All posts in “trump”

Twitter changes reason for not removing anti-Muslim videos retweeted by Trump


Twitter is standing by its earlier decision to keep up a series of graphic anti-Muslim videos retweeted by President Trump earlier this week — though it’s attempting to reframe its reason for doing so.

CEO Jack Dorsey took to the site to retract an earlier statement that Twitter support had left the videos live due to their being “newsworthy for public interest,” a guideline it’s invoked numerous times when criticized about its decision to leave up presidential tweets. The site now says that, while it wasn’t wrong to keep the content up, its original justification for doing so was wrong. 

“We mistakenly pointed to the wrong reason we didn’t take action on the videos from earlier this week,” the executive explained, echoing Twitter’s official statement that, “these videos are permitted on Twitter based on our current media policy.”

Dorsey added, however that the site is, “still looking critically at all of our current policies, and appreciate all the feedback.” He pointed to recently announced plans to update site guidelines, as Twitter has come under increasing scrutiny over what it does and doesn’t pull from the site. Early last month, it posted a new version of its rules, highlighting thing like abusive behavior, adult content and graphic violence — all said, however, it’s tough to see how the Trump RTed videos aren’t covered by that last point.

On Wednesday, the President retweeted a trio of videos by far-right British politician Jayda Fraser that purported to show Muslims performing violent acts. Conservative British Prime Minister Theresa May took Trump to task, calling him “wrong” for promoting “hateful narratives.”

White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders stood by the President once again, even as the veracity of the videos were called into question by many mainstream press outlets. “Whether it is a real video,” she told the press, “the threat is real.”

Among other things, Twitter’s new stance on the subject appears to be a response to reports proving at least one of the videos was not what it claimed to be. The company’s original explanation was met with a fair amount of pushback on social media, and this time out, things don’t appear to be going much better for the site. 

It’s yet another in a long list of missteps that have made 2017 an on-going PR disaster for Twitter. Just this week, the site apologized for accidentally pulling a New York Times account over a tweet promoting a story about Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that it accidentally flagged as offensive.

Recent months have also found the service in hot water for temporarily blocking actress Rose McGowan over a tweet about Harvey Weinstein and verifying white nationalist Jason Kessler.

Featured Image: Cheriss May/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Meet the man who deactivated Trump’s Twitter account

A

s Twitter tries to figure out how to lock down the parts of its platform that enable harassment, as well as the spread of misleading information and illicit content, there have been a number of moments that highlight how the service, and its levers of control, are far from perfect.

One such moment took place earlier this month, when the very active, very watched Twitter account of President Donald Trump was abruptly deactivated for 11 minutes. The man responsible for those 11 minutes moved back home to Germany, and he agreed to speak to TechCrunch about what happened that day.

U.S. President Donald Trump long ago realized that you can use Twitter as an effective mouthpiece without all the pain and price of dealing with the media. Trump’s Twitter account (36.5K tweets and counting) has become one of the most popular ones out there today, with 43.5 million followers and growing by several hundred thousand a week. It’s also one of the most notorious, because of his flippant jokes, insults, rants and controversial retweets.

So for those who haven’t been happy with Trump — and judging by the popular vote results from the 2016 election, that accounted for a majority of voters in the U.S. — those deactivated 11 minutes became a burst of unexpected joy.

Twitter, in its turn for more transparency, quickly announced that the account’s shutdown was accidental. Moments later, it followed up with more information: a contractor, on his last day of work, was responsible.

The story could have ended there, but it didn’t.

Reporters started immediately trying to find the now-former Twitter contractor to try to figure out what happened. If it was an accident, how could it happen? If it was intentional, why did it happen?

We were among those looking for the contractor, and through a string of events found out his name, Bahtiyar Duysak, and got him to agree to talk to us in a town in Germany.

Duysak, a twenty-something with Turkish roots who was born and raised in Germany, was working as a contractor for a fixed term for the last part of his stay in the U.S. under a work and study visa. In addition to his role at Twitter with Pro Unlimited, other assignments had included stints in monetization at Google and YouTube via another contractor, Vaco.

Many have wondered on Twitter why Trump’s account has never been shut down for violating Twitter’s terms (among the reasons people have given is that he has threatened North Korea with nuclear violence) while others have been calling for people to report him using Twitter’s reporting tools for offensive tweets.

