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Main article: Twitter

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Daily Crunch: Twitter is banning political ads

19:55 | 31 October

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 9am Pacific, you can subscribe here.

1. Jack Dorsey says Twitter will ban all political ads

Arguing that “internet political ads present entirely new challenges to civic discourse,” CEO Jack Dorsey announced that Twitter will be banning all political advertising — albeit with “a few exceptions” like voter registration.

Not only is this a decisive move by Twitter, but it also could increase pressure on Facebook to follow suit, or at least take steps in this direction.

2. Apple beats on Q4 earnings after strong quarter for wearables, services

Apple’s iPhone sales still make up over half of its quarterly revenues, but they are slowly shrinking in importance as other divisions in the company pick up speed.

3. Facebook shares rise on strong Q3, users up 2% to 2.45B

More earnings news: Despite ongoing public relations crises, Facebook kept growing in Q3 2019, demonstrating that media backlash does not necessarily equate to poor business performance.

4. Driving license tests just got smarter in India with Microsoft’s AI project

Hundreds of people who have taken the driver’s license test in Dehradun (the capital of the Indian state of Uttarakhand) in recent weeks haven’t had to sit next to an instructor. Instead, their cars were affixed with a smartphone that was running HAMS, an AI project developed by a Microsoft Research team.

5. Crunchbase raises $30M more to double down on its ambition to be a ‘LinkedIn for company data’

Good news for our friends at Crunchbase, which got its start as a part of TechCrunch before being spun off into a separate business several years ago. CEO Jager McConnell also says the site currently has tens of thousands of paying subscribers.

6. Deadspin writers quit after being ordered to stick to sports

The relationship between new management at G/O Media (formerly Gizmodo Media Group/Gawker Media) and editorial staff seems to have been deteriorating for months. This week, it turned into a full-on revolt over auto-play ads and especially a directive that Deadspin writers must stick to sports.

7. What Berlin’s top VCs want to invest in right now

As we gear up for our Disrupt Berlin conference in December, we check in with top VCs on the types of startups that they’re looking to back right now. (Extra Crunch membership required.)

 


0

Twitter says government demands for user data continue to rise

18:45 | 31 October

Twitter has reported a rise in the number of government demands for customer data.

In its latest transparency report covering the six-months between January and June, the social media giant said it received 7,300 requests for user data, up by 6% a year earlier, but that the number of accounts affected are down by 25%.

The company turned over some data in just under half of all cases.

U.S. government agencies demanded the most data, filing 2,120 demands for 4,150 accounts — accounting for about one-third of all requests. Japan was trailing behind with 1,742 demands for 2,445 accounts.

The company also had 33 requests for data on 86 Periscope video-streaming accounts, disclosing some information in 60% of cases.

Twitter also disclosed it was previously served with three so-called national security letters (NSLs), which can compel companies to turn over non-content data at the request of the FBI. These letters are not approved by a judge, and often come with a gag order preventing their disclosure. But since the Freedom Act passed in 2015, companies have been allowed to request the lifting of their gag orders.

The report also said Twitter saw a rise across the board in the amount of private information, sensitive media, hateful content, and abuse, but that it was continuing to take action.

Twitter said it removed 124,339 accounts for impersonation, and 115,861 accounts for promoting terrorism, a decline of 30% on the previous reporting period.

The company also removed 244,188 accounts for violations relating to child sexual exploitation.

 


0

Tech giants still not doing enough to fight fakes, says European Commission

21:48 | 29 October

It’s a year since the European Commission got a bunch of adtech giants together to spill ink on a voluntary Code of Practice to do something — albeit, nothing very quantifiable — as a first step to stop the spread of disinformation online.

Its latest report card on this voluntary effort sums to the platforms could do better.

The Commission said the same in January. And will doubtless say it again. Unless or until regulators grasp the nettle of online business models that profit by maximizing engagement. As the saying goes, lies fly while the truth comes stumbling after. So attempts to shrink disinformation without fixing the economic incentives to spread BS in the first place are mostly dealing in cosmetic tweaks and optics.

Signatories to the Commission’s EU Code of Practice on Disinformation are: Facebook, Google, Twitter, Mozilla, Microsoft and several trade associations representing online platforms, the advertising industry, and advertisers — including the Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB) and World Federation of Advertisers (WFA).

In a press release assessing today’s annual reports, compiled by signatories, the Commission expresses disappointment that no other Internet platforms or advertising companies have signed up since Microsoft joined as a late addition to the Code this year.

“We commend the commitment of the online platforms to become more transparent about their policies and to establish closer cooperation with researchers, fact-checkers and Member States. However, progress varies a lot between signatories and the reports provide little insight on the actual impact of the self-regulatory measures taken over the past year as well as mechanisms for independent scrutiny,” write commissioners Věra Jourová, Julian King, and Mariya Gabriel said in a joint statement. [emphasis ours]

“While the 2019 European Parliament elections in May were clearly not free from disinformation, the actions and the monthly reporting ahead of the elections contributed to limiting the space for interference and improving the integrity of services, to disrupting economic incentives for disinformation, and to ensuring greater transparency of political and issue-based advertising. Still, large-scale automated propaganda and disinformation persist and there is more work to be done under all areas of the Code. We cannot accept this as a new normal,” they add.

The risk, of course, is that the Commission’s limp-wristed code risks rapidly cementing a milky jelly of self-regulation in the fuzzy zone of disinformation as the new normal, as we warned when the Code launched last year.

The Commission continues to leave the door open (a crack) to doing something platforms can’t (mostly) ignore — i.e. actual regulation — saying it’s assessment of the effectiveness of the Code remains ongoing.

But that’s just a dangled stick. At this transitionary point between outgoing and incoming Commissions, it seems content to stay in a ‘must do better’ holding pattern. (Or: “It’s what the Commission says when it has other priorities,” as one source inside the institution put it.)

A comprehensive assessment of how the Code is working is slated as coming in early 2020 — i.e. after the new Commission has taken up its mandate. So, yes, that’s the sound of the can being kicked a few more months on.

Summing up its main findings from signatories’ self-marked ‘progress’ reports, the outgoing Commission says they have reported improved transparency between themselves vs a year ago on discussing their respective policies against disinformation. 

But it flags poor progress on implementing commitments to empower consumers and the research community.

“The provision of data and search tools is still episodic and arbitrary and does not respond to the needs of researchers for independent scrutiny,” it warns. 

This is ironically an issue that one of the signatories, Mozilla, has been an active critic of others over — including Facebook, whose political ad API it reviewed damningly this year, finding it not fit for purpose and “designed in ways that hinders the important work of researchers, who inform the public and policymakers about the nature and consequences of misinformation”. So, er, ouch.

The Commission is also critical of what it says are “significant” variations in the scope of actions undertaken by platforms to implement “commitments” under the Code, noting also differences in implementation of platform policy; cooperation with stakeholders; and sensitivity to electoral contexts persist across Member States; as well as differences in EU-specific metrics provided.

