Twitter

Auto Added by WPeMatico

Study finds half of Americans get news on social media, but percentage has dropped

A new report from Pew Research finds that around a third of U.S. adults continue to get their news regularly from Facebook, though the exact percentage has slipped from 36% in 2020 to 31% in 2021. This drop reflects an overall slight decline in the number of Americans who say they get their news from any social media platform — a percentage that also fell by 5 percentage points year-over-year, going from 53% in 2020 to a little under 48%, Pew’s study found.

By definition, “regularly” here means the survey respondents said they get their news either “often” or “sometimes,” as opposed to “rarely,” “never,” or “don’t get digital news.”

The change comes at a time when tech companies have come under heavy scrutiny for allowing misinformation to spread across their platforms, Pew notes. That criticism has ramped up over the course of the pandemic, leading to vaccine hesitancy and refusal, which in turn has led to worsened health outcomes for many Americans who consumed the misleading information.

Despite these issues, the percentage of Americans who regularly get their news from various social media sites hasn’t changed too much over the past year, demonstrating how much a part of people’s daily news habits these sites have become.

Image Credits: Pew Research

In addition to the one-third of U.S. adults who regularly get their news on Facebook, 22% say they regularly get news on YouTube. Twitter and Instagram are regular news sources for 13% and 11% of Americans, respectively.

However, many of the sites have seen small declines as a regular source of news among their own users, says Pew. This is a different measurement compared with the much smaller percentage of U.S. adults who use the sites for news, as it speaks to how the sites’ own user bases may perceive them. In a way, it’s a measurement of the shifting news consumption behaviors of the often younger social media user, more specifically.

Today, 55% of Twitter users regularly get news from its platform, compared with 59% last year. Meanwhile, Reddit users’ use of the site for news dropped from 42% to 39% in 2021. YouTube fell from 32% to 30%, and Snapchat fell from 19% to 16%. Instagram is roughly the same, at 28% in 2020 to 27% in 2021.

Only one social media platform grew as a news source during this time: TikTok.

In 2020, 22% of the short-form video platform’s users said they regularly got their news there, compared with an increased 29% in 2021.

Overall, though, most of these sites have very little traction with the wider adult population in the U.S. Fewer than 1 in 10 Americans regularly get their news from Reddit (7%), TikTok (6%), LinkedIn (4%), Snapchat (4%), WhatsApp (3%) or Twitch (1%).

Image Credits: Pew Research

There are demographic differences between who uses which sites, as well.

White adults tend to turn to Facebook and Reddit for news (60% and 54%, respectively). Black and Hispanic adults make up significant proportions of the regular news consumers on Instagram (20% and 33%, respectively.) Younger adults tend to turn to Snapchat and TikTok, while the majority of news consumers on LinkedIn have four-year college degrees.

Of course, Pew’s latest survey, conducted from July 26 to Aug. 8, 2021, is based on self-reported data. That means people’s answers are based on how the users perceive their own usage of these various sites for newsgathering. This can produce different results compared with real-world measurements of how often users visited the sites to read news. Some users may underestimate their usage and others may overestimate it.

People may also not fully understand the ramifications of reading news on social media, where headlines and posts are often molded into inflammatory clickbait in order to entice engagement in the form of reactions and comments. This, in turn, may encourage strong reactions — but not necessarily from those worth listening to. In recent Pew studies, it found that social media news consumers tended to be less knowledgeable about the facts on key news topics, like elections or Covid-19. And social media consumers were more frequently exposed to fringe conspiracies (which is pretty apparent to anyone reading the comments!)

For the current study, the full sample size was 11,178 respondents, and the margin of sampling error was plus or minus 1.4 percentage points.

 

Twitter wants you to tweet to interest-based communities, not just followers

Twitter is a useful place for following breaking news and keeping up with what the people you’re already interested in are doing, but its relative dearth of discovery features and a lack of organized community spaces make it pretty hard to connect with anyone you aren’t actively seeking out.

The company is thinking about changing that. Twitter is on a tear with new features lately and its latest experiment, called Communities, is designed to make it easier to connect around shared interests. Users will be able to join these new social hubs and tweet directly to other people with shared interests rather than their regular group of followers. Those tweets will still be public, but replies will be limited to other community members.

