On the EDge: Hijacking the presidential Twitter account

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OPINION — A rogue social media employee did what advisors, family members and party leaders have been unable to do for more than a year now, disconnecting the president from his link to the world, his Twitter account.

For 11 minutes last Thursday night the president was Twitterless.

Read more: Twitter employee deactivates Trump’s account on last day of work

Now, under normal circumstances, that would be good news.

We’ve seen some of the wild, accusatory, unfounded claims the president has made on Twitter and it is embarrassing. And, truthfully, how many of us wish we could permanently disconnect him from his account and the bluster of unhinged, unfounded, untrue posts placed there?

We have heard a lot from this guy about draining the swamp, but the incessant Twitter dispatches have done little of that, instead, muddying the waters even more.

The thing is, we have seen Twitter replace the traditional means of handing down statements and positions from the administration and that is not good.

In 140 characters or less, we have learned how the president feels about transgender people serving in the military, seen his false flag unfurl against pro football players trying to make a statement about police brutality and injustice, read repeated claims of guilt (Hillary Clinton) and innocence (himself), witnessed the scurrilous degradation of members of the House and Senate, been force-fed racist screeds about Mexicans and the propaganda of the “alt-right” and neo-Nazis and been exposed to the narcissistic ramblings of an egomaniac who believes only his usually uninformed opinion matters.

This administration has moved the bully pulpit from the White House briefing room to a social media platform that has emerged as our most instant communication tool.

I understand times have changed.

I have been a part of an industry that has seen the traditional avenues of news dissemination move from print to online, a necessary, vibrant and vital change that has rendered print ineffective and outdated before it lands on your doorstep each morning.

We want our news now.

We want it in short bits we can digest easily, without a lot of thought.

We want it on the go, we want it constant and we want to interact with it, whether through comments or sharing.

I get that.

I also, however, want that immediacy.

But, there is a danger in dictums being showered from our highest office instead of following the protocol of a system that was established to put in place the necessary checks and balances our government not only requires, but demands.

When the president tweeted about his position on transgender members of the armed services, military officials made a point of ignoring the policy change until it had been filed through proper channels.

While to some that may have seemed an act of insubordination, it was, in fact, a lesson in verification and protocol.

We have seen how easy it is to hack into our most sensitive information channels. The military leaders were correct in waiting for official policy to be handed down in a legal and binding manner.

From WikiLeaks to the Russian manipulation of Facebook and the internet to sway the last election by just enough votes to pull off the most improbable win in U.S. political history, we know that the devil that is social media can be used for less than honorable means.

It’s really not surprising anymore when we learn that hackers have cracked into the accounts of users innocently buying goods on Amazon or making payments online.

It happens, with all-too-much frequency.

We shake our heads and simply hope they didn’t get our information.

But, on a grander scheme, this intrusion, as humorous as it may have seemed at the time, is actually quite dangerous.

As one observer said last week, how can we be sure if, sometime in the future, we see a Tweet from the president claiming that he has authorized the launch of nuclear weapons against North Korea, Iraq or anybody else who has irritated him lately?

Is it real?

Is it credible?

Is it the work of a hacker?

That’s what’s on the line here.

When the president first took to the Twitterverse, I was skeptical. I thought he had hired some social media wizard to come up with outrageous, but attention-getting, posts to simply stir the pot and keep his name in front of the public.

I have, however, come to accept the fact that he is a Twitter addict.

He simply cannot put his phone away and leave the opinionating to those with educated, well-formed thoughts.

The evidence is there.

No matter how outlandish the Tweets may seem – from his demeaning nicknames for his opponents to straight-up lies – we pretty much know that these missives are coming from our Commander in Chief.

Yep, he’s the guy who, a year after the election, seems to still be on the campaign trail, aiming his barbs at “Crooked H” and “Crazy Bernie” in the undignified language of a street bully.

The thing is, while we wait for this bully to get his comeuppance, as they always do when somebody has had enough and kicks them high and hard on the backside, we are walking on egg shells because of this Twitter security breach.

The world is a precarious place these days and leaders who still have a connection with sanity are wary of every word uttered by the president, searching for the why and how of his diatribes and wondering what it means for their nation’s relationship with the U.S. So, we don’t need some hostile voice intercepting the president’s account and wreaking even more havoc.

I mean, how would we really tell the difference between a presidential Tweet and one written in by a malicious hacker?

And, in the act of hacking into the president’s account, what other information becomes compromised?

If they can get into his Twitter account, why can’t they get into his phone? His computer? His personal and official accounts?

Once you break one code, it is smaller work to break the others that lead to the bull’s eye.

So, while I can see the humor in a ticked off Twitter employee disconnecting the president from his Twitter account just before he walks off the job, I also see the danger in a lapse of security that could very well result in serious, perhaps apocalyptic, consequences.

