Twitter Brings Back Public Verification For The Accounts It Deems Worthy

Illustration for article titled Twitter Brings Back Public Verification For The Accounts It Deems Worthy

Photo: Andrew Burton (Getty Images)

If you’re one of the troves of people who—for some bizarre reason—wants to be among the blue-checked elite on Twitter, then good news: everyone’s favorite app for posting bad takes will be bringing back its verification process early next year.

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Twitter announced on Tuesday that it has formal plans to relaunch account verification—complete with a new, public application process—in “early 2021.” The company paused public verifications three years ago, though thousands of accounts (including my own) have still quietly achieved checkmark status in the interim. After all that time and more than a few screw-ups, Twitter has decided the relaunched should also be a bit more of a revamped: better defining who gets verified and why, and what it takes for an account to have their blue checkmark snatched away.

According to the current draft of the verifications policy, accounts that meet the bar for verification include companies or brands with a Twitter presence, news organizations, activists, and organizers, all subject to a variety of criteria to meet verification status. It also sets up what is effectively a miscellaneous category which it calls “influential individuals,” a phrase that Twitter does its best to describe in the draft as:

people who are using Twitter effectively to bring awareness, share information, and galvanize community members around a cause, to bring about socioeconomic, political, or cultural change, or to otherwise foster community

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Twitter notes that no matter how influential one of these accounts happens to be, if they “primarily” post content that “harasses, shames, or insults” any particular person or group—on the basis of their race, ethnicity, sexuality etc.—they likely won’t be verified. The same goes for “content that promotes the supremacy or interests of members of any group” in a way that can be read as threatening to any of those groups involved.

This hasn’t always been so clear in the past. Case in point: back in 2017, Twitter decided to verify the account of Charlottesville rally organizer Jason Kessler, leading to an instant backlash about Twitter that ignited the platform. Even though the company’s official Support account later tweeted out that its choice to verify a neo-nazi’s account wasn’t tantamount to endorsing the bile that account tweeted, the truth is that a lot of folks seemed to take it that way.

“Verification was meant to authenticate identity & voice but it is interpreted as an endorsement or an indicator of importance,” Twitter wrote at the time, adding that the “confusion” surrounding the entire verification process clearly needed to be resolved before it could continue. At the time, Twitter noted it would “report back soon.”

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Three years, 14 days and 20ish hours later, here we are.

Twitter-ers can take a look at the drafted proposal here, and let the company know what they think about the changes here. After taking that feedback into account, the final policy should be released by December 17th.

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Twitter Will Now Warn You Before You Like a Tweet Containing Misleading Information

Illustration for article titled Twitter Will Now Warn You Before You Like a Tweet Containing Misleading Information

Photo: Leon Neal / Staff (Getty Images)

Expanding upon an existing feature that warns users who attempt to retweet content that has already been flagged as “misleading information,” Twitter will now issue the same warning when users attempt to like content that has been similarly designated.

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In the lead-up to the 2020 presidential election, Twitter announced in September that it planned to debut a number of policies aimed at curbing misinformation around the vote totals, pledging to tack on “additional warnings and restrictions on Tweets with a misleading information label from US political figures (including candidates and campaign accounts).”

The platform soon made good on that promise, flagging one of President Donald Trump’s tweets with a warning that “some or all of the content shared in this tweet is disputed” with just hours to go until voting in the general election got underway.

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In a tweet, Twitter said that those prompts and others like them had helped to decrease quote tweets of the misleading information by 29%, prompting the platform to unveil similar speed bumps designed to slow users’ propensity to “like” tweets containing falsehoods.

The option for users to pause and think before hitting ‘like’ or ‘retweet’ is part of a larger suite of features aimed at curbing the spread of misinformation that Twitter has recently unveiled. When users try to hit retweet on a tweet containing a link to an article they haven’t read, for example, the site now prompts a message encouraging the user to, you know, read the article before blindly sharing it with their followers.

The decision to add warning labels to “liked” tweets was first reported on by Jane Manchun Wong, a Hong Kong-based software engineer notorious for unveiling new features that apps like Twitter, Instagram and TikTok are testing in beta by reverse-engineering their code.

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Although Twitter initially claimed that the new features would be in place “at least” until Election Day, the fact that they’re still being debuted more than three weeks out suggests that a longer-term approach towards content deamplification might be underway.

