Please, Stop Adding Stories to Every Single App

Illustration for article titled Please, Stop Adding Stories to Every Single App

Screenshot: Spotify/Facebook/Twitter

Et tu, Spotify?

The moment Thanksgiving was over, Spotify updated its annual Christmas Hits playlist. But as spotted by Engadget, the big addition this year wasn’t Christmas Without You by Ava Max, a test run of an Instagram Stories-like feature. In both the iOS and Android apps, right under the cover photo of a beaming 1990s Mariah Carey, is a familiar, ringed circle with a bubble right above it reading, “Tap to see the story.” The worst part is it wasn’t limited to this one, seasonal playlist. Spotify also did it for its emo Tear Drop playlist. These were the two I found and if there’s more, please let me live in ignorance and don’t tell me.

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Are you serious, Spotify? Did you not see the debacle that was Twitter’s Fleets less than two weeks ago? You’re really doing this?

Granted, it’s not as if Spotify hadn’t hinted this was coming. Last year it tested out a “Storyline” feature, which involved popup cards where artists could share the inspiration or “story” behind a particular piece of music. If you haven’t heard of this particular feature, you’d be forgiven because it didn’t get much fanfare and was only featured for a handful of songs. But with this most recent rollout, it appears Spotify is ready to test at a larger scale.

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Still, I’m pretty sure no one asked for this. Most artists have their own Instagrams or other social media where they can drop these little asinine factoids. They don’t need to live in Spotify, a music app with few social aspects beyond the year-end list of stats, “what character are you?” playlist quizzes, and the ability to share or collaborate on playlists with friends. If I really like an artist, I might seek out an interview on YouTube or in Pitchfork, but maybe the last thing I want is yet another app where I’m being encouraged to tap through brief videos that aren’t even the reason why I came to that platform in the first place.

That’s the real problem here. Tacking on Stories to your platform willy nilly doesn’t help to differentiate your app from the billion other ones vying for my limited attention span. In the case of Spotify, there are other platforms where I’d prefer to get my hit of artist interaction. The one thing I suppose Spotify’s iteration of Stories has going for it is it doesn’t appear to be something regular people can join in on. Can you imagine subscribing to a friend’s playlist and then having to watch them aimlessly ramble about why they added this song or that? No thank you.

Religiously watching Instagram Stories has already become a weird social obligation for dating and long-term relationships. I don’t need it to pollute my music, too. I would rather go back to manually creating mix CDs so long as I never have to be subjected to stupid videos of my idiot friends jamming to a dumb song no one really gives two shits about. (There’s TikTok for that.)

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Also, there’s a chance that this won’t go any further. Spotify has a history of piloting different features—some of which make it onto primetime while others die quietly, never to be heard from again. Perhaps, if we all make a big enough stink, Spotify will take the hint, forget this ever happened, and focus on something else that’s actually good.

When Instagram first cribbed the format from Snapchat, that made sense. It was clearly a ripoff, but Snapchat was a platform that catered to the teens. Instagram had a broader appeal. Plus, Instagram is a platform where everything is filtered to be perfect. Disappearing content fits in with Instagram’s superficial vibe, lest something you post there clash with your hypercurated feed.

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Even YouTube has it: channels with over 10,000 subscribers can post temporary videos that last seven days. Viewers can then interact with these videos, and content creators have the option to respond. This is yet another thing I don’t fully comprehend. The reason you go watch YouTubers is to get lengthy, deep-dives into whatever topic they specialize in. While YouTube comments sections are notoriously toxic, they’re an established form of responding to videos. There are also plenty of other ways to interact with vloggers—and vloggers will usually express which is their preferred method at the end of a video. If I wanted to see an influencer do a short video, I’d go to TikTok—which incidentally, is what most of them do anyway. You get the TL;DR content on Instagram or TikTok, and then if you really like their content, you head on over to YouTube for a 20- or 30-minute deep-dive into, I don’t know, the difference between retinol and bakuchiol in your skincare routine.

Don’t get me started on Fleets, which as my astute colleagues have pointed out, is Twitter on Coward Mode, if you will. Twitter is already a cesspool of 280-word, fleeting thoughts. The whole point of Twitter is bite-sized zingers and a way to refer followers to other platforms. Hence, why a publisher is more likely to publish links to stories on their Twitter, but quote-cards on Instagram. Twitter never needed Fleets because, by its nature, it was already an ephemeral platform. Or it should be, even though that isn’t always the case, as folks who’ve had their embarrassing old tweets aired out will tell you.

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But you know what the true death knell for Stories was? When LinkedIn—fucking LinkedIn—debuted them. This is perhaps the adoption that has the most Boomer energy and makes the least sense. Job-hunting is one of the most soul-sucking things a person can do. Why, for the love of everything holy, would you want to make a short disappearing video about… your resume? Your job experience? Ten Reasons Why Recruiters Should Reach Out to You? LinkedIn is where boomers and CEOs might go to post content, but literally, no one who would ever use Stories would ever go to LinkedIn to see what their favorite small-time CEO thinks are the 10 takeaways from Q1 earnings.

