Neal Rauhauser posted this article on OpenLeft in 2010. It’s since been deleted.
Social Media’s Neighborhood Watch
|There is a brewing problem with right wing extremism on Twitter. This has escalated in recent days with the election coming on – stalking and intimidation attempts have been reported by several Progressive figures. I’m going to outline a community based strategy that will provide evidence for civil and criminal proceedings. We’re not talking temper tantrums, bluster, and account suspension like we see from the right. I want us to get up inside their network and collect actionable information.As a civil outcome a suit penetrating the outer ring of crazy talkers, getting to their handlers, and then to the money men would be the final solution. Expanding a seemingly random right wing shooting episode into a conspiracy case leading to lengthy prison terms for everyone who incited the attack would also work wonders for cleaning up our virtual streets.|
| As private citizens we have little active authority to investigate wrongdoing, but there are dramatically fewer constraints on information collection. We can observe the commons as much as we choose, taking photos, video, and perhaps recording audio depending on the laws in our particular state. Things which require a warrant and perhaps ongoing judicial supervision for someone with a badge can be a hobby for the interested citizen. So the space in which those who wish to join will work is Twitter as a center, reaching out occasionally to other other sites referenced during discussions there.How do we collect information? I would say that first and foremost we do this anonymously. As I saw in late August direct threats of violence are possible. I’m already exposed; let me be the public face, while anyone else wishing to contribute should do so without revealing their personal information. If you choose to be more aggressive that is your affair; I’ll never be found advocating less than perfect anonymity for those who choose to join this effort.
We will have to have some lawyer’s eyes on this, both to ensure we’re not crossing lines as well as to make certain that what is collected is admissible in both civil and criminal proceedings. That will be happening over the next few days; this being said, we may have some serious revisions to the methods presented here.
Each and every tweet is automatically stored in the Library of Congress; an instant, no subpoena means for law enforcement to examine conversations, even if the participants later decide to delete some inflammatory statement. The problem is the manpower needed to interpret the information – an investigator coming in cold faces a tremendous uphill climb. A citizen knowledgeable as to the players in the various right wing cells in evidence on Twitter can dramatically reduce the work load for investigators and plaintiff’s lawyers, turning cases that might have been ignored into slam dunk wins.
How we’ll accomplish this is fairly simple.
Go obtain a Flickr login. Make sure that it’s something anonymous – don’t use anything that might connect to your Twitter ID or the real world in any way. Once you have your account join the Wingnut Watch photo pool. Right now it’s wide open but I’m sure there will be disruption attempts and it’ll get locked down. This is our evidence repository.
What we want to see in here are the threats and incitement from Twitter. Got something that seems to be a problem? Take a screen shot of it, maybe crop it using Gimp in order to just show the relevant information, upload it, and share it with the group.
Operating discipline is going to be key to making this a useful resource. The system itself will date/time stamp the upload which will be helpful if you’re prompt about such housekeeping, but we really need the following specifics:
Who is the source of the tweet? And we need to find a simple means to locate the numeric ID, as some of the worst behavior comes from users who rapidly change their account’s name. I’ll work on a method to do that, but for now names will have to suffice.
When was the tweet made? The date and time stamp being visible in the screen shot is good, but fresh tweets only show the delay. Don’t fret too much about this – see the next item.
We need the numeric ID of the tweet. Click the actual link of the tweet like I did for the first photo added to the pool – see that long number in the tweet’s URL? That’s a unique numeric code that will permit locating the information even if the author deletes the original.
OK, so you’ve got a good quality shot of something and you’ve added it to the group. Now you need to title your capture, tag it, and comment it.
The title ought to be the name of the source of the tweet as the first word and then perhaps some descriptive text. This will help those unfamiliar locate the evidence they need.
We need to develop a taxonomy to use in the tag system. Is it s threat? Incitement? Coordination? This is something I’ll research and there will be a best practices document. Don’t let the lack of this keep you from starting to collect information; I accept that this system will be less than perfect in the beginning.
It is absolutely vital that the URL for the tweet depicted be placed in the comment. We need this so others who take an interest can quickly and easily explore further.
And once we have all of these blanks filled other contributors will be able to easily expand upon a particular screen capture by adding related screen shots with commentary.
What I describe here is a textbook application of the principles of Open Source Intelligence. We’re going to observe, collect, and collate information. An orderly, professional effort here will counter the Open Source Stupidity we’re seeing from the radical right, providing an invaluable resource for civil and criminal actions.