Category Archives: Twitter

Twitter puts Infowars’ Alex Jones in the ‘read-only’ sin bin for 7 days

Twitter has finally taken action against Infowars creator Alex Jones, but it isn’t what you might think.

While Apple, Facebook, Google/YouTube, Spotify and many others have removed Jones and his conspiracy-peddling organization Infowars from their platforms, Twitter has remained unmoved with its claim that Jones hasn’t violated rules on its platform.

That was helped in no small way by the mysterious removal of some tweets last week, but now Jones has been found to have violated Twitter’s rules, as CNET first noted.

Twitter is punishing Jones for a tweet that violates its community standards but it isn’t locking him out forever. Instead, a spokesperson for the company confirmed that Jones’ account is in “read-only mode” for up to seven days.

That means he will still be able to use the service and look up content via his account, but he’ll be unable to engage with it. That means no tweets, likes, retweets, comments, etc. He’s also been ordered to delete the offending tweet — more on that below — in order to qualify for a fully functioning account again.

That restoration doesn’t happen immediately, though. Twitter policy states that the read-only sin bin can last for up to seven days “depending on the nature of the violation.” We’re imagining Jones got the full one-week penalty, but we’re waiting on Twitter to confirm that.

The offending tweet in question is a link to a story claiming President “Trump must take action against web censorship.” It looks like the tweet has already been deleted, but not before Twitter judged that it violates its policy on abuse:

Abuse: You may not engage in the targeted harassment of someone, or incite other people to do so. We consider abusive behavior an attempt to harass, intimidate, or silence someone else’s voice.

When you consider the things Infowars and Jones have said or written — 9/11 conspiracies, harassment of Sandy Hook victim families and more — the content in question seems fairly innocuous. Indeed, you could look at President Trump’s tweets and find seemingly more punishable content without much difficulty.

But here we are.

The weirdest part of this Twitter caning is one of the reference points that the company gave to media. These days, it is common for the company to point reporters to specific tweets that it believes encapsulate its position on an issue, or provide additional color in certain situations.

In this case, Twitter pointed us — and presumably other reporters — to this tweet from Infowars’ Paul Joseph Watson:

WTF, Twitter…

Twitter is purging accounts that were trying to evade prior suspensions

Twitter announced this afternoon it will begin booting accounts off its service from those who have tried to evade their account suspension. The company says that the accounts in question are users who have been previously suspended on Twitter for their abusive behavior, or for trying to evade a prior suspension. These bad actors have been able to work around Twitter’s attempt to remove them by setting up another account, it seems.

The company says the new wave of suspensions will hit this week and will continue in the weeks ahead, as it’s able to identify others who are “attempting to Tweet following an account suspension.” 

Twitter’s announcement on the matter – which came in the form of a tweet – was light on details. We asked the company for more information. It’s unclear, for example, how Twitter was able to identify the same persons had returned to Twitter, how many users will be affected by this new ban, or what impact this will have on Twitter’s currently stagnant user numbers.

Twitter has not responded to our questions.

The company has been more recently focused on aggressively suspending accounts, as part of the effort to stem the flow of disinformation, bots, and abuse on its service. The Washington Post, for example, said last month that Twitter had suspended as many as 70 million accounts between the months of May and June, and was continuing in July at the same pace. The removal of these accounts didn’t affect the company’s user metrics, Twitter’s CFO later clarified.

Even though they weren’t a factor, Twitter’s user base is shrinking. The company actually lost a million monthly active users in Q2, with 335 million overall users and 68 million in the U.S. In part, Twitter may be challenged in growing its audience because it’s not been able to get a handle on the rampant abuse on its platform, and because it makes poor enforcement decisions with regard to its existing policies.

For instance, Twitter is under fire right now for the way it chooses who to suspend, as it’s one of the few remaining platforms that hasn’t taken action against conspiracy theorist Alex Jones.

The Outline even hilariously (???) suggested today that we all abandon Twitter and return to Tumblr. (Disclosure: Oath owns Tumblr and TC. I don’t support The Outline’s plan. Twitter should just fix itself, even if that requires new leadership.)

In any event, today’s news isn’t about a change in how Twitter will implement its rules, but rather in how it will enforce the bans it’s already chosen to enact.

In many cases, banned users would simply create a new account using a new email address and then continue to tweet. Twitter’s means of identifying returning users has been fairly simplistic in the past. To make sure banned users didn’t come back, it used information like the email, phone and IP address to identify them.