But given the Code only ever asked for fairly vague action in some pretty broad areas, without prescribing exactly what platforms were committing themselves to doing, nor setting benchmarks for action to be measured against, inconsistency and variety is really what you’d expect. That and the can being kicked down the road. 

The Code did extract one quasi-firm commitment from signatories — on the issue of bot detection and identification — by getting platforms to promise to “establish clear marking systems and rules for bots to ensure their activities cannot be confused with human interactions”.

A year later it’s hard to see clear sign of progress on that goal. Although platforms might argue that what they claim is increased effort toward catching and killing malicious bot accounts before they have a chance to spread any fakes is where most of their sweat is going on that front.

Twitter’s annual report, for instance, talks about what it’s doing to fight “spam and malicious automation strategically and at scale” on its platform — saying its focus is “increasingly on proactively identifying problematic accounts and behaviour rather than waiting until we receive a report”; after which it says it aims to “challenge… accounts engaging in spammy or manipulative behavior before users are ​exposed to ​misleading, inauthentic, or distracting content”.

So, in other words, if Twitter does this perfectly — and catches every malicious bot before it has a chance to tweet — it might plausibly argue that bot labels are redundant. Though it’s clearly not in a position to claim it’s won the spam/malicious bot war yet. Ergo, its users remain at risk of consuming inauthentic tweets that aren’t clearly labeled as such (or even as ‘potentially suspect’ by Twitter). Presumably because these are the accounts that continue slipping under its bot-detection radar.

There’s also nothing in Twitter’s report about it labelling even (non-malicious) bot accounts as bots — for the purpose of preventing accidental confusion (after all satire misinterpreted as truth can also result in disinformation). And this despite the company suggesting a year ago that it was toying with adding contextual labels to bot accounts, at least where it could detect them.

In the event it’s resisted adding any more badges to accounts. While an internal reform of its verification policy for verified account badges was put on pause last year.

Facebook’s report also only makes a passing mention of bots, under a section sub-headed “spam” — where it writes circularly: “Content actioned for spam has increased considerably, since we found and took action on more content that goes against our standards.”

It includes some data-points to back up this claim of more spam squashed — citing a May 2019 Community Standards Enforcement report — where it states that in Q4 2018 and Q1 2019 it acted on 1.8 billion pieces of spam in each of the quarters vs 737 million in Q4 2017; 836 million in Q1 2018; 957 million in Q2 2018; and 1.2 billion in Q3 2018. 

Though it’s lagging on publishing more up-to-date spam data now, noting in the report submitted to the EC that: “Updated spam metrics are expected to be available in November 2019 for Q2 and Q3 2019″ — i.e. conveniently late for inclusion in this report.

Facebook’s report notes ongoing efforts to put contextual labels on certain types of suspect/partisan content, such as labelling photos and videos which have been independently fact-checked as misleading; labelling state-controlled media; and labelling political ads.

Labelling bots is not discussed in the report — presumably because Facebook prefers to focus attention on self-defined spam-removal metrics vs muddying the water with discussion of how much suspect activity it continues to host on its platform, either through incompetence, lack of resources or because it’s politically expedient for its business to do so.

Labelling all these bots would mean Facebook signposting inconsistencies in how it applies its own policies –in a way that might foreground its own political bias. And there’s no self-regulatory mechanism under the sun that will make Facebook fess up to such double-standards.

For now, the Code’s requirement for signatories to publish an annual report on what they’re doing to tackle disinformation looks to be the biggest win so far. Albeit, it’s very loosely bound self-reporting. While some of these ‘reports’ don’t even run to a full page of A4-text — so set your expectations accordingly.

The Commission has published all the reports here. It has also produced its own summary and assessment of them (here).

“Overall, the reporting would benefit from more detailed and qualitative insights in some areas and from further big-picture context, such as trends,” it writes. “In addition, the metrics provided so far are mainly output indicators rather than impact indicators.”

Of the Code generally — as a “self-regulatory standard” — the Commission argues it has “provided an opportunity for greater transparency into the platforms’ policies on disinformation as well as a framework for structured dialogue to monitor, improve and effectively implement those policies”, adding: “This represents progress over the situation prevailing before the Code’s entry into force, while further serious steps by individual signatories and the community as a whole are still necessary.”

 


0

In Latin America, the business of trolling threatens Twitter’s disruptive power

00:00 | 25 September

Matthew Carpenter-Arévalo Contributor
Matthew Carpenter-Arévalo is a former Google and Twitter manager and current CEO of Céntrico Digital, a Latin American-based digital agency.

In 2012, the emblematic podcast This American Life did a special on politics in Afghanistan. They noted that in order to be a politician in Afghanistan, one needs to command a personal armed militia. That’s how politics is practiced in a fragmented country with a long history of violence, and without a stable, credible centralized authority.

In the quaint and relatively peaceful Andean nation of Ecuador, snuggled between Colombia and Peru, a similar phenomenon takes place: politicians don’t require armed guards, but they do require their digital equivalent: Twitter troll centers, or businesses that sell online harassment as a service.

Indeed, much of the country’s public debate, or lack thereof, is now defined by the anonymous accounts that threaten, cajole and, ultimately, aim to silence voices of dissent. Though Ecuador may be too small to register on the Twitter executive team’s radar, under their noses the lucrative business of weaponizing the platform is already being exported to other countries in the region. The abuse of Twitter through troll centers not only threatens the company’s vision to become the world’s agora, it may also be putting lives at risk.


Imagine a populist president raging against his country’s elites, including the news media, as corrupt enemies of the people. Because of his innate distrust of journalists, he uses Twitter to speak divisive rhetoric directly to his digital faithful. At his disposal is an army of hardcore supporters ready to do his bidding, echo his message and attack anyone who dares disagree. If you recognize the character in this story, it’s probably because you’re familiar with Rafael Correa (56), the populist former president of Ecuador (January 2007- May 2017).

Correa now lives in Belgium and cannot return to Ecuador without facing trial for having ordered the kidnapping of a political opponent. The opponent in question fled Ecuador to neighboring Colombia in 2012, where he was trailed by members of Ecuador’s secret police and briefly kidnapped. Witnesses from the state security apparatus have since come forward to point the finger at Correa as the intellectual author of the crime.

The staunchest defenders of concentrated power are those who hold that power.

Correa denies the charges and claims they are merely politically motivated theater orchestrated by his former mentee and now sworn enemy, current Ecuadorian president, Lenín Moreno. But even if that were the case, Correa still has a number of other uncomfortable questions to answer to the Ecuadorian people. Since 2013, Latin America has been rocked by a corruption scandal called Lava Jato (the car wash) in which the Brazilian construction company Odebrecht paid bribes to politicians across the region to win public works projects (the Netflix series O Mecanismo, or The Mechanism in English, dramatizes the unfolding of the case in Brazil). In total, Odebrecht is said to have paid $788 million U.S. dollars in bribes in 12 countries in exchange for government contracts.

