Twitter finally draws a line on extremism

On Friday I wrote about Twitter’s seeming paralysis when it came to enforcing its platform rules. What, exactly, was going on over there? Late Friday evening, we got an answer of sorts. The company invited Cecilia Kang and Kate Conger of The New York Times to sit in on a meeting in which CEO Jack Dorsey and 18 of his colleagues debated safety policies. The meeting was rather … inconclusive, they report:

For about an hour, the group tried to get a handle on what constituted dehumanizing speech. At one point, Mr. Dorsey wondered if there was a technology solution. There was no agreement on an answer.

Elsewhere in the piece, executives sound other notes we’ve heard before from this and other platforms: Free speech is valuable. Moderation issues are difficult. User safety is important. Ultimately, Twitter seemed to double down on delayed action, agreeing “to draft a policy about dehumanizing speech and open it to the public for their comments.” (Is Twitter really lacking for public speech on this subject?)

Of course, policies are only meaningful insofar as they are enforced. Dorsey’s stated rationale for keeping Alex Jones and Infowar on Twitter is that Jones had not violated the site’s rules. CNN’s Oliver Darcy demolished that rationale with a single Twitter search.

Late Friday, Twitter copped to it, saying Jones had in fact violated its rules at least seven times. Five were posted before Twitter adopted more stringent behavior guidelines, but two of them were posted “recently enough that Twitter could cite them in the future to take additional punitive action against Jones’ accounts,” Darcy reported.

A seven-strikes-and-you’re-still-in approach to dehumanizing speech would seem to encourage more of it. Twitter’s shifting explanations, coupled with theatrical “transparency,” inspire little confidence. The company declines to enforce its rules, then invites journalists in to watch it agonize over the bind it’s gotten itself into. It feels absurd.

Surprisingly, the company later did draw a line against hate speech, though not against the practitioner we expected. Ryan Mac and Blake Montgomery broke the news that Twitter had suspended several accounts associated with the Proud Boys, a right-wing group that attended last year’s Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville, ahead of this year’s gathering.

The group violated Twitter’s policies against “violent extremist groups,” Twitter said. BuzzFeed reported that the Proud Boys have attended several rallies that have turned violent. That included a recent one in Portland. So far, Facebook hasn’t followed suit — despite the fact that the Proud Boys do their primary recruiting there, according to this helpful piece from Taylor Hatmaker.

Meanwhile, the mother of a 6-year-old Sandy Hook shooting victim says Alex Jones and Infowars continue to inspire threats against her. “If there are clear threatening actions and harassment that continues from Jones and Infowars, and then Twitter doesn’t take action, well yeah, people need to understand that there are consequences for actions as well as inactions,” Nicole Hockley, who is suing Jones, told Remy Smidt.

The consequences of inaction often seem to be the thing that Twitter understands the least.


Can Society Scale?

Jonah Engel Bromwich examines the story of a popular Facebook group, known as New Urbanist Memes for Transit Oriented Teens, which fractured into more than 100 splinter organizations (Social Urbanist Memes for Anarchist Communist Teens, Amchad Memes for American Rail Apologist Teens, etc.) amid political rancor. (The title question is not really answered to my satisfaction!)

“When everything was smaller, we all loved it more,” she said. Though she could not define an absolute threshold, she said that once a group gets beyond, 1,000, 2,000 or even 5,000 members, “things start getting chaotic.”

An 11-Year-Old Changed The Results Of Florida’s Presidential Vote At A Hacker Convention. Discuss.

Earlier this month I told you about the children who would attempt to hack our elections for good. Kevin Collier attended the event in Las Vegas this weekend. Gulp:

In a room set aside for kid hackers, an 11-year-old girl hacked a replica of the Florida secretary of state’s website within 10 minutes — and changed the results.

Russian Hackers Targeted Swedish News Sites In 2016, State Department Cable Says

It wasn’t just the United States that Russia went after in 2016. According to a State Department cable, the Swedish attack was part of a Russian campaign to sow disinformation about NATO, Kevin Collier and Jason Leopold report:

Sent Oct. 19, 2016, primarily to US ambassadors in Europe, it detailed US intelligence suspicions about Russian meddling in US the presidential election.

