All posts in “Tweets”

Twitter attempts to explain why it won’t ban Trump

Trump's tweets seem to be protected.
Trump’s tweets seem to be protected.

Image: ambar del moral/mashable

The chances of Twitter banning President Trump over his “nuclear button” tweet just plummeted to slim-to-none.

Twitter put out a statement Friday addressing the micro-blogging network’s stance on political figures tweeting: Basically, Twitter said it won’t block someone like Trump or remove their controversial tweets. The response comes a few days after Trump kicked off the new year with a barrage of incendiary tweets, including one with a North Korea-aimed threat about his massive “nuclear button.” 

Twitter says blocking a world leader “would hide important information people should be able to see and debate. It would also not silence that leader, but it would certainly hamper necessary discussion around their words and actions.”

The post went on to explain that tweets from world leaders are reviewed by the company, keeping context in mind. 

This sounds similar to the reasoning Twitter gave after Trump retweeted anti-Muslim propaganda last month. That incident also spurred calls to remove Trump from Twitter for violating company policy by using hate speech and promoting violence. Trump’s account didn’t disappear.

In what seems like a veiled comment about Trump and his wildly popular Twitter account, the company assured users Friday that it works to “remain unbiased with the public interest in mind” and that “no one person’s account drives Twitter’s growth, or influences these decisions.”

Protests at Twitter headquarters earlier this week strongly urged Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey to remove Trump from the social platform.

Now we know that’s not going to happen any time soon.

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Library of Congress will no longer archive all public tweets, citing longer character limits


The Library of Congress announced today that it will no longer add every public tweet to its archives, an ambitious project it launched seven years ago. It cited the much larger volume of tweets generated now, as well as Twitter’s decision to double the character limit from 140 to 280. Instead, starting on Jan. 1, the Library will be more selective about what tweets to preserve, a decision it explained in a white paper.

“Generally, the tweets collected and archived will be thematic and event-based, including events such as elections, and themes of ongoing national interest, e.g. public policy,” the Library wrote. (In other words, all of President Donald Trump’s tweets will most likely be preserved, but probably not your breakfast pics).

In 2010, the Library began saving all public tweets “for the same reason it collects other materials—to acquire and preserve a record of knowledge and creativity for Congress and the American people,” its announcement said. This included the backlog of all public tweets since Twitter launched in 2006, which the company donated.

The volume and longer length of tweets now means collecting every single public one is no longer practical. Furthermore, the Library only archives text and the fact that many tweets now contain images, videos or links means a text-only collection is no longer as valuable.

“The Library generally does not collect comprehensively,” it explained. “Given the unknown direction of social media when the gift was first planned, the Library made an exception for public tweets. With social media now established, the Library is bringing its collecting practice more in line with its collection policies.”

Other projects the Library has embarked on in order to ensure that the experiences and memories of ordinary people are part of the historical record include the American Folklife Center, which runs the Veterans History Project and collects dialect recordings, among other initiatives.

Featured Image: Bryce Durbin/TechCrunch

Study: Russian Twitter bots sent 45k Brexit tweets close to vote


To what extent — and how successfully — did Russian backed agents use social media to influence the UK’s Brexit vote? Yesterday Facebook admitted it had linked some Russian accounts to Brexit-related ad buys and/or the spread of political misinformation on its platform, though it hasn’t yet disclosed how many accounts were involved or how many rubles were spent.

Today the The Times reported on research conducted by a group of data scientists in the US and UK looking at how information was diffused on Twitter around the June 2016 EU referendum vote, and around the 2016 US presidential election.

The Times reports that the study tracked 156,252 Russian accounts which mentioned #Brexit, and also found Russian accounts posted almost 45,000 messages pertaining to the EU referendum in the 48 hours around the vote.

Although Tho Pham, one of the report authors, confirmed to us in an email that the majority of those Brexit tweets were posted on June 24, 2016, the day after the vote — when around 39,000 Brexit tweets were posted by Russian accounts, according to the analysis.

But in the run up to the referendum vote they also generally found that human Twitter users were more likely to spread pro-leave Russian bot content via retweets (vs pro-remain content) — amplifying its potential impact.

From the research paper:

During the Referendum day, there is a sign that bots attempted to spread more leave messages with positive sentiment as the number of leave tweets with positive sentiment increased dramatically on that day.

