After applying a fact-checking label Tuesday to a misleading vote-by-mail tweet made by US president Donald Trump, Twitter is on a roll and has labeled another of the president’s tweets — this time screening his words from casual view with what it calls a “public interest notice” that states the tweet violated its rules about glorifying violence.
Here’s how the tweet appears without further interaction:
The public interest notice replaces the substance of what Trump wrote, meaning a user has to actively click through to view the offending tweet.
Engagement options are also limited as a result by this label, meaning users can only retweet the offending tweet with a comment; they cannot like it, reply to it or vanilla retweet it.
Twitter’s notice goes on to explain why it has not removed the offending tweet entirely — and this is where the public interest element of the policy kicks in — with the company writing: “Twitter has determined that it may be in the public’s interest for the Tweet to remain accessible.”
Twitter appears to be shrugging off the president’s decision yesterday to sign an executive order targeting the legal shield which internet companies rely on to protect them from liability for user-created content — doubling down on displeasing Trump who has accused social media platforms generally of deliberately suppressing conservative views, despite plenty of evidence that ad-targeting platform algorithms actually boost outrage-fuelled content and views — which tends, conversely, to amplify conservative viewpoints.
In the latest clash, Trump had tweeted in reference to violent demonstrations taking place in Minneapolis sparked by the killing of a black man, George Floyd, by a white police officer — with the president claiming that “THUGS are dishonoring the memory of George Floyd” before threatening to send in the “Military”.
“Any difficulty and we will assume control but, when the looting starts, the shooting starts. Thank you!” Trump added — making a bald threat to use military force against civilians.
Twitter has wrestled with the issue of how to handle world leaders who break its content rules for years. Most often as a result of Trump who routinely uses its platform to bully all manner of targets — from rival politicians to hated journalists, disobedient business leaders, and even actors who displease him — as well as to dispense direct and sometimes violent threats.
Since being elected, Trump has also used Twitter’s global platform as a foreign policy weapon, firing military threats at the likes of North Korea and Iran in tweet form.
Back in 2018, for example, he teased North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un with button-pushing nuclear destruction (see below tweet) — before going on to “fall in love” with the dictator when he met him in person.
North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un just stated that the “Nuclear Button is on his desk at all times.” Will someone from his depleted and food starved regime please inform him that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 3, 2018
Twitter’s go-to defence for not taking offending Trump tweets down in the past has been that, as US president, the substance of what the man tweets — however mad, bad and dangerous — is inherently newsworthy.
However, more recently, the company has created a policy tool that allows it to intervene — defining terms last summer around “public interest” content on Twitter.
It warned then (almost a full year ago, in June 2019) that it might place a public interest notice on tweets that would otherwise violate its rules (and therefore merit a takedown) — in order to “to provide additional context and clarity”, rather than removing the offensive tweet.
Fast forward a year and the tech giant has started applying labels to Trump’s tweets — beginning with a fact-check label earlier this week, related to the forthcoming US election, and following up now with a public interest notice related to Trump glorifying violence.
So, finally, the tech giant seems to be inching towards drawing a limit-line around Trump in near real-time.
Explaining its decision to badge the US president’s threat to order the military to shoot looters in Minneapolis, the company writes: “This Tweet violates our policies regarding the glorification of violence based on the historical context of the last line, its connection to violence, and the risk it could inspire similar actions today.”
— Twitter Comms (@TwitterComms) May 29, 2020
“We’ve taken action in the interest of preventing others from being inspired to commit violent acts, but have kept the Tweet on Twitter because it is important that the public still be able to see the Tweet given its relevance to ongoing matters of public importance,” Twitter goes on.
It also links to its policy against tweets that glorify violence — which states unequivocally [in bold]: “You may not threaten violence against an individual or a group of people.”
Back in June, when Twitter announced the ‘abusive behavior’ label, it also warned that tweets which get screened with a public interest notice will not benefit from any algorithmic acceleration, writing: “We’ll also take steps to make sure the Tweet is not algorithmically elevated on our service, to strike the right balance between enabling free expression, fostering accountability, and reducing the potential harm caused by these Tweets.”
