Has the time come for self-destructing tweets?

A new service for twitter lets you add a snapchat-like timer to tweets. Is this what we need to get people to take privacy seriously, asks Siraj Datoo?

Remember that mundane conversation you had with a friend on Twitter last week - something about a football transfer or your latest favourite gif? If you Google words from that conversation, it's fairly likely that you'll be able to find those tweets, even if you have since sent hundreds more. A Twitter conversation you had years ago can affect Google's auto-suggestion when you type in your name.

So Spirit, a new app that allows you to ensure that your tweet self-destructs by deleting after a specified amount of time, could be a welcome solution. Similar to how one can share specific tweets on Facebook (tagging them #fb after you've installed the Selective Twitter app), Spirit requires users to hashtag their tweets with how long they want them to last: #5d, #2w, #4m, and so on. It can delete tweets from only a minute after they are initially sent.

Founder Pierre Legrain explained to me that he had already seen a number of use cases emerge. Beyond the mere novelty of the app, which has seen users try and "trick" their friends by watching their tweets disappear mid-conversation (unexpectedly common), meteorologists have been showing some excitement about its potential use.

Legrain, a designer-cum-developer, explained:

"...when you are tweeting and updating people about a fast-updating situation, you want the freshest information in the network being passed around and you don't want to be contributing to misinformation... They then have explicit control."

Yet while this use case is valuable, this idea of having more explicit oversight of your information is what interests Legrain. He said that, since it launched last Wednesday, he has been fascinated by its uptake. "[People] want to put things into the public but have more control."

And in addition to this making sense, especially in light of the NSA leaks, it demonstrates how people are becoming more aware of the infinite memory of the internet. That's a good thing. Legrain wouldn't give specific details on the number of users already signed up but said that there were an average of two users signing up every minute.

The idea of a lasting digital footprint is one that is gaining increasing attention and rightly so. In America, New York mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner sparked a debate about social media use after he sent inappropriate messages through Twitter's direct messaging feature. US talk show hosts explained how male students have started to use phones to send sexual messages to girls they don't know because i) it's more uncomfortable getting rejected in person; and ii) young people believe that something sent over the internet is less "real" than saying something out loud.

The idea that text messages, Snapchats and other updates sent across the internet are less tangible than real-life conversations is worth talking about because of how widespread it is. British Youth Commissioner Paris Brown ended up leaving a "dream job" only one week after she started because of a media furore over (now deleted) tweets that could have been perceived as homophobic and offensive.

Updating a public Twitter account does not only send those updates to your followers but into the wider internet.. The same can be said for Facebook and Instagram, where a growing number of people are unwittingly sharing images. For example, do you have a cover photo? Its default setting is set to public and cannot be changed. That image can be seen by anyone who can find your profile.

And take Instagram. Anyone who quickly scans my account there could very easily figure out that I've been in New York since mid-July, have a soft spot for coffee, tea, Nutella, coconuts and Asian cuisine and that I have, at least once, played Draw Something. And that I'm awesome at it. And that's the profile of someone who's careful about what he shares online.

Despite this, such technology has a way of tricking our minds into sharing more than we're comfortable with the world knowing. A new retweet, favourite or "like" brings with it a positive sentiment and this, in turn, eases us into sharing more. Perhaps Spirit can force us to be more wary with our tweets. We'll never know now, I suppose. Literally.

Spirit

Siraj Datoo is a freelance journalist.

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Emmanuel Macron's power struggle with the military

Reminding your subordinates that you are "their boss" doesn't go as far as listening to their problems, it may seem.

This is the sixth in a series looking at why Emmanuel Macron isn't the liberal hero he has been painted as. Each week, I examine an area of the new French president's politics that doesn't quite live up to the hype. Read the whole series.

It had started well between Macron and the army. He was the first president to chose a military vehicle to parade with troops on the Champs-Élysées at his inauguration, had made his first official visit a trip to Mali to meet French soldiers in the field, and had pulled a James Bond while visiting a submarine off the Brittany coast.

