Invisible hits. What could possibly be meant by the following tweet? “CA-40/43-44/49-44/44-50/36-44/49-10/16/14-52–>49/476-10s.” According to a recent CNN report, GOP groups tweeted such seemingly meaningless gibberish in order to communicate key, up-to-the-minute polling data for U.S. House of Representatives races just before the recent midterm elections. Campaign operatives who followed the House races closely could decipher the tweets. So, chalk up a new use for social media – but perhaps a legally dubious one, as some federal election law experts say tweets like these might constitute illegal “coordination” between outside political groups and political campaigns. The Huffington Post reports that Democrats also used similar techniques on Twitter back in 2012. Does communicating such information by hiding it in plain sight on Twitter, which after all is a public forum, violate the law regarding coordination? Election lawyers aren’t sure, and the vice chair of the Federal Election Commission told CNN that this is a “murky” area. Experts doubt that the FEC will actually take enforcement action, but it’s certainly an interesting question, and we’re sure we haven’t seen the end of creative efforts to use social media in campaigns.
Duty now to the future. People often wish to donate documents containing sensitive information to libraries or archives with instructions that the documents not be made publicly available until a specified time in the future. But it sometimes becomes impossible for the library or archive to comply with such instructions – for example, when the documents are subpoenaed. Jonathan Zittrain, director of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University, recently received a $35,000 grant from the Knight Foundation to develop an encrypted “time capsule” that would make early disclosure impossible. One idea is to use extremely complicated code that today’s computers can’t decipher but that (it is assumed) will be breakable by more advanced computers in the future. Given the unpredictability of technological progress, however, Mr. Zittrain’s preferred solution is a divided key where several archives possess only part of the encryption key. The FBI, predictably, isn’t happy with any of these options.
Know your product. As the holiday shopping season approaches, retailers want to know the best way to reach consumers. One possibility: Twitter. A recent survey conducted for Twitter by a consulting firm indicates that more than half of 2,100 Twitter users ages 13 and up said that a Twitter promotion motivated them buy something they might not otherwise have purchased. Fifty-four percent checked Twitter while shopping – yet another indication that the future of social media is in the mobile sphere. It’s elsewhere been reported that 76 percent of Twitter users take the mobile route. Among the products most often purchased because of Twitter mentions: clothing, shoes, gift certificates, movies, and electronics.