More specifically, for every 100 bots’ tweets that were retweeted, about 80-90 tweets were made by humans. Furthermore, before the Referendum day, among those humans’ retweets from bots, tweets by the Leave side accounted for about 50% of retweets while only nearly 20% of retweets had pro-remain content. In the other words, there is a sign that during pre-event period, humans tended to spread the leave messages that were originally generated by bots. Similar trend is observed for the US Election sample. Before the Election Day, about 80% of retweets were in favour of Trump while only 20% of retweets were supporting Clinton.

You do have to wonder whether Brexit wasn’t something of a dry run disinformation campaign for Russian bots ahead of the US election a few months later.

The research paper, entitled Social media, sentiment and public opinions: Evidence from #Brexit and #USElection, which is authored by three data scientists from Swansea University and the University of California, Berkeley, used Twitter’s API to obtain relevant datasets of tweets to analyze.

After screening, their dataset for the EU referendum contained about 28.6M tweets, while the sample for the US presidential election contained ~181.6M tweets.

The researchers say they identified a Twitter account as Russian-related if it had Russian as the profile language but the Brexit tweets were in English.

While they detected bot accounts (defined by them as Twitter users displaying ‘botlike’ behavior) using a method that includes scoring each account on a range of factors such as whether it tweeted at unusual hours; the volume of tweets including vs account age; and whether it was posting the same content per day.

Around the US election, the researchers generally found a more sustained use of politically motivated bots vs around the EU referendum vote (when bot tweets peaked very close to the vote itself).

They write:

First, there is a clear difference in the volume of Russian-related tweets between Brexit sample and US Election sample. For the Referendum, the massive number of Russian-related tweets were only created few days before the voting day, reached its peak during the voting and result days then dropped immediately afterwards. In contrast, Russian-related tweets existed both before and after the Election Day. Second, during the running up to the Election, the number of bots’ Russian-related tweets dominated the ones created by humans while the difference is not significant during other times. Third, after the Election, bots’ Russian-related tweets dropped sharply before the new wave of tweets was created. These observations suggest that bots might be used for specific purposes during high-impact events.

In each data set, they found bots typically more often tweeting pro-Trump and pro-leave views vs pro-Clinton and pro-remain views, respectively.

They also say they found similarities in how quickly information was disseminated around each of the two events, and in how human Twitter users interacted with bots — with human users tending to retweet bots that expressed sentiments they also supported. The researchers say this supports the view of Twitter creating networked echo chambers of opinion as users fix on and amplify only opinions that align with their own, avoiding engaging with different views.

Combine that echo chamber effect with deliberate deployment of politically motivated bot accounts and the platform can be used to enhance social divisions, they suggest.

From the paper:

These results lend supports to the echo chambers view that Twitter creates networks for individuals sharing the similar political beliefs. As the results, they tend to interact with others from the same communities and thus their beliefs are reinforced. By contrast, information from outsiders is more likely to be ignored. This, coupled by the aggressive use of Twitter bots during the high-impact events, leads to the likelihood that bots are used to provide humans with the information that closely matches their political views. Consequently, ideological polarization in social media like Twitter is enhanced. More interestingly, we observe that the influence of pro-leave bots is stronger the influence of pro-remain bots. Similarly, pro-Trump bots are more influential than pro-Clinton bots. Thus, to some degree, the use of social bots might drive the outcomes of Brexit and the US Election.

In summary, social media could indeed affect public opinions in new ways. Specifically, social bots could spread and amplify misinformation thus influence what humans think about a given issue. Moreover, social media users are more likely to believe (or even embrace) fake news or unreliable information which is in line their opinions. At the same time, these users distance from reliable information sources reporting news that contradicts their beliefs. As a result, information polarization is increased, which makes reaching consensus on important public
issues more difficult.

Discussing the key implications of the research, they describe social media as “a communication platform between government and the citizenry”, and say it could act as a layer for government to gather public views to feed into policymaking.

However they also warn of the risks of “lies and manipulations” being dumped onto these platforms in a deliberate attempt to misinform the public and skew opinions and democratic outcomes — suggesting regulation to prevent abuse of bots may be necessary.

They conclude:

Recent political events (the Brexit Referendum and the US Presidential Election) have observed the use of social bots in spreading fake news and misinformation. This, coupled by the echo chambers nature of social media, might lead to the case that bots could shape public opinions in negative ways. If so, policy-makers should consider mechanisms to prevent abuse of bots in the future.