It’s all fun and games in submarines, until they ask you to pay to maintain the fleet.

“Macron wanted to appear as the head of armed forces, he was reaffirming the president’s link with the military after the François Hollande years, during which the defence minister Jean-Yves Le Drian had a lot of power,” Elie Tenenbaum, a defence research fellow at the French Institute for International Relations, told the New Statesman. The new president was originally viewed with distrust by the troops because he is a liberal, he says, but “surprised them positively” in his first weeks. Olivier de France, the research director at The French Institute for International and Strategic Affairs, agrees: “He sent good signals at first, gathering sympathy.” 

But the honeymoon ended in July, with what Tenenbaum describes as Macron’s first “real test” on defence: the announced cut of €850m from the army’s budget, despite Macron’s (very ambitious) campaign pledge to rise the defence budget to 2 per cent of the country’s GDP by 2025. A row ensued between the president and the French army’s chief of staff, general Pierre de Villiers, when the general complained publicly that the defence budget was “unbearable”. He told MPs: “I won’t let him [Macron] fuck me up like that!”

Macron replied in a speech he gave to military troops the day before Bastille Day, in which he called soldiers to honour their “sense of duty and discretion” and told them: “I have taken responsibilities. I am your boss.” After the general threatened to quit and wrote at length about “trust” in leadership, Macron added a few days later that “If something brings into conflict the army’s chief of staff and the president of the Republic, the chief of staff changes.” That, Tenenbaum says, was the real error: “On the content, he was cutting the budget, and on the form, he was straightening out a general in front of his troops”. This is the complete opposite of the military ethos, he says: “It showed a lack of tact.”

This brutal demonstration of power led to de Villiers’ resignation on 19 July – a first in modern French politics. (de Villiers had already protested over budget cuts and threatened to quit in 2014, but Hollande’s defence minister Jean-Yves Le Drian had backed down.)

Macron did his best to own up to his mistake, assuring the military that, although this year’s cuts were necessary to meet targets, the budget would be rised in 2018. “I want you to have the means to achieve your mission,” he said.

But the harm was done. “He should have introduced a long-term budget plan with a rise in the coming years right away,” says de France. “It was clumsy – of course he is the boss, everyone knows that. If he needs to say it, something is off.” The €850m will be taken out of the army’s “already suffering” equipment budget, says Tenenbaum. “There are pressures everywhere. Soldiers use equipment that is twice their age, they feel no one has their back." The 2 per cent GDP target Macron set himself during the campaign – a “precise” and “ambitious” one – would mean reaching a €50bn army budget by 2025, from this year’s €34m, he explains. “That’s €2bn added per year. It’s enormous.”

Read more: #5: On immigration, Macron's words draw borders

Macron has two choices ahead, De France explains: “Either France remains a big power and adapts its means to its ambitions” – which means honouring the 2 per cent by 2025 pledge – “or wants to be a medium power and adapts its ambitions to its means”, by reducing its army’s budget and, for instance, reinvesting more in European defence.

The military has good reason to doubt Macron will keep his promise: all recent presidents have set objectives that outlast their mandates, meaning the actual rise happens under someone else’s supervision. In short, the set goals aren’t always met. Hollande’s law on military programming planned a budget rise for the period 2018-19, which Macron has now inherited. “The question is whether Macron will give the army the means to maintain these ambitions, otherwise the forces’ capacities will crumble,” says Tenenbaum. “These €850m of cuts are a sign than he may not fulfill his commitments.”

If so, Macron’s row with the general may only be the beginning.  It didn’t help Macron’s popularity, which has been plummeting all summer. And the already distrustful troops may not forgive him: more than half of France’s forces of order may support Marine Le Pen’s Front national, according to one poll. “It’s hardly quantifiable and includes police officers,” Tenenbaum cautions. All the same, the army probably supports right-wing and hard-right politicians in higher numbers than the general population, he suggests.

James Bond would probably have known better than to irritate an entire army – but then again, Bond never was “their boss.”