Communities will be user-generated, though Twitter says that will be “limited,” for now, so most people will have to wait a few months before starting their own groups. The earliest Communities will center around popular and generally benign topics on Twitter including “dogs, weather, sneakers, skincare, and astrology.” Twitter’s example images also include cryptocurrency, plants and Black women photographers.

The test begins Wednesday and will show up in a dedicated spot at the bottom of the iOS app or in the side menu on Twitter.com. Twitter says that Android users will be able to read Community tweets too, though “more functionality” is on the way soon — presumably a dedicated app tab and the ability to join and participate in the new groups.

Communities will be created and maintained by designated moderators, who will have the ability to invite other users to the group via DM and remove content posted within the group. Initially invites will be the only way into a Community, but it sounds like Twitter has some grand plans for discovery features that make it easier for people to find places they might want to hang out.

“Some conversations aren’t for everyone, just the people who want to talk about the thing you want to talk about,” Twitter Staff Product Manager David Regan wrote in a blog post announcing the feature. “… We want to continue to support public conversation and help people find Communities that match their interests, while also creating a more intimate space for conversation.”

With any user-driven community space on social media — particularly one where algorithmic discovery factors in — moderation is the big concern. Twitter says that anyone will be able to read, report and quote content posted in a Community, so you don’t have to be a member of a community to flag harmful content like you would in a private Facebook group. Twitter says that it is working on “new reporting flows, and bespoke enforcement actions” to proactively identify problem Communities.

The introduction of Communities pairs well with Twitter’s recent efforts to court creator communities. The company rolled out Super Follows, its paid subscription tool, earlier this month and also recently invited some users to sell tickets for audio rooms with Ticketed Spaces. It’s also testing one-time payments with a feature called Tip Jar that’s currently only available for a subset of accounts.

Communities are a pretty big departure for Twitter, which is obviously in the throes of reimagining the platform as a more dynamic place for community building. By carving out substantial space for subcommunities on Twitter, the company seems to be inching in the direction of a platform like Discord or Reddit, where everything revolves around self-moderating interest-based communities. Those platforms grapple with their own moderation headaches, but specific, interest-driven communities invite users to go deep in a way that makes interactions on Twitter look shallow by comparison.

The introduction of Communities is an interesting direction for a prominent social network that’s remained largely unchanged for more than a decade at this point. If the test sticks, Communities could build connective tissue between users and make the social network generally a more dynamic place to hang out — but that’s only possible if Twitter can strike the right balance between encouraging its newly imagined subcommunities to grow and keeping them safe.

Twitter starts to roll out paid Ticketed Spaces on iOS

Twitter announced today that some hosts on Spaces, its live audio feature, will now be able to sell access to Ticketed Spaces. Applications for Ticketed Spaces first opened in June for users who are over 18, hosted three Spaces in the last 30 days, and have at least 1,000 followers.

“We’re continuing to work closely with people who are already hosting Spaces for Ticketed Spaces,” a Twitter representative told TechCrunch. Twitter declined to say how many people it’s rolled out this capability to so far, or when users can expect a more universal rollout. For now, anyone on iOS can buy tickets to Spaces hosted by people who have access to the feature.

we want to help people creating cool Spaces make $$$. today, some Hosts will be able create Ticketed Spaces!

we’re experimenting on iOS only for now but we hope to get it to everyone soon. know it’s taking us a little time, but we want to get this right for you! https://t.co/xc68yWkOim

— Spaces (@TwitterSpaces) August 26, 2021

Twitter previously stated that it will take a 3% cut of creators’ earnings from Ticketed Spaces. But since the feature is only currently available on iOS, that means that Twitter will be subject to Apple’s 30% in-app purchase fee, so a creator will only see 67% of each ticket sale. If a creator’s total lifetime earnings on Twitter — including Ticketed Spaces and Super Follows — exceed $50,000, then Twitter will raise its 3% commission to 20%.

Ticketed Spaces would differentiate Twitter aside from its live audio competitors. Clubhouse and Instagram let listeners tip speakers or award badges in a live audio space, but the apps haven’t enabled advance ticket sales.

