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140 characters without possibility of parole

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As 2010 dies down, a lot of us are looking back over the past year. This cartoon was inspired – indirectly – by one of the year’s less-reported stories: the collision between the informal, off-the-cuff culture of Twitter and the rigid world of law. That conflict runs the gamut from totalitarian regimes to liberal democracies:

True, China has long repressed dissent – often brutally – and airports around the world are notorious for frowning on even casual jokes about explosives, violence or hijacking. But Twitter brings a new combination of persistence, reach and spontaneity that we haven’t really grappled with yet.

No matter which you think needs to adapt more – the law, or the way we use social media – we enter 2011 facing a new level of accountability for our spontaneous comments. And the kind of idle conversation that could pass without comment in a pub is now part of the permanent, searchable record.

By the way, this cartoon is part of a 2010 year-in-review I’m putting together. Look for it later this week… and in the meantime, remember to get your Noise to Signal 2011 wall calendar, free for the downloading. Happy holidays!