All posts in “Twitter”

Twitter acquires anti-abuse technology provider Smyte

Twitter this morning announced it has agreed to buy San Francisco-based technology company Smyte, which describes itself as “trust and safety as a service.” Founded in 2014 by former Google and Instagram engineers, Smyte offers tools to stop online abuse, harassment, and spam, and protect user accounts.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but this is Twitter’s first acquisition since buying consumer mobile startup Yes, Inc. back in December 2016

Online harassment has been of particular concern to Twitter in recent months, as the level of online discourse across the web has become increasingly hate-filled and abusive. The company has attempted to combat this problem with new policies focused on the reduction of hate speech, violent threats, and harassment on its platform, but it’s fair to say that problem is nowhere near solved.

As anyone who uses Twitter will tell you, the site continues to be filled with trolls, abusers, bots, and scams – and especially crypto scams, as of late.

This is where Smyte’s technology – and its team – could help.

The company was founded by engineers with backgrounds in spam, fraud and security.

Smyte CEO Pete Hunt previously led Instagram’s web team, built Instagram’s business analytics products, and helped to open source Facebook’s React.js; co-founder Julian Tempelsman worked on Gmail’s spam and abuse team, and before that Google Wallet’s anti-fraud team and the Google Drive anti-abuse team; and co-founder Josh Yudaken was a member of Instagram’s core infrastructure team.

The startup launched out of Y Combinator in 2015, with a focus on preventing online fraud.

Today, its solutions are capable of stopping all sorts of unwanted online behavior, including phishing, spam, fake accounts, cyberbullying, hate speech and trolling, the company’s website claims.

Smyte offer customers access to its technology via a REST API, or it can pull data directly from its customer’s app or data warehouse to analyze. Smyte would then import the existing rules, and use machine learning to create new rules and other machine learning models suited to the business’s specific needs.

The customers data scientists could also use Smyte to deploy (but not train) their own custom machine learning models, too.

Smyte’s system includes a dashboard where analysts can surface emerging trends in real-time, as well as conduct manual reviews of individual entities or clusters of related entities and take bulk actions.

Non-technical analysts could use Smyte to create custom rules tested on historical data, then roll them out to production and watch how they perform in real-time.

For Twitter, the use case for Smyte is obvious – its technology will be integrated with Twitter itself and its backend systems for monitoring and managing reports of abuse, while also taking aim at bots, scammers and a number of other threats today’s social networks typically face.

Of course, combatting abuse and bullying will remain Twitter’s most pressing area of concern – especially as it’s the place where President Trump tweets, and the daily news is reported and discussed (and angrily fought about).

But Twitter could use some help with its troll and bot problem, too. The company, along with Facebook, was home to Russian propaganda during the 2016 U.S presidential election. In January, Twitter notified at least 1.4 million users they saw content created by Russian trolls; it also was found  to have hosted roughly 50,000 Russian bots tweeting election-related content in November 2016.

Presumably, Smyte’s technology could help weed out some of these bad actors, if it works as well as described.

Twitter didn’t provide much detail as to how, specifically, it plans to put Smyte’s technology to use.

Instead, the company largely touted the team’s expertise and the “proactive” nature of Smyte’s anti-abuse systems, in today’s announcement:

From ensuring safety and security at some of the world’s largest companies to specialized domain expertise, Smyte’s years of experience with these issues brings valuable insight to our team. The Smyte team has dealt with many unique issues facing online safety and believes in the same proactive approach that we’re taking for Twitter: stopping abusive behavior before it impacts anyone’s experience. We can’t wait until they join our team to help us make changes that will further improve the health of the public conversation.

According to Smyte’s website, the company has a number of high-profile clients, including Indiegogo, GoFundMe, npm, Musical.ly, TaskRabbit, Meetup, OLX, ThredUp, YouNow, 99 Designs, Carousell, and Zendesk.

