Prominent digital dissidents ditch Twitter over privacy, security fears

Images: Twitter, Minds
Images: Twitter, Minds

A number of Twitter luminaries say they’ve signed off for the last time and jumped ship to a more secure platform over concerns they no longer trust the California tech giant.

Some Thais who have relied on Twitter as a final frontier for free speech fired off their final blue birds to announce their move to a decentralized platform that uses blockchain to pay users for content. 

Called Minds, it has surged today as a popular topic online with thousands of tweets tagged #MindsTH. For writer and social critic Sarinee Achavanuntakul, it was a collapse in confidence that Twitter remained a safe place for dissent.

“It’s the privacy policy that Twitter will share IP addresses to its partners. You have to understand first that Twitter is a space many Thais use to freely criticize the government,” she said. “[The government] also conducts [Information Operations] there, and my name is on the target list. Such an atmosphere is not okay.” 

Sarinee Achavanuntakul
Sarinee Achavanuntakul

Minds on Thursday afternoon was briefly unavailable, though it was unclear whether that was due to the influx of new Thai users. Earlier it had acknowledged the sudden migration.

“We are experiencing a MASSIVE surge of Thai citizens seeking Internet freedom. @Mindsth,” Minds, ironically, tweeted.

Founder Bill Ottman said he embraced the new audience and would develop Thai language support. 

“Good morning #mindsTH. Site performance should be stabilizing. Translations coming soon,” Ottman wrote on the platform this morning. He could not immediately be reached for further comment.

Hit by users over @TwitterThailand, ‘unbiased’ platform says it’s committed to free speech

Since it went alpha in 2015, Minds has been praised by Anonymous and criticized as another haven for the hard-right fringe of racists and other extremists. Though the project is based in Connecticut, its open-source technology is decentralized and uses Ethereum-based blockchain to put money into the hands of users and content creators rather than the platform. 

Sarinee was just one of a handful of well-known figures to announce they were moving to Minds. She tweeted a “goodbye” to Twitter this morning and announced she would mainly use Minds and Facebook from now on. While she didn’t deactivate her Twitter account, she said she had deleted the application from her smartphone. She said Minds’ strong password protection and end-to-end encryption appealed to her.

Other popular Twitter figures who announced that they have created a Minds account today included Wiroj Lakkana-adisorn, an MP for the disbanded Future Forward Party, writer-translator Tomorn Sookprecha and actress-TV host Inthira Charoenpura.

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After concerns – legit and silly – greeted Twitter’s launch of a national service last week, the breaking point for Sarinee and others came Monday after word that it would discontinue its “Do Not Track” privacy setting next month. 

Do Not Track allows users to opt out of cross-site tracking on other sites that use it – Twitter says it wasn’t widely adopted, including other major platforms such as Google and Facebook. It is replacing it with new privacy tools. 

It also announced changes to how it shares data with third parties which, coupled with last week’s mention it had partnered with Thai government agencies, sent up red flags to online dissidents.

On Thursday, Twitter did not directly address concerns about its partnerships with “government departments and ministries” in a statement via a publicist to Coconuts Bangkok. It did emphasize its collaborations with “a number of different journalistic, social activist and non-government organisations to help them with best practices to develop a more effective and engaging presence on Twitter.”

“We are committed to serving an open and public conversation in Thailand and will continue to be transparent in our efforts,” it said. 

A Twitter representative today said the company had nothing further to add and referred a reporter to its updated privacy policies.


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