As a result of Lava Jato, former presidents in Brazil and Panama are in jail. In Peru, two former presidents are incarcerated, one is being held prior to an extradition hearing in California and, in April of this year, one dramatically committed suicide when police came to escort him to prison.

Ecuador’s government was no exception to the Brazil construction firm’s corruption: Rafael Correa’s former vice president and preferred successor, Jorge Glas, was convicted in December of 2017 of having directed multi-million-dollar contracts to the Brazilian firm in exchange for massive payoffs hidden through a series of offshore accounts. Indeed, Glas’s poor approval rating was the cause for Correa asking Moreno to come out of retirement and run for president.

Were Lava Jato not enough to spark wide-scale public outrage, a new scandal called Arroz Verde (green rice), revealed in May of 2019, exposed how the Correa election campaigns had government contractors cover expenses in order to flaunt spending restrictions. Numerous former ministers from the Correa government are currently either in jail or awaiting trial, under house arrest or have fled the country. Correa’s legacy as a tough yet modernizing progressive president is currently threatened by corruption scandals of previously unimaginable proportions.

It wasn’t supposed to be that way. When Rafael Correa was elected in 2007, Ecuador was emerging from a period of political, social and economic instability. In 2000, the country’s banks failed and the following economic collapse lead to Ecuador adopting the U.S. dollar as its official currency. Two years prior, a war with neighboring Peru resulted in the loss of a significant portion of Ecuador’s claim to the Amazon rain forest. In the early 2000s, close to 10% of the population, more than a million Ecuadorians, migrated to Spain and the United States in search of work. Three democratically elected presidents in a row were overthrown by street protests, including one colorful actor who was disposed after only six months in office. He was officially declared to have abandoned his role due to mental incapacity.

A relatively obscure leftist economics professor, Correa had a short stint as the country’s finance minister in 2005 during a transitional government. He left his post after a public spat with the International Monetary Fund. The IMF demanded Ecuador use its oil revenues to pay off its staggering external debt. Correa insisted that the country’s first priority should be its social debt and that the monies should be invested in health and education.

The fight vaulted Correa into the public eye and he was able to ride the momentum all the way to the presidency, defeating the country’s richest man in a run-off vote. Through his bombastic rhetoric, Correa took aim at the country’s business, political and media elites and fingered them as the origin of the country’s problems. He captured the populations’ unrest through the campaign slogan Dale Correa, which means both “Go Correa” and “Give ‘Em the Belt!”

Once in office, Rafael Correa set about an aggressive reform agenda. He rewrote the Constitution, the country’s 20th, and re-organized the state apparatus. Fueled by record high oil prices, Correa invested massively in highways, schools, hospitals and much-needed infrastructure like hydroelectric dams.

Shunning the country’s traditional alliance with the United States, Correa turned instead to China, a decision that, as The New York Times has documented, ended in billions of dollars being misspent on Chinese-built hydroelectric dams that don’t actually work at full capacity. In addition, China sold Ecuador technology which, though promoted as a 911 public safety tool, was used by the Correa government to keep tabs on and harass political opponents.

When Americans talk about Donald Trump’s latest scandals, Latin Americans mostly roll their eyes. After all, Latin Americans have seen the Donald Trump character interpreted by numerous strongmen, or caudillos, throughout the region’s history. They have even seen how it plays out on Twitter. Both Venezuela’s late President Hugo Chávez and Rafael Correa saw in Twitter an opportunity to go around their countries’ respective traditional media and speak directly to the citizens, a benefit of social media President Trump has also touted.

Correa would regularly engage in banter with citizens and do the work of government through tweets. His famous expression Favor Atender (please see to this) followed by a mention of a high-level minister or official was his calling card to government to get directly involved in resolving citizen complaints brought to his attention through Twitter. Correa went so far as to host lunches in the presidential palace for the Twitter users who most supported and defended him. The novelty of the hands-on approach soon revealed its dark side.

What happened next is the stuff of Benghazi-like conspiracy theories.

Many historians point to the 30th of September 2010 as the date when Rafael Correa started breaking bad. The day began as any other in the perpetually sunny capital of Quito. As mountain climbers will note, people at high altitudes sometimes make bad decisions due to the thin air, and Ecuador’s capital Quito stands at 9,350 feet. On this day, the National Police declared to the news media they were going on strike to protest a restructuring of their compensation packages. A group of police officers took a regiment and Rafael Correa decided that the best course of action was to go in person and confront them. Surrounded by his handlers and sustaining himself with a cane after a recent knee operation, Correa berated  the police officers, ripped his shirt open like a tropical hulk and dared the officers to shoot him in the chest. “Here I am and if you want to kill me, go ahead and kill me!” he cried.

What happened next is the stuff of Benghazi-like conspiracy theories. Depending on who you believe, Correa was either kidnapped and taken to a police hospital or went there voluntarily. The army eventually responded and a shoot-out ensued between the police and the army in the streets of Quito. Five people were killed, including three police officers, a soldier and a citizen. The president was eventually rescued by the military and restored to his functions about 12 hours after the debacle began. In a country used to coups and presidential turnover, democracy seemed to have won.

From the beginning of his time in office, Rafael Correa was determined not to suffer the fate of his overthrown predecessors. Having experienced the potential for that fate up-close, Rafael Correa reacted by removing his tyrannical constraints. Correa became increasingly belligerent on and off Twitter. Notoriously thin-skinned, Correa made a habit of throwing people in jail for flipping him off. He even stopped his motorcade to personally stick his finger in the nose of an irreverent teenager who Correa later had thrown in jail (the young man was eventually freed after apologizing).

Correa continued his crusade against journalists who wrote things about him with which he didn’t agree. Sometimes he insulted and threatened them; other times he hit them with multi-million-dollar lawsuits, which friendly judges were more than willing to oblige with speedy trials and favorable outcomes for the president.

The Ecuadorian government, it was leaked, spent millions on the Italian firm Hacking Team to spy on its citizens. On his weekly traveling Saturday Show, broadcast across radio, television and the internet, Correa would read tweets from people who insulted him and then reveal their true identities and addresses and call for retaliation. Whilst on the world stage, Correa portrayed himself as a defender of free speech by famously receiving Julian Assange in the Ecuadorian embassy in London; on the homefront, Correa hunted down dissenters and used the entire state apparatus to punish whistleblowers.