For it to now be going after a whole new lot of banned accounts who have been attempting to avoid their suspensions, Twitter may be using the recently acquired technology from anti-abuse firm Smyte. At the time of the deal, Twitter had praised Smyte’s proactive anti-abuse systems, and said it would soon put them to work.

This system may pick up false positives, of course – and that could be why Twitter noted that some accounts could be banned in error in the weeks ahead.

More to come…

Twitter Lite expands to 21 more countries, adds push notifications

Twitter announced today its Twitter Lite app is expanding to 21 more countries, which makes the data-saving app available to more than 45 countries in total. The app was introduced last year with the goal of bringing in more users from emerging markets to Twitter. Similar to other data-saving apps, like Facebook Lite or YouTube Go, Twitter Lite is designed to load faster on slower network connections, like 2G and 3G, and also has a smaller footprint, so it takes up less space on the phone.

The app was first launched as a test in the Philippines in September, before rolling out to a couple dozen more countries in November.

Twitter’s hope is that by addressing the needs of those low-bandwith users in international markets, the company could help increase its overall user base, which has remained fairly stagnant.

Today, the company is making the app available to 21 countries, including:  Argentina, Belarus, Dominican Republic, Ghana, Guatemala, Honduras, India, Indonesia, Jordan, Kenya, Lebanon, Morocco, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Romania, Turkey, Uganda, Ukraine, Uruguay, Yemen, and Zimbabwe.

These join the other markets where Twitter Lite has been available, such as: Algeria, Bangladesh, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Egypt, Israel, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Malaysia, Nigeria, Nepal, Panama, Peru, Serbia, El Salvador, South Africa, Thailand, Tunisia, Tanzania and Venezuela, in addition to the Philippines.

The app offers a variety of features for those on slower or unreliable networks. For example, Lite users can turn on a Data saver mode that allows them to control which images or video load when browsing the network. Once enabled, you can load this content by tapping “Load Image” or “Load video,” as needed.

The app is also under 3MB in size, so it will load more quickly on slower networks.

And like Twitter, the app includes features like Bookmarks, a darker “Night mode” theme, threads, and starting today, push notifications.

The company in November claimed Twitter Lite led to a greater than 50% increase in tweets, and noted that 80% of its then 330 million monthly users were outside the U.S. That percentage remains roughly the same – as of July, Twitter had a total of 335 million users, with 68 million of those in the U.S.

However, the company isn’t growing that quickly outside the U.S., despite Twitter Lite. Also as of July 2018, we noted the company’s international audience had only grown by a modest 3.5% over the past year.

An expansion of the Twitter Lite app will certainly open up Twitter to more people, but it’s not clear there’s much demand.

The app is available as a free download on Google Play.

Some Infowars tweets vanished today, but Twitter didn’t remove them

A handful of tweets and videos that appear to have been cited in the choice to remove Alex Jones from Facebook and YouTube vanished from Twitter on Thursday after being called out in a CNN piece focused on the company’s hypocrisy.

Twitter confirmed to TechCrunch that it did not remove the tweets in question and that someone affiliated with Alex Jones and Infowars or with access to those accounts is behind the removal. The tweets in question spanned the Infowars brand, including accusations that Sandy Hook was staged by crisis actors, slurs against transgender people and a video asserting that Parkland shooting survivor David Hogg is a Nazi.

All of the tweets CNN linked are no longer available, suggesting that Jones might be trying to walk a narrow line on the platform, keeping most of the Infowars content up even as users and reporters surface some of its most objectionable moments. We reached out to Infowars for the reasoning behind taking down the posts and will update this story when we hear more.

On Wednesday in an internal memo that was later tweeted, Twitter’s VP of trust & safety made the claim that if Jones had posted the same content on Twitter that had resulted in action on other platforms, Twitter would have acted, too.

“… At least some of the content Alex Jones published on other platforms (e.g. Facebook and YouTube) that led them to taking enforcement actions against him would also have violated our policies had he posted it on Twitter,” Twitter’s Del Harvey said. “Had he done so, we would have taken action against him as well.”

On Thursday, CNN called Twitter’s bluff. The news site found that the same content that got Jones and Infowars booted from other platforms “were still live on Twitter as of the time this article was published,” according to CNN.

In spite of the missing tweets, at the time of writing, the accounts of both Infowars and Alex Jones remained online and tweeting. In fact, just 30 minutes ago, Infowars accused former president Obama of a “deep state” scheme to purge Infowars from tech platforms.

Trump’s ‘5 for 5!’ tweet had Twitter users hilariously decoding its meaning

Something out there is winning, according to President Donald Trump's Twitter account. But for a brief time Wednesday morning, we were just a bit confused as to what or whom.