It’s not that Stories is inherently bad. I personally appreciate that I can post 8,000 videos of my pets in my Instagram Stories and not have it clutter up my actual feed. It’s just that on most apps, it’s not something that makes the experience better. It’s there because some investors with peas for brains thought it’d be an easy way to boost the platform’s popularity and therefore, make more money. It’s not about what users of a given platform might actually want. It’s transparently lazy. The end result is now you have a dozen apps trying to be something they’re not, while annoyed users wonder why they just can’t use the apps the way they were intended.

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There Are Now Stories Everywhere, Even on Spotify

Illustration for article titled There Are Now Stories Everywhere, Even on Spotify

Photo: Lionel Bonaventure / AFP (Getty Images)

It’s almost as if the little glowing story circles are following us everywhere. They’re on Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, WhatsApp, Twitter and now, even on Spotify.

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This week, some users noticed the circles on popular Spotify playlists, including the “Christmas Hits” playlist, which I myself listened a lot while trying not to burn my mashed potatoes. In case any of you had any doubts, Spotify helpfully included a message that read, “Tap to see the story,” per a video posted by the YouTuber and gamer TmarTn2.

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Roughly one week after Twitter debuted its Fleets, posts similar to Instagram stories that disappear after 24 hours, Spotify has quietly started testing its own version of stories on a select number of its playlists. In a statement to Engadget, the company confirmed that the stories were a test, but provided no additional information as to whether they’ll be available to all users in the near future or whether we’ll be seeing more of them.

“At Spotify, we routinely conduct a number of tests in an effort to improve our user experience,” a Spotify spokesperson told Engadget.Some of those tests end up paving the path for our broader user experience and others serve only as an important learning. We have no further news to share on future plans at this time.”

Spotify has been testing out its own version of stories with different groups of users for a while now. In 2019, it started testing “Storyline,” a version of stories for artists that allows them to share behind-the-scenes information about the music with fans. Meanwhile, at the beginning of this year, the company also started letting influencers share stories with their public playlists.

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Back to the “Christmas Hits” playlist, which is where I got to see what stories looked like. Honestly, I thought I wasn’t going to like the stories, because I’m kind of over seeing stories everywhere. Nonetheless, I must confess I really did giggle when I saw Meghan Trainor’s story about her song, “Holidays (feat. Earth, Wind & Fire)” complete with her llama Christmas sweater.

I also absolutely loved watching “Santa Baby” composer Phil Springer’s story. Although it wasn’t the best shot story, simply featuring Springer sitting on a chair in front of a piano, it was real; it wasn’t performed. When so much of social media is performed, seeing something that appears natural and genuine is a breath of fresh air.

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“When my little sis Joan Javits and I wrote this song, I had no idea that it would become a Christmas classic. I had no idea that there was a magic about it that appealed even to children,” Springer said in the story. “So it’s a mystery to me, but I love a mystery.”

The other stories, featuring Ava Max, Jennifer Lopez and Kelly Clarkson, among others, were alright, but they just felt rehearsed. Not to bash the artists (I love me some J-Lo and Kelly Clarkson), but I just feel like it’s not the type of content that will really make me want to watch Spotify stories.

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Other stories, such as those featured on the “Tear Drop” playlist, which is described as “emo rap feelings for the misunderstood,” had a more documentary-like vibe. Those surprisingly did manage to interest me, even though the music is not exactly my cup of tea.

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At the end of the day, I’m still kind of over stories, and I wish companies would dare to be different and create something new. Nonetheless, I like the idea of watching a compelling story every once in a while about one of my favorite bands or artists. Will I actually do it, though? At the moment, I can’t say. Since they’re everywhere now, I’ve already gotten used to ignoring them.

Facebook Experiments With Being Less Awful, Says Not to Get Used to It or Anything

Illustration for article titled Facebook Experiments With Being Less Awful, Says Not to Get Used to It or Anything

Photo: Bill Clark-Pool (Getty Images)

Has Facebook learned jack shit from the past few nightmare years? Not really, per a report in the New York Times on Tuesday. Facebook only started giving more weight to reputable publishers in the News Feed days after the 2020 election and doesn’t plan on making that a long-term thing. Executives on its policy team also blocked or sought to water down changes that would limit content the company defined as “bad for the world” or “hate bait,” as well as shot down a feature that would warn users if they fell for hoaxes.

