All posts in “jack dorsey”

Twitter’s Jack Dorsey doesn’t use a computer or a tablet, apparently

Give this man a computer!
Give this man a computer!

Image:  Drew Angerer / Gettyimages

You think you really need that shiny new MacBook Pro? Well, if Jack Dorsey can run Twitter and Square — both multi-billion-dollar companies — without a computer, laptop or a tablet, then you probably don’t need one, either. 

So how was this incredible fact discovered? Well, Dorsey’s tweets do typically seem like they’re all posted from a mobile phone. So Quartz reporter Dave Gershgorn straight up asked Dorsey whether he uses a computer or a laptop, to which Dorsey simply replied “no.”

Later in the thread, Dorsey was asked whether he at least uses a tablet, but the answer was, again, negative. 

And a desperate attempt by Microsoft’s Paul Fabretti to get Dorsey to start using a Surface Go was met with a cruel, blank stare by Dorsey (or at least that’s how we imagine him looking at his phone). 

Everyone’s job and routine is different. If I had to type this text on an iPhone I wouldn’t be too happy about it. But it’s still impressive that someone who runs two major tech companies can do it without using a computer — well, according to him, anyway.

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Twitter is launching a voter registration campaign

Who said enlightened democracy was dying in the combative cesspool of social media?

Twitter has launched a voter registration campaign in partnership with TurboVote called #BeAVoter

Beginning Monday, Twitter will show users a prompt encouraging them to register to vote. The prompt will also include a tweet users can share to further encourage their followers to vote. 

TwitterGov, Twitter’s politics arm, is running the campaign. It will promote the hashtag in the run-up to the election as a “Top US Trend.” It will also provide “election reminders and an absentee ballot FAQ.”

TwitterGov released a host of new tools and requirements about political advertising in recent months. All political candidates are now labeled as such, and users will be able to see all ads a candidate is running on their page. Additionally, accounts that try to run issue or candidate ads have to certify that they are based in the US, and disclose who’s paying for the ad.

Those changes are part of Twitter’s efforts to root out foreign political influence on the platform, after the extent of Russia’s election interference came to light. 

With #BeAVoter, Twitter users can register to vote, or encourage others to do the same.

With #BeAVoter, Twitter users can register to vote, or encourage others to do the same.

Image: twitter

This isn’t Twitter’s first voter registration campaign, though it is its most visible. For the 2016 presidential election, Twitter partnered with Rock the Vote, Google, and Pew’s Voting Information Project. Twitter users could DM Twitter’s @Gov account to get registration and voting information. That campaign came before the social media foreign interference shit hit the proverbial fan.

Now, with placement in people’s home feeds, this year’s registration effort is much more prominent and proactive. And using social media as a tool to empower democratic participation certainly manifests the best of what social media companies can do. 

Still, a clicktivist Twitter drive might be more commendable if Jack Dorsey and Twitter (and other social media companies) were willing to actually stand up to the political party that’s perpetrating voter suppression across the country, instead of bending over backwards to appease them. Or, ya know, if they would ban the Nazis already.

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Hate speech, collusion, and the constitution

Half an hour into their two-hour testimony on Wednesday before the Senate Intelligence Committee, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey were asked about collaboration between social media companies. “Our collaboration has greatly increased,” Sandberg stated before turning to Dorsey and adding that Facebook has “always shared information with other companies.” Dorsey nodded in response, and noted for his part that he’s very open to establishing “a regular cadence with our industry peers.”

Social media companies have established extensive policies on what constitutes “hate speech” on their platforms. But discrepancies between these policies open the possibility for propagators of hate to game the platforms and still get their vitriol out to a large audience. Collaboration of the kind Sandberg and Dorsey discussed can lead to a more consistent approach to hate speech that will prevent the gaming of platforms’ policies.

But collaboration between competitors as dominant as Facebook and Twitter are in social media poses an important question: would antitrust or other laws make their coordination illegal?