The Correa government’s harassment wasn’t only digital: as Gimlet’s Reply All podcast documented in their story Favor Atender, one of Correa’s most fervent Twitter adversaries,

, received death threats in February 2015 after making memes that poked fun at things like the government’s sometimes absurdly inefficient healthcare system. Worried for his safety, Gabriel left Quito. Then, at his hideout hundreds of miles away, he received a Sopranos-like wreath of flowers along with pictures of his wife and child (Disclosure: Gabriel briefly freelanced for me as a contractor before the aforementioned events took place), stating it would be a shame if anything were to happen to them. When the price of oil started to decline and Correa’s spending power was curtailed, his popularity began to waver. After this, the president’s digital antics only worsened.

Whenever anyone tweeted something unpleasant to the president, they immediately faced a barrage of incoming attacks and insults.

Carlos Andrés Vera is one journalist for whom online harassment become offline harassment. A documentary filmmaker, publicist and former editor of the Ecuadorian edition of Soho Magazine, Carlos Andrés drew the ire of the Correa government by being highly critical of the administration, including its management of the Ecuadorian Amazon and its mishandling of the safety of the uncontacted tribes that are currently threatened by oil exploitation in and around the Yasuní National Park.

A prolific tweeter, Carlos Andrés frequently engaged his trolls, as well as numerous government ministers and operators. He first felt threatened when a troll account published a photo of his son that was on his phone but that he hadn’t published anywhere. The troll account suggested making a pornographic movie with Carlos Andres’s underaged son.

On more than one occasion he was threatened on the street by individuals who made reference to his digital activism. Then, in 2015, Carlos Andrés was the victim of a secuestro express, or express kidnapping. Usually victims of secuestro express are roughed up and then driven from bank machine to bank machine to empty their account, and then set free. In his case, Carlos Andrés was held and beaten for a number of hours, but the perpetrators never drove him to a bank machine nor did they even take his wallet. The event occurred at a time when Carlos Andrés was involved in fierce and aggressive Twitter debates with high-level government authorities. Carlos Andrés is convinced the incident was coordinated by the government and meant to intimidate him into digital silence. According to Carlos Andrés, “no government, not even Russia or Venezuela, was as advanced as the Correa government in weaponizing Twitter against its citizens.”


Out for a run on a recent Saturday, I noticed a particularly dirty street close to an official billboard declaring that “Quito is once again great.” In May of this year a new mayor had taken office after a surprise victory, slipping his way through a crowded group of 18 candidates and crowning himself mayor despite winning less than 30% of the popular vote (in Ecuador voting is mandatory, and though run-off elections are held at the presidential level, they are not used for municipal elections).

The new mayor, Jorge Yunda, was a former Correa collaborator who had since distanced himself from the now out of favor ex-president. The owner of a number of radio stations whose frequencies were granted in a process many consider to be less than transparent and fair, Yunda shamelessly copied Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan and adopted it to Quito. Unlike Trump, Yunda resisted the temptation to name and shame a public enemy.

Despite the candidate’s poor showing in the popular vote, Yunda’s team brazenly plastered Quito with “Quito is now great again” billboards, despite having yet to accomplish anything. Angry with the juxtaposition of a government declaring victory whilst having a major garbage management crisis on its hands,

and trolled the mayor.

Screen Shot 2019 06 16 at 4.52.42 PM

.@lorohomero, explain to me once again, this time slowly, how is it that Quito is great again?

By the time I finished my run I had regretted my tweet. The tweet wasn’t going to accomplish anything and Twitter doesn’t need more angry voices shouting into deep internet space. I thought about deleting it, and when I arrived home and I opened my phone it took me by surprise to see that in 10 minutes the tweet had received 134 responses, including one

asking me for more time to get his house in order.

The volume of responses was surprising because it was early on a Saturday morning, so I dug a little further and quickly picked up on a familiar pattern: many of the accounts of the respondents had less than 50 followers and they only followed a handful of people. Their usernames were often combinations of names plus a string of numbers. Most were saying more or less the same thing in response to my tweet. Soon thereafter, Twitter began automatically deleting some of the responses as if in recognition that the pattern of behavior was malicious.

Screen Shot 2019 06 16 at 4.55.53 PM

I say the behavior was familiar because I had seen it before. I was a vocal critic of the outgoing municipal administration (May 2014-May 2019) lead by Mauricio Rodas (44). The mayor then reached out through a mutual friend and offered me a job, which I turned down.

Screen Shot 2019 06 16 at 5.05.59 PM

Dear Matt, Thank you for your email. I’m sorry you won’t be able to join the team. I would have liked you to but I understand your reasons. I’m really enthusiastic about the idea that you might be able to collaborate with us through a consulting gig. Let’s please set this up through Carolina so we can do this immediately. A hug, Mauricio.

Though my relationship with the mayor was cordial, I continued to offer my critique of his administration’s work. After some time I began to receive messages that attacked me and used personal information, including a number of tweets that attacked my and my wife’s fertility.

Screen Shot 2019 06 16 at 5.05.27 PM

@ecuamatt poor guy, by the way is your wife (Michelle) pregnant yet? Can you not yet get it up? Hahaha

Aside from its crudeness, what was surprising was that the then-mayor (2014-2019), Mauricio Rodas, had been elected to counter the increasingly overbearing influence of Rafael Correa. Promising to stand up to the president, Rodas declared that it was time for a new form of politics without the tricks and dirty games popularized by the Correa government. Yet here was Mauricio Rodas using the same means by which Correa attacked and silenced his critics.

A company close to Rafael Correa was the first in Ecuador to begin to monetize the practice of Twitter trolling.

I researched my trolls and noticed a number of patterns between their accounts and a number of accounts of certain high-level municipal officials who appeared to be outsourcing the management of their twitter profiles, including who they followed and which images they used in their profiles and their posts. I then prepared a dossier that pointed to the intellectual authors behind the fake accounts and, in good faith, asked the mayor and two of his advisors to look into the kind of behavior that was being undertaken on his administration’s behalf. I asked them to consider the impact on democratic culture and public debate should politicians like him replicate the behavior of silencing critics through intimidation tactics. I received no reply, though the tweets and most of the accounts that attacked me were deleted. The trolling of the mayor’s critics, however, continued. One of the recipients of my dossier, Rodas’ communication secretary, later became a communications advisor to the incoming Yunda  administration.


A company close to Rafael Correa was the first in Ecuador to begin to monetize the practice of Twitter trolling, and Twitter itself was uncomfortably close to this company. Ximah Digital was started by young businessmen from the port city of Guayaquil whose main asset was their close connections to the government. When Twitter began selling ads in Latin America in 2012, it hired the region-wide firm Internet Media Services (IMS) to re-sell its advertising products in the region. Twitter then hired me in 2013 to manage its relationship with IMS (because I worked from a country in which Twitter had no office and am not an American citizen, I was technically hired as a foreign contractor). IMS, an accomplished digital re-seller with operations in much of Latin America, did not have an office of its own Ecuador and thus used Ximah Digital as its official national re-seller.