Commenting on the research in a statement, a Twitter spokesperson told us: “Twitter recognizes that the integrity of the election process itself is integral to the health of a democracy. As such, we will continue to support formal investigations by government authorities into election interference where required.”

Its general critique of external bot analysis conducted via data pulled from its API is that researchers are not privy to the full picture as the data stream does not provide visibility of its enforcement actions, nor on the settings for individual users which might be surfacing or suppressing certain content.

The company also notes that it has been adapting its automated systems to pick up suspicious patterns of behavior, and claims these systems now catch more than 3.2M suspicious accounts globally per week.

Since June 2017, it also claims it’s been able to detect an average of 130,000 accounts per day that are attempting to manipulate Trends — and says it’s taken steps to prevent that impact. (Though it’s not clear exactly what that enforcement action is.)

Since June it also says it’s suspended more than 117,000 malicious applications for abusing its API — and say the apps were collectively responsible for more than 1.5BN “low-quality tweets” this year.

It also says it has built systems to identify suspicious attempts to log in to Twitter, including signs that a login may be automated or scripted — techniques it claims now help it catch about 450,000 suspicious logins per day.

The Twitter spokesman noted a raft of other changes it says it’s been making to try to tackle negative forms of automation, including spam. Though he also flagged the point that not all bots are bad. Some can be distributing public safety information, for example.

Even so, there’s no doubt Twitter and social media giants in general remain in the political hotspot, with Twitter, Facebook and Google facing a barrage of awkward questions from US lawmakers as part of a congressional investigation probing manipulation of the 2016 US presidential election.

A UK parliamentary committee is also currently investigating the issue of fake news, and the MP leading that probe recently wrote to Facebook and Twitter to ask them to provide data about activity on their platforms around the Brexit vote.

And while it’s great that tech platforms finally appear to be waking up to the disinformation problem their technology has been enabling, in the case of these two major political events — Brexit and the 2016 US election — any action they have since taken to try to mitigate bot-fueled disinformation obviously comes too late.

While citizens in the US and the UK are left to live with the results of votes that appear to have been directly influenced by Russian agents using US tech tools.

Today, Ciaran Martin, the CEO of the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) — a branch of domestic security agency GCHQ — made public comments stating that Russian cyber operatives have attacked the UK’s media, telecommunications and energy sectors over the past year.

This follow public remarks by the UK prime minister Theresa May yesterday, who directly accused Russia’s Vladimir Putin of seeking to “weaponize information” and plant fake stories.

The NCSC is “actively engaging with international partners, industry and civil society” to tackle the threat from Russia, added Martin (via Reuters).

Asked for a view on whether governments should now be considering regulating bots if they are actively being used to drive social division, Paul Bernal, a lecturer in information technology at the University of East Anglia, suggested top down regulation may be inevitable.

“I’ve been thinking about that exact question. In the end, I think we may need to,” he told TechCrunch. “Twitter needs to find a way to label bots as bots — but that means they have to identify them first, and that’s not as easy as it seems.

“I’m wondering if you could have an ID on twitter that’s a bot some of the time and human some of the time. The troll farms get different people to operate an ID at different times — would those be covered? In the end, if Twitter doesn’t find a solution themselves, I suspect regulation will happen anyway.”

Featured Image: nevodka / iStock Editorial / Getty Images Plus

Twitter launches ‘Happening Now’ to showcase tweets about events, starting with sports


Twitter is today releasing a new feature called “Happening Now” aimed to make its service more accessible to newcomers by highlighting groups of tweets about a topic, beginning with sports, before expanding to other areas like entertainment and breaking news. If this sounds similar to Twitter’s existing Moments feature….well, it is.

Moments, too, offers a way to learn more about a given timely topic across a number of categories, like Sports, News and Entertainment.

But Twitter Moments are a curated selection of tweets that tell a story, while Happening Now will take users to a dedicated timeline of tweets related to the event at hand. Moments are also often more visual, featuring images and videos, which is why they’ve been likened to Twitter’s version of Snapchat or Instagram’s “Stories.”

In a demo of the new feature posted to the official @Twitter account, there are Happening Now events for MLB, NBA, and NFL games shown at the top of the Twitter timeline. You can swipe horizontally through these events, each depicted with a title (e.g. “NFL Giants vs. Buccaneers”) and an image.

When you tap into a game to see more, the current score appears at the top of a customized timeline containing real-time tweets about the event.

Twitter, of course, already offers ways to tune into live events via its network, including via its live video streams of an event, as well as by following an event’s hashtag – like #wwdc for Apple’s Developer conference, for instance.

