Category Archives: Twitter

Twitter will Label and Warn about Deepfakes, but won’t Remove them



Twitter announced in October of this year that they are working on a new policy to address synthetic and manipulated media (also called “deepfakes”). Today, Twitter presented a draft of what they plan to do when they see manipulated media that purposely tries to mislead or confuse people.

Based on conversations with experts and researchers, Twitter proposes that synthetic and manipulated media be defined as: “any photo, audio, or video that has been significantly altered or fabricated in a way that intends to mislead people or changes its original meaning.” Twitter notes that these are sometimes referred to as deepfakes or shallowfakes.

You may have seen some examples of this on social media. There was an altered video passed around of U.S. Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi, which was made to appear as though she was slurring her words. There is also a video where someone took faces from well-known paintings and made it look as if the faces were speaking.

Twitter made a draft policy regarding deepfakes, in which Twitter may:

  • Place a notice next to Tweets that share synthetic or manipulated media
  • Warn people before they share or like Tweets with synthetic or manipulated media; or
  • Add a link – for example, to a news article or Twitter Moment – so that people can read more about why various sources believe the media is synthetic or manipulated.

In addition, Twitter may remove tweets that include synthetic or manipulated media that is misleading and could threaten someone’s physical safety or lead to other serious harm. It appears that other than this exception, Twitter is intending to allow deepfakes to spread. Twitter has a survey for people who want to to provide feedback about this draft policy.

Personally, I don’t think Twitter’s draft policy will be very effective. Those who view deepfakes that match their opinions or political views are unlikely to accept that what they see has been altered. Warning people that they are about to like or share a deepfake isn’t going to deter those who think the deepfake is more believable than reality, and who think that Twitter is “censoring” content.


Twitter will Show More Ads to Users with High Follower Counts



Twitter’s third-quarter earnings were not as good as expected, and the company has decided to blame it on technology that helps advertisers promote mobile apps on the platform. Possibly as a result of this situation, Twitter has decided to show more ads to users who have high-follower counts.

CNBC reported that Twitter’s “Mobile Application Promotion” (MAP) suite of products that helps advertisers promote mobile apps on the platform, including app installs, conversions, or engagements on apps, had technological issues. This is, apparently, why Twitter’s shares went down as much as 20% after the third-quarter earnings were announced.

The details about what was happening with MAP are sketchy (in my opinion). According to CNBC, Twitter said it inadvertently used information that users wanted to be private as a way of serving ads to them, including their device data.

For example, Twitter gives advertisers the opportunity to target based on the devices they’re using to access the platform. They can reach audiences based on a version of their operating system, a specific device, WiFi connectivity, mobile carrier and whether a device is new, which indicates they might be more on the hunt for new apps or services.

Before Twitter lets the advertisers get grabby with all that data, the MAP was supposed to ask the user for permission first. That’s not what actually happened, though. Twitter Chief Financial Officer Ned Segal said: “That setting wasn’t working as expected.” Twitter was using those device settings “even if people had asked us not to.”

What is Twitter going to do to fix this problem? It says it has an improved MAP in the works, but it doesn’t know when that will be ready.

CNBC reported that in recent weeks, Twitter users who have a high-follower count have been commenting that they were seeing more ads than before. Twitter admitted that, in the past, it showed fewer (or no) ads to those accounts. But now, Twitter is going to show them more ads. Perhaps those who are annoyed with ads will start using ad blockers or browsers that have ad blockers built in.


Twitter Suspended 936 China-Linked Accounts



Twitter disclosed that it has suspended accounts for violations of its platform management policies. Those accounts include a “state-backed information operation focused on the situation on Hong Kong”, as well as spam accounts.

This disclosure consists of 936 accounts originating from within the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Overall, these accounts were deliberately and specifically attempting to sow political discord in Hong Kong, including undermining the legitimacy and political positions of the protest movement on the ground. Based on our intensive investigations, we have reliable evidence to support that this is a coordinated state-backed operation. Specifically, we identified large clusters of accounts behaving in a coordinated manner to amplify messages related to the Hong Kong protest.

Twitter stated that Twitter is blocked in PRC, and many of the accounts that were suspended were using VPNs. Some accounts access Twitter from specific unlocked iP addresses that originated in mainland China. The accounts Twitter shared today “represent the most active portions of this campaign; a larger, spammy network of approximately 200,000 accounts – many created following initial suspensions – were proactively suspended before they were substantially active on the service.”

Some of the violations that resulted in a ban include:

  • Spam
  • Coordinated activity
  • Fake accounts
  • Attributed activity
  • Ban evasion

Twitter is adding archives containing complete Tweet and user information for the 936 accounts they have disclosed to their archive of information operations. The archive is the largest of its kind in the industry.

It bothers me that Twitter is so easy to use by those who wish to manipulate public opinion regarding significant politically-related matters. Doing so seems very mean-spirited and deceitful. There is something about Twitter that attracts nefarious people to use it in ways that were not intended (or allowed).


Twitter Tests Letting Users Follow Topics



Twitter is in the process of letting users follow topics in a similar way to how they already follow accounts. According to The Verge, the feature is not quite live yet. When it goes live, users will be able to follow topics like sports teams, celebrities, and television shows. A selection of tweets of topics that are of interest to you will appear alongside tweets in your home feed.

Topics will be curated by Twitter, with individual tweets being identified through machine learning rather than editorial curation, the company said. For now, only sports-related interests can be followed, said Rob Bishop, a Twitter product manager. The feature is now being tested on Android.

