Category Archives: Twitter

The curse of the Twitter reply guy

On Twitter, a place where a lot of bad things happen, there's a mostly harmless but decidedly annoying phenomenon. A lot of people, mostly women, have noticed that one or two men always, no matter what, reply to their tweets. 

These men are colloquially known as "reply guys." While no reply guy is the same — each reply guy is annoying in his own way — there are a few common qualities to watch out for. In general, reply guys tend to have few followers. Their responses are overly familiar, as if they know the person they're targeting, though they usually don't. They also tend to reply to only women; the most prolific reply guys fill the role for dozens of women trying to tweet in peace.  Read more...

More about Twitter, Social Media, Reply Guys, Culture, and Web Culture

Twitter names first international markets to get checks on political advertisers

Twitter has announced it’s expanding checks on political advertisers outside the U.S. to also cover Australia, India and all the member states of the European Union.

This means anyone wanting to run political ads on its platform in those regions will first need to go through its certification process to prove their identity and certify a local location via a verification letter process.

Enforcement of the policies will kick in in the three regions on March 11, Twitter said today in a blog post. “Political advertisers must apply now for certification and go through the every step of the process,” it warns.

The company’s ad guidelines, which were updated last year, are intended to make it harder for foreign entities to target elections by adding a requirement that political advertisers self-identify and certify they’re locally based.

A Twitter spokeswoman told us that advertiser identity requirements include providing a copy of a national ID, and for candidates and political parties specifically it requires an official copy of their registration and national election authority.

The company’s blog post does not explain why it’s selected the three international regions it has named for its first expansion of political checks outside the U.S. But they do all have elections upcoming in the next months.

Elections to the EU parliament take play in May, while India’s general elections are expected to take place in April and May. Australia is also due to hold a federal election by May 2019.

Twitter has been working on ad transparency since 2017, announcing the launch of a self-styled Advertising Transparency Center back in fall that year, following political scrutiny over the role social media platforms in spreading Kremlin-backed disinformation during the 2016 US presidential election. It went on to launch the center in June 2018.

It also announced updated guidelines for political advertisers in May 2018 which also came into effect last summer, ahead of the U.S. midterms.

The ad transparency hub lets anyone (not just Twitter users) see all ads running on its platform, including the content/creative; how long ads have been running; and any ads specifically targeted at them if they are a user. Ads can also be reported to Twitter as inappropriate via the Center.

Political/electioneering ads get a special section that also includes information on who’s paying for the ad, how much they’ve spent, impressions per tweet and demographic targeting.

Though initially the political transparency layer only covered U.S. ads.

Now, more than half a year on, Twitter is preparing to expand the same system of checks to its first international regions.

In countries where it has implemented the checks, organizations buying political ads on its platform are also required to comply with a stricter set of rules for how they present their profiles to enforce a consistent look vis-a-vis how they present themselves online elsewhere — to try to avoid political advertisers trying to pass themselves off as something they’re not.

These consistency rules will apply to those wanting to run political ads in Europe, India and Australia from March. Twitter will also require political advertisers in the regions include a link to a website with valid contact info in their Twitter bio.

While those political advertisers with Twitter handles not related to their certified entity must also include a disclaimer in their bio stating the handle is “owned by”  the certified entity name.

The company’s move to expand political ad checks outside the U.S. is certainly welcome but it does highlight how piecemeal such policies remain with many more international regions with upcoming elections still lacking such checks — nor even a timeline to get them.

Including countries with very fragile democracies where political disinformation could be a hugely potent weapon.

Indonesia, which is a major market for Twitter, is due to hold a general election in April, for instance. The Philippines is also due to hold a general election in May. While Thailand has an election next month.

We asked Twitter whether it has any plans to roll out political ad checks in these three markets ahead of their key votes but the company declined to make a statement on why it had focused on the EU, Australia and India first.

A spokeswoman did tell us that it will be expanding the policy and enforcement globally in the future, though she would not provide a timeline for any further international expansion. 

Even years later, Twitter doesn’t delete your direct messages

When does “delete” really mean delete? Not always or even at all if you’re Twitter .

Twitter retains direct messages for years, including messages you and others have deleted, but also data sent to and from accounts that have been deactivated and suspended, according to security researcher Karan Saini.

Saini found years-old messages found in a file from an archive of his data obtained through the website from accounts that were no longer on Twitter. He also filed a similar bug, found a year earlier but not disclosed until now, that allowed him to use a since-deprecated API to retrieve direct messages even after a message was deleted from both the sender and the recipient — though, the bug wasn’t able to retrieve messages from suspended accounts.

Saini told TechCrunch that he had “concerns” that the data was retained by Twitter for so long.

Direct messages once let users to “unsend” messages from someone else’s inbox, simply by deleting it from their own. Twitter changed this years ago, and now only allows a user to delete messages from their account. “Others in the conversation will still be able to see direct messages or conversations that you have deleted,” Twitter says in a help page. Twitter also says in its privacy policy that anyone wanting to leave the service can have their account “deactivated and then deleted.” After a 30-day grace period, the account disappears and along with its data.

