Bruns' solution: two-factor authentication, which would force any would-be attacker to provide a second means of proving he or she is an authorized user of the account -- such as entering a one-time PIN sent to a mobile phone. Two-factor would also have prevented the devastating hack on Wired writer Mat Honan's account last fall. Google, Facebook, and Apple have all adopted multistep authentication, says Bruns; now the ball is in Twitter's court.
That mostly solves the unauthorized access problem, but not the larger conundrum: the speed with which news travels on the Net and the rewards that accrue to those who get it out most quickly. There's a lot of incentive in the world of Web news to be first even if you're wrong; there is almost no incentive to be second or fourth or 10th but to get it right. And there is no faster way to spread information and misinformation than Twitter.
Matt Roller nailed it when he coined the following bit of Twisdom:
Even then, the hacked AP account was still more accurate than the New York Post's coverage of the Boston bombings last week. Following a series of mind-blowing errors that the Post has yet to acknowledge, the News Corp paper was taken to the woodshed and whipped in amusing fashion by The Onion and Gawker (very much NSFW, do not open this page at work, I'm not kidding). Likewise, CNN got egg all over its face when it reported phantom arrests of bombing suspects (Jon Stewart and "The Daily Show" got their licks in there).
The problem isn't just Twitter, it isn't just hackers, it isn't just news organizations that should really know better. The problem is us. You and me, sitting here in front of our screens, rabidly awaiting the next distraction or update or tidbit of information. We have become addicted to speed -- the digital variety, not the pharmaceutical. Until we finally break that habit, get ready for a lot more misinformation, panic, and propaganda in our lives.
How do we eradicate the Net's misinformation epidemic? Post your cures below or email me: firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article, "Breaking bad: The problem with news on Twitter," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the crazy twists and turns of the tech industry with Robert X. Cringely's Notes from the Field blog, and subscribe toCringely's Notes from the Underground newsletter.