Substack acqui-hires team behind subscription social app Cocoon

Subscription newsletter platform kingpin Substack shared today that they’ve acqui-hired the team behind Cocoon, a subscription social media app built for close friends.

We covered the Y Combinator-backed startup’s initial $3 million seed raise led by Lerer Hippeau back in November 2019, shortly before the pandemic dramatically reconfigured how people used social media to communicate with the people nearest and dearest to them. Cocoon’s initial pitch was for a social network for your closest friends, something that could level-up the text group chat you may have been stuck using before, though over time Cocoon evolved its platform’s dynamics to allow for more open social circles that users could fine tune at will. With the app, users could share text and photo updates while also using passive data from sources like mobile location data or fitness stats to deliver automatic updates to Slack channel-like feeds for specific groups of their friends.

The app was co-founded by Sachin Monga and Alex Cornell, who met in product roles at Facebook.

Unlike plenty of other networking apps, Cocoon didn’t rely on advertising or user data to monetize, instead pushing users to pay for a $4 monthly subscription. Despite the app’s slick design, it didn’t seem to make much of a lasting splash or find its market fit and Substack says they won’t be continuing support for the app, instead choosing to bring the small team aboard. Given some of Substack’s recent initiatives around community building for their network of newsletter writers, it isn’t surprising that they’re seeking out more talent in the space to help evolve the functionality of their platform.

Back in March, the startup detailed it had closed a $65 million Series B at a $650 million valuation, bolstering up on cash as they look to define a space that has gotten more eyeballs on it as of late, with both Twitter and Facebook releasing newsletter products this year.  They’ve been snapping up a few smaller startups over the past few months. Earlier this month, they disclosed that they had bought the debate platform Letter for an undisclosed sum. In Maym, they acqui-hired the team from a community-building consultancy startup called People & Company.

Twitter rolls out a series of improvements to its Direct Message system

Have you ever tried to share a funny tweet with a few friends via Twitter DM, only to accidentally start a group chat? You’re not alone. Today, Twitter announced that it will roll out a few quality of life improvements to its direct messaging system over the next few weeks, including the ability to DM a tweet to multiple people at once in individual conversations. Researcher Jane Manchun Wong noticed that Twitter was working on this functionality last month.

No more (awkward) accidental group chats when you DM a Tweet to multiple people. Now you can share the same Tweet in up to 20 different DM convos, separately.

Rolling out on iOS and web, and soon on Android. (2/5) pic.twitter.com/oHYseF3EJE

— Twitter Support (@TwitterSupport) August 19, 2021

A potential downside of this update is that it might invite more spam — you can’t send a message to more than 20 people at once, but that’s still a lot of people. And users receiving these messages now may not realize they were a part of group spam, as the individual DMs will seem like private 1:1 messages.

Twitter says Android users will have to wait a bit longer than iOS and web tweeters to gain access to this feature — and it’s unclear how long that will take, because in the past, it’s taken years for iOS DM updates to reach Android. But as a consolation prize, on both Android and iOS, if you scroll up in a DM conversation, you’ll be able to return to the latest message by pressing a down arrow button to quick-scroll.

Twitter’s other two DM improvements are only rolling out so far on iOS — instead of timestamping individual messages with the date and time, messages will be grouped by day. Individual DMs will still have a timestamp, but Twitter says that this change will yield “less timestamp clutter.

Finally, in DMs, iOS users will be able to access the “add reaction” menu from both double-tapping and long-pressing on a message. Long-pressing a friend’s message also gives you the option to delete the message on your account only, report the message, or copy the text.

A demonstration of new Twitter DM features

Image Credits: Twitter, screenshot by TechCrunch

Twitter also announced today that it’s testing a feature that puts users’ Revue newsletters on their profile (Twitter acquired the newsletter platform earlier this year). But last week, it unveiled more noticeable UI updates that experts believe made the platform less accessible. Within two days of the update, Twitter made contrast changes on its buttons and identified issues with its proprietary font Chirp on Windows.

Twitter adds support for Twitter Spaces to its rebuilt API

Twitter is rolling out changes its newly rebuilt API that will allow third-party developers to build tools and other solutions specifically for its audio chatroom product, Twitter Spaces. The company today announced it’s shipping new endpoints to support Spaces on the Twitter API v2, with the initial focus on enabling discovery of live or scheduled Spaces. This may later be followed by an API update that will make it possible for developers to build out more tools for Spaces’ hosts.