On Wednesday morning, Trump tweeted the following (refreshingly short) eight-character message to his followers: "5 for 5!"

5 for 5!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 8, 2018

But because he didn't provide any context in the tweet itself, Twitter users did what they do best and turned the simple message into a fun and slightly over-the-top meme.

More about Twitter, Politics, Donald Trump, Social Media, and Culture

Twitter defends its decision to keep the Alex Jones conspiracy factory around

[Heavy sigh]

Twitter is doing that thing again. That thing where it stands by an incoherent policy choice that is only consistent with its long historical record of inconsistency.

Late Tuesday, Twitter’s Jack Dorsey took to the platform to defend his company’s choice to keep manic conspiracy theorist and hatemonger Alex Jones and his Infowars empire alive and tweeting.

Last week, that choice wouldn’t have turned heads, but after a kind of sudden and inexplicable sea change from all of the other major social platforms over the weekend, Twitter stands alone. To be fair, those social platforms didn’t really assert their own decisions to oust Jones — Apple led the pack, kicking him out of its Podcasts app, and the rest — Facebook, Spotify and YouTube, most notably — meekly followed suit.

Prior to its new statements, Twitter justified its decision to not ban Jones first by telling journalists like us that Jones didn’t actually violate Twitter’s terms of service because most of his abuse and hateful conduct, two violations that might get him banished, live one click away, outside the platform.

The same could be said for most of the hateful drivel that came from the infamous account of the now-banned Milo Yiannopoulos. Yiannopoulos was eventually booted from Twitter for violating the platform’s periodically enforced prohibition against “the targeted abuse or harassment of others.” Jones is known for commanding a similarly hateful online loser army, though in his case they mostly spend their time harassing the parents of Sandy Hook victims rather than black actresses.

Confused? Yeah, same. Now, Twitter is out with an @jack tweetstorm and a tepid blog post, touting the company’s vague new commitment to “healthy public conversation.”

If you didn’t read it, you’re not missing anything. Here’s an excerpt.

“Our policies and enforcement options evolve continuously to address emerging behaviors online and we sometimes come across instances where someone is reported for an incident that took place prior to that behavior being prohibited. In those instances, we will generally require the individual to delete the Tweet that violates the new rules but we won’t generally take other enforcement action against them (e.g. suspension). This is reflective of the fact that the Twitter Rules are a living document. We continue to expand and update both them and our enforcement options to respond to the changing contours of online conversation. This is how we make Twitter better for everyone.”

Great, crystal clear. Right? If it isn’t here’s a taste of Dorsey’s new tweetstorm:

Here’s the gist:

Alex Jones and Infowars didn’t break any of Twitter’s rules. Twitter is very bad at explaining its choices and trying to get better, maybe. Twitter won’t follow other platforms for policy enforcement decisions like this because it thinks that sets a bad precedent. Twitter doesn’t want to become a platform “constructed by [its creators’] personal views” (this delusion of neutrality bit is where he really started losing us).

Dorsey finishes with a fairly infuriating assertion that journalists should shoulder all of the work of addressing hatespeech and generally horrific content that leads to real-life harassment, it’s not really Twitter’s problem. Believe us, we’re working on it!!

“Accounts like Jones’ can often sensationalize issues and spread unsubstantiated rumors, so it’s critical journalists document, validate, and refute such information directly so people can form their own opinions. This is what serves the public conversation best.”

To the bit about journalists, all we can say is: Twitter, it’s time to own your shit.

Even for those of us concerned about the precedents set by some of tech’s occasional lopsided gestures toward limiting the myriad horrors on the extremely totally neutral platforms that definitely in no way make tech companies publishers, Dorsey’s comments suck. Sure, the whole thing about staying consistent sounds okay at first, but Twitter is the platform most infamous for its totally uneven enforcement around harassment and hatespeech and the ones that leaves its users most vulnerable. If the company is truly making an effort to be less terrible at explaining its decisions — and we’re skeptical about that too — this is pretty inauspicious start.

Here’s Twitter’s position on Alex Jones (and hate-peddling anti-truthers) — hint: It’s a fudge

The number of tech platforms taking action against Alex Jones, the far right InfoWars conspiracy theorist and hate speech preacher, has been rising in recent weeks — with bans or partial bans including from Google, Apple and Facebook.

However, as we noted earlier, Twitter is not among them. Although it has banned known hate peddlers before.