However the newsworthiness of Twitter’s decision to finally apply its own rules vis-a-vis Trump will ensure there’s plenty of non-algorithmic amplification.
We reached out to the company with questions about its decision to apply a public interest screen on Trump’s latest tweet but at the time of writing it had not responded.
On Wednesday night, Twitter CEO and co-founder, Jack Dorsey, put out a series of tweets defending its decision to apply a fact-check label to Trump’s earlier misleading tweets about vote-by-mail.
“This does not make us an “arbiter of truth”,” wrote Dorsey. “Our intention is to connect the dots of conflicting statements and show the information in dispute so people can judge for themselves. More transparency from us is critical so folks can clearly see the why behind our actions.”
Fact check: there is someone ultimately accountable for our actions as a company, and that’s me. Please leave our employees out of this. We’ll continue to point out incorrect or disputed information about elections globally. And we will admit to and own any mistakes we make.
— jack (@jack) May 28, 2020
Dorsey’s remarks followed pointed comments made by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to Fox News, seeking to contrast Facebook’s claimed ‘neutrality’ when policing its platform with Twitter’s policy of taking a stance on issues such as political advertising (which Twitter does not allow).
“I just believe strongly that Facebook shouldn’t be the arbiter of truth of everything that people say online,” Zuckerberg told the conservative news station. “Private companies… especially these platform companies, shouldn’t be in the position of doing that.”
It’s notable that Dorsey used Zuckerberg’s exact turn of phrase — “arbiter of truth” — to reject Facebook’s attack on Twitter’s policy as a straw man argument.
Tuesday afternoon saw two big announcements from the tech world in the fight against COVID-19.
First, Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter and Square, announced he would give $1 billion to COVID-19-related causes. A few hours later, a group of tech billionaires, including LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman, Stripe’s Collison brothers, Y Combinator’s Paul Graham and venture capitalist Chris Sacca, announced a rapid-response grant program for researchers working on COVID-19. These two announcements come on the heels of an initiative led by Bill Gates to build factories for the most promising COVID-19 vaccines and a host of smaller efforts by tech industry leaders, including importing and donating personal protective equipment (PPE), building ventilators and supporting local businesses.
Even as tech philanthropists ramp up their responses to the COVID-19 pandemic though, critics of philanthropy lament the need for philanthropy to fulfill a role that should be played by government. Meanwhile, other commentators criticize it as a power grab. As Theodore Schleifer wrote in Recode this week:
And yet the critique of billionaire philanthropy revolves around the idea that these donations are an expression of private power. Indeed, philanthropists like Moskovitz are some of the most important people in determining the shape of America’s response to an unprecedented crisis. They are imbued with unaccountable, untransparent, and undemocratic influence. Power grabs can happen. And their donations can legitimize the philanthropists as heroes, which can discourage scrutiny of their business practices.
But this is the wrong premise. Even if the government had fully funded a pandemic response, and even if tech leaders’ COVID efforts were a power grab (of which there is no evidence), there would still be a role for the tech sector — and tech philanthropists — to play.
The question we should be asking is whether or not their efforts are properly leveraging tech’s unique capabilities and resources. If Tesla (or GM) can make ventilators, software companies can help public health officials, programmers can help state labor departments update their outdated unemployment systems and philanthropists can rush money to researchers more quickly than the government can, then they should. It’s no different than hotels supplying empty rooms for first responders or the homeless to stay in during this tragedy.
Invoking the Defense Production Act to compel manufacturers to produce masks and ventilators was uncontroversial precisely because everyone knew that capacity rested exclusively with private industry; why wouldn’t we expect the tech sector to similarly contribute in this moment of national emergency? And in the absence of a fully-funded national medical research establishment, the more resources going toward rapidly developing a vaccine, the better.
Which brings me to the oft-cited, variably defined concept of “impact” that I’ve tried to focus on throughout my interviews at TechCrunch. How do you know when charitable giving is making a difference? How do you discern the difference between a PR stunt and a well-designed program? How do you know that the right problem is even being solved?