The company first introduced its fully rebuilt API last year, with the goal of modernizing its developer platform while also making it easier to add support for Twitter’s newer features at a faster pace. The new support for Twitter Spaces in the API is one example of that plan now being put into action.

With the current API update, Twitter hopes developers will build new products that enable users — both on and off Twitter — to find Twitter Spaces more easily, the company says. This could potentially broaden the reach of Spaces and introduce its audio chats to more people, which could give Twitter a leg up in the increasingly competitive landscape for audio-based social networking. Today, Twitter Spaces isn’t only taking on Clubhouse, but also the audio chat experiences being offered by Facebook, Discord, Reddit, Public.com, Spotify, and smaller social apps.

According to Twitter, developers will gain access to two new endpoints, Spaces lookup and Spaces search, which allow them to lookup live and scheduled Spaces using specific criteria — like the Spaces ID, user ID, or keywords. The Spaces lookup endpoint also offers a way to begin to understand the public metadata and metrics associated with a Space, like the participant count, speaker count, host profile information, detected language being used, start time, scheduled start time, creation time, status, and whether the Space is ticketed or not, Twitter tells us.

To chose what Spaces functionality to build into its API first, Twitter says it spoke to developers who told the company they wanted functionality that could help people discover Spaces they may find interesting and set reminders for attending. Developers said they also want to build tools that would allow Spaces hosts to better understand how well their audio chats are performing. But most of these options are yet available with today’s API update. Twitter only said it’s “exploring” other functionality — like tools that would allow developers to integrate reminders into their products, as well as those that would be able to surface certain metrics fields available in the API or allow developers to build analytics dashboards.

These ideas for other endpoints haven’t yet gained a spot on Twitter’s Developer Platform Roadmap, either.

Twitter also told us it’s not working on any API endpoints that would allow developers to build standalone client apps for Twitter Spaces, as that’s not something it heard interest in from its developer community.

Several developers have been participating in a weekly Spaces hosted by Daniele Bernardi from Twitter’s Spaces team, and were already clued in to coming updates. Developers with access to the v2 API will be able to begin building with the new endpoints starting today, but none have new experiences ready to launch at this time. Twitter notes Bernardi will also host another Spaces event today at 12 PM PT to talk in more detail about the API update and what’s still to come.

Twitter asks users to flag COVID-19 and election misinformation

Twitter introduced a new test feature Tuesday that allows users to report misinformation they run into on the platform, flagging it to the company as “misleading.” The test will roll out starting today to most users in the U.S., Australia and South Korea.

In the new test, Twitter users will be able to expand the three dot contextual menu in the upper right corner of a tweet to select “report tweet” where they’ll be met with the new option to flag a misleading tweet. The next menu offers users a choice to specify that a tweet is misleading about “politics,” “health” or “something else.” If they select politics, they can specify if the misleading political tweet pertains to elections and if they choose health they can flag a misleading tweet about COVID-19 specifically.

Twitter has added a way for users to report election-related misinformation before, though previously those options were temporary features linked to global elections. Back in 2019, the platform rolled out the option to report misleading tweets about voting to help safeguard elections in Europe and India.

The intention is to give users a way to surface tweets that violate Twitter’s existing policies around election and pandemic-related misinformation, two topics it focuses policy and enforcement efforts around. The user reporting system will work in tandem with Twitter’s proactive systems for identifying potentially dangerous misinformation, which rely on a combination of human and automated moderation. For now, users won’t receive any updates from the company on what happens to misleading tweets they report, though those updates could be added in the future.

While the new reporting feature will be available very broadly, the company describes the test as an “experiment,” not a finished feature. Twitter will observe how people on the platform use the new misinformation reporting tool to see if user reporting can be an effective tool for identifying potentially harmful misleading tweets, though the company isn’t on a set timeline for when to fully implement or remove the test feature.

For now, Twitter doesn’t seem very worried about users abusing the feature, since the new user reporting option will plug directly into its established moderation system. Still, the idea of users pointing the company toward “misleading” tweets is sure to spark new cries of censorship from corners of the platform already prone to spreading misinformation.