Snoop Alert: Twitter Bug Lets People See Fleets Past Their Expiration Dates

Twitter can’t catch a fleeting break.

Twitter can’t catch a fleeting break.
Photo: Lionel Bonaventure / AFP (Getty Images)

It looks like Twitter just can’t catch a fleeting break. Days after the company unveiled Fleets, its new Instagram Stories-like posts that are theoretically supposed to disappear after 24 hours, a bug has basically made them pretty useless. Even worse, the bug could open the door to snooping galore.

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According to TechCrunch, Twitter users disclosed the bug, which allows others to view Fleets on public accounts past their 24-hour expiration date, on Saturday. In addition, the bug allows anyone to view and download a person’s fleet without sending the author a read notification or informing them of who had viewed their fleet. Do you all see the problem here? It means that people could snoop on your posts without your knowledge via a tool that’s supposed to help you feel “freer” on Twitter.

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That’s pretty creepy.

In a statement to the Verge, the company said that it was addressing the issue.

“We’re aware of a bug accessible through a technical workaround where some Fleets media URLs may be accessible after 24 hours,” a Twitter spokesperson told the Verge via email. “We are working on a fix that should be rolled out shortly.”

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Gizmodo reached out to Twitter to ask it about the bug but did not hear back. We’ll be sure to update this post if we do.

Apparently, the bug appears to be related to a developer app that could scrape tweets from public accounts using Twitter’s API, the Verge reported. The company told the outlet that the API doesn’t return URLs for Fleets that are older than 24 hours, adding that once it fixes the issue, people will not be able access Fleets after they expire even if they have a URL for an active fleet.

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On its end, Twitter does keep a copy of all sent Fleets after they expire or are deleted by users in order to take enforcement actions against content that violates its rules. Twitter maintains that it may keep a copy of Fleets found to be in violation of its rules for a longer period of time in order to give users an opportunity to appeal its decision.

Fleets, which can include texts, GIFs and photos, were developed as a way to encourage Twitter lurkers who rarely post to do so. In true Instagram fashion, people can reply to your fleet with an emoji or a message. With Fleets, the company aimed to create a format where users could post their thoughts for a short period of time, per the New York Times, a space that less pressure that feels safer. It certainly makes some sense, considering how Twitter more often than not resembles a toxic swamp of rage and harassment.

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Then again, we must remember that Twitter allowed its platform to become this thing, and I don’t know if Fleets is going to fix it. But I bet that bugs like this are probably not going to inspire tons of user confidence.

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[TechCrunch]

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 Reportedly Considering Adding a ‘Dislike’ Button

Illustration for article titled Twitter Reportedly Considering Adding a Dislike Button

Photo: Bethany Clarke / Stringer (Getty Images)

Apparently drunk with power after slapping ‘misleading information’ labels on several of President Donald Trump’s tweets, Twitter is now reportedly “exploring” the option of adding a ‘dislike’ button.

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During a Tuesday Twitter exchange with cybersecurity expert Jackie Singh, Kayvon Beykpour, Twitter’s product lead, said that while adding some sort of downvoting capability isn’t among the platform’s top priorities in the same way that limiting the spread of misinformation, removing bot users and eliminating harassment are, the feature was “something we’re exploring.”

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Twitter has already added a slew of new features lately, with the most recent addition being “Fleets”—a disappearing media option that serves as an answer to the Instagram story and seems designed to appeal to lurkers who don’t want their inane thoughts to live on the app in perpetuity.

It’s worth noting that Twitter does already incorporate an option to downvote the content that appears on your timeline via the “Not interested in this tweet” button. By selecting the label, users can algorithmically de-prioritize similar content in their feeds without muting or blocking the user who tweeted the questionable content. An option to “dislike” tweets would likely have a similar effect on a user’s timeline, and would merely be streamlining the process — albeit in a slightly nastier, more public way.

For now, Twitter users intent on wrecking their friends’ lives by “disliking” all of their content will have to be patient, since the platform doesn’t seem to be mobilizing on such a feature anytime soon. For now, it seems the humble ratio will have to suffice.

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.