I’ve found that even the most earnest, data-driven philanthropists don’t always ask the right questions. Just because there is a measurable outcome doesn’t mean that it should define success. And just because a company or foundation is doing some good doesn’t mean it is maximizing the social impact it can have.
After all, sometimes maximizing social impact simply means a company is performing its core competency. If tech companies — and the billionaire philanthropists they create — happen to have a skill set that is useful in a public emergency, then the responsible thing to do is to do it and do it well.
We’ve spent so long asking tech to turn its attention to real-world problems. Let’s not complain when they do so now.
That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t criticize tech firms when they fall short, of course. People have rightly criticized firms like Amazon (and Whole Foods), Instacart, Seamless and DoorDash for their deficiencies in protecting their front-line staff. Tech companies still must be held accountable even when they are fulfilling essential functions.
It’s clear though that beyond keeping the supply chain going, technology will play a central role in implementing any strategy to overcome the novel coronavirus pandemic. Moving PPE around the world requires the logistical expertise companies like Flexport and Apple have mastered. Mass testing will require the rapid rollout of new devices from biotech firms like Gilead Sciences. A tracing regime will require massive data collection and analysis like that done by Verily or Palantir. And of course we’ll have to manufacture and distribute vaccines and other treatments at scale. Like Amazon or not, I suspect it might have a role to play.
Which brings me to Bill Gates, whose announcement that he will start building factories for promising vaccines now has made him the most central tech figure in responding to COVID-19. Bill Gates isn’t just a tech philanthropist. He is — after years of study — one of the world’s leading experts on pandemic preparedness. When we look to him for guidance, we’re not asking for a tech billionaire to assert his power. We’re embracing the leadership of someone who has a proven track record bringing his engineering and project management skills to bear on some of the most intractable public health problems of the last few decades.
Of course in an ideal world, the void Gates is filling would already be filled by the government. It’s inexcusable that it isn’t. But good democracy also means asking for all of society to contribute. And good public policy means looking for the best solutions wherever they are found.
Sometimes that means an anonymous bureaucrat in the suburbs of DC. And sometimes it means a billionaire public health nerd tech mogul.
The CEO of Twitter and Square makes a major commitment to COVID-19 relief, Tesla shuts down its U.S. factories until May and PlayStation unveils its latest controller. Here’s your Daily Crunch for April 8, 2020.
Jack Dorsey announced in a series of tweets that he is shifting $1 billion in his Square equity to create a fund dedicated to COVID-19 relief. The Twitter and Square CEO is calling the fund Start Small and posting a tally of disbursements and recipients in a public spreadsheet.
The first Start Small contribution listed is $100,000 to America’s Food Fund — an effort led by Leonardo DiCaprio and Laurene Powell Jobs dedicated to providing meals to vulnerable populations disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Tesla will suspend production at its U.S. factories until at least May 4 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, prompting the company to cut pay for salaried employees between 10% and 30% and furlough workers, according to an internal email sent Tuesday night.
Sony has revealed the design of the PlayStation 5‘s controller. It’s a follow-on to its popular DualShock line that takes on a new name for a new generation: DualSense. The DualSense controller is kitted out in black and white, and in some ways looks like a futuristic, plastic armor-plated robot companion more than a gamepad.
Want to let your kids poke around Netflix without them wandering their way beyond the kids section? Got a roommate who keeps inexplicably forgetting to use their profile and is totally screwing up your “Continue Watching” list? This is good news for you.
Here’s another edition of “Dear Sophie,” the advice column from Silicon Valley immigration attorney Sophie Alcorn. This time, she looks at whether getting unemployment benefits would hurt a green card petition — yours or your spouse’s — under the new public charge rule. (Extra Crunch membership required.)
Yesterday, Shipt’s shoppers walked off work in protest of the way it has treated shoppers amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Iowa-based shopper Angie Kufner told TechCrunch, “Unless you get tested for COVID-19 or you’re half dead, Shipt’s not going to care.”