The short answer is no. Facebook and Twitter are private companies that get to decide what user content stays and what gets deleted off of their platforms. When users sign up for these free services, they agree to abide by their terms. Neither company is under a First Amendment obligation to keep speech up. Nor can it be said that collaboration on platform safety policies amounts to collusion.

This could change based on an investigation into speech policing on social media platforms being considered by the Justice Department. But it’s extremely unlikely that Congress would end up regulating what platforms delete or keep online – not least because it may violate the First Amendment rights of the platforms themselves.

What is hate speech anyway?

Trying to find a universal definition for hate speech would be a fool’s errand, but in the context of private companies hosting user generated content, hate speech for social platforms is what they say is hate speech.

Facebook’s 26-page Community Standards include a whole section on how Facebook defines hate speech. For Facebook, hate speech is “anything that directly attacks people based on . . . their ‘protected characteristics’ — race, ethnicity, national origin, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, sex, gender, gender identity, or serious disability or disease.” While that might be vague, Facebook then goes on to give specific examples of what would and wouldn’t amount to hate speech, all while making clear that there are cases – depending on the context – where speech will still be tolerated if, for example, it’s intended to raise awareness.

Twitter uses a “hateful conduct” prohibition which they define as promoting “violence against or directly attacking or threatening other people on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, religious affiliation, age, disability, or serious disease.” They also prohibit hateful imagery and display names, meaning it’s not just what you tweet but what you also display on your profile page that can count against you.

Both companies constantly reiterate and supplement their definitions, as new test cases arise and as words take on new meaning. For example, the two common slang words to describe Ukrainians by Russians and Russians by Ukrainians was determined to be hate speech after war erupted in Eastern Ukraine in 2014. An internal review by Facebook found that what used to be common slang had turned into derogatory, hateful language.

Would collaboration on hate speech amount to anticompetitive collusion?

Under U.S. antitrust laws, companies cannot collude to make anticompetitive agreements or try to monopolize a market. A company which becomes a monopoly by having a superior product in the marketplace doesn’t violate antitrust laws. What does violate the law is dominant companies making an agreement – usually in secret – to deceive or mislead competitors or consumers. Examples include price fixing, restricting new market entrants, or misrepresenting the independence of the relationship between competitors.

A Pew survey found that 68% of Americans use Facebook. According to Facebook’s own records, the platform had a whopping 1.47 billion daily active users on average for the month of June and 2.23 billion monthly active users as of the end of June – with over 200 million in the US alone. While Twitter doesn’t disclose its number of daily users, it does publish the number of monthly active users which stood at 330 million at last count, 69 million of which are in the U.S.

There can be no question that Facebook and Twitter are overwhelmingly dominant in the social media market. That kind of dominance has led to calls for breaking up these giants under antitrust laws.

Would those calls hold more credence if the two social giants began coordinating their policies on hate speech?

The answer is probably not, but it does depend on exactly how they coordinated. Social media companies like Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat have grown large internal product policy teams that decide the rules for using their platforms, including on hate speech. If these teams were to get together behind closed doors and coordinate policies and enforcement in a way that would preclude smaller competitors from being able to enter the market, then antitrust regulators may get involved.

Antitrust would also come into play if, for example, Facebook and Twitter got together and decided to charge twice as much for advertising that includes hate speech (an obviously absurd scenario) – in other words, using their market power to affect pricing of certain types of speech that advertisers use.

In fact, coordination around hate speech may reduce anti-competitive concerns. Given the high user engagement around hate speech, banning it could lead to reduced profits for the two companies and provide an opening to upstart competitors.

Sandberg and Dorsey’s testimony Wednesday didn’t point to executives hell-bent on keeping competition out through collaboration. Rather, their potential collaboration is probably better seen as an industry deciding on “best practices,” a common occurrence in other industries including those with dominant market players.

What about the First Amendment?

