August 7, 2022

Gadgetwise: Use Twitter? Remember These Tips

Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Congressman Anthony Weiner’s resignation today was triggered by a Twitter mistake last month that he admitted to making.

The New York Democrat tweeted a rather unstatesmanly photo of himself to an admirer. But instead of sending the link to the photo in a private “direct message” to the woman on Twitter, he published it on his main Twitter feed. He’s far from the first to do so – Twitter’s direct message and public post input fields do look a lot alike.

The only sure way to keep electronic communications from falling into the wrong hands is not to send them at all. For most people today, that’s not a practical option. But you should always consider the risks of sending a message meant for private viewing over the world’s biggest instant-publishing medium.

1. Don’t DM anything you wouldn’t want public. It’s simply too easy to type into the wrong box on Twitter, posting a public tweet that others can see in seconds. Some reporters avoid the risk by asking people who “DM” them—Twitter slang for a direct message—to switch to e-mail instead. Sure, you can also send an e-mail to the wrong address, but it’s harder to do by accident.

2. Don’t presume protected tweets will stay private. Twitter gives you the option to protect your main Twitter feed, so that only your approved followers can see what you tweet. But because tweets are short, and contain only text instead of images and video, it’s easy for someone to manually retweet your message by cutting and pasting it into a new, and public, tweet of their own. They may not mean you harm, but an offhand joke meant for a few close friends can become an inexcusable offense if seen by others. And if you’ve got enemies, it’s possible they were already following you before you turned on the Protected Tweets option.

3. Turn on Twitter’s secure connection option. Weiner claimed early on that his Twitter account had been hijacked by a hacker. He later recanted, but it can happen. By default, Twitter sessions aren’t encrypted the way online shopping purchases are, which leaves them vulnerable on unencrypted Wi-Fi networks in particular. You can enable encryption for everything by going to your Twitter account’s settings and turning on the option to “Always use HTTPS.”

But again, that won’t save you if you type into the wrong box.

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