The world was watching in disbelief as a Trump-incited mob of nazis, Qanon conspiracy kooks and a United States Congressman stormed the Capitol causing deaths and mayhem.
It'll be the terrorists' downfall of course. Maybe it's their innate sense of privilege and being above the law, but the seditionists were and continue to be almost comically clueless about any digital operational security whatsoever.
Many in the frenzied crowd didn't realise that it's a really bad idea to take copious selfies as well as pictures of your fellow thugs while you violently, and illegally, try to overthrow a democratically elected government.
The imagery along with smartphone location data means it will be easy for US authorities to identify and track down rioters. Many have been arrested already and put on no-fly lists much to their surprise.
They are also being "crowd identified", with people going through the incriminating images on social media, comparing them to pictures posted in right wing forums and elsewhere on the internet, and passing on their findings to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
BREAKING: I've ID'd man #2 w/restraints in Senate (moderate/high confidence) and am referring directly to Law Enforcement— John Scott-Railton (@jsrailton) January 7, 2021
-Ex. military officer & has just pulled his social media.
-His insignia matches his military record.
Thx for help of many folks here! esp @JohnHultquist pic.twitter.com/OuQ6wGY9fW
Incriminating messages like the above look set to become rarer from now on though.
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and even Pinterest have finally had enough of nazi propaganda, conspiracy theories and incitement to violence and suspended bags of Qanon and Trump supporter accounts.
WOW: Was there a plan to take hostages? This man is carrying police-style zip-tie handcuffs. And mace(?) pic.twitter.com/np3i1pUc6n— John Scott-Railton (@jsrailton) January 7, 2021
That included Donald Trump himself who has been removed from just about every internet platform imaginable after the Capitol Hill attack.
Going social media cold turkey has been difficult for Trump and his fanatic followers. They migrated to an un-moderated service, Parler, which presented a new cosy home on the internet, one where they could truly speak freely about executing members of congress for treason and other such jolly topics.
It didn't last long, however. Apple and Google suddenly became aware that Parler, which has been around since 2018, is a public relations nightmare.
Apple and Google dropped Parler from their app stores, causing much anguish among those who had recently joined like Kim Dotcom.
WTF. I joined Parler today and now it's kaputt. The word overreaction comes to mind. How does anyone in Silicon Valley think that stuff like this isn't going to trigger a reaction? Republicans may one day get back into power and won't forget. Or do you have plans to prevent that? https://t.co/uuuFVzZD37— Kim Dotcom (@KimDotcom) January 9, 2021
Some enterprising eBay sellers were quick to hawk smartphones with Parler already installed on them, for thousands of dollars to exploit really desperate users.
Security researchers are generally good people, and worried that Trumpers would attempt to "sideload" the Parler app. This is when you get apps from untrusted sources on the internet rather than the official app stores. It's very risky as unlike with Google and Apple, there's no knowing what the code you download and run actually does.
Will you be chatting about burning down local government offices, or will your device be ransomwared? Who knows. You'd have to be pretty dumb to sideload but see above; it was guaranteed to happen.
That worry vanished quickly however as Amazon Web Services also discovered that Parler was not the sort of service they wanted to host, and pulled the plug on it.
Parler content didn't enter digital oblivion though. The communications service that tens of millions of conspiracy theorists entrusted with their darkest and most violent thoughts happened to be really badly coded and insecure.
So badly in fact that researchers were able to download what looks like a complete, 70 terabyte archive of Parler users' conversations, pictures, videos and private messages or Parlays.
This was first thought to be a hack, but no, it was just Parler not securing the public application programming interface that allows apps to query and access the service over the internet.
Since Parler didn't actually delete any posts and only marked them as invisible, users trying to get rid of incriminating material are sod out of luck. The archive is now being shared with the cops who will have the daunting task of sifting through an enormous amount of high value data that includes real names (Parler insisted on that for some features), geolocation, accurate time and date stamps, and other metadata.
On a more serious note, the Capitol Hill attack playing out on social media will probably mean major changes for the likes of Facebook and Twitter the coming months.
They want to sell your data and the content you generate, and not moderate it. That's a mission impossible if there ever was one, especially across multiple countries with different cultural norms.
Now however the social networks have shown that it's possible to comb through their subscriber lists and delete offensive accounts and content, even though they claimed they couldn't do that before.
Politicians worldwide have been quick to take notice of this and will demand more of the same.
Having nazi-free Twitter and no anti-5G loonies egging each other on to burn down cell towers is great and long overdue because nobody needs that. There's a real risk however that the demands for social media moderation become politicised and overreaching.
Which would be a shame but we should be used to stupid people ruining it for everyone else by now.