If You Can’t Beat Them, Make Some Shit Up About Them and Hope It Goes Viral

Illustration for article titled If You Cant Beat Them, Make Some Shit Up About Them and Hope It Goes Viral

Graphic: Gizmodo, Photos: Getty Images, Screenshot via Twitter

HellfeedHellfeedHellfeed is your bimonthly resource for news on the current heading of the social media garbage barge.

Your feeds are not currently full of news about the ongoing civil war between the Real American Front and the Alliance to Restore Democracy. In fact, there’s barely any Second American Civil War going on at all, which is to say that things could theoretically be going a lot worse after November 3 than your relatives, friends, and random doomsayers on social media might have predicted.

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That said, things are not exactly all well in the state of Denmark, and Big Tech is right in the middle of this clusterfuck—liberals are blaming it for helping Republicans trick a sizable percentage of the country into thinking Joe Biden somehow bribed every poll worker in the country, while conservatives are working themselves into a lather trying to find ways to blame Big Tech censorship for the outcome. So here’s Hellfeed: Jesus Christ Make It Stop Already Edition.

Can we pat ourselves on the back yet?

Election Day passed without the prophesied catastrophic breakdown of social and political order—hey, give it time!—but that’s a pretty low bar. Donald Trump has refused to concede that Biden will be the 46th president and instead retreated further into a reassuring fantasy that hundreds of thousands of fraudulent votes were cast by Democrats in key states, thus making him the actual winner. Republicans have largely done either nothing to stop him or outright endorsed the president’s ongoing effort to pull off what would possibly be the laziest coup d’etat in world history.

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Facebook and Twitter took some steps to curb the most egregious disinformation spreading before and during the election, taking down posts and pages and flagging a number of Trump’s posts. This functionally did little to stem the tide. Hoaxes and lies continue to spread faster via the web than the companies can take them down (Pinterest, LinkedIn, and NextDoor are experiencing their own problems, while YouTube is doing virtually nothing, according to the New York Times). As NBC News noted, tech firms have historically been very reluctant to police powerful actors like the White House for fear of backlash, and they’re still playing catchup now to mixed results. Beyond social media, political operatives ramped up their efforts to spread hoaxes via methods nearly impossible to stop, like robocalls and email.

As far as the big social media companies go, the big takeaway here is that the companies turned a blind eye to everything from Trump posts and QAnon to run-of-the-mill propaganda operations for years. For example, 538 argued that Trump and conservative media, who operated unchecked on Facebook and Twitter for years, have spent years seeding doubt about the electoral process in a manner that makes last-minute responses somewhat futile:

“Priming is where an external source, a sender of information, is trying to prime people to think a certain way,” said Mark Whitmore, a professor of management and information systems at Kent State University who has studied misinformation and cognitive bias. “One of the ways in which priming occurs is through partisanship. When that happens, people have a greater tendency to think along the lines of whatever party they feel they belong to.”

When people are already primed to think about a topic in a certain way, it can lead them to seek out information that confirms their existing beliefs… There’s also the illusory truth effect: a phenomenon in which the more times people are exposed to an idea, the more likely they are to perceive it as true, regardless of political leanings.

Per the Washington Post, Trump and his allies were able to exploit a “network of new and existing Facebook pages, groups and events to rally people and spark real-world intimidation of poll workers” to popularize lies about the outcome of the election. On Twitter, the labels seemed to do little to discourage widespread sharing of the president’s ravings, and on Facebook, they could simply be ignored. YouTube barely bothered to lift a finger except to attach warning labels to election-related videos, whether they be truthful or not, and restrict political ads.

This is all to say that whatever the platforms tried or didn’t try, hoaxers and liars dominated. (Slate has a roundup, including some initial data, here.) A Politico poll published this week found that some 70 percent of Republicans don’t believe the elections were free and fair, doubled from 35 percent before the election. The vast majority of that 70 percent endorsed conspiracy theories about mail in-voting, ballot tampering, and that such things helped Biden win.

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One thing that’s clear is that the voter fraud mess wasn’t the product of a spontaneous, grassroots uprising arising from social media but the result of a deliberate, long-term plan by Trump and his allies in the GOP and news media (TV, print, and online) to undermine the results of the election. Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard researchers released a study earlier this year finding social media played a “secondary and supportive role” in “an elite-driven, mass-media led process.”