Twitter tells us that Smyte will wind down its operations with those customers – it didn’t acquire Smyte for its revenue-generation potential, but rather for its talent and IP.

LinkedIn reports there are only a couple dozen employees at Smyte today, including the founders. But Smtye’s own website lists just nineteen. Twitter wouldn’t confirm Smtye’s current headcount but says it’s working to find positions for all.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but Smyte had raised $6.3 million in funding from Y Combinator, Baseline Ventures, Founder Collective, Upside Partnership, Avalon Ventures, and Harrison Metal, according to Crunchbase.

Pew: Social media still growing in emerging markets but stalled elsewhere

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s (so far) five-year project to expand access to the Internet in emerging markets makes plenty of business sense when you look at the latest report by the Pew Research Center — which shows social media use has plateaued across developed markets but continues to rise in the developing world.

In 2015-16, roughly four-in-ten adults across the emerging nations surveyed by Pew said they used social networking sites, and as of 2017, a majority (53%) use social media. Whereas, over the same period, social media use has generally been flat in many of the advanced economies surveyed.

Internet use and smartphone ownership have also stayed level in developed markets over the same period vs rising in emerging economies.

Pew polled more than 40,000 respondents in 37 countries over a roughly three month period in February to May last year for this piece of research.

The results show how developing markets are of clear and vital importance for social behemoth Facebook as a means to eke continued growth out of its primary ~15-year-old platform — plus also for the wider suite of social products it’s acquired around that. (Pew’s research asked people about multiple different social media sites, with suggested examples being country-specific — though Facebook and Twitter were staples.)

Especially — as Pew also found — of those who use the internet, people in developing countries often turn out to be more likely than their counterparts in advanced economies to network via social platforms such as Facebook (and Twitter) .

Which in turn suggests there are major upsides for social platforms getting into an emerging Internet economy early enough to establish themselves as a go-to networking service.

This dynamic doubtless explains why Facebook has been so leaden in its response to some very stark risks attached to how its social products accelerate the spread and consumption of misinformation in some developing countries, such as Myanmar and India.

Pulling the plug on its social products in emerging markets essentially means pulling the plug on business growth.

Though, in the face of rising political risk attached to Facebook’s own business and growing controversies attached to various products it offers, the company has reportedly rowed back from offering its ‘Free Basics’ Internet.org package in more than half a dozen countries in recent months, according to analysis by The Outline.

In March, for example, the UN warned that Facebook’s platform was contributing to the spread of hate speech and ethnic violence in crisis-hit Myanmar.

The company has also faced specific questions from US and EU lawmakers about its activities in the country — with scrutiny on the company dialed up to 11 after a major global privacy scandal that broke this spring.

And, in recent months, Facebook policy staffers have had to spend substantial quantities of man-hours penning multi-page explanations for all sorts of aspects of the company’s operations to try to appease angry politicians. So it looks pretty safe to conclude that the days of Facebook being able to pass off Internet.org-fueled business expansion as a ‘humanitarian mission’ are well and truly done.

(Its new ‘humanitarian project’ is a new matchmaking feature — which really looks like an attempt to rekindle stalled growth in mature markets.)

Given how the social media usage gap is closing between developed vs developing countries’ there’s also perhaps a question mark over how much longer Facebook can generally rely on tapping emerging markets to pump its business growth.

Although Pew’s survey highlights some pretty major variations in usage even across developed markets, with social media being hugely popular in Northern America and the Middle East, for example, but more of a patchwork story in Europe where usage is “far from ubiquitous” — such as in Germany where 87% of people use the internet but less than half say they use social media.

Cultural barriers to social media addiction are perhaps rather harder for a multinational giant to defeat than infrastructure challenges or even economic barriers (though Facebook does not appear to be giving up on that front either).

Outside Europe, nations with still major growth potential on the social media front include India, Indonesia and nations in sub-Saharan Africa, according to the Pew research. And Internet access remains a major barrier to social growth in many of these markets.