Private companies are not subject to the First Amendment. The Constitution applies to the government, not to corporations. A private company, no matter its size, can ignore your right to free speech.

That’s why Facebook and Twitter already can and do delete posts that contravene their policies. Calling for the extermination of all immigrants, referring to Africans as coming from shithole countries, and even anti-gay protests at military funerals may be protected in public spaces, but social media companies get to decide whether they’ll allow any of that on their platforms. As Harvard Law School’s Noah Feldman has stated, “There’s no right to free speech on Twitter. The only rule is that Twitter Inc. gets to decide who speaks and listens–which is its right under the First Amendment.”

Instead, when it comes to social media and the First Amendment, courts have been more focused on not allowing the government to keep citizens off of social media. Just last year, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a North Carolina law that made it a crime for a registered sex offender to access social media if children use that platform. During the hearing, judges asked the government probing questions about the rights of citizens to free speech on social media from Facebook, to Snapchat, to Twitter and even LinkedIn.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg made clear during the hearing that restricting access to social media would mean “being cut off from a very large part of the marketplace of ideas [a]nd [that] the First Amendment includes not only the right to speak, but the right to receive information.”

The Court ended up deciding that the law violated the fundamental First Amendment principle that “all persons have access to places where they can speak and listen,” noting that social media has become one of the most important forums for expression of our day.

Lower courts have also ruled that public officials who block users off their profiles are violating the First Amendment rights of those users. Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald, of the Southern District of New York, decided in May that Trump’s Twitter feed is a public forum. As a result, she ruled that when Trump blocks citizens from viewing and replying to his posts, he violates their First Amendment rights.

The First Amendment doesn’t mean Facebook and Twitter are under any obligation to keep up whatever you post, but it does mean that the government can’t just ban you from accessing your Facebook or Twitter accounts – and probably can’t block you off of their own public accounts either.

Collaboration is Coming?

Sandberg made clear in her testimony on Wednesday that collaboration is already happening when it comes to keeping bad actors off of platforms. “We [already] get tips from each other. The faster we collaborate, the faster we share these tips with each other, the stronger our collective defenses will be.”

Dorsey for his part stressed that keeping bad actors off of social media “is not something we want to compete on.” Twitter is here “to contribute to a healthy public square, not compete to have the only one, we know that’s the only way our business thrives and helps us all defend against these new threats.”

He even went further. When it comes to the drafting of their policies, beyond collaborating with Facebook, he said he would be open to a public consultation. “We have real openness to this. . . . We have an opportunity to create more transparency with an eye to more accountability but also a more open way of working – a way of working for instance that allows for a review period by the public about how we think about our policies.”

I’ve already argued why tech firms should collaborate on hate speech policies, the question that remains is if that would be legal. The First Amendment does not apply to social media companies. Antitrust laws don’t seem to stand in their way either. And based on how Senator Burr, Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, chose to close the hearing, government seems supportive of social media companies collaborating. Addressing Sandberg and Dorsey, he said, “I would ask both of you. If there are any rules, such as any antitrust, FTC, regulations or guidelines that are obstacles to collaboration between you, I hope you’ll submit for the record where those obstacles are so we can look at the appropriate steps we can take as a committee to open those avenues up.”

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey’s hearing on conservative shadowbanning was a mess

It was round two of a doubleheader for Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey on Capitol Hill this afternoon.

After providing testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee alongside Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg earlier in the day, Dorsey steeled himself for another hearing — one just for him and Twitter in front of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

The second hearing was a little different than the first — whereas the Senate Intelligence Committee dealt with the very serious issue of foreign interference in U.S. elections and the proliferation of fake news and misinformation on social media, the House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing was called to discuss the inaccurate reports that Twitter has an anti-conservative bias and shadowbans Republicans.

Dorsey livetweeted his opening statements, much like he did for the morning’s hearing:

Dorsey makes good points in his prepared statements, especially when compared to other social media platforms: “Our early and strong defense of open and free exchange has enabled Twitter to be THE platform for activists, marginalized communities, whistleblowers, journalists, governments and the most influential people around the world,” he said. 