But, in our tests, we could recover direct messages from years ago — including old messages that had since been lost to suspended or deleted accounts. By downloading your account’s data, it’s possible to download all of the data Twitter stores on you.

A conversation, dated March 2016, with a suspended Twitter account was still retrievable today. (Image: TechCrunch

Saini says this is a “functional bug” rather than a security flaw, but argued that the bug allows anyone a “clear bypass” of Twitter mechanisms to prevent accessed to suspended or deactivated accounts.

But it’s also a privacy matter, and a reminder that “delete” doesn’t mean delete — especially with your direct messages. That can open up users, particularly high-risk accounts like journalist and activists, to government data demands that call for data from years earlier.

That’s despite Twitter’s claim that once an account has been deactivated, there is “a very brief period in which we may be able to access account information, including tweets,” to law enforcement.

A Twitter spokesperson said the company was “looking into this further to ensure we have considered the entire scope of the issue.”

Retaining direct messages for years may put the company in a legal grey area ground amid Europe’s new data protection laws, which allows users to demand that a company deletes their data.

Neil Brown, a telecoms, tech and internet lawyer at U.K. law firm Decoded Legal, said there’s “no formality at all” to how a user can ask for their data to be deleted. Any request from a user to delete their data that’s directly communicated to the company “is a valid exercise” of a user’s rights, he said.

Companies can be fined up to four percent of their annual turnover for violating GDPR rules.

“A delete button is perhaps a different matter, as it is not obvious that ‘delete’ means the same as ‘exercise my right of erasure’,” said Brown. Given that there’s no case law yet under the new General Data Protection Regulation regime, it will be up to the courts to decide, he said.

When asked if Twitter thinks that consent to retain direct messages is withdrawn when a message or account is deleted, Twitter’s spokesperson had “nothing further” to add.

First look at Twitter’s Snapchatty new Camera feature

Twitter has been secretly developing an enhanced camera feature that’s accessible with a swipe from the home screen and allows you to overlay captions on photos, videos, and Live broadcasts before sharing them to the timeline. Twitter is already used by people to post pictures and videos, but as it builds up its profile as a media company, and in the age of Snapchat and Instagram, it is working on the feature in hopes it will get people doing that even more.

Described in Twitter’s code as the “News Camera”, the Snapchat-style visual sharing option could turn more people into citizen journalists… or just get them sharing more selfies, reaction shots, and the world around them. Getting more original visual content into Twitter spices up the feed and could also help photo and video ads blend in.

Prototypes of the new Twitter camera were first spotted by social media consultant Matt Navarra a week ago, and he produced a video of the feature today.

He describes the ability to swipe left from the homescreen to bring up the new unified capture screen. After you shoot some media, overlays appear prompting you to add a location and a caption to describe “what’s happening”. Users can choose from six colored backgrounds for the caption and location overlay card before posting, which lets you unite words and imagery on Twitter for the first time to make a splash with your tweets.

Meanwhile, code digger and frequent TechCrunch tipster Jane Manchun Wong has found Twitter code describing how users should “Try the updated Twitter camera” to “capture photos, videos, and go live”. Bloomberg and CNBC had previously reported that Twitter was building an improved camera, but without feature details or screenshots.

Twitter confirmed to TechCrunch that it’s currently developing the new camera feature. A Twitter spokesperson told us “I can confirm that we’re working on an easier way to share thing like images and videos on Twitter. What you’re seeing is in mid-development so it’s tough to comment on what things will look like in the final stage. The team is still actively working on what we’ll actually end up shipping.” When asked when it would launch, the spokesperson told us “Unfortunately we don’t have a timeline right now. You could expect the first half of this year.”

Twitter has largely sat by as visual sharing overtook the rest of the social media landscape. It’s yet to launch a Snapchat Stories feature like almost every other app — although you could argue that Moments was an effort to do that — and it seems to have neglected Persicope as the Live broadcasting trend waned. But the information density of all the words on Twitter might make it daunting to mainstream users compared to something easy and visual like Instagram.

This month, as it turns away from reporting monthly active users, Twitter reported daily active users for the first time, revealing it has 126 million that are monetizable compared to Snapchat’s 186 million while Instagram has over 500 million.

The new Twitter camera could make the service more appealing for people who see something worth sharing, but don’t always know what to say,

Alpaca accounts are underrated social media treasures

In the vast world of animals with social media accounts, common household pets like cats and dogs typically reign supreme. But if you’re not following your fair share of alpacas on the internet, you’re sorely missing out.

Though social media accounts dedicated to alpacas are rare, they're remarkable —  like delicious pieces of hay in the ridiculous needle stack that is the internet. You have to do a bit more searching than you would to find a cat or dog account, sure. But when you do happen upon a dedicated farm or fan posting camelid content, it doesn't disappoint.

Since following several alpaca accounts like Alpacas of Instagram, Barnacre Alpacas, and The Woolly Army, I've found the animals' presence in my daily digital life, though small, to be a real mood booster. After noticing that lighthearted alpaca content makes Twitter and Instagram significantly more bearable, I decided to reach out to some leaders of the alpaca social media movement to learn more about the underrated animals, and what it's like making a space for them online. Read more...