While the option to flag tweets as misleading is new, the feature will feed reported tweets into Twitter’s existing enforcement flow, where its established rules around health and political misinformation are implemented through a blend of human and algorithmic moderation.

That process will also sort reported tweets for review based on priority. Tweets from users with large followings or tweets generating an unusually high level of engagement will go to the front of the review line, as will tweets that pertain to elections and COVID-19, Twitter’s two areas of emphasis when it comes to policing misinformation.

The new test is Twitter’s latest effort to lean more on its own community to identify misinformation. Twitter’s most ambitious experiment along those lines is Birdwatch, a crowdsourced way for users to append contextual notes and fact-checks to tweets that can be upvoted or downvoted, Reddit-style. For now, Birdwatch is just a pilot program, but it’s clear the company is interested in decentralizing moderation — an experiment far thornier than just adding a new way to report tweets.

Twitter India head moves to a different role

Manish Maheshwari, the head of Twitter India, has taken a new role at the company and is relocating to the U.S., the latest in a series of developments for the American social giant after a tense stand off with New Delhi this year.

Maheshwari is moving on from the high-profile position, a role he assumed in April 2019, at a time when he was personally named in police cases in at least two Indian states — Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh — over complaints that Twitter was allegedly hurting sentiments of people in the South Asian market.

The update was shared with Twitter employees on Friday. Maheshwari will be taking on a new role in San Francisco as Senior Director, Revenue Strategy and Operations with focus on New Market Entry and report to Senior Director Deitra Mara, according to an internal email. A Twitter spokesperson confirmed the move to TechCrunch.

Thank you to @manishm for your leadership of our Indian business over the past 2+ years. Congrats on your new US-based role in charge of revenue strategy and operations for new markets worldwide. Excited to see you lead this important growth opportunity for Twitter.

— yu-san (@yusasamoto) August 13, 2021

Twitter has faced heat in India from New Delhi for not blocking some Twitter accounts or deleting tweets that the Indian government deemed objectionable and labeling its officials’ tweets as misleading. The company also briefly lost the safe harbor protection in the country, New Delhi said, after it failed to comply with the nation’s new IT rules, which went into effect in May.

The social network has since complied with the new law that requires, among other things, appointing several executives in the country to address on-ground concerns, a lawyer for the Indian government said in a court earlier this week.

Also this week, the company has been facing criticism from some politicians for locking the account of India’s largest opposition party.

This is a developing story. More to follow…

Twitter locks account of India’s largest opposition party

Twitter has locked the account of Indian National Congress, the South Asian nation’s largest opposition party, for violating its rules days after the American social network temporarily suspended profiles of several of the party’s senior leaders.

The Indian National Congress wrote about the Twitter episode on Facebook Thursday. “When our leaders were put in jails, we were not scared then why would we be afraid of closing our Twitter accounts now. We are Congress, this is the message of the people, we will fight, we will keep fighting. If it is a crime to raise our voice to get justice for the rape victim girl, then we will do this crime a hundred times. Jai Hind… Satyamev Jayate,” it said.

The social media head of All Indian Congress Committee, Rohan Gupta, alleged that Twitter had taken the step at the direction of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.

“The Twitter Rules are enforced judiciously and impartially for everyone on our service. We have taken proactive action on several hundred Tweets that posted an image that violated our Rules, and may continue to do so in line with our range of enforcement options. Certain types of private information carry higher risks than others, and our aim is always to protect individuals’ privacy and safety. We strongly encourage everyone on the service to familiarise themselves with the Twitter Rules and report anything they believe is in violation,” a Twitter spokesperson told TechCrunch.

What’s going on @Twitter @TwitterIndia @jack What’s going on ? 😡

We strongly condemn the blocking of the accounts of @INCIndia and senior leaders of the Congress party.

— Derek O’Brien | ডেরেক ও’ব্রায়েন (@derekobrienmp) August 12, 2021

Last week, Twitter suspended the account of Rahul Gandhi, the former president of the Indian National Congress, after he tweeted pictures with the family of a nine-year-old who was allegedly raped and murdered. The company was shortly reached by the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights, an Indian statutory body, which said the Congress leader’s tweets violated the privacy of a minor victim.