At Twitter, Duysak had been assigned to customer support as part of the Trust and Safety division. This team receives alerts when users report bad behavior, including offensive or illegal tweets, harassment, someone impersonating another person and so on. The team performs triage on complaints to determine what further steps, if any, should be taken.

D

uysak, medium in stature and wearing a black and gray cardigan with a pattern of the American flag across it (not something he planned, laughing a little in surprise when he made the connection between it and the story), is a personable guy. He’s quick to smile; he’s close to his family and has a big network of friends; and he speaks with a certain kind of indeterminate European accent — the kind you often hear from people who have traveled, lived and studied across different countries. He’s more Euro than bro.

His last day at Twitter was mostly uneventful, he says. There were many goodbyes, and he worked up until the last hour before his computer access was to be shut off. Near the end of his shift, the fateful alert came in.

This is where Trump’s behavior intersects with Duysak’s work life. Someone reported Trump’s account on Duysak’s last day; as a final, throwaway gesture, he put the wheels in motion to deactivate it. Then he closed his computer and left the building.

Several hours later, the panic began. Duysak tells us that it started when he was approached by a woman whom he didn’t know very well. According to Duysak, the woman said that she had been contacted by someone asking about Duysak in connection with Trump’s Twitter account. After a moment of disbelief, he said he then looked at the news and realized what had happened.

Duysak describes the event as a “mistake.” Specifically, he told us, he never thought the account would actually get deactivated.

In fact, it appeared that Trump’s account was essentially protected from being deactivated over Terms of Service violations. In June, Twitter explained why: Some tweets that seemingly violate its terms of service are nevertheless “newsworthy” and therefore in the public interest to keep up.

One takeaway from Twitter’s exemption for newsworthy tweets is that news and information trump judgment calls on the relative toxicity of the content, which is probably apt in our age of toxicity dressed up as “news.”

Trump’s election has signaled a high water mark for how people with opposing views on politics and other flashpoint subjects interact. Perhaps more than ever, people spin stories in ways that fit their own agendas.

Although Duysak was hailed as a hero by some, he says he hasn’t felt like one at all.

He’s been pursued by the media, which have been aggressive in contacting family and friends. The woman who first alerted him is a typical example (we asked, and he would not provide her details to us, probably to protect her). Duysak said she had liked some of his posts, and someone — already with a lead on Duysak — had spotted this and tracked her down.

But he is not concerned about what happens next if there is further investigation of the incident. He hasn’t broken any laws.

“I didn’t hack anyone. I didn’t do anything that I was not authorized to do,” he told us when we met in Germany. “I didn’t go to any site I was not supposed to go to. I didn’t break any rules.”

For now, it appears that the media has actually been more aggressive than the authorities. We asked and have confirmed with Duysak’s legal representative that the FBI is not investigating him at the moment, although Twitter has apparently attempted to get more information from him. Duysak has chosen not to reply.

At Twitter — which declined to provide any details to confirm Duysak’s identity to us — the event has hastened efforts to change things at the company.

The day after the deactivation, Twitter said it was conducting a full internal review and implementing safeguards to prevent incidents like this in the future.

CEO Jack Dorsey also acknowledged in an interview shortly after the incident that there have been weaknesses and gaps, which it is also trying to address. He said that the clause about newsworthiness, which was not publicly known until Twitter made it so, was one of those gaps.

“We have implemented safeguards to prevent this from happening again,” Twitter tweeted from its Twitter Government account. “We won’t be able to share all details about our internal investigation or updates to our security measures, but we take this seriously and our teams are on it.”

There are some details that potentially complicate things, partly because of how charged the political climate has become in the U.S. Duysak is of Turkish origin, not from the U.S. While these facts have nothing to do with Trump’s account on Twitter getting deactivated, in the wrong hands they could be spun negatively, given Trump’s previous negative statements on immigration and people from predominantly Muslim countries.

Apart from inflaming those who don’t agree with him, and emboldening those who do, Trump has spelled out some specific opinions on how the U.S. sits in relation to the rest of the world. He wants to build a wall to keep out immigrants. He has targeted Muslims specifically as a group, a blanket policy he believes would help keep out extremists and terrorists. He has also proposed and signed orders to fill out those ambitions.

[embedded content]

D

uysak, in one physical sense, is out of the picture where the U.S. is concerned: our interview took place in Germany, Duysak’s home country, where he returned at the end of his visa period.