While agreeing with that statement, Republican Representative and chairman of the committee Greg Walden wasted no time in addressing the shadowbanning controversy. 

Taking the issue head on, Dorsey explained that the totality of the issue was due to a glitch that kept certain accounts from appearing in auto-complete search results. No content was affected. Dorsey specified that a total of 600,000 accounts were impacted and pointed out that users of those accounts included more than just Republicans.

Unfortunately, that didn’t resolve the issue for most Republican members of the committee, who  repeatedly asked Dorsey if Twitter shadowbans conservatives despite his earlier explanation that it was a glitch.

About one hour in, right-wing conspiracy theorist Laura Loomer stood up in the crowd to interrupt the questioning but was herself interrupted by Republican Rep. Billy Long who used his experience as a former auctioneer to drown out her protests.

In an effort to find productivity out of the hearing, a number of Democrats on the committee, such as Diana DeGette of Colorado and Michael Doyle of Pennsylvania, tried to steer the conversation to more substantive issues.

Rep. DeGette brought up misogynistic abuse of women on Twitter and how the responsibility is on them to report malicious users.

“We don’t feel it’s fair that the victims of harassment have to do the work to report it,” Dorsey agreed. He mentioned Twitter’s efforts to reduce this sort of behavior on the platform and attempts at mitigation before it escalates.

Dorsey also answered questions about Twitter’s verification process, claiming that it’s being rebooted; he also explained that Twitter challenges millions of possible bot accounts each week to prove that they’re human.

In a particularly interesting inquiry, Democratic Rep. Doris Matsui of California asked Dorsey about Twitter’s interest in the blockchain, to which Dorsey responded that the company hasn’t invested a lot of energy there yet, but admitted they’re analyzing its potential implications.

No matter what possible substantive bits can be pulled out of this four-hour-long hearing, the very reason it occurred — as we were reminded of repeatedly by Republicans — was the unsubstantiated and false reports that Twitter had an anti-conservative bias and was specifically shawdowbanning right-wing voices and content.

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Facebook’s Sandberg and Twitter’s Dorsey defend their companies at Senate Intelligence hearing

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey appeared before the Senate Intelligence Committee this morning to defend each of their companies in what is now the fourth hearing on social media that pertains to Russian interference in U.S. elections, propaganda, and fake accounts.

This hearing marked the first time both Sandberg and Dorsey testified before Congress, and each of them had their own unique style when it came to answering the committee’s questions. Sandberg looked toward the future of Facebook, focusing on how the company is proactively dealing with the issues of foreign influence and the spread of misinformation on its platform. Sandberg also addressed Facebook’s missteps but stressed, “we are more determined than our opponents and we will keep fighting.”

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, who in his opening statement admitted to breaking out of his usually shy persona to speak on these important issues, on the other hand, was very apologetic for Twitter’s role in U.S. election meddling and fake news. “We found ourselves unprepared and ill-equipped for the immensity of the problems we’ve acknowledged. Abuse, harassment, troll armies, propaganda through bots and human coordination, disinformation campaigns and divisive filter bubbles. That’s not a healthy public square,” said Dorsey.

Sandberg and Dorsey both faced questions concerning how their respective companies were combating Russian interference and disinformation campaigns. In discussing how the problem is spreading beyond just Russia, the recent news of Iranian foreign agents running inauthentic accounts on platforms like Facebook came up. Sandberg was also faced with the issue detailed by the U.N. regarding Facebook’s role in the spread of hate speech and fake news which fueled violence and genocide against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar

An interesting point was made by Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) regarding how even when companies like Facebook and Twitter take action and suspend malicious accounts, users who followed the accounts or consumed its content are met with a generic page simply stating an account was suspended. A user has no idea if they were duped by a foreign agent or a bot or a legitimate user who broke the platform’s rules.