Say the line, Zuckerberg

Mark Zuckerberg has reportedly told employees at Facebook that he believes “the outcome of the election is now clear and Joe Biden is going to be our next president,” though he didn’t give specific statistics on how many false or hoax claims the company had taken down. As the Times’ Mike Isaac noted, Zuckerberg hasn’t posted in two weeks and hasn’t publicly acknowledged the election results.

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Facebook shuts down “Stop the Steal” rallies

Per the New York Times, Facebook took quick action to wipe out one of the fastest-growing groups in the company’s history, a “Stop the Steal” page that started on Wednesday and by Thursday was at 320,000 users, a rate of 100 new members every 10 seconds. During its brief existence, it managed to flood Facebook (and due to overflow, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, and right-wing media) with hysterical and baseless posts about voter fraud that never happened.

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“The group was organized around the delegitimization of the election process, and we saw worrying calls for violence from some members of the group,” Tom Reynolds, a Facebook spokesperson, told the Times.

Far-right groups and conservative organizations subsequently called for Trump supporters to assemble in DC on Saturday under a variety of names such as the Million MAGA March, the March for Trump, and Stop the Steal DC. Some of the events were deleted, and the remaining Facebook groups show planned attendance of no more than a few thousand (at best—in the past few years, both Trump and far-right groups have struggled to draw more than a gaggle of attendees at DC events).

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The labels, they do nothing

On Thursday, Twitter released data on enforcement of its Civic Integrity Policy from Oct. 27 to Nov. 11, saying that it had labeled 300,000 tweets (or 0.2%) of all election-related posts as “disputed and potentially misleading” and hid 456 of those behind warning labels. Twitter claimed this led to a roughly 29 percent decrease in quote tweeting:

Approximately 74% of the people who viewed those Tweets saw them after we applied a label or warning message.

We saw an estimated 29% decrease in Quote Tweets of these labeled Tweets due in part to a prompt that warned people prior to sharing.

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These are Twitter’s metrics, so it’s hard to know what this indicates about the company’s moderation performance. Twitter wrote in the post that it stopped serving “liked by” and “followed by” notifications to users about other accounts they don’t follow, which made a “statistically significant difference in misinformation prevalence” (you don’t say). Twitter did say it will continue to make it less convenient to retweet other users without adding a comment.

Parlez vous safe space?

Free speech app Parler—which used to be pronounced “parlay,” as in the French word, but is now pronounced “parlour,” like the room—has become a major destination for conservatives fleeing Facebook, Twitter, Instagram in the wake of the election. This includes conspiracy theorists like QAnon devotees and people banned from other sites for any number of sins, who are attracted to the platform’s promise to not censor users (unless, of course, it falls in a category of content that offends right-wingers).

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Parler surged to the top of app store lists last weekend. According to Wired, over the course of the last week, it went from 4.5 million to 8 million users, in large part because conservative media personalities are relentlessly promoting it to their huge followings on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. It’s less a site for discourse and more of a bullhorn for right-wing pundits, talk show hosts, media figures, and politicians to amplify their message to a hardcore fanbase—Wired registered an account and was immediately bombarded by messages urging them to sign up for the Trump campaign’s text message list.

This could play out two ways, basically. One is that Parler actually carves out space for conservatives to lap up the hard-right content they crave. The other is that conservatives lose interest after a while, leaving behind only the most diehard fans of blowhards like Mark Levin, Dinesh D’Souza, Dan Bongino, etc. In either scenario, we imagine Parler will evolve into another node on the lucrative grifting circuit on the right, whether it’s direct or mail-order marketing or an unending supply of GoFundMes for flash-in-the-plan Republican celebrities.

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Proctor this

Proctorio is one of the many creepy, invasive programs schools and colleges whose students are learning from home use to monitor for cheating during exams (through forced webcam and microphone access and dubious “suspicion” algorithms). One student posted Proctorio code snippets to Twitter in an effort to show how the app invaded privacy in September; Proctorio’s marketing director John Devoy and CEO Mike Olsen responded weeks later by demanding Twitter take down the tweets under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

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Twitter did so, despite the insistence of the Electronic Frontier Foundation that the tweets were a clear example of fair use, according to TechCrunch. Twitter later restored the tweets after TechCrunch published its article.

Q dropped

QAnon is not doing so hot in response to news that they might not be the vanguard of Dear Leader’s ascension after all or the fact that Q has stopped posting. (Whoops!) They’re coping by diving deeper down the rabbit hole.

