Insurrectionists Reportedly Used Walkie-Talkie App Zello To Storm the Capitol

Illustration for article titled Insurrectionists Reportedly Used Walkie-Talkie App Zello To Storm the Capitol

Photo: Jon Cherry / Stringer (Getty Images)

Members of a violent and deadly mob that stormed the U.S. Capitol on January 6 reportedly communicated with each other through the walkie-talkie app Zello — a company long criticized for its failure to moderate the far-right extremist content it sometimes hosts.

According to audio and chat logs reviewed by The Guardian, at least two individuals who stormed the Capitol used Zello to communicate with other militia members who appeared to be egging them on from offsite locations.

“We are in the main dome right now,” a female militia member can be heard saying at one point. “We are rocking it. They’re throwing grenades, they’re frickin’ shooting people with paintballs, but we’re in here.”

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“God bless and godspeed,” a male voice reportedly responds. “Keep going.”

“Jess, do your shit,” says another. “This is what we fucking lived up for. Everything we fucking trained for.”

The exchange reportedly occurred in a public Zello channel called “STOP THE STEAL J6” around 2:44 p.m. The user in question appears to be Jessica Watkins, a 38-year-old bartender from Ohio who recently told the Ohio Capital Journal that she had participated in the insurrection on behalf of both a local militia called the Ohio State Regular and the national Oath Keepers militia.

Zello, which claims to have 150 million users, said in a press release that it was with “deep sadness and anger” that its leadership team had discovered “evidence of Zello being misused by some individuals while storming the United States Capitol building last week.”

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In response to nearly 800 channels that were found to be hosting right-wing content, the app said that it had updated its terms of service and “extended the notion of abuse on the platform to include use by organizations whose principles or leaders specifically endorse or espouse violence.”

Zello also announced that it had deleted more than 2,000 channels associated with militias and other militarized social movements. In a chilling conclusion to its press release, the company said that it was “concerned that Zello could be misused by groups who have threatened to organize additional potentially violent protests and disrupt the U.S. Presidential Inauguration Festivities on January 20th.”

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As The Guardian points out, Zello likely has inherent broad appeal to militia groups, due to their frequent tendency to fetishize military-style radio communication and warlike modes of operation.

Clubhouse, a Social Network Without Much Influence, Gets an Influencer Program

That’s the app icon for Clubhouse. The company’s footprint is so small, it hasn’t really generated any related images yet.

That’s the app icon for Clubhouse. The company’s footprint is so small, it hasn’t really generated any related images yet.
Screenshot: Gizmodo

Anyone who has sat through an interminable panel discussion on a random topic and thought to themselves, “I wish this would never end,” will find a lot to like on Clubhouse. But due to the closed beta nature of the audio-focused social network, most people will have to make do with reading trend pieces about how much “buzz” the app is creating. Now, long before the app has gained any popular influence, it’s reportedly launching an influencer program. Manage your career plans accordingly.

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If you’ve been left out of the buzz, Clubhouse is an iOS app that consists of a bunch of audio-only chatrooms where users can either participate in the discussion or just listen in. The organizers of each chatroom can decide who is allowed to speak, and if you’re unsatisfied with the selection of chatrooms, you can start your own and rule as a tyrant. That’s it, it’s pretty simple.

Lots of companies are trying out audio features, like Twitter and LinkedIn, but Clubhouse is all-in on audio specialization and has built publicity on a wave of boosterism from Silicon Valley tech bros who feel they finally have a space for intelligent “debate” and the subsequent controversies that followed the tech bros unencumbered conversations. Now, the New York Times reports that Clubhouse is launching its own influencer network to compete with the likes of YouTube, Instagram, and TikTok.

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Yes, it’s a little out of the ordinary for a social media network to make such a move before it’s even out of beta, but the Times frames Clubhouse’s effort as a sign that developers and investors are increasingly recognizing influencer networks as a core component of any platform. From the piece:

I feel like something has palpably shifted in the past year among investors, and it seems like everyone is talking about the creator economy now and investing in creator tools,” said Li Jin, founder of Atelier, a V.C. firm investing in the influencer economy.

That’s a V.C. investor who is investing in the influencer economy saying that the influencer economy has had a hell of an influence this year, and who can argue?

According to the Times, Clubhouse’s “Creator Pilot Program” has “more than 40” members so far. This elite group has been pulled from the platform’s 600,000 registered users. One creator, Catherine Connors, former head of content at Disney Interactive, hosts two talk shows on Clubhouse. Connors told the Times that “what an interesting personality looks like on Clubhouse is different than what it looks like on other platforms.” Interesting.

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One key difference between influencers on other platforms and Clubhouse influencers is that no one in the latter category is getting paid. “Ticketing, tips, and subscriptions” have all been considered as possible revenue streams, though.

I think Clubhouse has potential, and don’t hate the concept, but my time with it has been considerably uninspired. At the moment, the top chatrooms recommended for me are “How to grow your Clubhouse following” and “Entrepreneurship 101 – Get Your FEELINGS Out of Your Business.” That’s not to say nothing interesting ever happens. There was that time that a conversation held on Yom Kippur and attended by Clubhouse backers Marc Andreessen and Ben Horowitz descended into anti-Semitic chaos. And at least one person identified by the Times as part of the Creator Pilot Program, Rhian Beutler, tweeted this week that she’s ending her popular Clubhouse trivia show due to the platform’s lack of action in addressing “anti-[S]emitism, homophobia, transphobia, misogyny, racism.” Beutler tweeted that her plan is to take the show to Space, another audio-only chat app that’s gaining influence.

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California Set to Launch Apple and Google-Powered Contact Tracing App

Illustration for article titled California Set to Launch Apple and Google-Powered Contact Tracing App

Photo: Drew Angerer / Staff (Getty Images)

California Governor Gavin Newsom announced on Monday that the Golden State would become the 18th to launch an official Covid-19 contact tracing app powered by technology pioneered by Apple and Google.

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Beginning on Thursday, Californians will be able to log in to CA Notify, a secure app that uses contact tracing API to alert users via push notification when others nearby have tested positive for the virus.

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Once a user pushes a button to label themselves “positive,” the secure app is able to exchange a private key with other devices within Bluetooth range. If a device detects that a user has come within range of someone with a positive diagnosis, the app will alert that user to the potential exposure — without giving any identifying details about who triggered the alert — and urge the individual to get tested and self-quarantine.

The app’s rollout comes after a month of testing on university campuses across the state, and nearly eight months after Apple and Google announced the proprietary technology back in April. In the wake of the announcement, Apple CEO Tim Cook heralded the app’s capabilities as a game changer for California, the largest state yet to adopt the technology.

“As we work together to fight the rise in cases in California, exposure notifications will help slow the spread of COVID-19 and put our neighbors’ health first,” Cook said in a tweet. “Thank you @GavinNewsom & @Google for helping bring CA Notify to Californians while putting privacy at the very center.”

While states like Virginia and Michigan were quick to adopt their own contract tracing apps, California — which is, ironically, home to both Apple and Google — has been inexplicably slower on the draw. According to an official guide on the state’s website, users who have already adopted iOS version 14.2 or later can already enable CA Notify directly in their device’s settings by clicking “turn on Exposure Notifications.”

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“California is facing one of its biggest challenges yet in its fight against COVID-19,” Google and Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai tweeted on Monday in response to the news. “CA Notify with the exposure notification technology we developed with Apple will be a helpful tool as we work together to slow the spread.”

California is currently experiencing its highest surge in cases since the pandemic began last spring, with over 1.3 million confirmed cases to date.

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