Jones continues to be allowed a presence on Twitter’s platform — and is using his verified Twitter account to scream about being censored all over the mainstream place, hyperventilating at one point in the past 16 hours that ‘censoring Alex Jones is censoring everyone’ — because, and I quote, “we’re all Alex Jones now”.

(Fact check: No, we’re not… And, Alex, if you’re reading this, we suggest you take heart from the ideas in this Onion article and find a spot in your local park.)

We asked Twitter why it has not banned Jones outright, given that its own rules service proscribe hate speech and hateful conduct…

Abuse: You may not engage in the targeted harassment of someone, or incite other people to do so. We consider abusive behavior an attempt to harass, intimidate, or silence someone else’s voice.

Hateful conduct: You may not promote violence against, threaten, or harass other people on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, religious affiliation, age, disability, or serious disease. Read more about our hateful conduct policy.

Add to that, CEO Jack Dorsey has made it his high profile mission of late to (try to) improve conversational health on the platform. So it seems fair to wonder how Twitter continuing to enable a peddler of toxic lies and hate is going to achieve that?

While Twitter would not provide a statement about Jones’ continued presence on its platform, a spokesman told us that InfoWars and Jones’ personal account are not in violation of Twitter (or Periscope’s) ToS . At least not yet. Though he pointed out it could of course take action in the future — i.e. if it’s made aware of particular tweets that violate its rules.

Twitter’s position therefore appears to be that the content posted by InfoWars to other social media platforms is different to the content Jones posts to Twitter itself — ergo, its (hedgy & fudgy) argument essentially boils down to saying Jones is walking a fine enough line on Twitter itself to avoid a ban, because he hasn’t literally tweeted content that violates the letter of Twitter’s ToS.

(Though he has tweeted stuff like “the censorship of Infowars just vindicates everything we’ve been saying” — and given the hate-filled, violently untruthful things he has been saying all over the Internet, he’s essentially re-packaged all those lies into that single tweet, so… )

To spell out Twitter’s fudge: The fact of Jones being a known conspiracy theorist and widely visible hate preacher is not being factored into its ToS enforcement decisions.

The company says it’s judging the man by his output on Twitter — which means it’s failing to take into account the wider context around Jones’ tweets, i.e. all the lies and hate he peddles elsewhere (and indeed all the insinuating nods and dog whistles he makes to his followers on Twitter) — and by doing so it is in fact enabling the continued spread of hate via the wink-wink-nod-nod back door.

Twitter’s spokesman did not want to engage in a lengthy back and forth conversation, healthy or otherwise, about Jones/InfoWars so it was not possible to get a response from the company on that point.

However it does argue, i.e. in defense of its fudged position, that keeping purveyors of false news on its platform allows for an open, real-time debate which in turn allows for their lies to be challenged and debunked by people who are in their right minds — so, basically, this is the ‘fight bad speech with more speech argument’ that’s so beloved of people already enjoying powerful privilege.

The problem with that argument (actually, there are many) is it does not factor in the human cost; the people suffering directly because toxic lies impact their lives. Nor the cost to truth itself; To belief in the veracity and authenticity of credible sources of information which are under sustained and vicious attack by anti-truthers like Jones; The corrosive impact on professional journalism from lies being packaged and peddled under the lying banner of self-styled ‘truth journalism’ that Jones misappropriates. Nor the cost to society from hate speech whose very purpose is to rip up the social fabric and take down civic values — and, in the case of Jones’ particular bilious flavor, to further bang the drum of abuse via the medium of toxic disinformation — to further amplify and spread his pollution, via the power of untruth — to whip up masses of non-critically thinking conspiracy-prone followers. I could go on. (I have here.)

The amplification effect of social media platforms — combined with cynical tricks used by hate peddlers to game algorithms, such as bots retweeting and liking content to make it seem more popular than it is — makes this stuff a major, major problem.

‘Bad speech’ on such powerful platforms can become not just something to roll your eyes at and laughingly dismiss, but a toxic force that bullies, beats down and drowns out other types of speech — perhaps most especially truthful speech, because falsehood flies (and online it’s got rocket fuel) — and so can have a very deleterious impact on conversational health.

Really, it needs to be handled in a very different way. Which means Twitter’s position on Jones, and hateful anti-truthers in general, looks both flawed and weak.

It’s also now looking increasingly isolated, as other tech platforms are taking action.

Twitter’s spokesman also implied the company is working on tuning its systems to actively surface high quality counter-narratives and rebuttals to toxic BS — such as in replies to known purveyors of fake news like InfoWars.