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According to the Times, CEO Mark Zuckerberg agreed days after the election to tweak the Facebook news feed to emphasize “news ecosystem quality” (NEQ), a “secret internal ranking it assigns to news publishers based on signals about the quality of their journalism,” because of rampant misinformation spread by Trump and his conservative allies over the election’s results. The Times wrote:

Typically, N.E.Q. scores play a minor role in determining what appears on users’ feeds. But several days after the election, Mr. Zuckerberg agreed to increase the weight that Facebook’s algorithm gave to N.E.Q. scores to make sure authoritative news appeared more prominently, said three people with knowledge of the decision, who were not authorized to discuss internal deliberations.

The change was part of the “break glass” plans Facebook had spent months developing for the aftermath of a contested election. It resulted in a spike in visibility for big, mainstream publishers like CNN, The New York Times and NPR, while posts from highly engaged hyperpartisan pages, such as Breitbart and Occupy Democrats, became less visible, the employees said.

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Facebook had allegedly been weighing similar options to slow down the flow of misinformation in the event of a contested election—such as a pilot program to test something resembling a “virality circuit breaker,” which automatically stops promoting posts that go explosively viral until fact-checkers can look at it.

Report after report emphasized that Facebook remained a massive vector for the spread of right-wing disinformation efforts going into the elections, in part because it was fearful of upsetting Republicans convinced social media firms are secretly censoring them. Pro-Trump conspiracy theories alleging Democrats were preparing to win the election by fraud flourished with little intervention. So it’s rather convenient that Facebook only decided to weight NEQ more heavily in the news feed when it became clear Trump had lost.

The break-the-glass strategy wasn’t activated in the weeks or months prior to Nov. 3, when conservative media was promoting wild predictions of a rigged election. The platform’s useless warning labels failed to prevent post-election claims of mass voter fraud from the president and GOP-aligned media personalities from going viral. Nor did Facebook ever have a “plan to make these [NEQ changes] permanent,” Facebook integrity division chief Guy Rosen told the Times. That’s despite employees reportedly asking at company meetings whether the company could just leave the NEQ weights in place to improve the news feed somewhat.

According to the Times, Facebook internally released the results of a test this month called “P(Bad for the World)”, in which it gauged reducing the reach of posts users dubbed “bad for the world.” After it found a stricter approach decreased total user sessions as well as time spent on the site, it rolled out a less aggressive version that didn’t impact those metrics as much. To put it another way: Facebook knows being “bad for the world” in moderation is good for business.

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Sources told the paper that before the election, executives on its policy team vetoed a “correct the record” feature that would direct users who engaged with or shared hoaxes to a fact-checking page and prevented an anti-“hate bait” feature from being enabled on Facebook Pages—instead limiting it to Groups. In both cases, the executives claimed that the changes might anger conservative publishers and politicians. (Rosen denied to the Times that the decisions were made on political grounds.)

Trump and the GOP’s threats to punish social media sites for liberal bias are dead in the water, and Facebook is likely to shift with the political winds in the coming months. But if its history is any indication, Facebook will continue playing a shell game of promising to rein in toxicity while actively encouraging it.

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“The question is, what have they learned from this election that should inform their policies in the future,” Vanita Gupta, CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, told the Times. “My worry is that they’ll revert all of these changes despite the fact that the conditions that brought them forward are still with us.”

It’s not clear how much increasing NEQ’s clout on News Feed rankings has affected the number of times users log in or how long they spend on the site when they get there. Facebook’s News Feed lead, John Hegeman, told the paper the company would study any potential impact, though like Rosen indicated the changes are temporary.

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It Doesn’t Matter If Trump Never Concedes, Twitter Is Giving @POTUS to Biden

The official presidential Twitter account.

The official presidential Twitter account.
Screenshot: Twitter

Outgoing President Donald Trump is set to receive a rude awakening on Jan. 20, 2021 on his favorite social media platform: Twitter. That day, Trump will no longer see a picture of himself on the popular @POTUS account—the official presidential Twitter account, although Trump prefers to use his own personal, @realDonaldTrump, as the world knows—but rather a picture of Joe Biden, the 46th president of the U.S.

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As reported by multiple outlets, on Jan. 20, Twitter will transfer the control of the @POTUS, as well as about a dozen other White House institutional accounts, to the Biden administration. The company confirmed this to Gizmodo on Saturday. Unlike Trump, who has still refused to concede the election and is actively working to overturn it, Twitter has accepted reality and is respecting the will of the American people.

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The General Services Administration, which needs to “ascertain” or formally determine the winner of the election in order for the new presidential administration to use its transition funds and get other access, has refused to ascertain Biden as the winner. The president-elect needs this formality in order to begin the transition process.

“Twitter is actively preparing to support the transition of White House institutional Twitter accounts on January 20th, 2021. As we did for the presidential transition in 2017, this process is being done in close consultation with the National Archives and Records Administration,” the company said in an emailed statement to Gizmodo, linking to the National Archives website. It added that it would meet with the Biden-Harris transition team.