The Verge reported that Twitter made this announcement at an event with reporters, which probably explains why I can’t find anything official about it on Twitter’s accounts or its blog. I’m going to assume Twitter will issue a press release, or something with more details about this change, soon.

From what I can tell, there are some cool things about being able to follow topics. You can mute topics. So, for example, if you followed a topic about a specific sport, but the information isn’t about your team right now, you can mute it. The Verge reported that people can mute TV show topics – to avoid spoilers.

Overall, it sounds like Twitter is trying something different that could, potentially, reduce the toxic polarization that Twitter is currently full of. If Twitter makes it easier to find things users enjoy, perhaps this will influence people to be nicer to each other.


Twitter Adds New Notice to Rule Breaking Tweets of Public Officials



Twitter has finally come up with a plan to deal with the tweets of government officials and political figures who post content that breaks Twitter’s rules. It involves a new notice attached to the tweet that will provide additional clarity. Twitter will not remove those tweets, or suspend the account (in most cases).

Twitter explained it’s reasoning this way:

Serving the public conversation includes providing the ability for anyone to talk about what matters to them; this can be especially important when engaging with government officials and political figures. By nature of their positions, these leaders have outsized influence and sometimes say things that could be considered controversial or invite debate and discussion. A critical function of our service is providing a place where people can openly and publicly respond to their leaders and hold them accountable.

The new notice will apply to tweets from the following criteria:

  • Be or represent a government official, be running for office, or be considered for a government position (i.e., next in line, awaiting confirmation, named successor to an appointed position)
  • Have more than 100,000 followers;
  • Be verified

Twitter points out there are cases, such as direct threats of violence or calls to commit violence against an individual, that are unlikely to be considered in the public interest. The implication is that Twitter might actually remove those kinds of tweets, or perhaps suspend the account.

Here is what Twitter’s Trust and Safety, Legal, Public Policy, and regional teams will consider before adding the new notice to a tweet:

  • The immediacy and severity of potential harm from the rule violation, with an emphasis on ensuring physical safety;
  • Whether preserving a Tweet will allow others to hold the government official, candidate for public office, or appointee accountable for their statements;
  • Whether there are other sources of information about this statement available for the public to stay informed;
  • If removal would inadvertently hide context or prevent people from understanding an issue of public concern; and
  • If the Tweet provides a unique context or perspective not available elsewhere that is necessary to a broader discussion.

When a tweet has a notice placed on it, it will feature less prominently on Twitter. It will not longer appear in: Safe search, Timeline when switched to Top Tweets, Live event pages, Recommend Tweet push notifications, Notifications tab, or Explore.

It is worth noting that the new notice will not be applied to any tweets that were posted before today.

Personally, I am interested in seeing how the new notice will be used. I expect that some Twitter users will feel like the notice doesn’t go far enough towards cleaning up Twitter, while others will complain that the new notice is “shadow banning” or “censorship”.


Twitter is Questioning if Nazis Belong on Twitter



Twitter has started conducing in-house research in an effort to better understand how white nationalists and white supremacists use Twitter. According to Vice, Twitter is trying to decide whether those groups should be banned from Twitter, or if they should be allowed to stay so their views can be debated by others.

Vijaya Gadde, Twitter’s head of trust and safety, legal and public policy, said Twitter believes “counter-speech and conversation are a force for good, and they can act as a basis for de-radicalization, and we’ve seen that happen on other platforms, anecdotally.”

“So one of the things we’re working with academics on is some research here to confirm that this is the case,” she added.

Vice reported that the idea that “counter-speech” can counteract white supremacy specifically on Twitter is one that academics are skeptical of. Vice spoke with Becca Lewis, who researches networks on far right influencers on social media for the nonprofit Data & Society, and Angelo Carusone, president of Media Matters. Both said that Twitter’s platform makes that very unlikely.

Part of the reason is because changing someone’s mind requires engaging in good-faith conversations. Twitter is simply not a good environment for that. Instead, Twitter is often used for brigading. People also make bots and sock puppet accounts specifically to harass people.

I find it strange that Twitter is considering allowing white nationalists and white supremacists to remain on their platform. It is abundantly clear that most people don’t want those groups around. For example, every time Twitter announces a new feature, several users respond with “Great! Now ban the Nazis!”


Twitter Launched a Prototype App Called twttr



Twitter announced the launch of twttr, a prototype app that will allow users to test out new features before those features go live. The purpose of twttr is to enable users to advise Twitter about how to make conversations easier to read, understand, and join.

Those who want to apply to the Twitter Prototype Program can fill out an application form. There are three questions to answer. What kind of device do you primarily use to access Twitter? What primary language(s) do you speak and write? What country do you live in? Twitter will send an email to people who filled out the application form.

To me, the twttr prototype app sounds like a way for Twitter to beta test new features. I’m familiar with video game companies allowing players to opt-in for the opportunity to be invited to alpha test, or beta test, upcoming expansions. This is the first time Twitter has attempted to obtain user feedback before launching a new feature.

TechCrunch points out that twttr was Twitter’s original name. TechCrunch reported that the app will focus on conversations. It will have a different format for replies, with a more rounded chat-like shape. Different types of replies will be color-coded to designate those from the original poster and users you personally follow.

Here is an opportunity for Twitter users to have their thoughts and opinions about a new feature be heard by Twitter. Those who opt-in to twttr, and are invited, will be able to shape upcoming features. Personally, I’m considering checking this out and providing feedback regarding accessibility.