“We’re excited about trying this out for our advertisers and we’re eager to explore how it could open the door for additional opportunities to reward Tweet authors and creators,” Falck wrote. “We see a big opportunity to build an ad offering that creates value and aligns incentives for creators and advertisers.”
Listen, as a Twitter user myself, I’ve always been on board with some of its recently added features—like Tip Jars and Super Followers—that are designed to “reward” the platform’s power users for their content. But unlike either of those tools, Twitter ads aren’t a button you can paste to your profile. They’re ads. They’re annoying, intrusive, and sometimes deeply bizarre, which isn’t the type of content you’d want to shove in the center of the sorts of toxic convos that crop up on a lot of Tweeter’s timelines. Popping ads between people’s conversations feels like the last gasp of a platform that already know’s it’s shoved as many ads as it possibly could into every other nook and cranny of your feed and is desperate for some new way to squeeze profit from its users.
And it’s not hard to see why. When it comes to ad revenue, Twitter’s always been playing catch-up to other major platforms in the social media space. Last quarter, for example, the platform reported an impressive $1.05 billion in ad revenue—and while $1 billion is nothing to sneeze at, Facebook earned $10.4 billion in ad revenue that same quarter, while Amazon earned close to $8 billion. In other words, Twitter’s facing some, uh, pretty steep competition in a space where whichever platform gets the most eyeballs on its ads, wins.
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It also needs advertisers that want to reach those eyeballs in the first place. Because Twitter’s gained a reputation of being a haven for hate speech, harassment, and, well, lots and lots of porn, marketers have historically felt kinda icked-out at the prospect of having their product shown alongside people’s feeds. And while Twitter has made some moves this year to assuage their concerns—more partnerships! more metrics! more audits!—the fact is, any Twitter user will tell you the platform still has loads of hate speech, harassment, and porn.
And, again, as a Twitter user, I can confirm that some of the worst parts of the platform aren’t happening inside people’s bad posts, but inside the conversation beneath those tweets. Hell, Twitter’s even trying out a system to let users know when they might be walking into a particularly messy conversation! It’s unclear whether Twitter’s trying to squeeze ads into its more “heated” convos—but considering how quickly the platform lets people devolve into absolute dickwads from one reply to the next, it seems unavoidable. And when that happens, hoards of advertisers are going to join the hoards of users that are screaming about how awful this “test” is going to be. If the company won’t listen to us, then Ihope it listens to them.
Echoing her interview Sunday on 60 Minutes, Haugen said she joined Facebook in 2019 after someone close to her was “radicalized” online. She pursued a job at the company, she said, in an effort to improve internal policies long criticized for amplifying the most politically divisive content in order to generate engagement among its users. Facebook’s acute fixation with driving engagement—which translates into ad dollars, the company’s singular source of income—resulted in system that only serves to amplify “division, extremism, and polarization,” she said, “undermining societies around the world.”
“This is not simply a matter of some social media users being angry or unstable,” said Haugen. “Facebook became a $1 trillion company by paying for its profits with our safety, including the safety of our children. And that is unacceptable.”
Haugen, who holds an MBA from Harvard and previously worked on algorithms at Google, Pinterest, and Yelp, was recruited by Facebook in 2019 as a lead product manager for “civic misinformation,” later working on “counter-espionage” as a member of Facebook’s threat intelligence team. At Facebook, she witnessed the company consistently placing profits above all else—decisions which generated “self-harm” and “self-hate,” she said, among the platform’s youngest users.
At the top of the hearing, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, chairman of the Senate’s subcommittee on consumer protection, raised the question of whether Facebook has known all along that children were becoming addicted to Instagram, the photo-sharing platform Facebook purchased in 2012. “Many of Facebook’s internal research reports indicates that Facebook has a serious negative harm on a significant portion of teenagers and younger children,” she said.
“Facebook knows that it’s amplification algorithms, things like engagement based rankings on Instagram, can lead children from very innocuous topics… all the way from something innocent like health recipes to anorexia-promoting content, over a very short period of time,” Haugen said, adding that Facebook’s internal definition of “addiction” requires that users be self-identify as having a problem.