He could have just laid low, but he hasn’t. So then why come forward? To try to clear the air, he said, get a new job and not worry about how the story would come out, if it did, without his involvement.

“I want to continue an ordinary life. I don’t want to flee from the media,” he said. “I want to speak to my neighbors and friends. I had to delete hundreds of friends, so many pictures, because reporters are stalking me. I just want to continue an ordinary life.”

He said the pursuit has been relentless: journalists have contacted the university where he studied, his places of employment, his friends and his family. His family has shut down various social accounts to avoid the contact.

He agreed to talk to us because he had a connection to a Muslim-focused community center (which has also had some persistent contact from reporters) in the Bay Area where a relative of Tito’s volunteers. That contributed to his trusting us.

“I didn’t do any crime or anything evil, but I feel like Pablo Escobar,” he said, “and slowly it’s getting really annoying.”

These days, Duysak said he isn’t likely to take another tech job anytime soon. More likely, he’ll be looking into finance or other related field. “But I love Twitter,” he said, “and I love America.”

Featured Image: Bryce Durbin/TechCrunch

Twitter details how it reviews and enforces rules around hate speech, violence and harassment


Twitter has been under fire lately (slash always) for its methods to deal with harassment and abuse on its platform. In an effort to provide some insight into its thinking, Twitter has added some new articles to its help center that detail how the company reviews and enforces rules, as well as the factors it considers in its decision-making process.

In a subtopic on “legitimate public interest,” for example, Twitter says it wants to ensure people can see all sides of an issue. With that in mind, “there may be the rare occasion when we allow controversial content or behavior which may otherwise violate our Rules to remain on our service because we believe there is a legitimate public interest in its availability.”

In determining if a piece of content could be of legitimate interest to the public, Twitter says it looks at the source of the content, its potential impact on the public and the availability of counterpoints.

“If the Tweet does have the potential to impact the lives of large numbers of people, the running of a country (emphasis TC’s), and/or it speaks to an important societal issue then we may allow the the content to remain on the service,” Twitter explains.

Twitter does not explicitly mention President Donald Trump, but my bet is that this is how Trump is able to do essentially whatever he wants to do on Twitter. The help article goes on to describe that the content of some people, groups and organizations “may be considered a topic of legitimate public interest by virtue of their being in the public consciousness.”

The explanation on what counts as legitimate public interest lives inside Twitter’s new help section article, “Our approach to policy development and enforcement philosophy.” In that article, Twitter lays out its policy development process, enforcement philosophy and its range of enforcement options.

When determining whether to take action, for example, Twitter says context matters and that it looks at factors like if the behavior is directed at a person, group or protected category of people, whether the content is a topic of “legitimate public interest” and if the person has a history of violating Twitter’s policies.

Twitter says it starts by assuming that people don’t intend to violate its rules, noting that “Unless a violation is so egregious that we must immediately suspend an account, we first try to educate people about our Rules and give them a chance to correct their behavior.”

Twitter defines these “egregious” violations as posting violent threats, consensual intimate media and content that sexually exploits children. Those egregious behaviors result in immediate, permanent account suspension.

There are a range of actions Twitter can take once it has determined a piece of content is in violation of its rules. It can limit tweet visibility, require someone to delete the tweet before they can tweet again and hide a tweet until the violator officially deletes it.

At the DM level, Twitter can require the violator to delete the message or block the violator on behalf of the reporter. At the account level, Twitter can put an account in read-only mode, which limits the person’s ability to tweet, retweet or like content “until calmer heads prevail.”

All of the above and more is now featured in Twitter’s help center. The information itself is not new, but it does provide more detail than Twitter has in the past. This information comes after Twitter posted a new version of its rules earlier this month that featured updated sections pertaining to abuse, spam, violence, self-harm and other topics.

Hilariously weird game about a trash hole is basically just Twitter

Let’s all just come out and admit it: We’re garbage people.

Not in the evil sense, of course. But those of us who take part in the virtual, vacuous hole known as the internet can all agree we’re part of the garbage dump. 

It’s hard to not become garbage, in some capacity, when you contribute to this all-consuming vortex of content, opinions, pointless arguments, anger, etc.