No bad days!

Ed Kociela is an opinion columnist for St. George News. The opinions stated in this article are his own and may not be representative of St. George News.

Email: edkociela.mx@gmail.com

Twitter: @STGnews, @EdKociela

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.

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6 Comments

  • statusquo November 7, 2017 at 7:29 am

    Great insight Ed. And the obvious conclusion is that the media should be licensed to control abuses of our first amendment rights. Just as some propose to license guns to control abuses of our second amendment rights.

  • DRT November 7, 2017 at 8:24 am

    Good article, Ed. It raises some good points. However, it’s my opinion that the standard or so called mainstream media is the bully that is getting its comeuppance. From the newspaper and magazine, to the radio and television most of the media has abdicated their responsibility to report the news, as the known facts happen, in order to give us their interpretation of those facts.
    Whether it’s CNN, FOX, LA Times, or Deseret News, they are all trying to cram their particular slants down our throats. TV in particular has pretty much stopped reporting the news, in favor of providing entertainment. I see very little news value to their garbage, and for me personally, less entertainment value.
    In other words, the media are getting what they deserved for so long. People are turning off the TV and radio, they’re not buying newspapers and magazines.
    What I think is frightening though, is that as people turn to social media for the news, they are encouraging manipulation of facts by pretty much anyone who has access to a computer. What a world this has become. 🙁

  • bikeandfish November 7, 2017 at 9:32 am

    I was disappointed to see folks celebrating the cathartic out action of one person as a meaningful response to the President. It was wrong of the employee and just feeds into the conspiracies of the like of InfoWars about the alleged censorship of the right.

    I agree that Trump has set a dangerous precedent with the inordinate use of social media. We know Obama stopped using his personal Twitter account for official news and instead used the @POTUS account which seemed to be used with a fair amount of professional restraint. There is clearly no restraint to Trump’s twitter usage but I think that is now intentional strategy. Trump remains a media brand, ironically, who knows how to play to a segment of his bases’s worst biases and prejudices. Its Ethnic Nationalism (TM) incarnate. Its a new form of presidentalism that we, the 60+% of Americans who disfavor his strategy, have yet to figure out how to constrain and counter. Its a type of political Id that seems to feed of off the growing discontent of people on both sides of the aisle. Its more transparent now that we are a year into his presidency and he has lost some favor but its still a powerful enough tool to sway political discourse.

    Per concerns about hacking….its a fair concern but I don’t think its a fair comparison to the Twitter issue. This was simply a shutdown of his account at the Twitter headquarters. Its good that Twitter has changed the protocol of such actions but its very different than hacking someones phone or computer. Its hard to know what protocols Trump ignores in the White House but we do know Obama upgraded the antiquated computer system there during his tenure, including security. Its still supposedly years behind but I doubt the low level effort to shutdown his account at the Twitter headquarters translates well to the sophistication it would take to hack the president. His habit is definitely a weakness but I don’t think its an Achilles Heal by any means, as far as security goes.

    I hope his style becomes so admonished and ridiculed that we never have to worry about it again from a President but I am not holding my breathe on that outcome.

  • NickDanger November 7, 2017 at 4:59 pm

    I guess some people prefer a Gerald Ford-type of president – one who rarely communicates with the public, makes all his decisions behind closed doors, and drops everything on the public in Friday afternoon press dumps. Or a George W. Bush, who will tell them exactly what they want to hear; only oh yeah, one thing – none of it is true.

    People should be thankful they’re getting as much information out of this president as they are getting. In some ways he’s dishonest as a person, but when it counts, he’s actually the most honest president I can recall. He’s not making any secret of his agenda at all. You might well disagree with him, but you don’t have to wonder where he stands.

    President Trump is building a wall on the Mexican border. He said he was gonna build the wall, he tweeted he was going to do it, and now, he’s actually doing it. He’s building prototypes and taking bids. You might think it’s a bad idea, but you’ve known about it literally since the very day the idea popped into President Trump’s head. You’ve had years now to try to stop it, if that’s what you wanted to do. You didn’t, and now you know the president wasn’t just blowing sunshine up your skirt.

    This whole deal with the deactivation of the Twitter account is ridiculous. Who cares? I only read this article because I know I can always count on Ed to be a full-time unintentional straw man.

    I’ll tell you what I’m impressed with though – I’m impressed with the fact it only took Twitter 11 minutes to figure it out and reactivate it. Almost makes me want to sign up and do some tweeting of my own. Almost.

  • John November 7, 2017 at 7:30 pm

    Sorry, am I rolling my eyes out loud , Special Eddy?

  • Sedona November 8, 2017 at 3:11 pm

    Oh…did Ed Kociela have a commentary?
    Yawn…..

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