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“In the end,” she said, CEO Mark Zuckerberg bears the ultimate responsibility. “There’s no one currently holding Mark accountable.”
Blumenthal last week said his office had written to Zuckerberg in August, asking whether Facebook had ever heard of his platforms having negative effects, such as suicidal thoughts, on children’s and teen’s mental health. The company effectively ducked the question, saying only that it knew of no consensus among experts as to how much “screen time” was unhealthy for kids.
Internal documents amassed by Haugen before departing Facebook in May laid bare the effects of Instagram’s engagement algorithms on teens—young girls, in particular. Leaked to the Wall Street Journal, the documents noted Instagram was responsible for worsening anxiety, depression, and even suicidal thoughts linked to body-image issues among young girls.
Separate materials shared with the Journal revealed that Facebook views children 10-years-old and younger as a “valuable” and “untapped” resource crucial to the company’s “growth.”
As of yet, Facebook has not indicated whether it plans to take legal action against Haugen for leaking company documents to the press, but has said it won’t pursue her for sharing with Senate lawmakers, whom she initially approached this summer.
Facebook, in response, attacked its own research, calling it “exploratory,” and saying its researchers did not rely on any “clinical criterion.” The company, meanwhile, has refused to release the raw data underlying its findings, preferring to annotate documents referenced in the press in an effort to downplay their significance.
“I came forward because I recognized a frightening truth: almost no one outside of Facebook knows what happens inside Facebook,” Haugen said in opening remarks. “The company’s leadership keeps vital information from the public, the U.S. government, its shareholders, and governments around the world. The documents I have provided prove that Facebook has repeatedly misled us about what its own research reveals about the safety of children, its role in spreading hateful and polarizing messages, and so much more.”
Haugen went on to say it was typical at Facebook for problems to be understaffed. The threat intelligence team, for example, “could only handle a third of the cases—that we knew about.” The lack of adequate staffing disincentivized the team from improving systems designed to detect issues, which would only create more work the team was not equipped to handle.
A female narrator, accompanied by unduly dramatic music, explains that the current state of the web is a “corrupted unsecure network” rather than the “intergalactic computer network we were promised.” The solution? Qux, which in the first of many questionable decisions apparently stands for “Quantum User Experience”:
We have become dependent on a corrupted unsecure network, the so-called World Wide Web. This is not the intergalactic computer network we were promised. The web makes us vulnerable to hacking, tracking, any form of digital attack. It’s easily gamed, misused, and even abused. Censorship, cancel culture, and deplatforming are symptoms of a larger problem.
We’re stuck in technological cul-de-sacs controlled by Big Tech, whose interests take precedence over ours. Their technology is built around conditioning and addiction, control and domination. However, it doesn’t have to be this way. Our solution is the Quantum User Experience. Q-U-X, or Qux, is your portal to a new digital universe.
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OK, so what’s it do? According to the promotional video, everything and nothing: users will have “unlimited access to whatever content you want,” as well as the ability to upload and share all kinds of content. The closest it comes to a hard explanation is that Qux is an “interface” where “anyone can publish and control their own digital creations,” and also make money somehow via affiliate advertising:
When you join Qux, you have unlimited access to whatever content you want. You can live stream, upload your own videos, audio, music, images, host and listen to podcasts. Qux even allows you to use Android apps and games. You deserve the online experience you want to have. Create collections or share new content with your family, community, or the world. You can pull content from other websites and platforms to Qux easily, or you can upload directly to Qux. Qux isn’t a publisher, it’s an interface where anyone can publish and everyone can control their own digital experience.
You can monetize your viral creations. Qux pays content creators double what other platforms offer with affiliate codes and other forms of monetization. Or just lean back and enjoy Qux.