But while such work is to be applauded, working on a fix also means you don’t actually have a fix yet. Meanwhile the lies you’re not stopping are spreading on your platform — at horrible and high cost to people and society.

It’s hard to see this as a defensible position.

And while Twitter keeps sitting on its fence, Jones’ hate speech and toxic lies, broadcast to millions as a weapon of violent disinformation, have got his video show booted from YouTube (which, after first issuing a strike yesterday then terminated his page for “violating YouTube’s Community Guidelines”).

The platform had removed ads from his channel back in March — but had not then (as Jones falsely claimed at the time) banned it. That decision took another almost half year for YouTube to arrive at.

Also yesterday, almost all of Jones’ podcasts were pulled by Apple, with the company saying it does not tolerate hate speech. “We believe in representing a wide range of views, so long as people are respectful to those with differing opinions,” it added.

Earlier this month, music streaming service Spotify also removed some of Jones’ podcasts for violating its hate-speech policy.

Even Facebook removed a bunch of Jones’ videos late last month, for violating its community standards — albeit after some dithering, and what looked like a lot of internal confusion.

The social media behemoth also imposed a 30-day ban on Jones’ personal account for posting the videos, and served him a warning notice for the InfoWars Facebook Page he controls.

Facebook later clarified it had banned Jones’ personal profile because he had previously received a warning — whereas the InfoWars Page had not, hence the latter only getting a strike.

There have even been bans from some unlikely quarters: YouPorn just announced action against Jones for a ToS violation — nixing his ability to try to pass off anti-truth hate preaching as a porn alternative on its platform.

Pinterest, too, removed Jones’ ‘hate, lies & supplements’ page after Mashable made enquiries.

So, uh, other responses than Twitter’s (of doing nothing) are widely possible.

On Twitter, Jones also benefits from being able to distinguish his account from any would-be imitators or satirists, because he has a verified account — denoted on the platform by a blue check mark badge.

We asked Twitter why it hasn’t removed Jones’ blue badge — given that the company has, until relatively recently, been rethinking its verification program. And last year it actively removed blue badges from a number of white supremacists because it was worried it looked like it had been endorsing them. Yet Jones — who spins the gigantic lie of ‘white genocide’ — continues to keep his.

Twitter’s spokesman pointed us to this tweet last month from product lead, Kayvon Beykpour, who wrote that updating the program “isn’t a top priority for us right now”.

Beykpour went on to explain that while Twitter had “paused” public verification last November (because “we wanted to address the issue that verifying the authenticity of an account was being conflated with endorsement”), it subsequently paused its own ‘pause for thought’ on having verified some very toxic individuals, with Beykpour writing in an email to staff in July:

Though the current state of Verification is definitely not ideal (opaque criteria and process, inconsistency in our procedures, external frustration from customers), I don’t believe we have the bandwidth to address this holistically (policy, process, product, and a plan around how & when these fit together) without coming at the cost of our other priorities and distracting the team.

At the same time Beykpour admits in the thread that Twitter has been ‘unpausing’ its pause on verification in some circumstances (“we still verify accounts ad hoc when we think it serves the public conversation & is in line with our policy”); but not, evidently, going so far as to unpause its pause on removing badges from hateful people who gain unjustified authenticity and authority from the perceived endorsement of Twitter verification — such as in ‘ad hoc’ situations where doing so might be terribly, terribly appropriate. Like, uh, this one.

Beykpour wrote that verification would be addressed by Twitter post-election. So it’s presumably sticking to its lack of having a policy at all right now, for now. (“I know this isn’t the most satisfying news, but I wanted to be transparent about our priorities,” he concluded.)

Twitter’s spokesman told us it doesn’t have anything further to share on verification at this point.

Jones’ toxic activity on social media has included spreading the horrendous lie that children who died in the Sandy Hook U.S. school shooting were ‘crisis actors’.

So, for now, a man who lies about the violent death of little children continues to be privileged with a badge on his not-at-all-banned Twitter account.

Two of the parents of a child who died at the school wrote an open letter to Facebook’s founder, Mark Zuckerberg, last month, describing how toxic lies about the school shooting spread via social media had metastasized into violent hate and threats directed at them.

“Our families are in danger as a direct result of the hundreds of thousands of people who see and believe the lies and hate speech, which you have decided should be protected,” wrote Lenny Pozner and Veronique De La Rosa, the parents of Noah, who died on 14 December, 2012, at the age of six.

“What makes the entire situation all the more horrific is that we have had to wage an almost inconceivable battle with Facebook to provide us with the most basic of protections to remove the most offensive and incendiary content.”