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Saturday, May 22, 2010

Pennsylvania Politician Attacks Free Speech on Twitter

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If they were ever to hold a Twitter "Twit of the Year" contest, I know who'd get my vote: Pennsylvania Attorney General (and Republican candidate for governor) Tom Corbett.

Not that I give a rodent's behind about politics in the Keystone State (though the Webcam shenanigans at those Lower Merion schools give me pause); but Corbett has proven himself more than worthy of the title, given his recent actions surrounding Twitter.
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Two weeks ago, a grand jury Corbett is using to investigate political corruption in PA issued a subpoena to Twitter, demanding the "name, address, contact information, creation date, creation Internet protocol address, and any and all log-in Internet addresses" of two anonymous tweeters who've issued a steady stream of tweets criticizing the attorney general and his investigation.

This is stupid on so many levels I don't know where to begin.

First, let's talk about the Streisand effect, which can be summarized as "the quickest way to spread information across the Net is by attempting to squash it." The tweeps whose identities have been sought -- @BFbarbie and @CasablancaPA -- just had their follower counts boosted by about 1,000 percent. Barbie went from around 60 followers on Wednesday to nearly 600 as I write this; Casablanca's following grew from 120 to nearly 800. Not Ashton Kutcher-style numbers, but still.

Even better, the CasablancaPA blog where many of these tweets were directed saw its readership grow sevenfold, according to one of its posts. I'm sure it's even bigger now.

The ACLU is now representing the pair, and that news brought in the big guns of the media to cover the story -- the New York Times, USA Today, the Washington Post, Time, Keith Olbermann, and various other radio shows and Web sites.

As one of the CasablancaPA bloggers writes, "Nice campaign work, geniuses."

Stupid politician trick #2: Does anyone stuck back in 1957 at the Corbett for Governor headquarters understand what Twitter is or how it works? (Yes, that was a rhetorical question.) The odds of Twitter having the users' real names and addresses are next to nil, though they probably have the IP information. They probably also have some kind of email address, but the subpoena didn't ask for that.

And why didn't Corbett et al subpoena Blogger? That's where most of the criticism is coming from. As regular readers of this blog no doubt remember, Google quite willingly turned over information from an "anonymous" blogger in the Liskula Cohen/Skanks in NYC case, even before a judge ruled on whether the blog posts constituted actual libel. Since Corbett's subpoena claims the accounts are related to "alleged violations of the laws of the Commonwealth" -- a criminal case, not a civil suit -- that should be a slam dunk. Right?

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