IMS choosing Ximah as its re-seller was a strange decision, as the small digital agency did not have established relationships amongst the country’s largest brands. Ximah did, however, have high-level government connections, and the government quickly became Twitter’s largest client in Ecuador.

During my time managing the relationship between Twitter and IMS, numerous individuals came to me with accusations that Ximah was managing troll centers whilst acting as the country’s exclusive Twitter sales channel, but I initially didn’t take the threats seriously. The accusations mostly came from individuals aligned with the opposition and, in that moment, I naively thought they were politically motivated. I went so far as to unwittingly take Ximah representatives to meetings with political actors Ximah was allegedly trolling and I defended Ximah publicly. I also don’t recall raising the issue with IMS before I left Twitter in May of 2014.

Ximah then lost plausible deniability on the 5th of September 2014 when a video circulated on social media showing that a number of well-known troll accounts were controlled by Ximah Digital employees. IMS responded to the controversy by firing Ximah Digital and opening its own office. Afterwards, Ximah went quiet for some time, then re-launched itself as a digital consultancy focused on political marketing.

When it worked defending Rafael Correa, the troll centers were easy to detect. Usually the troll accounts tweeted the exact same message as every other troll account in an attempt to control trending topics. The government also used its large number of verified accounts, which hold an extra weight in Twitter’s trending topic algorithm, to control the day’s conversation. The troll accounts could be brutal: Whenever anyone tweeted something unpleasant to the president, they immediately faced a barrage of incoming attacks and insults.

So how does one pay for trolling services? According to past reporting and confirmed by past and current employees, the government would often disguise contracts as general social media management RFPs (request-for-projects), then ensure their provider won the contract. In other instances companies were overpaid to provide legitimate services and there would be an agreement beforehand to provide trolling services in addition to the legitimate services.

Tracking the contracts can be tricky: As the investigative journalists at the leak-publishing site Milhojas have reported, a network of over 16 agencies, some of whom listed unaware farm-workers as their general managers on official documents, earned hundreds of thousands of dollars in government contracts. Many of these agencies shared a single official address, the same address as Ximah Digital.

According to company insiders, Ximah has since sophisticated its operation and now exports its services to other countries in Latin America. Whereas reverse image searches used to reveal the origin of their fake profile pictures, Ximah now scours the Ecuadorian coastal provinces and takes pictures of digital exiles to use their unique pictures as profile images. Ximah has also invested in technology, including AI, to enable automatic responses that are no longer copy-paste and therefore harder to detect. Ximah also trains other digital agencies to be trolls: Former employees from Ximah and employees from other local agencies, including agencies that manage major international clients in industries such as telecommunications, confirmed that Ximah trained their staff how to troll.

If companies like Ximah were founded because of an ideological conviction and affinity with Rafael Correa, they no longer have any qualms about who they work for. One morning I received a WhatsApp message alerting me to a corruption scandal involving a politician that used to be aligned with Rafael Correa and who was running for mayor of Guayaquil, Ecuador’s largest city. The sender’s number came from Cambodia, which was strange. The language and the aesthetics of the “leaks” page was reminiscent of past work I knew to be from Ximah: an anonymous source then confirmed that Ximah had been hired to manage the slanderous campaign on behalf of

, the eventual winning candidate of Guayaquil’s municipal elections. That fact was also confirmed by a political operative close to the Viteri campaign. Viteri’s political party was meant to be the sworn enemy of Rafael Correa. Viteri herself was the victim of Ximah trolling. In numerous campaigns throughout the years, Viteri promised a break from the Correa-era demagoguery… and yet.

Rafael Correa eventually made a career defining miscalculation. Though prior to leaving office Correa reformed the constitution he authored in order to remove the term limits he once insisted upon, he left power temporarily in the hands of his first vice president, the one not in jail for corruption charges, Lenín Moreno.

Tensions between the out-going and in-coming presidents started to show in the campaign, but no-one anticipated the complete 180 that would happen when the wheelchair bound Moreno would assume office. Throwing his predecessor and former mentor under the bus, Moreno promised to investigate and prosecute corruption “caiga quién caiga,” or regardless of who falls. Correa went berserk. Moreno, true to his promise, lost his first and second vice presidents to corruption charges. Moreno also held a referendum to reinstate term limits.

Correa spends his days tweeting hate from an attic in Belgium to his weakened but still dangerous troll army. He, the man who once wielded the power of a state against his enemies, now wallows in his own victimhood. So belligerent were his posts that Facebook closed his account. Twitter hasn’t censored him. Correa talks about returning to Ecuador as a vice-presidential candidate in two years. Ecuador’s weak institutions and strong journalists tremble at the thought.


In his drawn-out interview with Joe Rogan, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey speaks sincerely about the desire to have Twitter become the world’s discussion form. When Twitter works well it can foster debate and generate otherwise impossible interactions between people from all walks of life. It is clear that Jack firmly believes in this mission.

At the same time, Jack is notoriously tone-deaf, as was put on display when he tweeted about the benefits of vacationing in Myanmar without so much as a thought for the victims of the Mynmar government’s ongoing genocidal campaign against its Muslim population. As a former insider and as a close watcher of Twitter’s growth and evolution, I am not convinced Twitter really feels the urgency to make its platform a safer space for healthy debate and accurate information.

Twitter’s indifference is Latin America’s loss. For much of the history of Latin America, media ownership has been concentrated in the hands of a few who generally held sway over public opinion. Media outlets often belonged to prominent businessmen from important industries. The concentration of power in the hands of a few brokers from business, media and politics represented a Petri dish for corruption.

Twitter is raw, open and immediate, allowing the crowd to determine relevance.

Twitter blew up in Latin America because it represented a true opportunity to break from the aforementioned traditional power structure. Unlike Facebook, which tries to curate the world’s information to increase our engagement, Twitter is raw, open and immediate, allowing the crowd to determine relevance. All of a sudden voices that were excluded from national conversations can now be heard, and they can determine and influence debates, much like the #BlackLivesMatter (2013) and #MeToo (2017) movements in the United States.

Information that used to be suppressed now achieves its goal of being free. It is no coincidence that the rise of Twitter coincides with the unraveling of a corruption scandal that compares in size and scope only to the corruption inherent in the European colonization of the Americas. In the digital age it is harder to hide information. Corruption, the region’s chief operating system, leaves an Exxon Valdez-sized oil-slick of a paper trail. Those who benefit from corruption are, for the first time, vulnerable.

If information is power, that means that when information is democratized, power is democratized. But the expression of that power, meaning the systems through which that power is exercised, do not necessarily democratize. Indeed, maybe our greatest democratic gap of the modern era is found in the fact that humans can produce a big bang of information every day, but our democracy, as the Argentine democratic hacktivist Santiago Siri has stated, can only process one bit of information per citizen roughly every four years. We have sophisticated users trying to stuff their sophisticated thoughts, expressions and identities into a system with wildly outdated hardware and software that appears to be infected with a powerful firmware virus called corruption.