The new episode is Twitter’s latest headache in India. After months-long public discourse with the Indian government, Twitter finally complied with the South Asian nation’s new IT law, which went into effect in May, a lawyer for New Delhi said in a court Tuesday.

This is a developing story. More to follow…

Twitter now in compliance with India’s new IT rules, government says

Twitter is now complying with India’s new IT rules, New Delhi told a court Tuesday, in a move that is expected to ease months-long tension between the American social media network and the government of the key overseas market.

A lawyer representing the Indian government told the Delhi High Court that Twitter’s recent steps — appointment of chief compliance officer, nodal contact person and resident grievance officer in the country — have made the social network “prima facie” compliant with the new law.

A Twitter spokesperson in India didn’t immediately return a text.

India’s new IT rules, which were unveiled in February this year, mandates significant social media firms, among other things, to appoint officials to address on-ground concerns in the country.

Facebook and Google complied with this requirement in May, when the proposed rules went into effect in the South Asian market.

Twitter, which was facing heat from the Indian government for not blocking some tweets that the Indian government had deemed objectionable, had requested additional few months to comply with the new rules and in the meantime vacated the required roles with temporary staff.

Tension has been brewing between the two for several months. Twitter labeled a tweet from Sambit Patra, the spokesperson of India’s ruling party BJP, in May as “manipulated media.” Days later, a special squad of Delhi police that investigates terrorism and other crimes made a surprise visit to two of Twitter’s offices in the country to seek information about Twitter’s rationale to term Patra’s tweets as manipulated.

Twitter at the time said it was “concerned by recent events regarding our employees in India and the potential threat to freedom of expression for the people we serve.”

The firm’s slow-efforts to comply with the new IT rules had cost the firm liability protection in the country last month, the Indian government said earlier. Internet services enjoy what is broadly referred to as “safe harbor” protection that say that tech platforms won’t be held liable for the things their users post or share online.

The new rules also require significant social media firms operating encrypted messaging services to devise a way to trace originator of messages for special cases. Several firms including Facebook’s WhatsApp and Signal have not complied with this requirement. WhatsApp has sued the Indian government over this requirement.

This is a developing story. More to follow…

Twitter Spaces now let you invite co-hosts

Fleets weren’t long for this world, but Twitter’s product teams aren’t slowing down on bringing new stuff to Spaces, the company’s own take on audio rooms. Twitter introduced Spaces in a limited test last year, expanding the Clubhouse copycat feature more broadly to anyone with at least 600 followers in May.

Now, Twitter is giving Space hosts the ability to add two co-hosts, who they can rope in through an invite system. Spaces will allow one main host, two additional co-hosts and up to 10 speakers. Additional co-hosts will make the task of moderation much more manageable, as they’ll be able to vet speaker requests, tap speakers and give anyone in the Space the boot.

making it easier to manage your Space…introducing co-hosting!

– hosts have two co-host invites they can send
– the table just got bigger: 1 host, 2 co-hosts, and 10 speakers
– co-hosts can help invite speakers, manage requests, remove participants, pin Tweets and more! pic.twitter.com/s76JFbhTL2

— Spaces (@TwitterSpaces) August 5, 2021

With Fleets out of the picture, Twitter’s Spaces are the only feature for now that lives above the main feed in the Twitter app. That virtual real estate, which has echoes of Instagram’s Stories, draws the eye to anything that a social network wants its users to check out first. Twitter also began rolling out a dedicated tab to make it easier to discover Spaces, surfacing live audio rooms in real time in a central location.

A number of major apps spliced live audio chat rooms into their platforms in light of Clubhouse’s breakout run. In June, Spotify launched Greenroom, a standalone app that allows people to create 1,000-person voice events. Naturally, Facebook also launched its own spin on live audio rooms (called Live Audio Rooms) in June. Discord, already a leader in voice-based chat, added its own Clubhouse-like event channels in March. Twitter followed the same trend with Spaces, but unlike with Fleets, it looks like the company plans to continue supporting the relatively new feature.

Substack doubles down on uncensored ‘free speech’ with acquisition of Letter

Substack announced last week that it acquired Letter, a platform that encourages written dialogue and debate. The financials of the deal weren’t disclosed, but this acquisition follows Substack’s recent $65 million raise.