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Memory holes

Facebook has now implemented a Snapchat-like “Vanish Mode” on Messenger and Instagram, which allows users to have their messages auto-delete after a period of time. Honestly, there’s no good reason this shouldn’t be a standard feature on everything.

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Drats

The goons at Immigrations and Customs Enforcement’s Twitter account went offline Thursday. But it turns out some genius at the agency just fucked up the account’s listed birthday and got locked out.

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The ban list

Some notable smackdowns in the past few weeks:

  • Google and Facebook are continuing their bans on political advertising indefinitely while Trump plots his coup attempt.
  • David Icke—the British anti-Semite who believes lizardmen secretly rule the world—finally got banned from Twitter for spreading covid-19 misinformation.
  • Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, founder of internet hellhole Breitbart, got banned from Twitter and Stitcher and podcast episodes yanked from other sites after he called for Dr. Anthony Fauci and FBI Director Christopher Wray to be beheaded. Facebook slapped him on the wrist.
  • Facebook did ban a coordinated network of political pages tied to Bannon, which cumulatively had audiences of 2.5 million and promoted election fraud conspiracies, but only after they had
  • In addition to #StoptheSteal, several pro-Trump hashtags including #sharpiegate (don’t ask) and #riggedelection got blocked on Facebook and TikTok.
  • Airbnb banned some of the manchild members of the far-right Proud Boys group who were planning to travel to rallies in DC this weekend.
  • Thailand banned internet porn, which will definitely keep people from watching internet porn.

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Honorable mention: Trump’s Commerce Department was supposedly set to ban TikTok from U.S. app stores on Thursday, but it chickened out.

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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Boris Johnson Left Trump Victory Message in Congratulatory Tweet to Biden

Illustration for article titled Boris Johnson Left Trump Victory Message in Congratulatory Tweet to Biden

Photo: Tolga Akmen/WPA Pool (Getty Images)

Someone at 10 Downing Street isn’t so great with Photoshop: UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson tweeted a congratulatory message to President-elect Joe Biden with a barely visible hidden message seemingly congratulating Trump on his electoral win.

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Johnson’s tweet from Nov. 7 congratulated Biden on his win and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris for her “historic achievement. It’s almost impossible to see, but behind the words “Joe Biden on his election,” the faint words “Trump on” can be read—seemingly the product of someone using a Photoshop eraser tool or something similar on a prior graphic and missing a spot.

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It’s only really visible by modifying the image’s brightness and contrast, as seen below:

Illustration for article titled Boris Johnson Left Trump Victory Message in Congratulatory Tweet to Biden

Screenshot: Twitter (Other)

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Screenshot: Twitter (Other)

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Screenshot: Twitter/Gizmodo (Other)

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According to the Guardian, elsewhere in the image other phrases can be seen, including “second term” and “on the future of this.” The hidden message was first reported by the Guido Fawkes blog and suggests that Downing Street had prepared to congratulate Trump before the vote was over—which of course is not at all unusual or remarkable, given that the UK had no special insight into who would win the election. It’s just that they did so in pretty sloppy fashion.

“As you’d expect, two statements were prepared in advance for the outcome of this closely contested election,” a UK government spokesperson told the Guardian. “A technical error meant that parts of the alternative message were embedded in the background of the graphic.”

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Trump has refused to concede the result of the 2020 election, instead spreading baseless conspiracy theories that Biden only won due to a massive Democratic voter fraud plot. Republican allies have largely done nothing or actively encouraged him, while the White House is doing its best to poison the well by ordering federal agencies to refuse to cooperate with Biden transition teams.

Johnson—one of the architects of Brexit—is likely to have a rocky relationship with Biden for reasons quite unrelated to a minor Twitter snafu. Johnson pressed forward with an internal markets deal that would breach part of the European Union exit agreement by handing ministers unilateral power to change or disapply export rules for goods flowing from Britain to Northern Ireland, which could undermine the Good Friday Agreement that ended most of the violence of the Troubles. The bill failed in the House of Lords, but infuriated Biden, who had said its passage upset any possible trade deal between the U.S. and the UK. As the Guardian noted, Biden has referred to Johnson as the “physical and emotional clone of Donald Trump.”

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