And not everyone has an interest in upgrading the software. In the same way that a small number  of powerful Bitcoin miners can prevent Bitcoin from increasing the block size, there are powerful actors who benefit from preventing an upgrade to democracy. Principally, those actors who have figured out how to hack and monopolize the old system will seek to ensure the new system does not threaten their concentrated hold on power. Even if they started out as rebels in the old system, as Rafael Correa once did, the rebels eventually learn how to be successful in the old model and hence become its strongest defenders.

Indeed, the staunchest defenders of concentrated power are those who hold that power. Increasingly desperate to stay at the helm, the holders-on employ mafia-like tactics to defend their mafia-like organizations, all in the name of their good intentions and sacred causes wrapped in a bow of “for the people.”  In this world, however, there is only one truth, and that truth weaves a thread between all Latin American governments, be they dictatorial or democratic, left or right, loved or despaired: that idea is that the ends always justifies the means.

Twitter threatens the concentration of power of the old system, which is why Twitter becomes the battleground between tyranny and democracy. The winners in the old system, as discussed here, are fighting back, and that fight is coming to a democracy near you. By not taking sides, Twitter is ultimately taking a side. By siding with the trolls in the name of free speech, Twitter is standing against everyone else’s free speech. Twitter’s troll centers in Latin America aren’t an unfortunate minor externality or a regional nuance: they’re a business model that threatens to take away any value that the platform might create. The stakes are unimaginably high.

 


0

Reps from DHS, the FBI and the ODNI met with tech companies at Facebook to talk election security

04:09 | 5 September

Representatives from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Department of Homeland Security met with counterparts at tech companies including Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Twitter to discuss election security, Facebook confirmed.

The purpose was to build on previous discussions and further strengthen strategic collaboration regarding the security of the 2020 U.S. state, federal, and presidential elections,” according to a statement from Facebook head of cybersecurity policy, Nathaniel Gleicher.

First reported by Bloomberg, the meeting between America’s largest technology companies and the trio of government security agencies responsible for election security is a sign of how seriously the government and the country’s largest technology companies are treating the threat of foreign intervention into elections.

Earlier this year the Office of the Inspector General issued a report saying that the Department of Homeland Security has not done enough to safeguard elections in the United States.

Throughout the year, reports of persistent media manipulation and the dissemination of propaganda on social media platforms have cropped up not just in the United States but around the world.

In April, Facebook removed a number of accounts ahead of the Spanish election for their role in spreading misinformation about the campaign.

Companies have responded to the threat by updating different mechanisms for users to call out fake accounts and improving in-house technologies used to combat the spread of misinformation.

Twitter, for instance, launched a reporting tool whereby users can flag misleading tweets.

“Improving election security and countering information operations are complex challenges that no organization can solve alone,” said Gleicher in a statement. “Today’s meeting builds on our continuing commitment to work with industry and government partners, as well as with civil society and security experts, to better understand emerging threats and prepare for future elections.”

 


0

Week-in-Review: YouTube’s awful comments and Google’s $1B tech-free investment

12:58 | 23 June

Hello, weekend readers. This is Week-in-Review where I give a heavy amount of analysis and/or rambling thoughts on one story while scouring the rest of the hundreds of stories that emerged on TechCrunch this week to surface my favorites for your reading pleasure.

Last week, I talked about how the top gaming industry franchises were proving immortal and how that could change. I mainly asked questions and I got some great answers in my email. Keep the feedback coming.

An interesting corollary to that conversation was Niantic releasing its Harry Potter title this week, a game that takes liberal gameplay cues from Pokémon GO but attaches it to new IP. The big question is whether Niantic can strike gold twice; here’s an Extra Crunch interview my colleague Greg did with the startup’s CEO.


This week, the biggest tech topic at hand from the big companies was probably Facebook’s Libra cryptocurrency, I’d normally dig into that but my colleague Josh did such a bang-up job breaking down Libra and why it’s important that I don’t feel the need to. You can read his explainer below.

Facebook announces Libra cryptocurrency: All you need to know 

In the midst of scouring this week’s headlines, a pretty low-key story from Friday caught my eye detailing how YouTube was testing a version of its app where the comments were hidden by default. Companies test this stuff all the time and it’s hardly a commitment but it did make me reflect on how the nature of user-submitted comments has shifted and how certain platforms develop community cultures based on the way those comments are sorted.

Web comments have been searching for their final form for a while now. Twitter turned comments into the main 140 character dish, but Twitter’s influence is getting baked into a ton of platforms. Sites like Instagram are starting to gain a greater understanding of how users want responses to complement their content and the opportunities they’ve seized on really showcase the user-submitted opportunities being wasted by platforms like YouTube and Twitch.

YouTube downgrading their comment visibility kind of highlights what a cesspool the company has allowed them to turn into, but rather than being a place where people are vile, the platform just hasn’t grown them into something useful or exciting over the past decade.

As Instagram continues to become a place where more and more famous users interact with each other, the comment fields are becoming the place where users “bond” with the accounts they follow even if they’re still lurking around and reading how the account responds to other high-profile users. 

This is how public channels with big audiences should operate. Sure, it’s partially a result of the culture of the platform, but algorithms can shape these cultures.

The issue is so many other comment systems are seemingly organized to treat anonymous users, real-name users and verified personalities the same. Ascribing an equal weight to all of these types of content is kind of a surprisingly quaint way to handle user-generated content, it’s also a great way for platforms to find engagement ceilings and the limits of what spam can become.

You don’t have to go searching far through TechCrunch’s stories to find some good old-fashioned “how I earned $72/hour working from home” spam, but just because something isn’t spam doesn’t means it’s worthwhile. Platforms have developed their own comment memes based on what can play the algorithms, it’s not particularly useful, “Like if Jimmy Fallon brought you here,” “Like if you’re watching this in 2019.”

Platforms organized around building communities have an incentive to elevate anonymous voices and foster relationships and dialogue. Back in the Gawker days, most of my time on the site was spent digging through the comments looking for commenters I recognized and enjoying their dialogue. That’s what Reddit has become in a lot of ways, a place where the posts are secondary to the reactions, but the forum systems of web 1.0 aren’t made for such general influencer-focused platforms of 2019 and it’s an area where there are a lot of wasted opportunities.

YouTube comments have garnered this reputation for being so laughable bad because the company has let the average of what’s submitted define them, acting as a one-size fits all for platforms that are decidedly more dynamic.

Send me feedback
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lucas@techcrunch.com

On to the rest of the week’s news.

Trends of the week

Here are a few big news items from big companies, with green links to all the sweet, sweet added context.