NARA is the nation’s official record keeper. Of all the documents and materials created by the U.S. federal government, NARA keeps about 1-3% because they are “so important for legal or historical reasons that they are kept by us forever.” The intense matter-of-fact tone makes me want to giggle, but since people at NARA probably take their job as record keepers very seriously, I shall refrain.

According to Politico, all existing tweets on official Trump White House accounts, such as @whitehouse, @VP and @FLOTUS, will be archived and the accounts will be reset to zero tweets.

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Trump White House accounts will then presumably be locked and their handles changed, as has happened with past presidential administration officials, per the outlet. President Barack Obama’s tweets from the @POTUS account, for instance, can be referenced in the locked account, @POTUS44. Meanwhile, Obama press secretary Josh Earnest’s tweets from the @PressSec account can be viewed on the @PressSec44 page. NARA maintains the Obama White House accounts, Politico reported.

Now, will this mean that we’ll stop hearing from Trump on Twitter? Oh no, he’ll no doubt still be around, tweeting raving conspiracy theories from @realDonaldTrump. But besides not having his face on the @POTUS account, which for someone as narcissistic as the president has to be a real blow, Trump will also lose his special Twitter protections that allow him to routinely break the company’s rules and have his content remain on the platform because it is in the public’s interest.

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This means that Twitter may apply warnings and labels or limit engagement of certain tweets, a company spokesperson told the Verge on the day major networks announced that Biden had won the election.

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“Twitter’s approach to world leaders, candidates, and public officials is based on the principle that people should be able to choose to see what their leaders are saying with clear context,” the spokesperson said. “This policy framework applies to current world leaders and candidates for office, and not private citizens when they no longer hold these positions.”

It’s Time for Twitter to Die

Illustration for article titled It’s Time for Twitter to Die

Photo: RIC BARADAT / Contributor (Getty Images)

Not unlike Twitter’s new Fleets, the company’s time is rapidly expiring. The platform, which is now dedicated to dunking on the earnest, yelling about conspiracies, and sharing bad memes, is on its way to the big social media cemetery in the sky to join MySpace, Plurk, and (hopefully soon) Facebook.

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Here’s how it dies: Donald Trump will be off Twitter and on some other site by the end of January. This means a few things for the site that Jack built. First, it means tens of millions of his followers will delete the app en masse and their immediate families will stop paying it any attention at all simply because there is very little else on Twitter that is particularly interesting. These users will find something else—be it Parler, Gab, TikTok, or just shouting at people in Walmart. This exodus will force investors to rethink the company’s direction, and Twitter will add to its platform more media features that nobody wants. Old-guard users—journalists, comedians, weird Twitter practitioners, and the like—will slowly disband, finding greener pastures elsewhere. Microsoft or Google will buy the platform in a fire sale, and Jack Dorsey can move to Africa or go to a cave in order to meditate or whatever in peace.

“But what about those new features? Kids love new features,” you cry. Nah. Fleets won’t help it beat TikTok or anything else. Short-form episodic content and messaging, including group chats, is a saturated space that won’t cede an inch to Twitter. In other words, when there’s nothing on the site worth reading, people won’t come.

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Twitter’s fate is intertwined with a number of false beliefs about the platform and its power.

Twitter seems like a two-way communications platform with nearly any other user; you can easily ping your favorite stars, including @realDonaldTrump, Captain Kirk, and even @JohnStamos—and many people do, feeling that tweets sent to a million-follower account will be noticed and read. They most assuredly won’t. This facade of two-way communication is arguably one thing that gave Trump his power on the platform. As the PrayersForTrump subreddit shows us, real people tweet at the president and others in power in hopes that their plights will be noticed.

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This is rarely the case.

What Twitter really is is a broadcast platform and a bad one at that, as far as making money goes. Twitter marketing is a lie, and barring massive retargeting campaigns that blanket every page you visit, it’s a horrible way to encourage action, be it an attempt to get you to buy a product, get out the vote, or call for protest. As with every blanket statement, there are caveats here, but rest assured tweeting from a million follower account is approximately as powerful as tweeting from a 30 follower account when it comes to off-Twitter action. You’ll just get less dick picks and Venmo requests. There’s a reason the default ads you see on the service are so poorly targeted and mostly trend toward clickbait: It’s the only content that gets any interaction at all and most of that interaction consists of likes or retweets.

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On top of all this, Twitter is already missing new user goals (even if it beat the most recent revenue expectations), and legal challenges loom as Congress considers changes to Section 230, the law that keeps social media platforms from getting sued into oblivion for what their users post.

So what does Twitter really have to offer in a post-Trump world? Not much. First, the rise of Parler and other right-leaning alternatives are currently fracturing the audience considerably, calving off huge groups of “free speech advocates” who want somewhere to curse. Further, kids in the U.S. aren’t joining Twitter in any meaningful way, eschewing it and other classic social media solutions for new ideas. Network interaction is cyclical and early Gen X web users raised on zines and one-way media gravitated to a service like Twitter because it offered them a way to broadcast. The next generations—late Millennials and Gen Z—want conversation, and they’re getting it in Discord and Twitch.