It also warned that Russia was engaged in a widespread campaign to destabilize NATO alliances that included not only a disinformation campaign but the crippling cyberattacks against Swedish news organizations, which knocked several of the country’s largest news organizations offline.

‘It’s our time to serve the Motherland’: How Russia’s war in Georgia sparked Moscow’s modern-day recruitment of criminal hackers

Meduza looks at how Russia’s 2008 war in Georgia led it to recruit hackers who would eventually attack the Democratic National Committee during the 2016 US elections.

Ruslan Stoyanov, the former head of Kaspersky Lab’s investigations department who’s worked extensively with the FSB, has warned openly that Russia is flirting with disaster by cooperating so closely with criminal hackers. “There’s an enormous temptation for the ‘decision makers’ to use Russian cybercrime’s ready-made solutions to influence geopolitics,” Stoyanov wrote in an open letter. He’s been in pretrial detention since January 2017, facing treason charges. “The most terrifying scenario is one where cyber-criminals are granted immunity from retaliation for stealing money in other countries in exchange for [hacked] intelligence. If this happens, a whole class of ‘patriotic thieves’ will emerge, and semi-legal ‘patriot groups’ can invest their stolen capital fаr more openly in the creation of more sophisticated Trojan programs, and Russia will end up with the most advanced cyber-weapons.”

Meduza’s sources say the Russian authorities have been relying on intelligence gathered by these “patriotic groups” for at least a decade.

Vimeo is the latest platform to remove content from InfoWars conspiracy theorist Alex Jones

Jones had turned to Vimeo after getting kicked off YouTube, uploading more than 50 videos on Thursday and Friday.


Online activists hit hatemongers like Alex Jones where it hurts the most — in the wallet

Margaret Sullivan profiles Sleeping Giants, a San Francisco-based Twitter account that tries to shame advertisers into abandoning controversial programming. This playbook is the new normal, Sullivan writes:

it’s not hard to imagine similar techniques being used in ways that hurt media organizations or personalities who have done nothing worse than be provocative, as was the case with Gawker.

In an era where bad faith rules the day in so many realms, the techniques used by Sleeping Giants are both powerful and potentially dangerous.

Facebook’s message to media: “We are not interested in talking to you about your traffic…That is the old world and there is no going back”

A Kinsley gaffe occurs when a politician tells a truth she wasn’t meant to say. Campbell Brown, Facebook’s head of news partnerships, may or may not have done that recently in Australia — she denies saying the exact quotes attributed to her here — but the message was is enough. Facebook really isn’t turning on its traffic firehose again.

Facebook buys Vidpresso’s team and tech to make video interactive

Vidpresso “works with TV broadcasters and content publishers to make their online videos more interactive with on-screen social media polling and comments, graphics, and live broadcasting integrated with Facebook, YouTube, Periscope, and more,” Josh Constine reports.

Back-to-school shopping for kids involves Amazon wishlists and Snapchat filters

Nearly half of 10- to 12-year-olds have their own smartphones, and marketers are finding them at ever-younger ages:

“Snapchat and YouTube have become a way for brands to market right to tweens — in fact, it’s one of the only ways to get to them directly,” said Gregg L. Witt, executive vice president of youth marketing for Motivate, an advertising firm in San Diego. “If you’re trying to target a specific demographic, TV no longer works. You’re going to mobile, digital, social media.”


Twitter Lite in the Google Play Store: now available in 45+ countries

Twitter Lite is now available in the Google Play Store in more than 45 countries around the world. It’s everything you love about Twitter, except it minimizes Nazis. I’m sorry, did I say Nazis? I meant data usage.