“Across the 39 countries [surveyed], a median of 75% say they either use the internet occasionally or own a smartphone, our definition of internet use,” it writes. “In many advanced economies, nine-in-ten or more use the internet, led by South Korea (96%). Greece (66%) is the only advanced economy surveyed where fewer than seven-in-ten report using the internet. Conversely, internet use is below seven-in-ten in 13 of the 22 emerging and developing economies surveyed. Among these countries, it is lowest in India and Tanzania, at a quarter of the adult population. Regionally, internet use is lowest in sub-Saharan Africa, where a median of 41% across six countries use the internet. South Africa (59%) is the only country in the region where at least half the population is online.”

India, Indonesia and sub-Saharan Africa are also regions where Facebook has pushed its controversial Internet.org ‘free web’ initiative. Although India banned zero-rated mobile services in 2016 on net neutrality grounds. And Facebook now appears to be at least partially rowing back on this front itself in other markets.

In parallel, the company has also been working on a more moonshot-y solar-powered high altitude drone engineering to try to bring Internet access (and thus social media access) to remoter areas that lack a reliable Internet connection. Although this project remains experimental — and has yet to deliver any commercial services.

Pew’s research also found various digital divides persisting within the surveyed countries, related to age, education, income and in some cases gender still differentiating who uses the Internet and who does not; and who is active on social media and who is inactive.

Across the globe, for example, it found younger adults are much more likely to report using social media than their older counterparts.

While in some emerging and developing countries, men are much more likely to use social media  than women — in Tunisia, for example, 49% of men use social networking sites, compared with just 28% of women. Yet in advanced countries, it found social networking is often more popular among women.

Pew also found significant differences in social media use across other demographic groups: Those with higher levels of education and those with higher incomes were found to be more likely to use social network sites.

Juul tightens up social media to focus on former smokers switching to e-cigs

Juul Labs, the company behind the ever-popular Juul e-cig, has today announced a new policy around social media.

This comes in the midst of Juul’s effort to get FDA approval, which has been made more arduous by the fact that the FDA has cracked down on Juul after learning how popular the device is with underage users.

As part of the new policy, Juul will no longer feature models in pictures posted on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook. FWIW, Juul doesn’t even have a Snapchat. Instead of using models to market the e-cig, Juul Labs will now use real former smokers who switched from combustible cigarette to Juul.

Juul has always said that its product was meant to serve as an alternative to combustible cigarettes, which are considered far more harmful to your health.

Juul has also initiated an internal team focused on flagging and reporting social media content that is inappropriate or targeted to underage users.

The company mentioned that it has worked to report and remove more than 10,000 illegal online sales since February from various online marketplaces.

We reached out to Juul to see if any changes have been made to the way that Juul targets ads on social media and elsewhere. We’ll update the post if/when we hear back.

Here’s what Juul Labs CEO Kevin Burns had to say in a prepared statement:

While JUUL already has a strict marketing code, we want to take it one step further by implementing an industry-leading policy eliminating all social media posts featuring models and instead focus our social media on sharing stories about adult smokers who have successfully switched to JUUL. We also are having success in proactively working with social media platforms to remove posts, pages and unauthorized offers to sell product targeted at underage accounts. We believe we can both serve the 38 million smokers in the U.S. and work together to combat underage use – these are not mutually exclusive missions.

In April, the FDA sent a request for information to Juul Labs as part of a new Youth Tobacco Prevention Plan, which is aimed at keeping tobacco products of any kind out of the hands of minors. The information request was meant to help the FDA understand why teens are so interested in e-cigs (particularly Juul) and whether or not Juul Labs was marketing the product intentionally to minors.

In response, Juul announced a new strategy to combat underage use, with an investment of $30 million over the next three years going towards independent research, youth and parent education and community engagement efforts.

Since August 2017, Juul has required that people be 21+ to purchase products on its own website, but online and offline third-party retailers have not been so diligent.