  • Tesla paints it black (for a price)
    Tesla is looking to keep those margins hopping and there next play to make your Tesla a bit more pricey is by making the white paint job on its vehicles, making white the standard color. It may seem like a rough deal, especially when you can a monitor stand for your new Apple Display for the same price. Read more here about why Elon did this.
  • Google drops a B on the Bay
    To those living in the arena of Silicon Valley, it’s no secret that the housing shortage is hurting wallets. How much of that is big tech’s fault and how much of it is the local government’s fault is hard to tell at times, but certainly neither is doing as much as they could. This week Google pledged a whopping $1 billion worth of assistance to the problem. Forking over $750 million worth of real estate and a quarter-billion dollars worth of funding for residential projects is quite the pledge, let’s see how the money gets spent. You can read more here.
  • Slate failures
    Google’s Pixel Slate tablet was such hot garbage that the company is leaving the tablet game for good and focusing on its Pixel laptop line instead. Read more here.

GAFA Gaffes

How did the top tech companies screw up this week? This clearly needs its own section, in order of awfulness:

  1. Apple recalls some MacBooks:
    [Apple issues voluntary recall of 2015 MacBook Pro batteries due to overheating concern]
  2. Google swats down shareholder vote:
    [Google defeats shareholders on ‘Dragonfly’ censored search in China]
  3. Facebook in hot water over fake review sales: 
    [Facebook and eBay told to tackle trade in fake reviews]
  4. Maps keeping it real fake:
    [Google responds to report that concluded there are millions of fake business listings on Maps]

Image via Getty Images / Feodora Chiosea

Extra Crunch

Our premium subscription service had another week of interesting deep dives. TechCrunch’s Ron Miller wrote a story asking VCs and CEOs just how much startup founders should be paying themselves.

Startup founders need to decide how much salary is enough

“…Murat Bicer,  general partner at CRV,  says you could probably ask 10 VCs this question, and get 10 different answers, but he sees the range at the low end of perhaps $125,000 and at the high end maybe $200,000, depending on the location of the startup and the cost of living in a particular city…”

Here are some of our other top reads this week for premium subscribers. This week TechCrunch writers talked a bit about keeping your H-1B status and how you should be negotiating your term sheet with strategic investors.

Want more TechCrunch newsletters? Sign up here.

 


0

Twitter takes down ‘a large number’ of Chinese-language accounts ahead of Tiananmen Square anniversary

22:24 | 1 June

Twitter has suspended a large number of Chinese-language user accounts, including those belonging to critics of China’s government. It seems like a particularly ill-timed move, occurring just days before thirtieth anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre on June 4.

“A large number of Chinese @Twitter accounts are being suspended today,”

Yaxue Cao, founder and editor of the U.S.-based publication China Change. “They ‘happen’ to be accounts critical of China, both inside and outside China.”

Cao then went on to highlight a number of the suspended accounts in

.

The Chinese government reportedly began cracking down late last year on people who post criticism on Twitter. The author of that story, The New York Times’ Paul Mozur, has also been tweeting about the takedowns,

that “suspensions seem not limited to accounts critical of China” and that it appears to be “an equal opportunity purge of Chinese language accounts.”

In response, Twitter’s Public Policy account

it suspended “a number of accounts this week” mostly for “engaging in mix of spamming, inauthentic behavior, & ban evasion.” It acknowledged, however, that some of the accounts “were involved in commentary about China.”

“These accounts were not mass reported by the Chinese authorities — this was a routine action on our part,” the company said. “Sometimes our routine actions catch false positives or we make errors. We apologize. We’re working today to ensure we overturn any errors but that we remain vigilant in enforcing our rules for those who violate them.”

By this point, the deletions had attracted broader political notice, with Florida Senator Marco Rubio

, “Twitter has become a Chinese govt censor.”

And while Cao acknowledged Twitter’s official explanation, as well as help she’s received from the company in the past, she

, “Per @Twitter’s explanation, it’s cleaning up CCP bots but accidentally suspended 1000s anti-CCP accts. That doesn’t make sense.”

 


0

Jack Dorsey says it’s time to rethink the fundamental dynamics of Twitter

21:06 | 16 April

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey took the stage today at the TED conference. But instead of giving the standard talk, he answered questions from TED’s Chris Anderson and Whitney Pennington Rodgers.

For most of the interview, Dorsey outlined steps that Twitter has taken to combat abuse and misinformation, but Anderson explained why the company’s critics sometimes find those steps so insufficient and unsatisfying. He compared Twitter to the Titanic, and Dorsey to the captain, listening to passengers’ concerns about the iceberg up ahead — then going back to the bridge and showing “this extraordinary calm.”

“It’s democracy at stake, it’s our culture at stake,” Anderson said, echoing points made yesterday in a talk by journalist Carole Cadwalladr. So why isn’t Twitter addressing these issues with more urgency?

“We are working as quickly as we can, but quickness will not get the job done,” Dorsey replied. “It’s focus, it’s prioritization, it’s understanding the fundamentals of the network.”

He also argued that while Twitter could “do a bunch of superficial things to address the things you’re talking about,” that isn’t the real solution.

“We want the changes to last, and that means going really, really deep,” Dorsey said.

In his view, that means rethinking how Twitter incentivizes user behavior. He suggested that the service works best as an “interest-based network,” where you log in and see content relevant to your interests, no matter who posted it — rather than a network where everyone feels like they need to follow a bunch of other accounts, and then grow their follower numbers in turn.

Dorsey recalled that when the team was first building the service, it decided to make follower count “big and bold,” which naturally made people focus on it.

“Was that the right decision at the time? Probably not,” he said. “If I had to start the service again, I would not emphasize the follower count as much … I don’t think I would create ‘likes’ in the first place.”

Since he isn’t starting from scratch, Dorsey suggested that he’s trying to find ways to redesign Twitter to shift the “bias” away from accounts and towards interests.

More specifically, Rodgers asked about the frequent criticism that Twitter hasn’t found a way to consistently ban Nazis from the service.

“We have a situation right now where that term is used fairly loosely,” Dorsey said. “We just cannot take any one mention of that word accusing someone else as a factual indication of whether someone can be removed from the platform.”

He added that Twitter does remove users who are connected to hate groups like the Ku Klux Klan and the American Nazi Party, as well those who post hateful imagery or who are otherwise guilty of conduct that violates Twitter’s terms and conditions — terms that Dorsey said the company is rewriting to make them “human readable,” and to emphasize that fighting abuse and hateful content is the top priority.

“Our focus is on removing the burden of work from the victims,” Dorsey said.

He also pointed to efforts that Twitter has already announced to measure (and then improve) conversational health and to use machine learning to automatically detect abusive content. (The company said today that 38 percent of abusive content that Twitter takes action against is found proactively.)

And while Dorsey said he’s less interested in maximizing time spent on Twitter and more in maximizing “what people take away from it and what they want to learn from it,” Anderson suggested that Twitter may struggle with that goal since it’s a public company, with a business model based on advertising. Would Dorsey really be willing to see time spent on the service decrease, even if that means improving the conversation?