Twitter and Facebook Are Platforms, Not Publishers

Jeff Jarvis, whose work is funded in part by Facebook grants, says recent media coverage of social networks reflects an incipient “moral panic” and that a small number of malignant trolls on the platforms simply represent “the messy sound of democracy.” Jarvis has long been useful to the platforms because he is a former journalist (and TV Guide Cheers ‘n’ Jeers columnist) who tends to blame the media first. Anyway, here is a take that takes them off the hook so that the media can take the blame for society’s ills:

Those of us in media must acknowledge our responsibility for the messes we’ve made. Long before the net, media played a key role in polarizing the nation into red versus blue, black versus white, 99 percent versus 1 percent. CNN earned its money in conflict rather than resolution. Fox News has done more damage to American democracy than the internet. It was the media’s primary business model, built on volume and attention, that led to the clickbait that is the ruin of the net. Media and platforms as well as advertisers need to work together to build new business models based on value, on relationships, on accomplishment, on quality, on openness.

And finally …

Kevin Roose had me at “Mark Zuckerberg protest song.” The video is helpfully captioned so you don’t even have to listen to the words or the music.

Talk to me

Send me tips, comments, questions, or dehumanizing speech policies:

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Submit your application to TechCrunch Startup Battlefield Africa 2018

If there’s one thing we learned hosting last year’s Startup Battlefield in Kenya, it’s that the tech startup scene across Africa is both impressive and growing rapidly. More than 300 tech hubs connect and mentor entrepreneurs across the continent — making it an exciting time and place to be a startup.

And we can’t wait to see even more of Sub-Saharan Africa’s best innovators, makers and technical entrepreneurs compete in TechCrunch Startup Battlefield Africa 2018 in Lagos, Nigeria on December 11. If you haven’t applied yet, what the heck are you waiting for? Submit your application right here and launch your early-stage startup to the world.

We’re searching for the best of the best, and our expert TechCrunch editors will review every eligible application and select up to 15 companies to compete — keep reading for important specifics on who may apply. Among other criteria, the editors will look closely at a startup’s potential to produce an exit or IPO.

Those highly experienced editors will also provide team founders with free and extensive pitch coaching. You might be nervous when the time comes to walk onstage to pitch your company, but trust us — you’ll be ready.

Up to five startups will compete in one of three preliminary rounds, where they’ll have six minutes to pitch and present their demo to a panel of judges composed of entrepreneurs, technologists and VCs (recruited by our editors), all experts in their categories. Following each pitch, the judges have six minutes to ask the tough questions. The judges then choose five startups to pitch again — to a different set of judges.

One of those five startups will be named the TechCrunch Startup Battlefield Africa 2018 champion and take home the grand prize: US$25,000 in no-equity cash, plus a trip for two to compete in Startup Battlefield in San Francisco at our flagship event, TechCrunch Disrupt 2019 (assuming the company still qualifies to compete at the time).

All participating teams reap the benefits that come with broad exposure to a live audience filled with media, influential technologists, entrepreneurs and investors — it can be a life-changing experience.

Here’s what you need to know about eligibility. Startups should:

  • Be early-stage companies in “launch” stage
  • Be headquartered in one of our eligible countries*
  • Have a fully working product/beta that’s reasonably close to, or in, production
  • Have received limited press or publicity to date
  • Have no known intellectual property conflicts
  • Apply by September 3, 2018, at 5 p.m. PST

Want even more details? Read our TechCrunch Startup Battlefield Africa 2018 FAQ.

TechCrunch Startup Battlefield Africa 2018 takes place in Lagos, Nigeria on December 11. Don’t miss your opportunity to launch your startup to the world. Apply right here today. We can’t wait to see what you’ve created!

*Residents in the following countries may apply:

Angola, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Cabo Verde, Central Africa Republic, Chad, Comoros, Republic of the Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Cote d’Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Africa, South Sudan, Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Notwithstanding anything to the contrary in the foregoing language, the “Applicable Countries” does not include any country to or on which the United States has embargoed goods or imposed targeted sanctions.

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'Harry Potter' fans are totally blown away by this illustrator's black Hermione fan art

An illustrator’s fan art of Hermione Granger has stunned Harry Potter fans. 

Sophia Canning posted an illustration of Hermione as a woman of colour, which took her about three or four hours to draw. 

Notice how Hermione’s wearing a SPEW badge — that’s Society for the Promotion of Elfish Welfare, for those unfamiliar. 

