At this point I must conclude that Twitter is for twits but that’s perhaps true for most social media. Anyone who communicates private information via social media (or, for that matter, any means other than a hard-wired land-line) has got to know they have little privacy protection from government intrusion when corporations, under pretext of law, capitulate to and collaborate with state-sponsored oppression and censorship.During the so-called Arab Spring we saw smarmy and hypocritical politicians slamming fascist governments that shut down Internet access as the pundits propagandized the ‘heroic’ social media for it’s role in bringing down oppressive governments. But if you actually think our corporate owned government, controlled by the infamous 1%, is much different I again urge you to contact me because I have some very underwater ocean-front property outside Vegas I’d love to sell you.
“A Virginia district court judge has ruled the U.S. government can collect the private information of three WikiLeaks volunteers from the social networking site, Twitter. The government has subpoenaed all the account information of Icelandic lawmaker Birgitta Jonsdottir, Dutch activist Rop Gongrjip and programmer Jacob Appelbaum. Thursday’s ruling upholds a lower court judgment in March that found the subpoena does not violate constitutional protections against unreasonable searches.”The U,K. Guardian provides more in-depth reporting.
It remains to be seen if Twitter will comply but there is no reason to think the corporation will not capitulate. This is not the first time Twitter has bowed to legal pressure to identify users; but while it should cause a huge row over privacy and free speech online I won’t hold my breath.Back in May, 2011 the U. K. Guardian reported that Twitter also unmasked an anonymous UK user. In that case the US court ordered Twitter to reveal personal details of a user accused of libeling north-east England council. The scenario involves the exercise of ‘'free speech' in defiance of an infamous gag order that protected rich celebrities from publication of their indiscretions. Ryan Giggs, the Manchester United footballer named as being the plaintiff in a gagging order preventing reporting of an alleged affair with a reality TV model, is separately attempting to unmask Twitter users accused of revealing details of the privacy injunction. Got money? Silence can be bought and ‘free speech’ can be quashed. If it’s the law in the UK then Twitter in San Francisco can be made to comply - without Twitter putting up much of a fight apparently.
All this is right out of George Orwell. If Ann Frank had a Twitter account we can now suspect the San Francisco based corporation would, with no appeal to higher authority, capitulate and surrender her whereabouts to the Gestapo upon the order of a lower court in the hinterland. No doubt the sell-out alternative looking yuppies in Twitters’ PR spin department will issue a vapid statement about how they respect our privacy but the law is the law after all. I can hardly wait. Activism? Civil disobedience? These words do not appear on the corporate lexicon even in San Francisco.What is so surprising is that Twitter (a San Francisco-based corporation) accepted the ruling of a lower court and, without appeal to higher authority, simply rolled over and collaborated with Big Brother.
Those of us in “The United States of Amnesia” who have a better attention span than a poodle remember the indignant and rather self-righteous congressional committee hearings concerning the shameful collaboration and disgraceful capitulation of Google, Yahoo, Cisco, and Microsoft, who stood accused of being accomplices of oppression in China when they cooperated in censorship and/or revealed the identity of Internet dissidents. That move had human rights activists fuming after the Paris-based watchdog group Reporters Without Borders (RWB) charged Yahoo with helping authorities in 2003 to capture Li Zhi, an anti-corruption reformer who now serves an eight-year prison term.The defense of the corporate silicone monsters was the common coward’s refuge that they were only obeying the law (which they invariably help to write) just as Twitter will no doubt pose the disingenuous argument that are only complying with a court order they did not appeal. And, after all, who could expect civil disobedience from a San Francisco-based corporation.
In those quickly forgotten congressional hearings Congressional Representative Christopher Smith (R) of New Jersey (yes, a New Jersey Republican) said this capitulation was “[L]ike turning Anne Frank over to the Nazis." A perfect analogy.While many American politicians raised hell when Google and Yahoo et. al. collaborated in Chinese oppression it’s especially troubling to witness nary a bubble of protest when the San Francisco-based Twitter wimps out and cowers to a distant court ruling cynically effectuated by clever forum shopping . Rest assured you won’t hear much about any of this in the local corporate news.
There is a back-story here: In one hella sweetheart City Hall deal Twitter’s corporate lawyers finagled (‘blackmailed” is the better word) the mother of all tax breaks. After Twitter (no small start-up!) blackmailed the city by threatening to leave town unless the company got a tax break the Board of Supervisors, in an 8-to-3 vote, approved an ordinance that will give Twitter and other corporations like it an exemption from having to pay a 1.5% city payroll tax for the next six years, as long as those businesses are located in the city's dingy Central Market Street and Tenderloin areas. That’s a $35 million dollar tax break and this tax is San Francisco's second-biggest source of revenue which contributed $345 million to city coffers last year. Considering the money Twitter will have to spend renovating the location it doesn't seem like a bad deal over six years. Of course, give greedy corporations the proverbial inch and they overreach to take the infamous mile. Our crumbling infrastructure and shuttered schools are solid evidence of the consequence of cutting taxes.
It remains to be seen if this dingy down-and-out block of real estate will be transformed as promised but it seems like an honest incentive. Since San Francisco is the only city in California that charges a payroll tax this has been a common complaint by start up companies however the corporate Twitter hardly fits that bill, San Francisco is not just any city, and the slippery slope of corporate tax breaks may open a floodgate. Little San Francisco (only 45 square miles) is more Manhattanized every day. It is choked with traffic, it’s nearly impossible for residents to get a cab outside the tourist areas, the wasteful MUNI transpiration system can crash with a sneeze, and gargantuan skyscrapers that never would have been approved during our activist heyday now get the go ahead despite rising vacancy rates.But as long as the Twitter tax-break deal provides jobs for a few of those in the occupy camp (which I seriously doubt) I don’t think the twittering occupiers will admit the price (their privacy and ‘free speech’) was a deal in which Faust got the better part of the bargain.
The Bay Area connection in this Twitter ‘free speech’ debate is a bit embarrassing. San Francisco, long-touted as a hotbed of activism has become a bit of joke and the “Occupy” movements in both Oakland and San Francisco share the dignity of public toilets as Bay Area activism degenerates to a dangerous travesty hijacked by criminals. All they have accomplished is harm to the little guy in small business - the very people they should seek to protect. How ironic it is that the new protest movement uses social media to shut down BART and MUNI but all the twittering twits don’t seem to give a hoot that their corporate conduit for communication is in cahoots with Big Brother.
There is something darkly ironic about ‘activists’ who will occupy public space under the pretext of ‘free speech’ and organize that effort by the means of a social media that will surrender our private information to government almost as fast as you can tweet "Big Brother is watching."
* Perhaps in consideration for tourists’ sensibilities the “Don’t Shoot Me” ‘activists’ pictured at the Powell Street Cable Car turn-around had the courtesy to dress for the occasion. Yes, I said, ‘dress.’ Normally this clique can be seen lounging in the very public “Castro Commons” (a few short blocks from two public grade schools and playgrounds) or strolling through the Castro completely nude except for a hat and shoes.
While most of these characters seem to be visitors who come here to act crazy and then go home and tell the world how nuts we are others seem to be residents. In a neighborhood now commonly populated by couples walking with their children it’s hardly the San Francisco I feel proud of when friends come to visit. I’d be far less kind if I had children who walked through the area. This is a curious phenomenon we did not even see in the Gay hay days where such nudity was more tastefully relegated to secluded nude beaches.
The "Don't Shoot Me" placard refers to the underlying protest against BART police who shot and killed an apparently demented knife-wielding derelict.