Borderlands 3 publisher 2K and developer Gearbox Software is elevating the series’ latest game to lofty new ideals with a new in-game experience called Borderlands Science, a crowdsourced citizen science project that will leverage the hit game’s massive player base to conduct actual scientific research.
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.
Twitter’s CEO defends himself from activist investors, Google takes additional coronavirus precautions and a fizzy drink maker raises $30 million. Here’s your Daily Crunch for March 6, 2020.
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey spoke yesterday at a Morgan Stanley conference, where he delivered remarks (also shared via Twitter’s investor relations account) that responded obliquely to activist investor Elliott Management’s efforts to pressure Twitter into a slew of reforms, potentially including replacing Dorsey with a new CEO.
Among other things, Dorsey said he might not spend six months a year in Africa after all, claimed the company’s real product development is happening under the hood and offered an excuse for deleting Vine before it could become TikTok.
The software giant has not closed its Washington offices outright, nor is it planning to make an official statement regarding the recommendation, but the news certainly points to a broader trend of serious precautions around the novel coronavirus outbreak. The move follows a similar decision by Lyft, which sent home employees in its San Francisco office.
Spindrift, founded in 2010, is up against big players, like the beloved and decades-old LaCroix, another sparkling water brand. The company differentiates itself by emphasizing “real fruit” in its drinks — think cucumbers from Michigan, strawberries from California and Alfonso mangoes from India.
The European Commission announced that it has reached a data-sharing agreement with vacation rental platforms Airbnb, Booking.com, Expedia Group and Tripadvisor — trumpeting the arrangement as a “landmark agreement” which will allow the EU’s statistical office to publish data on short-stay accommodations across the EU.
Stocks are set to fall further today, likely forcing shares in SaaS and cloud companies down yet again. After two wild trading weeks, the high-flying tech category is off over 9% from recent highs before the bell this morning, putting it close to correction territory. (Extra Crunch membership required.)
The company has built a smartphone app that provides hearing assistance by removing background noise in near real time. Alongside auditory neural signal processing researcher Dr. Andy Simpson, the company’s co-founders are Brendan O’Driscoll, Aidan Sliney and George Boyle — the original team behind the music discovery app Soundwave.
Pex is a royalty attribution startup that scans social networks and other user-generated content sites for rightsholders’ content, then lets them negotiate licensing with the platforms, request a take-down, demand attribution and/or track the consumption statistics. Dubset, meanwhile, has spent 10 years tackling the problem of getting remixes and multi-song DJ sets legalized for streaming.
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.
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey might not spend six months a year in Africa, claims the real product development is under the hood, and gives an excuse for deleting Vine before it could become TikTok. Today he tweeted, via Twitter’s investor relations account, a multi-pronged defense of his leadership and the company’s progress.
The proclamations come as notorious activist investor Elliott Management prepares to pressure Twitter into a slew of reforms, potentially including replacing Dorsey with a new CEO, Bloomberg reported last week. Sources confirmed to TechCrunch that Elliott has taken a 4% to 5% stake in Twitter. Elliott has previously bullied eBay, AT&T, and othe major corporations into making changes and triggered CEO departures.
…Focusing on one job and increasing accountability has made a huge difference for us. One of our core jobs is to keep people informed. We want to be a service that people turn to… to see what’s happening, to be a credible source that people learn from.
— Twitter Investor Relations (@TwitterIR) March 5, 2020
Specifically, Elliott is seeking change because of Twitter’s weak market performance, which as of last month had fallen 6.2% since July 2015 while Facebook had grown 121%. The corporate raider reportedly takes issue with Dorsey also running fintech giant Square, and having planned to spend up to six months a year in Africa. Dorsey tweeted that “Africa will define the future (especially the bitcoin one!)”, despite cryptocurrency having little to do with Twitter.
