(Updated 05/03/23) The New York Times reports that the elimination by Twitter of “blue check” marks signaling authenticity of any account on the social media platform has opened the door to multiple accounts impersonating government agencies, entertainment celebrities, and political figures of all persuasions.
Disinformation is rampant by postings from sources from Russia. Sudan, and other countries. Elon Musk, the owner of Twitter, has dismissed complaints about these problems. The New York Times published a report documenting these developments as well as Musk’s justifications for his actions. He’s been unapologetic about charging fees for blue checks and Twitter offers them to anyone with an open checkbook.
Public Safety Agencies Face Risk of Fake Accounts on Twitter
The New York Times reported that six fake accounts on Twitter are posting false information on Twitter with each of them presenting themselves as the official account of the Los Angeles Police Dept. Similar problems affect multiple municipal agencies in New York City and Chicago.
The New York Times reported that Alyssa Kann, a research associate at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab, said Twitter under Mr. Musk was systematically dismantling safeguards that had been put in place over years of consideration and controversy.
“When there are so many things going wrong at once, it’s like: Which fire do you put out first?” she said.
“This is going to be chaos for emergency services,” tweeted Marc-André Argentino, a research fellow at the London-based International Center for the Study of Radicalization.
The newspaper reports that Mr. Argentino tracked examples showing an account impersonating the mayor of Chicago replying to one impersonating the city’s Department of Transportation. Another had New York City’s actual government-run account arguing with an impostor.
“Yes this is funny, let us all laugh,” Mr. Argentino wrote. “Now take two seconds and go back to any mass casualty incident in a major city, or a natural disaster, or any crisis/critical incident when people turn to official sources of information in times need & think of the harm that this can cause.”
Nuclear Utilities at Risk for the Effects of Disinformation
Many nuclear utilities have used Twitter to notify public safety agencies that there is a scheduled test of emergency sirens. Deranged individuals may try to impersonate either public safety agencies or the nuclear utility itself. It is plausible to expect disinformation will eventually be posted on Twitter about nuclear power plants by a fake “blue check” account.
A significant example of the impact of social media platforms being used to spread false information about operating reactors is the report in June 2011 that the Ft. Calhoun nuclear power plant had blown up. I documented this issue, the sources on social media of the disinformation reports, and the response of the utility to address public alarms.
The unrestrained use of fake accounts on Twitter, with or without blue checks, is a significant risk to nuclear power utilities relative to their ongoing communications with the public. This is an international problem driven by the global reach of Twitter’s user base.
Credible alternatives are needed to insure that public safety agencies and nuclear utilities can communicate routine or event related news to the public without the risk of their verified online identities being hijacked by bad actors.
What is the Emergency Alert System
One place where Twitter’s twisted tales cannot go is the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Emergency Alert System.
The Emergency Alert System (EAS) is a national public warning system that requires radio and TV broadcasters, cable TV, wireless cable systems, satellite and wireline operators to provide the President with capability to address the American people within 10 minutes during a national emergency.
Broadcast, cable, and satellite operators are the stewards of this important public service in close partnership with state, local, tribal, and territorial authorities.
FEMA, in partnership with the Federal Communications Commission and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, is responsible for implementing, maintaining and operating the EAS at the federal level.
So What’s the Problem?
Readers might ask, if utilities are using the EAS, why does the problem with Twitter’s lack of content moderation matter?
The concern is that the public is, unfortunately, attuned to social media which includes Twitter among other social media platforms. As noted in the blog post, bad actors have set up fake identities on Twitter for the police departments in Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York. It is only a matter of time until one of these knuckleheads creates a false identity for a nuclear power plant and creates mass panic with a bogus post about a radiation release.
As noted in the blog post this happened in 2011 at the Ft. Calhoun nuclear plant. It took days for the utility’s effort to settle things down to take hold. During this time the plant was buzzed by news media aircraft which ignored the FAA’s standing orders that the airspace over a nuclear power plant is off limits.
The concern is the public chaos that can be caused by one bogus post on Twitter, or any heavily subscribed social media platform. This is why utilities need to educate the public that the only official source of news about an event is the EAS. Certainly, at this time, the turmoil on Twitter makes it an unreliable source of information in the event of a public emergency.
Update 05/-3/23 Twitter Cancels API Charges for Government & Public Services
Twitter has reversed its previous position of shutting off its API programming framework for verified government and publicly-owned services that use the tool for “critical purposes” such as emergency notifications, transportation updates and weather alerts. Twitter’s decision to shut off its free API caused many problems for public institutions that depend on the functionality.
The shutoff broke numerous apps and services that relied on the free API for sharing and content streams, such as Flipboard’s reader. Government services faced imponderable choices. New York City’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority said it would stop posting service alerts on Twitter after it faced a $50,000 per month fee for access. Many local and state police and emergency services also cancelled posting alerts when faced with exorbitant charges for accessing the API.
In the social media world Microsoft also pulled Twitter from its social media tool for advertisers, and disabled Twitter screenshot sharing for Windows and Xbox gamers. WordPress stopped automatic Tweeting of new posts by hosted blogs. Some businesses faced charges of tens of thousands of dollars a month causing them to cancel their tweeting on the platform. They also pulled their advertising impacting Twitter’s bottom line.
Business users are likely to continue to flee the platform based on the continuing turmoil that erupts on an almost weekly basis as Elon Musk, the billionaire owner, issues sometimes inexplicable policies that seem to undercut his drive for profitability. Many businesses have pulled their ads because they don’t want their brands associated with hate speech from fringe groups who have flocked to Twitter based on Musk’s libertarian views that free speech. Musk fired almost all of the staff that moderated postings to prevent content that involved hate speech and other forms of offensive material.
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Separately, due to increasing turmoil on Twitter, posting there by this blog for its Twitter feed of @djysrv, the news feed of the Neutron Bytes blog, is now limited to a few items each week. For a listing of sources of daily nuclear energy news, see this page on this blog. https://neutronbytes.com/nuclear-reading-list/
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div>I had this problem. Lo
Wow, this has to be one of the dumbest articles I’ve seen in a long time.
“Nuclear Utilities at Risk for the Effects of Disinformation”? Really, Dan?
Could the problem be nuclear utilities relying on a private company, like Twitter, rather than government resources such as the Emergency Alert System?
Or is the problem that utilities are too cheap to pay the $8/month fee to get their blue check back?
Your politics and personal issues are negatively impacting what used to be a pretty good blog. Stay on target.
Thanks as always for reading the blog. Nuclear utilities in the US use Twitter as an adjunct system to the Emergency Alert System (EAS). I’m very familiar with it having been a part of the Emergency Operations Team at the Idaho Nuclear Laboratory, on the desert, for a number of years. Twitter is a late arrival as a channel for public information given the decades of experience with the EAS.
My concern is that the public is, unfortunately, attuned to social media which includes Twitter among other social media platforms. As noted in the blog post, bad actors have set up fake identities on Twitter for the police departments in Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York. It is only a matter of time until one of these knuckleheads creates a false identity for a nuclear power plant and creates mass panic with a bogus post about a radiation release. As noted in the blog post this happened in 2011 at the Ft. Calhoun nuclear plant.
I can see from your tone that the article upset you. Hopefully, you will like the most recent post on the NAS report on advanced reactors which published today.