More about Twitter, Instagram, Animals, Social Media, and Web Culture

Not nice: Trump just ruined 69 jokes

Rest in peace, 69 jokes.

It brings me no pleasure to report that President Donald Trump included "69" and "nice" in the same tweet on Wednesday, effectively killing the internet's most beloved tradition. That's right, folks: 69 jokes will never be the same again. Blame the president.

The Gallup Poll just announced that 69% of our great citizens expect their finances to improve next year, a 16 year high. Nice!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 13, 2019

Trump's tweet referred to a Gallup poll released earlier this week in which 69 percent of respondents said they expected their finances to improve over the next year. So the number can't be helped. But it does raise a disturbing question: Does Trump know about 69 jokes, or is this tweet simply a coincidence? Read more...

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

Manipulating an Indian politician’s tweets is worryingly easy to do

Here’s a concerning story from India, where the upcoming election is putting the use of social media in the spotlight.

While the Indian government is putting Facebook, Google and other companies under pressure to prevent their digital platforms from being used for election manipulation, a journalist has demonstrated just how easy it is to control the social media messages published by government ministers.

Pon Radhakrishnan, India’s minister of state for finance and shipping, published a series of puzzling tweets today after Pratik Sinha, a co-founder of fact-checking website Alt News, accessed a Google document of prepared statements and tinkered with the content.

Among the statements tweeted out, Radhakrishnan said Prime Minister Modi’s government had failed the middle classes and had not made development on improving the country’s general welfare. Sinha’s edits also led to the official BJP Assam Pradesh account proclaiming that the prime minister had destroyed all villages and made women slaves to cooking.

These are the opposite of the partisan messages that the accounts intended to send.

The messages were held in an unlocked Google document that contained a range of tweets compiled for the Twitter accounts. Sinha managed to access the document and doctor the messages into improbable statements — which he has done before — in order to show the shocking lack of security and processes behind the social media content.

Sinha said he made the edits “to demonstrate how dangerous this is from the security standpoint for this country.”

“I had fun but it could have disastrous consequences,” he told TechCrunch in a phone interview. “This is a massive security issue from the point of view of a democracy.”

Sinha said he was able to access the document — which was not restricted or locked to prevent changes — through a WhatsApp group that is run by members of the party. Declining to give specifics, he said he had managed to infiltrate the group and thus gain access to a flow of party and government information and, even more surprisingly, get right into the documents and edit them.

What’s equally as stunning is that, even with the message twisted 180 degrees, their content didn’t raise an alarm. The tweets were still loaded and published without any realization. It was only after Sinha went public with the results that Radhakrishnan and BJP Assam Pradesh account begin to delete them.

The Indian government is rightly grilling Facebook and Google to prevent its platform being abused around the election, as evidence suggested happened in the U.S. presidential election and the U.K.’s Brexit vote, but members of the government themselves should reflect on the security of their own systems, too. It would be too easy for these poor systems to be exploited.

Twitter is experiencing a weird bug that’s affecting likes and retweets

Something is up with Twitter.

It's not only that it's hard to follow a conversation between two people on the platform, but rather there's a weird bug that's messing up likes, retweets and notifications, something which Twitter is working on resolving.

As reported by a number of Twitter users in the past day, the bug seems to cause likes and retweets to fluctuate wildly, or appear much lower than usual.

Here’s the word thing happening with Twitter right now (they said they’re going to fix it)

Look at the likes and retweetspic.twitter.com/TAPOXhoziM

— Yashar Ali 🐘 (@yashar) February 12, 2019 Read more...

More about Tech, Twitter, Social Media, Social Media Companies, and Tech

No, your tweets aren’t awful. Twitter’s Likes are currently borked.

If you have been experiencing issues with the Like or Retweet count on Twitter and are desperately seeking validation, here it is: yes, it’s Twitter, not you (probably). The company confirmed today that it is working on a fix for a problem with notifications that’s been messing with Like counts.

Many users around the world have reported seeing the number of Likes on their tweets fluctuate continuously, making them wonder if accounts were being suspended in mass or if Twitter was deleting them.

Twitter did not say when the issue began, but based on a careful study of Twitter search results, and not on my own desperate longing for validation from internet strangers, the issue has been going on for almost a day.

25 good tweets for people who hate Valentine’s Day

Valentine's Day is kind of nice, but it's mostly a cloying, capitalist nightmare

It makes sense, then, that the anti-Valentine's Day community is a large and vocal one. V-Day skeptics aren't bitter; they just hate Russell Stover samplers from CVS!

If you count yourself among the lukewarm this Feb. 14, you're not alone. There are loads of tweets from people who also detest the holiday on which a nonzero number of people will receive a Doritos bouquet. (To be clear, I am jealous of the Doritos bouquet.)

Please enjoy. Read more...

More about Twitter, Holidays, Valentine S Day, Social Media, and Culture