Rapid executive turnover is another sore spot. Finally, Twitter is seen as moving glacially slow on product development, with little about its core service changing in the past five years beyond a move from 140 to 280 characters per tweet. Competing social apps like Facebook and Snapchat have made landmark acquisitions and launched significant new products like Marketplace, Stories, and Discover.
Dorsey spoke today at the Morgan Stanley investor conference, though apparently didn’t field questions about Elliott’s incursion. The CEO did take to his platform to lay out an argument for why Twitter is doing better than it looks, though without mentioning the activist investor directly. That type of response without mentioning to whom it’s directed, is popularly known as a subtweet. Here’s what he outlined:
On democracy: Twitter has prioritized healthy conversation and now “the #1 initiative is the integrity of the conversation around the elections” around the world, which it’s learning from. It’s now using humans and machine learning to weed out misinformation, yet Twitter still hasn’t rolled out labels on false news despite Facebook launching them in late 2016.
On revenue: Twitter expects to complete a rebuild of its core ad server in the first half of 2020, and it’s improving the experience of mobile app install ads so it can court more performance ad dollars. This comes seven years late to Facebook’s big push around app install ads.
On shutting down products: Dorsey claims that “5 years ago we had to do a really hard reset and that takes time to build from… we had been a company that was trying to do too many things…” But was it? Other than Moments, which largely flopped, and the move to the algorithmic feed ranking, Twitter sure didn’t seem to be doing too much and was already being criticized for slow product evolution as it tried to avoid disturbing its most hardcore users.
On stagnanation: “Some people talk about the slow pace of development at Twitter. The expectation is to see surface level changes, but the most impactful changes are happening below the surface” Dorsey claims, citing using machine learning to improve feed and notification relevance
Yet it seems telling that Twitter suddenly announced yesterday that it was testing Instagram Stories-esque feature Fleets in Brazil. No launch event. No US beta. No indication of when it might roll out elsewhere. It seems like hasty and suspiciously convenient timing for a reveal that might convince investors it is actually building new things.
On talent: Twitter is apparently hiring top engineers “that maybe we couldn’t get 3 years ago”. 2017 was also Twitter’s share price low point of $14 compared to $34 today, so it’s not much of an accomplishment that hiring is easier now. Dorsey claims that “Engineering is my main focus. Everything else follows from that.” Yet it’s been years since fail whales were prevalent, and the core concern now is that there’s not enough to do on Twitter, rather than what it does offer doesn’t function well.
On Jack himself: Dorsey says he should have added more context “about my intention to spend a few months in Africa this year”, including its growing population that’s still getting online. Yet the “Huge opportunity especially for young people to join Twitter” seemed far from his mind as he focused on how crypto trading was driving adoption of Square’s Cash App
“I need to reevaluate” the plan to work from Africa “in light of COVID-19 and everything else going on”. That makes coronavirus a nice scapegoat for the decision while the phrase “everything else” is doing some very heavy lifting in the face of Elliott’s activist investing.
Photographer: Cole Burston/Bloomberg via Getty Images
On fighting harassment: Nothing. The fact that Twitter’s most severe ongoing problem doesn’t even get a mention should clue you in to how many troubles have stacked up in front of Dorsey
Running Twitter is a big job. So big it’s seen a slew of leaders ranging from founders like Ev Williams to hired guns like Dick Costolo peel off after mediocre performance. If Dorsey wants to stay CEO, that should be his full-time, work-from-headquarters gig.
This isn’t just another business. Twitter is a crucial communications utility for the world. Its absence of innovation, failure to defend vulnerable users, and an inability to deliver financially has massive repercussions for society. It means Twitter hasn’t had the products or kept the users to earn the profits to be able to invest in solving its problems. Making Twitter live up to its potential is no sidehustle.
Google said in a blog post that it would roll out free access to advanced Hangouts Meet video-conferencing capabilities to all G Suite and G Suite for Education customers globally as the company pitches its remote work tools as an option for companies looking to let employees work from home.
Chief executive Sundar Pichai announced the initiative in a tweet on Tuesday.
