Reality Check: Terrorists Using Twitter?
A U.S. Army intelligence report sent the media into overdrive the last few days with its pronouncement that terrorists might "Tweet" their way through an attack using the microblogging site Twitter. The Army says it "red-teamed" the possible use of Twitter, which means that a team of soldiers or analysts used Twitter to see if they could find weaknesses with the Army's battle readiness. But is a Twitter attack realistic? Should we be Twitterified of Twitter? Let's take a closer look.
The report outlines three possible uses for Twitter as a terrorist tool. They are:
1. Sending and receiving messages to and from other terrorist cell members.
2. Detonating a roadside bomb.
3. Following a soldier's Tweets.
Let's look at each of these threats individually. First, it's definitely possible that terrorists could send and receive messages using Twitter. But couldn't they also simply text each other directly? This may not be as easy as Tweeting each other, but it's still doable.
The U.S. Army report cites the use of Twitter by protesters at this summer's Republican National Convention as evidence that Twitter could be used as a tool to help locate the movements of police and/or soldiers. By its very nature, a protest is dependent on a massive amount of people showing up--and most of those people are not familiar with each other, so a broadcasting tool becomes vital. Terrorists, it seems to me, would not be so dependent on communicating with complete strangers.
And what about detonation via Twitter? According to many reports (including ones on CNN.com, and in the Honolulu Star Bulletin and The Stony Brook University Statesman) cell phones are already the detonator of choice without Twitter. So why would terrorists switch to Twitter?
Finally, we have terrorists following a soldier's Twitter page. This is definitely possible, and it could be a real danger. This is not the same as following a blog or some other web page, Tweets are real time information that can be picked up without much notice from the person providing the Tweets. So my question is, why are soldiers allowed to use Twitter in the first place?
That being said, a Twitter-based attack seems far fetched, but I suppose it's worthwhile to account for any possibility.