Twitter wants to inject live events into every area of the app

The chronological news feed has been a bit of a looming specter for Twitter . Sure, it’s their bread-and-butter, but it only works for users who are willing to put in the time to prune their own feeds and strip away follows while constantly keeping an eye out for new accounts. For Twitter, a major challenge is discovering how they can update the experience for casual users who follow a few accounts but haven’t gotten deep into the discovery phase yet.

Twitter’s efforts to double-down on surfacing live events coverage and catering to users’ specific areas of interest have been an evolving mission for the company, but today, they are announcing some of their boldest moves yet to change how the app grows to understand a user base on their interactions.

Twitter is making some major updates to the Explore feed, which will now surface curated pages dedicated to news stories surrounding breaking news, live events and stories in a way that will drive a closer fit to individual users’ interests and help them find more of what’s happening across the site. Some of these changes will also be popping up at the top of user home timelines in a bid to draw users down exploratory rabbit holes that expose them to new accounts and new communities.

There’s going to be a big mix of what is being curated by humans and algorithms as the company looks to marry the editorial voice it has built up in Moments with its human curation team with a highly targeted algorithm that can find interests and grab the latest tweets that meet them. It’s all about striking a balance and understanding the limits of curation in each situation, the company tells me.

“We wouldn’t, for example, set a human on the task of trying to identify all of the relevant live conversations coming out in real time in a particular situation so that’s where algorithmic curation comes in,” Twitter’s Director of Curation Joanna Geary told TechCrunch.

For Twitter, it’s a logical evolution of Moments, which were introduced in 2015 to drive conversations and curate stories from the Twitterverse.

Now, for something like a breaking news story, you’ll be able to find some of the most important tweets that have really driven the story alongside a tab to explore what is coming in live. The company will be testing a topic feed dedicated to the 2018 World Cup that will organize scores, plug in live video and integrate photos and reaction in a way curated by man and machine.

Twitter has been exploring the promises of the algorithmic feed for quite some time, but it’s opted to push most of these minor updates to the Explore feed or just to the top of users’ main feeds with brief “what you missed” interactions. This isn’t changing with today’s updates either — the company isn’t shifting the fundamentals of how your feed flows back in time; instead, it’s seeking to offer snippets that help you move on tangents for discovery.

“For us, the heart of Twitter is all about discussing and discovering what’s happening right now,” Twitter Senior Director of Product Management Sriram Krishnan told TechCrunch. “People’s home timelines aren’t changing, we are going to show these experiences at the top of your home timeline but everything below it will continue to be the same.”

While users of the service have gotten used to the frequent changes in the company’s Explore tab, what will be new are the push notifications that Twitter is sending to users to direct them toward new or developing stories. Doing this in a highly targeted capacity is going to be pretty critical for Twitter. People are already annoyed by the constant notifications from social media services that they explicitly okayed, when there’s deviation from that people can get upset. Users will be able to shut off these types of notifications if Twitter surfaces stuff that isn’t relevant or welcome, but there’s a lot of potential for payoff if the company does this well.

All of these changes to the Explore tab will be rolling out to users in the U.S. and Canada in the next few months, the company says, while integrations in the home feed are simply “coming soon.”

The impact for the company could be substantial here as they continue to chase turning MAUs to DAUs, but it all depends on how much they can get to know the person at the tail-end of all of the follows, likes and retweets and see whether they can bring them something that matters.

12 years later, Twitter is still trying to explain itself

Twitter, more than any other social media company, faces a unique challenge even after more than decade of existence: It still doesn’t know how to explain what it is to new users. That’s partly because of marketing missteps and partly because the best way to figure out Twitter has always been to just use it. 

But 12 years since launching, the company is finally hitting its stride. It recently shifted its marketing strategy, and user growth is on the rise once again. Oh yeah, it’s also profitable for the first time ever. 