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My prediction is Twitter and Facebook with flail mightily over the next few years but won’t disappear outright. Other platforms will rise above them with regularity until two or three more truly monolithic figures appear and then Dorsey and Zuck will be forgotten. Don’t believe me? Name another well-funded social media platform—Google Plus, Goodreads, Friendster—that is relevant today. All of those sites were once considered contenders for some version of the social media crown.

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The Buddhist in Jack will appreciate the inevitability of all of this. After all, when Tekisui was dying and his temple had burned, he lay near his pupil Gasan who was already named his successor.

“What are you going to do when you get the temple rebuilt?” asked Tekisui in the koan.

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“When your sickness is over we want you to teach there,” said Gasan.

“Suppose I do not live until then?” Tekisui asked.

“Then we will get someone else,” said Gasan.

“Suppose you cannot find anyone?” asked Tekisui.

“Don’t ask such foolish questions. Just go to sleep,” said Gasan.

Gasan, inevitably, died a few days later.

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Twitter Debuts Coward Mode

One of the dwarf-kings that took one of Sauron’s Rings of Power, who remained mostly a mystery in Tolkien’s works, testifying before Congress in November 2020.

One of the dwarf-kings that took one of Sauron’s Rings of Power, who remained mostly a mystery in Tolkien’s works, testifying before Congress in November 2020.
Photo: Bill Clark-Pool (Getty Images)

Great news for chickens: It’s now easier than ever to pretend you never posted that cringe to Twitter, which is rolling out a new, Instagram Stories-like type of post that auto-deletes after 24 hours. These are called Fleets, which is slightly confusing until you realize it’s a bad pun.

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Fleets has already been tested in Brazil, India, Italy, South Korea, and Japan, according to TechCrunch, but Twitter is now expanding its availability to the worldwide userbase. Twitter bills the new feature as perfect for “that thing you didn’t Tweet but wanted to but didn’t but got so close but then were like nah,” which isn’t exactly a confidence builder.

Fleets can contain media, and Fleets can be embedded into Tweets. Other users can comment on Fleets with reaction emojis or reply via direct message. If any of this sounds even the tiniest bit confusing, you’re probably over 30, like me.

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Interestingly, the Stories-like feature was one of the demands of vampiric hedge fund goons who bought a minority stake in Twitter and tried to oust CEO Jack Dorsey earlier this year, according to TechCrunch. Elliott Management Group, the hedge fund in question, had cited the lack of such a feature as evidence Twitter wasn’t innovating enough. Fleets is intended to drive more activity among users that log in but rarely post due to the (correct) concern they could be roasted for posting something ill-advised.

Twitter is also gunning for Clubhouse, an invite-only, voice chat-based social media app favored by Silicon Valley venture capitalists and amateur race scientists. At Twitter, this means audio chat rooms where users can host discussions with one or multiple other users. It’s not clear how Twitter plans to moderate these discussions or prevent them from becoming a vehicle for harassment, bigotry, and scams. The company is not exactly known as a moderation success story—it’s struggled with its reputation as a haven for trolls, white supremacists, and the president for years. Audio is far more difficult to moderate than text, especially for the algorithms Twitter leans on to assist its human safety team. Clubhouse has already blundered its way into rows over anti-Semitism—and it has just a tiny fraction of Twitter’s estimated hundreds of millions of daily active users.

Twitter told TechCrunch it’s currently only testing the audio feature with vulnerable groups, including women:

“It’s critical that we get safety right—safety and people feeling comfortable in these spaces. We need to get that right in order for people to leverage live audio spaces in the ways we might imagine or in the ways that would be most helpful for them,” explained Twitter Staff Product Designer, Maya Gold Patterson, when introducing the feature in a briefing for reporters.

“So we’re going to do something a little different,” she continued. “We are going to launch this first experiment of spaces to a very small group of people — a group of people who are disproportionately impacted by abuse and harm on the platform: women and those from marginalized backgrounds,” she added.

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According to TechCrunch, the company is also working on audio tweets and direct messages.

Finally, Twitter Senior Product Manager Christine Su told the site it is working on ways to make its users nicer, such as “methods of private feedback on the platform, as well as private apologies, and forgiveness,” which definitely won’t turn into a weird form of clout or anything.

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In any case, good luck with the bad Fleets and whatever you do, definitely don’t develop a permanent mental association between Fleeting and the brand name of a saline-based enema solution.

‘Unbiased’ Social Media Platform Parler Is Unsurprisingly Found to Be Backed by Conservative Megadonor

Parler, which describes itself as an “unbiased” social media platform, has experienced a surge of growth following the U.S. presidential election.