That’s basically the concept behind Donut County, a hilarious upcoming physics puzzle game by Ben Esposito that delights in the eccentric. Deceptively simple, Donut County is all about the pleasures of destruction — while simultaneously tackling serious subjects like online divisiveness and gentrification.

Playing as a garbage-loving raccoon named BK, you live in a city heavily inspired by Los Angeles. BK finds himself working as an intern at a startup that’s made a piece of technology that sucks people’s trash down an indestructible hole.

But both BK and this new technology are causing rapid changes in the neighborhood. As a raccoon, “BK doesn’t see anything as important. He sees it all as garbage. The whole world is his garbage,” Esposito said in an interview recently. 

He won’t stop until he’s swallowed the whole town. Whether it’s old ladies, snakes, pots, fences, scooters… everything goes down the hole and gets trapped in BK’s underground stock pile of garbage of spoils called the “trashipedia.”

[embedded content]

“So you’re being an asshole, but it’s fun!” said Esposito. “And every other character in town knows you’re an asshole, and is trying to convince you after every level that what you’re doing is wrong.”

But a raccoon is gonna raccoon, right?

Like the internet, Donut County is all about clashes of perspectives. 

Like the internet, Donut County is all about clashes of perspectives. Because, “when you’re on the internet, you’re forced to deal with a lot of people whose point of view you can’t possibly justify,” even when, “one person is usually very clearly in the wrong.” 

Similarly, you can’t possibly justify your own actions as BK. But the townspeople need to try to “help him unlearn his garbage perspective” anyway. After every level and puzzle, you’re forced to reckon with the consequences of your actions as the people in your underground bunker try to get you to see reason.

And, man, if that isn’t Twitter in 2017 in a nutshell, I don’t know what is.

A connoisseur of internet oddities, Esposito’s first forays into creative writing began online through the wonderful world of weird Twitter. Donut County is an extension of the poetic, absurdist humor he mastered there, where entire worlds of meaning are created through strange setups. And, of course, 140 characters or less.

“[Weird Twitter] can blow your mind because it creates an entire story with a single sentence. And you have to consider the very specific perspective and situation it’s creating, while only seeing a tiny bit of it.”

Donut County does exactly that. It takes large subjects — from our lives online to real world gentrification — and distills it all through the point of view of an asshole raccoon.

The internet in a nutshell

The internet in a nutshell

Image: ben esposito, anapurna interactive

Ultimately, while Esposito often describes Donut County as “the game where you play as the hole in the ground,” it’s not really about that. “It’s about the stuff that gets sucked into the hole. It’s about this place, and the people forced to live together and deal with each other.”

Funnily enough, despite being a bizarre tale about a raccoon and a hole, Donut County is more relevant today than ever before. Because nowadays, we’re seeing how online worlds and perspectives lead to actual political upheaval.

And, as Esposito demonstrates through Donut County, “It takes an entire community of people, and all their time and effort to convince this one guy that he was being an asshole.”

Https%3a%2f%2fvdist.aws.mashable.com%2fcms%2f2017%2f10%2f3b0dc9e0 2c50 48da%2fthumb%2f00001

Twitter says it has ‘implemented safeguards’ to prevent Trump account deactivation


President Trump’s Twitter account was deactivated on Thursday for 11 minutes at the hands of a rogue employee on their last day at the company. While many cheered the attempt at halting the controversial tweets, others expressed concern at the lack of control Twitter had over its own service.

In a tweet on Friday, Twitter said it has “implemented safeguards to prevent this from happening again.”

The New York Times reported that this person wasn’t a full-time employee, but a contractor, which caused many people to wonder how one part-time worker could wield so much power over the account of one of the world’s leaders.

We reached out to Twitter and a spokesperson said, “we won’t have any further comment on this issue.”

While they need to give workers the flexibility to suspend the accounts of bots, shouldn’t at least a second person be required to sign off on the deactivation of a public figure?

Twitter has faced a lot of criticism in attempting to police its service. The platform is rife with bullying and verbal abuse and the social media company has had a difficult time walking the fine line between what it labels as “free speech” and making its business an inviting experience for everyone.

Trump’s Twitter account has been under scrutiny, not only because he’s the U.S. president, but because he uses it frequently. He’s tweeted more than 36,000 times.

Some have wondered whether his threatening tweets to North Korea were at odds with Twitter’s terms and conditions.

Featured Image: Mark Wilson/Getty Images