I don't think Harman is using the 'Liddle defence' on this occasion, and it seems quite straightforward to work out what has taken place - to me, perhaps, and to most of you who use Twitter quite a lot.Harman appears to have clicked on one of those 'Is this you????' direct message, and her account then sent out 'Is this you????' direct messages. Not really a hacking as such, but yes, the account has been compromised. Nothing especially unusual about that, really: we've all been there. Well, I say 'we've all been there' but apparently not.
A lot of us have had steep learning curves with the internet. We've been spammed, had all kinds of delightful offers that have turned out to be rubbish, come across people impersonating other people, had our money taken away from us, been lied to and deceived on a fairly regular basis. It's not an especially dangerous place out there, but there are pitfalls. It's worth learning so that you don't go on making the same mistakes. It makes you a more cynical person, which might not be such a bad thing. You certainly start learning that if someone says something, it may well not mean it.
But as ever, the creaky old steam-powered mainstream media can't quite get to grips with this electronic business, even when they're writing for the web. I wonder if they're still using Telexes and Prestel over at the Beeb, given this kind of clunky effort:
Harriet Harman has revealed that fake Twitter messages have been sent in her name, including one to a senior Conservative politician.
No, that's not really it at all. They're quite genuine messages; they just got sent from her account without her knowledge because she did the 'Is this you????' thing. Alan Duncan's quote would seem to substantiate this theory, because he seems to be suggesting that someone asked if it was him. And yet, as with the David Wright situation, no-one seems to have twigged. The over-use of inverted commas, like a 1960s reporter saying 'the so-called "Beatles"', is pretty indicative:
Earlier this month, Labour MP David Wright said his Twitter account had been "hacked into" and offensive words added to a message he had posted about the Conservatives.
And several leading politicians, including Foreign Secretary David Miliband, have had "fake" Twitter accounts created under their name.
Well, we still know that words can't be added to tweets you've already submitted - you can delete previous ones and then replace them with new ones, but that's not really adding words. And yet Wright's defence is still chirped out by the mainstream, who don't seem to understand it's not plausible that events transpired in the way he says they did. You don't need the 'fake' around the 'fake' accounts, either, because they are fake.
With the election coming up, there will doubtless be a lot more stories about it. I just hope that these things can be better explained and researched in the future. I'm not holding my breath, though. Maybe one day, when Twitter is deeply unpopular and people are abandoning it in droves, the BBC and other media outlets will finally start to understand how it works.
*update* Perhaps MPs should be given a little induction course into how Twitter works, though you would have thought that someone would have told them how to avoid most of the pitfalls. Ben Bradshaw appears not to have done a bit of a whoopsy here and sent a text message to someone else to his Twitter account.
Please Ben, don't say you were 'hacked'. Just say "I texted Twitter rather than someone else whose name began with T, silly old me, what a plonker eh?" - go on, do that.