“Are you willing to archive suspended accounts?” asked Senator Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), citing the importance of this data being used by third parties to analyze the spread of information and how misinformation spreads. “We are looking at things like a transparency report…around suspensions of any account,” said Twitter CEO Dorsey, noting the company would need to look into the legal implications of archiving actual specific accounts and making those accessible. 

Sandberg and Dorsey were also taken to task over the lack of user notification from Facebook and Twitter when someone is being targeted by foreign disinformation campaigns. Sandberg did point out that “if you’re an authentic account who RSVP’d to an inauthentic account,” that’s a case in which Facebook would already let you know.

“Our focus is inauthenticity,” replied Sandberg when asked if Facebook differentiates between foreign or domestic influence. When asked to approximate just how many Facebook accounts are ‘inauthentic,’ Sandberg replied between 3 and 4 percent. At Facebook’s reported 2.23 billion active users, that would mean somewhere between 66,900,000 and 89,200,000 are inauthentic.

When it came to actual accounts spreading conspiracy theories, Sandberg and Dorsey both admitted things get a little bit more dicey as outright suspension or banning isn’t an option, because each company’s terms aren’t technically being broken in those cases.

“What if a real person, a U.S. citizen, says that victims of a mass shooting were actually actors…would that violate your standards?” asked Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), referencing a specific bad actor, Alex Jones, who was actually in attendance at the hearing but outside the room at the time. “If your answer is no, how should we deal with those very real challenges?”

“I find claims like that personally unbelievably upsetting,” replied Sandberg, before explaining how Facebook deals with this issue with third party fact checkers and decreasing the reach of fake news. “Bad speech can be countered by good speech.”

Senator Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) would also later ask about specific actors on Facebook and Twitter, Wikileaks and Julian Assange, asking why they were still provided a platform on both social media platforms. The response from Sandberg and Dorsey was that neither are breaking their respective companies’ terms of service.

“To the invisible witness, good morning to you,” Senator Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) said to the empty Google chair. Google’s absence from this event was noted by nearly every member of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Google had been invited to attend and offered up its Senior Vice President for Global Affairs and Chief Legal Officer Kent Walker as its witness, but was rejected by the committee panel. Senator Mark Warner (D-Va.) had publicly invited Google founder and CEO of its parent company Alphabet to attend.

In the end, Google’s representative, appearing next to Sandberg and Dorsey, was an empty chair.

“There’s an empty chair next to you from Google, they’re not here today. Maybe it’s because they’re arrogant,” said Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) blasting the search engine. Rubio then referenced a recent report showing how the group Campaign for Accountability was able to pose as the Russian troll farm Internet Research Agency and set up political advertising on Google’s ad network.

The issue of China and how it handles user data when it comes to the tech companies that operate there came up, to which Sandberg and Dorsey replied that neither would hand over such information. China would have certainly been an even more interesting topic had a Google representative been there following the leaked reports that showed the search company was looking to re-enter the Chinese market with a government censorship-friendly search engine app.

Senator Cotton (Ark.) later applauded Facebook and Twitter for being blocked in China. “You should wear it as a badge of honor” said Cotton before criticizing Google for those leaked reports. Cotton’s beef with Google also extended to the company having ended its controversial U.S. military partnership known as Project Maven, which used artificial intelligence to improve drone accuracy.

Both Sandberg and Dorsey focused on steps made by humans — not an algorithm or AI — to combat with the current issues we face with foreign interference and misinformation. Actually, it was a few members of the Senate Intelligence Committee who kept bringing up AI when, interestingly, they kept referencing deep fakes. Deep fakes are basically video and imagery manipulated by artificial intelligence. 

While not currently being abused at scale when it comes to disinformation campaigns, the mentions of this technology — one that even the U.S. Defense Department is already preparing to combat — made it clear that politicians are looking towards the problems headed our way in the near future. The hope is this time companies like Facebook and Twitter will be ready to take on the threat.

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