Parler, which describes itself as an “unbiased” social media platform, has experienced a surge of growth following the U.S. presidential election.
Photo: Olivier Douliery / AFP (Getty Images)

Parler, the social media network that describes itself as the “world’s premier free speech platform,” which is apparently another way to say a space for misinformation and conspiracy theories like QAnon, is unsurprisingly backed by conservative megadonor Rebekah Mercer, the Wall Street Journal has found.

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In a Saturday report, the Journal stated that Mercer was the lead investor in the social media company at its onset and that her support was contingent on Parler allowing users to control what they see. On its website, Parler boasts that it allows its users to “moderate [their] own world,” or customize what they want or do not want to see in their own feed while letting others decide for themselves what they want to see. Mercer has been a prominent supporter of President Donald Trump and other conservative causes.

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Before Mercer’s involvement was disclosed, few of its investors were known to the public. Nonetheless, we did have some inkling. Fox News commentator Dan Bongino and angel investor Jeffrey Wernick, who is the company’s COO, have publically disclosed that they are backers.

In a post on Parler, Mercer appeared to go beyond saying she was just giving the social media platform money, describing herself as a co-founder. Parler was launched in 2018.

“[Parler CEO] John [Matze] and I started Parler to provide a neutral platform for free speech, as our founders intended, and also to create a social media environment that would protect data privacy,” Mercer wrote on Parler on Saturday. “The ever increasing tyranny and hubris of our tech overlords demands that someone lead the fight against data mining, and for the protection of free speech online. That someone is Parler, a beacon to all who value their liberty, free speech, and personal privacy.”

Mercer also stated that her father, billionaire Trump supporter Robert Mercer, did not have ownership or involvement in Parler.

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Unlike Facebook and Twitter, the subject of many conservatives’ ire, Parler doesn’t use content recommendation algorithms on its platform. This means that Parler doesn’t customize a user’s feed based on their preferences or based on what’s trending at the moment, per the Journal. Instead, Parler simply shows users everything from people they follow in reverse chronological order. The social media platform collects almost no data from its users, per the Journal.

The platform itself doesn’t take care of any content moderation. This is done by users themselves via filters and by volunteer users called “community jurors,” who primarily remove spam, threats or illegal activity.

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Parler has experienced a tremendous surge in downloads following the U.S. presidential election, which makes sense considering many conservatives are mad at major social media platforms for trying to do good for once and crack down on election misinformation and allegations of imaginary voter fraud.

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In the last week, it has taken the top spot on Apple and Google’s app stores. The Journal found that the platform’s user base more than doubled to 10 million in less than a week.

“People from all walks of life, fed up with opaque, biased content curation, inconsistent agenda-driven fact checking, and manipulative algorithms built on data mining, are joining Parler to speak free,” Matze said in a Nov. 10 letter to users announcing the surge in growth. “Facebook and Twitter’s suppression of election information was a catalyst, causing many people to lose their trust. But the movement away from these platforms was already well underway.”

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What kind of stuff can you find on Parler? If you think about the people or groups that have been kicked off or stirred up a storm on mainstream social media apps, you can get a pretty good idea. According to the Anti-Defamation League—which points out that although the platform is not an extremist platform, it hosts a “significant and growing” number of users with mostly right-wing extremist ideologies—extremists with large followings on Parler include the anti-Muslim extremist Laura Loomer, InfoWars’ “Stop the Steal Caravan” with Owen Shroyer, the terroristic Proud Boys movement and QAnon conspiracy theorists.

Oren Segal, vice president of the ADL’s Center on Extremism, told CNN that Parler could possibly normalize radical views by exposing non-extremists to them.

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“If a lot of people start migrating onto a platform to hear the Laura Ingrahms and Sean Hannitys, but are getting a steady dose of Proud Boys … that may normalize the fringes in a way that normally it wouldn’t,” Segal said.

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The platform is currently free to use, although it doesn’t generate much revenue, per Business Insider. Its CEO, Matze, has said that Parler plans to sell advertising focused specifically on influencers to make money. Advertisers will target influencers and their followings, Matze told CNBC in July, instead of the social media network itself.

There is no guarantee that Parler will continue growing, or even if it’ll be around in the future. However, the fact that a social media platform that doesn’t take action on posts with blatant misinformation or hateful views exists is chilling. Truth is one of the most important things we have in this world: It helps us learn, grow and make informed decisions. But what happens to those who ignore the truth and purposefully surround themselves with hate and lies?

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[The Wall Street Journal]

Amazon Customer Support Apparently Did Not Know That Northern Ireland Was Part of the UK

Poor Amazon customer service team.