Newsletters are all the rage — Facebook launched its exclusive, celeb-studded Bulletin platform last month, and Twitter acquired the newsletter startup Revue earlier this year. Letter doesn’t publish email newsletters like Substack, but rather, it allows writers to engage in epistolary exchanges about fraught topics like Brexit, dating and the 2020 U.S. Presidential election. The idea behind Letter makes sense. Complicated conversations require nuance, yet these online debates too often happen on platforms like Twitter, where short-form tweets make it harder to have nuanced conversations.

“We could see that Letter, like Substack, was working in opposition to the ad-driven attention economy, attempting to change the rules of engagement for online discourse,” Substack wrote in its acquisition announcement.

But this acquisition may be cause for concern among those already troubled by the controversy Substack faced earlier this year, when news came out that the platform offered some writers up to six-figure advances as part of its Substack Pro program. The problem wasn’t that Substack was incentivizing writers to join the platform, but rather, who Substack had hand-picked to pay an advance. Plus, Substack says that it’s up to the writer to disclose whether or not they’re part of Substack Pro, which creates a lack of editorial transparency.

As Substack grew, writers left jobs at Buzzfeed and the New York Times, lured by pay raises and cautious optimism. But as more writers came forward as part of the Substack Pro program, Substack was criticized for subsidizing anti-trans rhetoric, since some of these writers used their newsletters to share such views. Substack admits it’s not entirely apolitical, but the choices of which writers to subsidize, and its decision to use only lightweight moderation tactics, are a strong political choice in an era of the internet when content moderation has a tangible effect on global politics. Some writers even chose to leave the platform.

Annalee Newitz, a non-binary writer who since left the platform, wrote on Substack, “Their leadership are deciding what kinds of writing and writers are worthy of financial compensation. […] Substack is taking an editorial stance, paying writers who fit that stance, and refusing to be transparent about who those people are.”

So, when Substack described its new acquisition Letter as a platform that encourages people to “argue in good faith instead of dropping bombs for retweets,” it made the acquisition worthy of a deeper examination. Statements like this sound agreeable, yet this kind of language often appears in arguments that deem social justice a threat to free speech. But free speech shouldn’t mean endorsing hate speech.

Substack wants to position itself as a neutral platform, and for many writers, it’s a valuable way to make money, especially in an unstable journalism industry. But given that some users have already become skeptical of who Substack chooses to financially incentivize, it’s worth examining the implications of buying Letter, a platform that includes writers associated with the so-called intellectual dark web in its group of twenty “featured writers.” On Letter, some of these writers question the validity of childhood transgender identity and refer to the statement “trans women are women” as propaganda, for example. Substack has already lost the trust of some trans and gender non-conforming writers, and the content on its newly acquired Letter won’t help rebuild that trust.

In addition, Letter co-founder Clyde Rathbone wrote in support of a controversial letter published in Harper’s Magazine, which called for the “concerted repudiation of cancel culture.” But critics of the letter point out that free speech isn’t really at stake here.

The open letter had been signed by over 150 prominent writers — like Gloria Steinem, Noam Chomsky (a Letter author), and Malcolm Gladwell (a Bulletin author). It argued: “We need to preserve the possibility of good-faith disagreement without dire professional consequences.” These “professional consequences” echoed the predicament that J.K. Rowling — who also signed the letter — had put herself in. After denying that trans women are women, her reputation suffered. Some might call that “cancel culture,” but others might call it the refusal to continue to platform people who perpetuate harmful beliefs.

“The panic over ‘cancel culture’ is, at its core, a reactionary backlash,” wrote journalist Michael Hobbes. “Conservative elites, threatened by changing social norms and an accelerating generational handover, are attempting to amplify their feelings of aggrievement into a national crisis.”

Substack says it plans to use the acquisition of Letter to help writers collaborate, and that it won’t integrate Letter into its platform. Rather, the Letter team will relocate from Australia to San Francisco to “bring their expertise to help build more of the infrastructure and support.”

TechCrunch asked Substack if the anti-trans content on Letter is cause for concern within the company, given the recent backlash against the platform.