Happening Now, though, builds on top of Twitter’s understanding of how to sort tweets associated with an event, like live video. The tweets will display algorithmically in these new custom Happening Now timelines.

What’s interesting about this new implementation is that it’s not entirely hashtag dependent, it seems.

In the brief demo Twitter shared, some tweets did reference hashtags related to the event at hand – the Giants vs. Bucs game – like #Giants, #GiantsFan, #Buccaneers, and #GoBucs. However, other tweets only referenced the match up in plain text, sometimes even vaguely. For instance, one tweet in the stream simply read: “Man oh man I am at the edge of my seat.”

This is not the first (nor likely the last) time Twitter will try to make its service more useful to newcomers who just want to follow topics, not people. Last year, it updated its homepage for logged-out users so they could dive into various categories like News, Sports, Music, Entertainment, and more; plus view Moments and other featured tweets.

It also revamped its Explore section earlier this year to help users find videos, trends, and Moments in a single tab.

Though Happening Now may appeal to newbies who don’t want to create customized lists, track hashtags, or figure out who to follow to follow relevant news on Twitter, it’s also likely to irk longtime Twitter users. Many today feel like their timelines are being invaded by ever more features they don’t need – whether that’s “While You Were Away” updates, or those that inform you of interesting links and trends Twitter thinks you’d like to know about.

With all these features and algorithmic suggestions, Twitter is losing a bit of its simplicity – ironically, in an effort to be “easier” to use.

Twitter says Happening Now is rolling out on iOS and Android starting today.

Featured Image: nevodka / iStock Editorial / Getty Images Plus

Twitter will launch a bookmarking tool in the near future


Twitter confirmed it’s planning to launch a bookmarking feature to save tweets for later reading. The addition will help users keep a separate list of items they want to refer back to, instead of using the heart (aka “favorite”) button, which can indicate more of a “like” – similar to the “thumbs up” button on Facebook.

The feature’s impending launch was first unveiled on Twitter itself, naturally, when head of product Keith Coleman announced that a new way to save tweets was in the works, as a result of a company HackWeek project dubbed #SaveForLater.

Other Twitter employees, including newly hired senior director of product, Sriram Krishnan, and PM Jesar Shah, also noted Twitter’s plans in this area.

Like Coleman, Shah said the feature was a popular user request – adding that many people, “especially in Japan,” had asked for this ability.

As Shah said in her thread, there are a number of ways people privately save tweets to reference later, including bookmarking them with the heart, DM-ing them to themselves, or even retweeting. (I’d also add we open them in new tabs, save them to our Notes app, email them to ourselves, Instapaper their links, or create private Twitter Moments or Storify collections, among other things.)

None of these methods are ideal because they’re not as quick as simply clicking a button to save the tweet, with the exception of the “heart” icon. However, the heart can be misinterpreted since it implies you feel positively about the tweet you’re saving, when the opposite could be true. Plus, for those who regularly use the heart to respond to tweets that don’t require a reply, those saved tweets you wanted to look back on again could be easily lost in your Favorites.

Twitter isn’t the first to realize that its constantly-updating feed needs a save button. Facebook, too, launched its own bookmarking tool several years ago.

A prototype built during HackWeek shows that Twitter’s bookmarking feature appears under the tweet’s “More” menu (three dots), where you then find a new “Add to Bookmarks” option. But this design could change by the time it’s released to the public.

According to Shah, Twitter wants to build the new bookmarking tool with the community’s help and feedback. That’s interesting, given that building “with” user input is how Twitter used to develop features borrowed from the community. For example, Twitter’s @mention and retweet functionality grew out of Twitter turning actions people were already taking on its network into useful product features.

But some of Twitter’s more recent product launches – like the controversial @reply format or decisions about what counts as a character – were developed more as an overly-engineered response to the problems with social network’s 140-character limit, rather than by a deep examination of user behavior.  (Twitter has since said it will test expanding character count to 280, which makes more sense than its confusing rules about character count.)

There are no details yet on how soon the new bookmarking tool will roll out or who will be able to test it. But a Twitter spokesperson confirmed the feature is not just an experiment – it will publicly launch soon. They also said the best way to find out more is to follow @jesarshah’s account, as this is where information about #SaveForLater will appear. Product designer @tinastsh will be tweeting, as well, we’re told.

Featured Image: nevodka / iStock Editorial / Getty Images Plus