Illustrators and Harry Potter fans alike were amazed by Canning’s beautiful piece. 

Fellow illustrator Sara Rhys said the piece clearly “took a ton of skill” and didn’t look like it had been drawn quickly. 

One fan wrote that it was the “most beautiful and realistic Hermione” they’d ever seen. 

Another fan said it was “hands down” the best Hermione fan art they’d ever seen. 

Some asked about Canning’s technique. She explained that the whole thing had been drawn in Photoshop. 

“Take a bow,” one fan wrote. 

Some people took issue with the fact that Canning drew Hermione as a woman of colour. She had something to say in response: 

“Shut the fuck up dumbasses,” wrote Canning. 

Let’s all just remind ourselves what J.K. Rowling had to say when it was announced Noma Dumezweni had been cast as Hermione Granger in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.


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Ariana Grande and James Corden gave 'Titanic' a new soundtrack and it was amazing

If there were to be a remake of Titanic and you had to recast the roles of Rose and Jack, who would you choose? 

SEE ALSO: Ariana Grande’s ‘God Is A Woman’ is  the empowering anthem the world needs

After watching this Titanic soundtrack sketch from The Late Late Show your choice may just be Ariana Grande as the new Kate Winslet and James Corden as Leonardo DiCaprio.

The two performed an amazing five minute recap of the 1997 James Cameron classic, with an impressive set list of songs varying from Pitbull ft. Ke$ha’s “Timber” to One Direction’s “Steal My Girl.” 

The ship’s collision with an iceberg is set to “Ice Ice Baby” by Vanilla Ice, and the whole thing ends with an emotional rendition of “My Heart Will Go On.” 

If you’re still emotionally raw from watching Jack meet his death in the ice-cold depths of the Atlantic, you might want to skip over Corden’s blasphemous re-enactment of the scene to N*Sync’s “Bye Bye Bye.”

“There’s no room for me up on that door, baby. Bye bye bye!”

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San Francisco has no idea what to do about 'goofball' e-scooters, email records show

Will the scooters ever return? At this rate, who knows.
Will the scooters ever return? At this rate, who knows.
Image: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

San Francisco has been scooter-less for months. 

Other cities, meanwhile, have slowly been filling with electric scooters. But earlier this year, San Francisco cracked down on three companies — Bird, Lime, and Spin — that had been renting e-scooters to riders without any go-ahead from the city. After an initial period of letting them ride wild, the city decided the scooters had to be regulated, and a permit process implemented. Until that happens, all scooter-shares were banned. 

That was June. It’s now August. The permitting is taking forever. And San Francisco transit officials seem way over their heads.

A public records request of scooter-related emails from the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, or SFMTA, from March through late July, shows that the city’s scooter triage was in full throttle within weeks of the battery-powered vehicles hitting city streets. 

One transit planner emailed over this Jalopnik article (“I Tried San Francisco’s Electric Scooter Share And It Was A Nightmare”), saying, “Having not tried it yet myself, I found this one illuminating, if not unsurprising.” Another transit official made his thoughts clear with a quip about efforts to “further regulate this emerging goofball mode.”

Thousands of pages of emails over the past four months discuss scooter fee structures; different interest groups’ takes on the scooters for pedestrians, cyclists, neighborhood groups, residents with disabilities, those with impaired eyesight and more; and public comment over why scooters are great or terrible (one email in July said, “I loved having access to this alternative and am anxious to see them back”). And then there were pleas from various companies vying for a spot in San Francisco’s elusive permit program, which will eventually allow 2,500 scooters to be rented from five companies.

One scooter company, Getzigo, tried to guilt the city about allowing competitors to operate for a short period. “But, unlike the other companies, we HAVE NOT placed any scooters in the city of San Francisco, nor any other city for that matter, without permission first,” CEO Astor Birri wrote in April.

Officials seem conflicted. A June presentation from a cross-departmental meeting first praises scooters as “convenient alternatives to driving” and then switches to problems, like sidewalk riding and parking issues.

An SFMTA meeting about scooters reviews what's up with the electric vehicles.

An SFMTA meeting about scooters reviews what’s up with the electric vehicles.