Poor Amazon customer service team.
Photo: Marc Atkins (Getty Images)

These are trying times, and that can sometimes means that our brains just don’t function as well as they normally do. A member of the Amazon support team unfortunately learned this lesson in a very public way on Saturday when they stated that Northern Ireland was not a part of the United Kingdom. Spoiler: It is.

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On Saturday, editor and writer Chris Jones reached out to Amazon on Twitter with a simple question: He wanted to know why he couldn’t find the live England v. Georgia rugby match on Amazon Prime Video. The company’s customer service team, for its part, tried to help him resolve the issue on the social media platform, giving him a list of supported devices and asking him whether he was using a VPN or proxy connection. Still no solution.

Shortly afterward, the Amazon customer service representative, who signed their tweets as “RS,” tweeted at Jones and told him that they had found the problem.

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“We apologize but upon reviewing your location you’re in Northern Ireland. Rugby Autumn Nations Cup coverage is exclusively available to Prime members based in the UK. We don’t have the rights to other territories,” Amazon’s RS wrote.

Jones proceeded to tell RS that Northern Ireland was indeed a part of the UK—as are England, Wales and Scotland—and it has been for a very long time. Let’s do a quick recap for all of those who are rusty. According to the History Channel, the Irish Republican Army fought to separate itself from the UK in the Irish War of Independence from 1919 to 1921. The war ended in 1922 with the division of Ireland into northern and southern regions.

The northern region, named Northern Ireland, remained part of the UK, while the southern region, or the Irish Free State, was part of the British Commonwealth. This meant that while the Irish Free State owed its allegiance to the British king or queen, the UK did not rule over it. The Irish Free State became the Republic of Ireland in 1937.

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Nonetheless, RS did not believe Jones.

“Many apologies but, we don’t have the broadcast rights for Ireland or other territories,” RS tweeted.

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Jones did not give up, and continued to insist that Northern Ireland was part of the UK, graciously suggesting that maybe the problem was due to the fact that he had signed up for Amazon Prime Video when he used to live in Ireland (the republic, which is a separate country and a European Union member state.)

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As is typical of the internet, a gaffe like this could not remain a secret for long. It quickly spread through Twitter, with many people highly amused that one of the most prominent e-commerce companies in the world had inadvertently united Ireland. Some decided to troll Amazon in response, which only resulted in the company making the situation worse.

Case in point: Later in the day, another customer support representative named HG decided to weigh in. HG apparently believes that Northern Ireland is only a part of the UK when it comes to Amazon Video.

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“Tell us more. We understand Northern Ireland is part of the UK with regard to Amazon Video. How can we help you? Let us know,” HG wrote.

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After a few hours, the Amazon support team seemed to realize the mistake, and issued an apology. The team added Prime Video subscribers in Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK could indeed watch tournaments that were part of the Autumn Nations Cup.

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While RS, the Amazon support team member, was probably horrified that their mistake spread through Twitter like fire and ended up on quite a few online news outlets, we’re sure they won’t make that mistake again.

TikTok Is Reportedly Poaching Facebook’s Moderators

Illustration for article titled TikTok Is Reportedly Poaching Facebooks Moderators

Photo: Sean Gallup (Getty Images)

Many members of Facebook’s legion of moderators—contractors hired through companies like Accenture, CPL, Hays, and Voxpro—are leaving to work for competitor TikTok, according to an analysis by CNBC.

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TikTok has been staffing up its safety team, and according to CNBC, over two dozen former Facebook content moderators now list positions at TikTok on their LinkedIn profiles, suggesting more may be making the transition as well. The company’s director of government relations and public policy in Europe, Theo Bertram, told British officials in September 2020 that TikTok’s trust and safety units now employ more than 1,000 people. Facebook, which as of earlier this year had contracts to employ around 15,000 moderators in the U.S., is a natural target. Many of TikTok’s team work in Dublin, where CNBC reported the company recently announced plans to expand its staffing from 900 to 1,100.

Chris Gray, a former Facebook moderator for CPL, told the network that working there was a “terrible job” and TikTok “looks better,” adding that the pay (around $15.39-$19.24 an hour, depending on the hours) wasn’t great for having to deal with around 100 pieces of hateful, racist, or disturbing content a day. Gray is currently leading a lawsuit against Facebook in Ireland over continual exposure to extreme content that allegedly caused widespread psychological distress and trauma in himself and workers; the lawsuit claims Facebook failed to provide adequate counseling or health resources or work to create a safe workplace.

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Facebook content moderators have said they face nightmarish conditions at work. The company settled a separate lawsuit brought by moderators in the U.S. who developed PTSD for $52 million earlier this year. The Irish lawsuit carries much higher legal risk, according to Motherboard, thanks to stricter labor laws in Ireland and the plaintiffs’ intent to compel a sea change in Facebook’s handling of content moderation by forcing the disclosure of its internal data on toxic, violent, illegal, or otherwise objectionable content.

