Category Archives: 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.

Ivanka Trump casually likes a porn star’s tweet dissing her dad

The prodigal daughter, Ivanka Trump, is back at it again with the questionable Twitter likes.

On Wednesday, the @TrumpsAlert Twitter account notified followers that Ivanka liked a tweet by Tommy Pistol, an actor and director of adult films, which said, "I don't support Trump in any way. Just to be clear."

IvankaTrump liked this tweet: https://t.co/xhIk8TC4Lk

— Trump Alert (@TrumpsAlert) June 13, 2018

Ivanka liking a straight-up diss to her dad? Hmmmmm ...

It seems Pistol's "I don't support Trump" declaration was a response to Trump's tweet about Fake News and North Korea earlier today. Read more...

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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.

Kim Kardashian could be our best hope for getting a Twitter edit function

Two weeks after meeting Trump to discuss prison reform, Kim Kardashian West is back fighting the good fight, this time trying to fix Twitter.

In a tweet on Tuesday, Kardashian said she had a "very good convo" with CEO Jack Dorsey about the oft-requested feature at Kanye West's birthday on the weekend.

"I think he really heard me out on the edit button," she wrote.

I had a very good convo with @jack this weekend at Kanye’s bday and I think he really heard me out on the edit button.

— Kim Kardashian West (@KimKardashian) June 13, 2018 Read more...

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Twitter’s emoji for Trump’s North Korea nuclear summit is very weird

As U.S. President Trump preps for a historic meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, Twitter doesn’t want you to forget to tweet about it under the right hashtag.

In a choice that seems to make light of a lot of really quite serious things at once, Twitter is promoting its new #TrumpKimSummit emoji for Tuesday’s summit in Singapore.

The event-specific symbol features what appears to be a high-five between a hand representing the U.S. president and one representing the North Korean dictator known for executing his political enemies and exiling large swaths of his nation to prison camps, where they face starvation and torture.

Presumably they are high-fiving over the successful but by no means guaranteed or likely negotiation of an extremely delicate denuclearization agreement and the deescalated international threat of the mass loss of life through nuclear annihilation.

The summit won’t be Trump’s first foray into treating an established despot and human rights abuser like or perhaps better than the leader of an allied nation, though it is Twitter’s first time treating such an event like a Game of Thrones season finale. Twitter’s event-specific emojis, sometimes called hashflags, are usually reserved for things like Coca-Cola branding campaigns (#ShareACoke) or the Super Bowl, not possibly misguided diplomacy efforts between international adversaries. In the future, they should probably stay that way.

We’ve reached out to Twitter with questions about what inspired the #TrumpKimSummit emoji campaign and will update this story if we hear back or manage to make any sense of it ourselves. Assuming that nuclear war doesn’t break out.

Twitter users outraged to learn David Simon, creator of ‘The Wire,’ has reportedly been banned

David Simon, creator of HBO's The Wire, Generation Kill, Treme, The Corner, and more, was reportedly banned from posting on Twitter after wishing death on several users in politically charged tweets.

On Friday, following the death of famous celebrity chef, and Simon's close friend, Anthony Bourdain, the television writer shared a short tribute, along with news of his Twitter ban, on his personal website.

"I have been banned from Twitter, and as I am at this moment indifferent to removing the tweets they insist are violative of their rules, it is unclear when I will return to that framework," Simon wrote. "So I’m hoping that if I post anything remotely meaningful about Tony, others will do me the favor of linking it beyond this digital cul de sac." Read more...

More about Twitter, Jack Dorsey, Social Media, Banned, and David Simon