocence

It’s Sunday, March 8th, 2009 and welcome to episode 77 of TechTalk4Teachers, I’m Tom Grissom. Last week I talked about Twitter and its recent rise in popularity with American media companies and the US Congress. I think one of the telling signs that a technology has made it into the mainstream is when it becomes lampooned by comedians. Jon Stewart of the popular The Daily Show did a skit called “Twitter Frenzy” on the March 2nd this past week doing exactly that on the Comedy channel. If you did not get a chance to see it you can watch the segment online if you are interested.

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The US Congress continues the use of Twitter and John McCain made the news cycle this week with his innovative use of Twitter. McCain is using Twitter to push his fight against earmarks by tweeting comments about what he considers wasteful spending in legislation currently making its way through Congress. This is yet another interesting approach of the use of Twitter and proof that the usefulness of Twitter is in the eye of the beholder.

One downfall of technological popularity is that it becomes the target of sorts for others to exploit. Twitter has now reached this level of popularity and as I mentioned on last weeks episode, Twitter has now entered the early majority phase of technological innovation. Twitter now has a bulls-eye painted on the services it provides to others. Because of this popularity the dark-side of human behavior seems to increase and nefarious activities rise.

For me some of this activity is to be expected such as companies leveraging the use of Twitter to gain an online presence to be used for advertising, selling of products, and for customer relations. This is all fine when out in the open, however, a virtual identity has the potential for misrepresentation and exploitation and that is why companies so vigorously defend their reputations whether in the online world or in the real world. Increasingly these two worlds are blurred.

Twitter also offers companies an ability to monitor Twitter feeds for mentions of their company name or the products and services they sell and use this information to their benefit. Tweets are considered public and search engines can be used to filter information based upon specific search terms that some companies are monitoring. As mentioned on last weeks episode of TechTalk4Teachers I now have a new follower of a national woodworking company simply because I used the word woodworking in one of my tweets. This is an innocent enough use by companies that are interested in offering you products and services that you may be interested in. If this is done out in the open and without misrepresentation there is not a problem and Twitter does offer the ability to block someone from following you if you so choose.

Increasingly Twitter is being hit with password stealing and other scams where tweets are being posted that ask a user for their username and password. Some services state that they need your username and password to offer their third-party service with Twitter. Never give out your username and password, this is your only protection against unauthorized access to your account. If you forget your password or need to change your password follow the recommendations given by the particular service that created the account. I have provided a link in the show notes to a phishing scam that has hit Twitter users recently.

Twitter Rank Stealing Passwords?

Phishing Scams with Twitter

This week a tweet that started with 23/female was being propagated on Twitter. If a user clicked on this link their computer had the potential of being compromised and linked to advertisements to inappropriate sites. A link is provided in the show notes with more information about this scam if you think you may have fallen victim to it.

23/Female Webcam Hack

Security experts will also tell you that clicking on URL’s that are shortened by services like TinyURL, ShortURL, Bitly, and other URL shorteners is a bad practice. Because Twitter only allows 140 character postings URL shorteners are very popular to save character spacing in tweets. For example, TinyURL can take a very long URL with 85 characters and shorten it to just 25 characters, this space savings is why URL shorteners are extensively used in tweets. The potential security risk is that a user of Twitter is taking a leap of faith that the shortened URL will be appropriate. The person clicking on the URL has no way to predetermine if it is a valid URL to an appropriate website or not. Many Twitter users use URL shorteners on Twitter including myself so just be aware that they could be abused and to take you to an inappropriate site.

I continue to be an advocate of educators using Twitter for professional use and in developing Personal Learning Networks. Sometimes all we here from technologists is the cheerleading and rarely mentions of potential misuse. It is also why many IT departments sometimes cast a suspicious eye on some Web 2.0 offerings. I raise these issues for new users and for users that may not be technologically savvy that indeed there are risks out there when using online social networks. To date these risks have been offset by the value I find in my PLN.

The above mentioned scams are not unique to Twitter as MySpace, Facebook, and many other social networking services are also fighting online scams on a daily basis. Pointing out these risks is not meant to scare you away from using the tools, to the contrary, this discussion is necessary for identifying social, technical, and security risks as well as developing an awareness of deceptive social engineering practices so they can be prevented. So, here is a dated 1980’s reference for Hill Street Blues fans, “let’s be careful out there”. For those not old enough to remember this reference you can always “Google It”. 

Technology Pick of the Week

My Technology Pick of the Week this week is to a blog entry at the FreeTech4Teachers site to help teachers find other teachers using Twitter. At my presentation at the East Central Illinois Tech Conference on Personal Learning Networks a couple of weeks ago I mentioned some methods I use for finding other teachers on Twitter. My pick this week provides an overview to help get you quickly started with finding fellow teachers on Twitter.

Seven Ways to Find Teachers on Twitter

I have picked up a few followers that were at my presentation and I would like to thank you if you recently started following me on Twitter and for giving Twitter a try. You have taken the first step in the journey of learning about the many ways that Twitter can help you become a better teacher. The power of Twitter will increase as you build the network of people you follow and as more and more people follow you. A Personal Learning Network requires some time and nurturing to build and I encourage you to give it some time before you render your judgment to its effectiveness. If this is the first time you have listened to this podcast and if you have a Twitter account you can follow me on Twitter @tomgrissom

That wraps it up for episode 77 of TechTalk4Teachers. Transcripts and show notes for this episode and archived episodes are available on the web at the EIU Instructional Technology Center website at just click on the Techtalk4Teachers Podcast link. If you have a comment or suggestion please send an email to or leave a comment on the TechTalk4Teachers blog. Until next time, this is Tom Grissom, keep on learning.


Mr. Byrne said...

Hi Tom,
Thanks for mentioning my blog post. That one seems to be hitting a note with a lot of people.

TechTalk4Teachers said...

Thanks for the comment Richard, seems like I have been on a Twitter kick lately but I wanted to give people a heads up about a disturbing trend I am seeing as Twitter gains in popularity.

Tom Grissom