Beyond that, Qux’s YouTube page has only two other videos. One is simply 14 seconds of the company’s logo floating in space above the Earth. Another is a 23-second clip teasing a “test program,” which consists of a picture of a portal that transitions into a sci-fi panorama. The cyberpunk art in question appears to have been lifted wholesale from DeviantArt.
The actual Indiegogo page sheds slightly more light on what the cucks users of Qux can expect, but not much. There are mentions of a “Portal” system which looks basically identical to a combination YouTube channel, Flickr page, or Spotify playlist. Qux will enable users to access the content uploaded to other users’ portals:
Once you’ve create portals of original content or fair use you can turn on your television and watch it from there!
Everything you share publically is visible by everyone else that’s on the Qux® network. Test pilots will get first dibs on populating the Qux® network with content.
This might explain what one can do on Qux—bury themselves in a hellhole of D-list content uploaded by random MAGA fans and conspiracy theorists—but it doesn’t explain why it can’t just be a website and instead requires new hardware. But wait! According to Indiegogo the Qux “network” is somehow end-to-end encrypted, making it impregnable to Big Tech, and will give users access to both “mainstream” and “alternative” content:
Test pilots will be getting a first look at the Qux® end-to-end encrypted network, watching, controling [sic] and sharing content whether its mainstream or alternative media.
Promotional images uploaded to the Indiegogo page show examples of subscription portals like CNN, Fox Nation, Saturday Night Live, and Bravo TV, before segueing way off into weird shit like PewDiePie, Stanford University, a gold prospecting channel called Golden Beard Media, and something just called “Motorcycle.” Presumably, none of these entities have agreed to be on Qux, but they are on YouTube.
All this raises baffling questions. Is the “Qux end-to-end encrypted network” going to be filled with pirated content? Is the content hosted by Qux, or is it some kind of peer-to-peer thing? Does the portal system somehow plug directly into YouTube, or is Qux just using other companies’ logos to give the illusion it will be populated with anything worth watching?
That doesn’t even factor in the promise that Qux can run Android apps. Android functionality is presumably necessary to do anything on it but gawk at other users’ vacation videos from the Eagle’s Nest or rants about Crooked Hillary. But it totally negates the supposed disconnection from the “corrupted unsecure network” of Big Tech giants.
Elsewhere on the Indiegogo page, users who pay for “‘First Look’ trailblazer” status are promised “A Prototype experimental Qux® device (exclusive to the test program)” as well as early access to the Qux network, which includes the ability to “open one of the first stores.” Right, so in addition to being a streaming box, a social network, and a series of end-to-end encrypted portals, it’s a store now, too.
That’s not even getting into how the tiers on Indiegogo include a $1,000 option for a contributor to have their “name… listed in the credits inside the Qux® operating system settings” and “memorialize your name, or the name of a loved one, as a contributor to the future of a free and secure internet.” Incredibly, 19 people chose this option.
Finally, there’s the Qux.tv website, which doesn’t shed much more light on anything—most of the links lead back to the Indiegogo page—but is full of jargon like “Competitive Fixed Advertisement Pricing,” “Access to QUX Centralized Electronic Store,” and being “part of a centralized commercial enterprise of online/brick&mortar businesses” with an “Equality relationship between user, creator, and advertiser as merchants.” Also, there will be “a Remote Control Activated ‘Buy’ Button featured on Advertisements,” because why not.
This is great. It rules. One wonders whether Qux may have even invented itself, with Weaver and Wince mere vessels for its consciousness to manifest from, a sort of amorphous living word cloud made of copy-pasted marketing gibberish and MAGA bingo cards. Perhaps Qux is the fetal blob that will grow into the Singularity, the machine brain that will eventually consume all things. Or maybe it is God itself, cleverly bringing his Word back into our homes under the facade of an overpriced black box.
It was unclear, as of press time, whether you can buy a Qux with MAGAcoin, the cryptocurrency for Trump lovers.
We contacted Wince to see if he could clear all this up for us but unfortunately, his response started with the claim that Qux is “like Signal but for entertainment and with a private marketplace,” and prattled on for several paragraphs of nonsense from there.