“More relevance means less time on the service, and that’s perfectly fine,” Dorsey said, adding that Twitter can still serve ads against relevant content.

In terms of how the company is currently measuring its success, Dorsey said it focuses primarily on daily active users, and secondly on “conversation chains — we want to incentivize healthy contributions back to the network.”

Getting back to Dorsey himself, Rodgers wondered whether serving as the CEO of two public companies (the other is Square) gives him enough time to solve these problems.

“My goal is to build a company that is not dependent upon me and outlives me,” he said. “The situation between the two companies and how my time is spent forces me immediately to create frameworks that are scalable, that are decentralized, that don’t require me being in every single detail … That is true of any organization that scales beyond the original founding moment.”

 


0

Twitter to launch a ‘hide replies’ feature, plus other changes to its reporting process

19:56 | 16 April

In February, Twitter confirmed its plans to launch a feature that would allow users to hide replies that they felt didn’t contribute to a conversation. Today, alongside news of other changes to the reporting process and its documentation, Twitter announced the new “Hide Replies” feature is set to launch in June.

Twitter says the feature will be an “experiment” — which means it could be changed or even scrapped, based on user feedback.

The feature is likely to spark some controversy, as it puts the original poster in control of which tweets appear in a conversation thread. This, potentially, could silence dissenting opinions or even fact-checked clarifications. But, on the flip side, the feature also means that people who enter conversations with plans to troll or make hateful remarks are more likely to see their posts tucked away out of view.

This, Twitter believes, could help encourage people to present their thoughts and opinions in a more polite and less abusive fashion, and shifts the balance of power back to the poster without an overcorrection. (For what it worth, Facebook and Instagram gives users far more control over their posts, as you can delete trolls’ comments entirely.)

“We already see people trying keep their conversations healthy by using block, mute, and report, but these tools don’t always address the issue. Block and mute only change the experience of the blocker, and report only works for the content that violates our policies,”

earlier this year. “With this feature, the person who started a conversation could choose to hide replies to their tweets. The hidden replies would be viewable by others through a menu option.”

In other words, hidden responses aren’t being entirely silenced — just made more difficult to view, as displaying them would require an extra click.

Twitter unveiled its plans to launch the “Hide Replies” feature alongside a host of other changes it has in store for its platform, some of which it had previously announced.

It says, for example, it will add more notices within Twitter for clarity around tweets that breaks its rules but are allowed to remain on the site. This is, in part, a response to some users’ complaints around President Trump’s apparently rule-breaking tweets that aren’t taken down. Twitter’s head of legal, policy and trust Vijaya Gadde recently mentioned this change was in the works, in an interview with The Washington Post.

Twitter also says it will update its documentation around its Rules to be simpler to understand. And it will make it easier for people to share specifics when reporting tweets so Twitter can act more swiftly when user safety is a concern.

This latter change follows a recent controversy over how Twitter handled death threats against Rep. Ilhan Omar. Twitter left the death threats online so law enforcement could investigate, according to a BuzzFeed News report. But it raised questions as to how Twitter should handle threats against a user’s life.

More vaguely, Twitter states it’s improving its technology to help it proactively review content that breaks rules before it’s reported — specifically in the areas of those who dox users (tweet private information), make threats and other online abuse. The company didn’t clarify in depth how it’s approaching these problems, but it did acquire an anti-abuse technology provider Smyte last year, with the goal of better addressing the abuse on its platform.

Donald Hicks, VP Twitter Services, in a company blog post, hints Twitter is using its existing technology in new ways to address abuse:

The same technology we use to track spam, platform manipulation and other rule violations is helping us flag abusive Tweets to our team for review. With our focus on reviewing this type of content, we’ve also expanded our teams in key areas and geographies so we can stay ahead and work quickly to keep people safe. Reports give us valuable context and a strong signal that we should review content, but we’ve needed to do more and though still early on, this work is showing promise.

Twitter also today shared a handful of self-reported metrics that paint of picture of progress.

This includes the following: today, 38 percent of abusive content that’s enforced is handled proactively (note: much content still has no enforcement action taken, though); 16 percent fewer abuse reports after an interaction from an account the reporter doesn’t follow; 100K accounts suspended for returning to create new accounts during Jan. – March 2019, a 45 percent increase from the same time last year; a 60 percent faster response rates to appeals requests through

, 3x more abusive accounts suspended within 24 hours, compared to the same time last year; and 2.5x more private info removed with its

Despite Twitter’s attempts to solve issues around online abuse (an area people now wonder may never be solvable), it still

in handling what should be
.

Twitter admits it still has more to do, and will continue to share its progress in the future.

 


0

Barstool Sports founder reportedly blames company ‘idiots’ for copyright controversy

22:03 | 5 March

In

, comedian Miel Bredouw recounted some shady behavior by Barstool Sports’ legal team. In fact, even Barstool Sports founder Dave Portnoy isn’t trying to defend it, and instead reportedly described it as “moronic,” admitting it, “makes us look like assholes.”

According to Bredouw (who backed up her account with screenshots of key correspondence), Barstool Sports uploaded one of her videos — a performance of “Slob on my Knob” set to the tune of “Carol of the Bells” — without attribution. When her request for credit was ignored, she filed a DMCA complaint, and the video was taken down.

However, she said various members of the Barstool team then began contacting her asking her to retract the complaint. They offered her a $50 gift card to Barstool’s online store, which was eventually upped to an offer of a $500 payment, and then $2,000 — the last one made in an email from the company’s general counsel Mark Marin.

What was going on? Bredouw

, “If they get too many DMCA copyright strikes, Twitter has to legally delete their account. I believe they get six. How much you want to bet mine was their fifth?”

Barstool founder Dave Portnoy seemed to confirm this in an email to Business Insider, where he said Barstool filed had to file a counter-notice in order to avoid getting shut down on Twitter.

“Unfortunately Barstool Sports has idiots in our company much like many other companies and those idiots acted like idiots,” Portnoy said. “I regret our lawyer offering a 50 dollar gift card to our store not because it’s illegal in any manner but it’s just so moronic and makes us look like assholes. That’s why lawyers should not be on social media.”

Speaking of the counter-notice — Twitter has apparently told Bredouw that as a result, she needs to file for a court order, or the company will “cease disabling access to the materials within 10 business days.”

When asked for comment, a Twitter spokesperson just pointed to the site’s copyright policy, which says that accounts facing copyright takedowns can file a counter-notice “if you believe that materials reported in the copyright complaints were misidentified or removed in error.”  When that happens, Twitter says:

If the copyright owner disagrees that the content was removed in error or misidentification, they may pursue legal action against you. If we do not receive notice within 10 business days that the original reporter is seeking a court order to prevent further infringement of the material at issue, we may replace or cease disabling access to the material that was removed.

We’ve also reached out to Barstool Sports for comment and will update if we hear back.

 


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