But now that the company has refocused its marketing around breaking news and events, it also needs to refocus elements of the actual app and service. Which is why, today, the company unveiled a series of changes meant to make it easier to follow breaking news and other events that unfold over Twitter. 

What Twitter is changing

The updates are happening in a lot of different places in the Twitter app. In your main timeline, you might see a new “happening now” module that puts breaking news stories at the top of your timeline. The company’s actually experimented with this before, but it was only for sports.

Now, though, you’ll see “happening now” for other types of breaking news as well as “personalized news” based on your interests (or Twitter’s idea of your interests). Tapping into one of the events will bring up a separate timeline dedicated to that particular event, with relevant tweets, photos, and videos highlighted.

In cases when Twitter thinks you might be really interested in a piece of news, you could get a push notification that would direct you into the same kind of “happening now” experience. The company isn’t saying how often it expects people to get these notifications, but it’s also meant to be personalized to your interests,

Elsewhere in the app, the Explore tab will also be getting a makeover that organizes content by topic, rather than format. Search features will still work the same way, but the tab itself will instead highlight news events and other conversations happening on Twitter in a way that’s, yes, personalized to your interests. 

All these changes, by the way, are going to be rolling out gradually in the coming weeks and months, and some are more experimental than others. But what they all have in common is that they’re supposed to not just make Twitter easier to navigate, but help casual users get the same value as power users.

“This change is basically designed to make it as easy to follow an event as it is to follow a person on the service today,” says Twitter’s VP of product Keith Coleman. “It makes the magic of Twitter much more accessible.”

If that sounds familiar, it might be because it’s nearly the exact same premise as Moments, the feature Twitter launched with great fanfare in 2015 that was also supposed to help people figure out how to use the service. But Moments has had mixed success. Though the feature’s expanded and Twitter’s curation team has grown over the years, it’s hardly the flagship, can’t-live-without feature it was once billed as.

Over the years, the company’s gradually made Moments less prominent within Twitter’s app. And some of Twitter’s most memorable Moments haven’t been about breaking news events, but goofy viral moments. 

With these latest changes, Moments isn’t going away entirely, but the feature will be even less prominent as a standalone experience as Twitter makes way for more breaking news and personalized content. (The company’s internal curation team will also be working on recaps and other features tied to the new experiences.)

“I would think about this as the evolution of Moments,” says Coleman.

Will it work?

These changes won’t be without controversy, though. New features that are meant to make Twitter more approachable for the masses, like algorithmically-sorted timelines and changing stars to hearts, tend to be met with skepticism and even derision from longtime users who still love to obsess over how their timelines looked 10 years ago.

For them, features like breaking news notifications and curated feeds will likely seem like an overreach (Coleman says it will let users opt out of the notifications). There’s also the fact that news is an increasingly fraught area to be in for tech companies.

Facebook, which will never admit that it’s a media company, has backed away from curating breaking news after its own editorial decisions got the company into hot water. But Twitter, which CEO Jack Dorsey has described as the “people’s news network” hasn’t gotten the same heat, even though it regularly makes its own editorial decisions. 

That could change once it pushes harder into news and the commentary around it. While sports is a relatively safe category to navigate, politics and other parts of the daily news cycle are much more thorny. Making things more complicated is that all these features will be powered by a “blend” of human curators and algorithms, which are not always as adept at identifying the bets sources of news.

So it seems almost inevitable that at some point Twitter will inadvertently elevate a conspiracy theory or a bot or some other piece of commentary some segment of Twitter’s users find objectionable.

But if Twitter’s worried about these challenges, it’s not saying so now. Coleman noted that Dorsey’s commitment to measuring “conversational health” is “our number one initiative right now,” but that the goal of the changes goes beyond any one conversation or event.

“This is one moment in time in a much longer journey in the transformation of Twitter,” he said. 

Https%3a%2f%2fvdist.aws.mashable.com%2fcms%2f2018%2f6%2f7b3f5b3d 50e4 5afa%2fthumb%2f00001