“It could be people being unloaded from a truck somewhere in the Middle East and lined up by a trench and machine gunned or it might be Dave and Dorine have broken up and they’re having a bit of a spat and making claims about who’s a junkie and who is a slut,” Gray told CNBC, adding that Facebook users often wield reporting functions “as a weapon against each other.” TikTok moderators work in-house, and Gray said he was hopeful it would learn from Facebook’s mistake and work to create safer conditions for moderators.

“If there’s one company that knows how to ruthlessly poach staff from rivals it’s ByteDance,” social media analyst Matthew Brennan told CNBC. “They won’t think twice about swooping in to take advantage of Facebook’s difficulties. All’s fair in love, war and business.”

That’s not to say that TikTok doesn’t have its own issues. Earlier this year, the Intercept reported that TikTok had instructed moderators to suppress content uploaded by people who appeared to be ‘ugly,’ impoverished, or disabled to maintain an “aspirational” image, as well as censor a wide range of content ideologically offensive to Chinese authorities. TikTok, which is separate from ByteDance’s similar app for the Chinese market Douyin, has distanced itself from its Chinese ownership and claimed those directives were no longer in effect.

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TikTok didn’t return a request for comment from CNBC, but Facebook told the network in a statement: “Our content reviewers play an important role in keeping our platform safe for billions of users. That’s why we ensure our partners provide competitive pay and benefits, high-quality work environments, and the training, coaching, guidance and support necessary to successfully review content.”

Report: Elon Musk Is Kind of a Dick

Illustration for article titled Report: Elon Musk Is Kind of a Dick

Photo: Maja Hitij (Getty Images)

It’s not exactly a secret that Elon Musk, billionaire CEO of SpaceX and Tesla, self-proclaimed Thai pedophilia expert, and designer of death race trucks, doesn’t give a flying fuck what other people think about his actions.

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To wit: Musk has endorsed an alleged sex cult’s system for ranking news organizations based on “critical thinking,” regularly railed against media orgs, and angrily cut off journalists on earnings calls. According to a new piece in Vanity Fair, sources say that after Musk’s December 2019 win in a libel lawsuit brought by a Thai cave diver he had smeared as a pedophile, Musk decided in Trumpian style that he would stop pretending to play nice with his perceived enemies. Thus he severed ties with his external PR firm, stopped hiring for openings on his comms team, mass-blocked journalists, and this month disbanded Tesla’s PR department. One longtime employee told the magazine, “Elon is his own communications director now.”

No one really cares whether Musk hates reporters but reporters. But Vanity Fair’s sources said doubling down on absolutism of the self might not have been the best idea, because he’s kind of an asshole.

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Per Vanity Fair, Musk’s staff fears days he arrives in a bad mood, because he’ll make arbitrary decisions that makes everyone’s work life hellish:

“On [SpaceX] launch days, you have everyone at Tesla tuned in to see if the launch is successful, not because we are vested in the rockets, but because it directly impacts Elon’s mood for the next few days,” the Tesla executive told me. “If there was a failure on a launch, there’d be hell to pay; you didn’t want to have a phone call set up with Elon afterward.” On the other hand, if the rocket launch was successful, Musk’s inbox would fill with budget requests. The same is true for SpaceX employees when new production numbers are set to be released for Tesla.

Over the past few years, Musk’s behavior has managed to drive off a growing number of staff.

In August 2018, Musk sent out a bad “joke” tweet claiming he was taking Tesla private at a share price of $420 (the weed number), attracting an angry lawsuit by the Securities and Exchange Commission that he was forced to settle to the tune of a $20 million fine and loss of his Tesla chairmanship. As Vanity Fair noted, since the tweet, Tesla has lost over two dozen executives, including “three different general counsels, his director of engineering, director of sales, directors of finance, operations, accounting, production, and recruiting.” Musk also lost his chief of staff, Sam Teller. One of those departed executives specifically cited Musk’s Twitter account as too embarrassing to put up with any longer.

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An unspecified former employee of Musk’s added that when he asked the tech magnate whether he ever worried about losing his marbles, Musk responded, “Does a crazy person ever look in the mirror and know that he’s crazy?”

Perhaps not:

According to one person who witnessed an argument between Musk and a former girlfriend upon leaving a club one evening, Musk aggressively railed against her, asking why she had hair on her face (referring to the slight peach fuzz that everyone has, visible under the bright light of the club’s awning). “Because I’m a mammal,” the girlfriend replied, which only pissed Musk off even more.

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“There is a high level of degenerate behavior with Elon,” one Musk acquaintance told Vanity Fair. “… All of these guys, I’ve spent time with them, Musk, Zuck, all of them; they all exhibit tendencies of total and complete pathological sociopathy. They don’t at their core give a flying fuck about you or me as individuals.”

When reached for comment by Vanity Fair, Musk responded, “Vanity Fair sucks.”

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