The Real Twitter Bug

Twitter bugLast Tuesday you would have thought the world was turned upside down as a Twitter bug spread across web causing mayhem and panic within the Twittersphere. A colleague of mine barely had time to walk through the door and put her stuff down before she had hopped on Twitter and became a victim of the security flaw. 

The bug affected thousands if not millions of users who, by simply rolling their mouse over a certain tweet or chunk of text on Twitter, were redirected to harmful third-party sites without their consent. Some users were lucky enough for the bug to write and send an unsolicited update or re-tweet on their behalf.

Within my own office, a public relations agency where every single employee uses Twitter, the news of the bug spread fairly quickly. After discussing it amongst each other, we then proceeded to let our clients know about the bug and told them to avoid Twitter until it was fixed. At the time we did not know what exactly the bug was or the type of damage it could cause. However, as PR professionals helping our clients manage corporate Twitter streams, choosing not to address the issue was a risk we were not willing to take.

The folks at Twitter corrected the flaw in a very timely fashion and all in all, it proved to be more of a minor inconvenience rather than a full-blown catastrophe, which is how some people treated it. However, the situation did, in a sense, serve as a wake up call. I realized how much we, as PR professionals, are reliant on the platform and how much it has become a part of our daily routine. 

The PR industry is obviously just one group who relies heavily on Twitter. It seems to me that each day, Twitter continues to extend its power and influence upon different groups of people. What are the implications of this? To be honest, I’m not entirely sure. The implications are vast and complicated and certainly not black or white. 

As many people have begun to realize, Twitter can be powerful tool to do good, or it can abuse its power to do bad. For example, Twitter has done wonders in the world of customer service. Companies like Comcast, Jet Blue, Southwest Airlines and Dell have all addressed customer service issues directly using the platform, ultimately promoting a positive brand image and leaving customers happy. 

Or how about the role Twitter played in the Iran Election back in 2009? After traditional media was blocked from use, Iranians turned to Twitter to post updates, photos and videos of the real-time, often violent opposition occurring between demonstrators and officials. Clearly, widespread use of Twitter has done good in terms of raising awareness of important societal issues as well as addressing customer service concerns.  However, at the same time, it also has facilitated and enabled libelous rumors and accusations, invasions of privacy, and, as we saw a few days ago, harmful security threats, damaging not only one’s computer, but one’s online reputation and credibility. 

I think it’s becoming increasingly clear that Twitter simply has got its hold on us. And a lot of us. Whether enabling good or bad, there’s no denying that Twitter’s power is real and here to stay. So although this week’s Twitter bug has been fixed, I think the real Twitter bug lies within us and it’s not going away anytime soon.

- Contributed by Jessica Boardman. Follow her @jboards.