We want to help businesses and schools impacted by COVID-19 stay connected: starting this week, we'll roll out free access to our advanced Hangouts Meet video-conferencing capabilities through July 1, 2020 to all G Suite customers globally. https://t.co/OWWF7s5jjR
— Sundar Pichai (@sundarpichai) March 3, 2020
“As more employees, educators, and students work remotely in response to the spread of COVID-19, we want to do our part to help them stay connected and productive,” the company wrote in its post. “And, as more businesses adjust their work-from-home policies and adopt reduced travel plans in response to COVID-19, we’re helping to ensure that all globally distributed teams can still reliably meet face to face, even if employees are not in the same location.”
Google’s move comes as some of the largest industry conferences and events around the world are cancelling due to fears of the spreading new coronavirus, COVID-19. Major canceled events include: GSMA’s Mobile World Congress and Facebook’s F8 conference, along with the Geneva Motor Show and the Game Developers Conference.
It’s not just conferences that are closing their doors. Companies are also doing everything they can to encourage remote work. Twitter has encouraged its workers to operate remotely, and they’re not alone. Stripe, Slack, Square and others are all urging their employees to not come in to the office.
Google’s pitch to companies and educational institutions during the trial is free access for capabilities, including for larger meetings of up to 250 participants per-call; live-streaming for up to 100,000 viewers within a domain; and the ability to record meetings and save them to Google Drive.
Google is enabling all of its customers to use the enterprise functionality for no additional cost until July 1, the company said in a statement.
“We’re committed to supporting our users and customers during this challenging time, and are continuing to scale our infrastructure to support greater Hangouts Meet demand, ensuring streamlined, reliable access to the service throughout this period.”
The company already has one happy customer for its services in Jack Dorsey and Twitter. The embattled chief executive wrote in a tweet, “We just held our first fully virtual Twitter global all-hands using @Google Meet and @SlackHQ.”
We just held our first fully virtual Twitter global all-hands using @Google Meet and @SlackHQ. We had folks all around the world working from home, and some in our offices. Worked flawlessly, and enabled some things that weren’t possible before. Thanks Google and Slack! https://t.co/qD3d09pluZ
— jack (@jack) March 3, 2020
When Elliott Management, a New York investment firm with an activist approach, sets its sights on a company, it usually means it has been under-performing, and it sees a ton of unmet potential. News broke on Friday that the company had bought a substantial stake in Twitter and was seeking board seats.
Sources have confirmed this information and say the stake is in the 4-5% range. The company is looking to take three or four board seats and wants to implement big changes, including, as reported, replacing Jack Dorsey as CEO.
Sources say that Dorsey has too many side projects, particularly Square, but also his growing interest in crypto currency and Africa, and that Twitter requires a full-time, focused chief executive. The sources indicated that they aren’t discounting Dorsey completely, and if he were willing to drop his other projects, the firm would entertain the idea of retaining him.
The company is also reportedly concerned about the constant executive turnover in key positions like product manager, and they are hoping to stabilize this. Yet like any Elliott target, this one is undervalued, but has the potential for much greater income than it’s currently generating.
As in the past, you can probably expect at some point that Elliott will share a public letter with shareholders outlining the problems it has observed, and the path, as it sees it, to a more stable and profitable future. The company sent such a letter to eBay last year, which announced plans to execute on that plan shortly thereafter. It is reasonable to assume it will follow a similar pattern with Twitter.
It is hard not to look at this deal in the context of Elliott founder and principal Paul Singer’s politics. He is a big contributor to the Republican Party, but sources say this deal is about money, not politics.
They say that the fund manages a large swath of investors, from pension funds to charitable endowments, with a fiduciary responsibility to those organizations, and considered the idea of introducing politics into an investment decision to be, in the words of one source, “ridiculous.” Voices on the Twitter platform over the weekend didn’t agree, suggesting it’s a political move by Singer.
Regardless, big changes will likely be coming to Twitter, and that could involve the user experience, new products and very likely more advertising, as the new boss looks to unlock the financial potential in the platform.
Twitter stock was up more than 8% on the news as we published this post.