Image: SFMTA

Image: SFMTA

Image: sfmta

Research requests keep coming in from other metro areas, like Portland, Oregon; Fort Lauderdale, Florida; Santa Clara County, south of San Francisco; and Minneapolis, where a city parking services manager asked the city for guidance about Bird scooters arriving in July. “I was hoping to use some existing language from you all as a starting point,” he wrote. Transit officials from Los Angeles; Santa Monica, California; and San Francisco had a mind-meld at one point to figure out how to proceed with the vehicles. 

It’s great that cities are talking and checking in on best practices. But San Francisco still doesn’t seem to have a strong grasp on how to handle everything. A working draft on city-wide scooter policies seems to lean too heavily upon bike-share rules. Bikes may be similar, but they use a completely different system for unlocking and riding through an app, aren’t motorized or shaped like scooters, and don’t behave in the same ways scooters do. A scooter simply isn’t used the same way a bicycle is for travel or commuter needs.

A section of a working draft of city guidelines and rules for scooters

A section of a working draft of city guidelines and rules for scooters

Image: sfmta

One email about how police should handle “transgressive scooterboards” admits that the regulations are not in place and “the existing regulatory framework will have to suffice.” Police “aren’t interested in gathering up and storing (scooters)” says the transit official, and the transportation agency “doesn’t have a barn to stash ’em.” In a later email, the same official learns that the city’s Department of Public Works has been impounding scooters found blocking sidewalks or resting against a building and charging the companies $125 a pop. “It looks like the system works after all …” he wrote.

Early emails talk about the San Francisco scooter process wrapping up by the end of June. But by July, city officials were responding to timeline inquiries like this: “My best guess right now is that we announce the companies that will receive permits in late July, and actually issue the permits (including data specification) in mid-August. Scooters would be on the street shortly after that.”

Maybe it’s because applications from 12 different companies came in at hundreds of pages apiece, in some cases. We get it, it’s a lot to sift through. Just figuring out how to deny seven of the companies a permit is a process. An early July email shows a transportation planner emailing the city attorney’s office, asking to have “some sort of quick check-in call to discuss the best way of documenting reasons for permit denial.”

In late June the transit official leading up the scooter permit program wrote in response to a canceled meeting: “=( Don’t you think we should have some scooter check-ins still?” 

SFMTA included photos of scooters in public spaces before the scooters were banned in San Francisco.

SFMTA included photos of scooters in public spaces before the scooters were banned in San Francisco.

Image: SFMTA

On Monday an SFMTA spokesperson didn’t have much to add about scooters. “We are still in the decision-making process,” she wrote in an email.

It’s clear this is a fluid situation. Companies including Lime, Skip, and Jump wanted to amend their applications, and officials had to decide if those new materials could be included in their review. (They weren’t.) When Lime announced its Uber partnership that will let riders rent a scooter through the Uber app, the agency was thrown for another loop, with the director of transportation at SFMTA receiving emails “clarifying” what Uber’s involvement in the company meant. 

When a scooter charging startup reached out, the transit agency didn’t even know if that fell under their jurisdiction. “I just got this inquiry about scooter charging stations. Who is the right person to pass this along to? Is it even an SFMTA thing or would it be PW [Public Works]?” the transit official emailed.

On Monday, Lime kicked off an online and phone campaign for its community-based network of chargers (known as “juicers”) to lobby city officials to allow Lime to operate its scooters. It was holding a midday meeting at Lime’s new SF headquarters to give an “update” on the permit process.

Here’s the pre-made tweet Lime is urging chargers to post:

twitter” data-credit-provider=”custom type” src=”×9600/” data-fragment=”m!33b4″ data-image=”” data-micro=”1″>

A market research Qualtrics study released Tuesday about scooters found that 50 percent of respondents think scooter-sharing saves them money. Two-thirds of people surveyed said that scooters are good for the environment. 

With all the pleading and prodding, you’d think San Francisco would be hustling. But it’s mid-August and there’s still no definitive word on when the scooters will return. Might be time for an LA road trip to get your scooter action. This could take a while.

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