“We think that open debate and disagreement are absolutely part of having free press, and that includes views that you or I may not like,” a representative from Substack said. “Anyone could browse Substack and find things they agree with and things they don’t agree with. Substack has no ad-driven feeds pushing content based on virality and outrage, and there is a direct relationship between writers and readers who can opt out of that anytime. So the bar for us to intervene in that relationship and tell writers what they should be saying is really high, and the fact that Letter allowed writers to openly debate and discuss is consistent with that philosophy.”
We don’t know yet how or if Letter will change Substack — but given the existing discourse around the kind of content Substack pays for, Substack isn’t demonstrating “good faith” with this acquisition.

Square to buy ‘buy now, pay later’ giant Afterpay in $29B deal

In a blockbuster deal that rocks the fintech world, Square announced today that it is acquiring Australian buy now, pay later giant Afterpay in a $29 billion all-stock deal.

The purchase price is based on the closing price of Square common stock on July 30, which was $247.26. The transaction is expected to close in the first quarter of 2022, contingent upon certain closing conditions. It values Afterpay at more than 30% premium to its latest closing price of A$96.66.

Square co-founder and CEO Jack Dorsey said in a statement that the two fintech behemoths “have a shared purpose.”

“We built our business to make the financial system more fair, accessible, and inclusive, and Afterpay has built a trusted brand aligned with those principles,” he said in the statement. “Together, we can better connect our Cash App and Seller ecosystems to deliver even more compelling products and services for merchants and consumers, putting the power back in their hands.”

The combination of the two companies would create a payments giant unlike any other. Over the past 18 months, the buy now, pay later space has essentially exploded, appealing especially to younger generations drawn to the idea of not using credit cards or paying interest and instead opting for the installment loans, which have become ubiquitous online and in retail stores.

As of June 30, Afterpay served more than 16 million consumers and nearly 100,000 merchants globally, including major retailers across industries such as fashion, homewares, beauty and sporting goods, among others.

The addition of Afterpay, the companies’ statement said, will “accelerate Square’s strategic priorities” for its Seller and Cash App ecosystems. Square plans to integrate Afterpay into its existing Seller and Cash App business units, so that even “the smallest of merchants” can offer buy now, pay later at checkout. The integration will also give Afterpay consumers the ability to manage their installment payments directly in Cash App. Cash App customers will be able to find merchants and buy now, pay later (BNPL) offers directly within the app.

Afterpay’s co-founders and co-CEOs Anthony Eisen and Nick Molnar will join Square upon closure of the deal and help lead Afterpay’s respective merchant and consumer businesses. Square said it will appoint one Afterpay director to its board.

Shareholders of Afterpay will get 0.375 shares of Square Class A stock for every share they own. This implies a price of about A$126.21 per share based on Square’s Friday close, according to the companies.

Will there be more consolidation in the space? That remains to be seen, and Twitter is all certainly abuzz about what deals could be next. Here in the U.S., rival Affirm (founded by PayPal co-founder Max Levchin) went public earlier this year. On July 30, shares closed at $56.32, significantly lower than its opening price and 52-week-high of $146.90. Meanwhile, European competitor Klarna — which is growing rapidly in the U.S. — in June raised another $639 million at a staggering post-money valuation of $45.6 billion.

No doubt the BNPL fight for the U.S. consumer is only heating up with this deal.

Yat thinks emoji ‘identities’ can be a thing, and it has $20M in sales to back it up

I learned about Yat in April, when a friend sent our group chat a link to a story about how the key emoji sold as an “internet identity” for $425,000. “I hate the universe,” she texted.

Sure, the universe would be better if people with a spare $425,000 spent it on mutual aid or something, but minutes later, we were trying to figure out what this whole Yat thing was all about. And few more minutes later, I spent $5 (in USD, not crypto) to buy ☕👉💩❗, an emoji string that I think tells a moving story about my caffeine dependency and sensitive stomach. I didn’t think I would be writing about this when I made that choice.

Kesha’s Yat URL on Twitter

On the surface, Yat is a platform that lets you buy a URL with emojis in it — even Kesha (y.at/🌈🚀👽), Lil Wayne (y.at/👽🎵), and Disclosure (y.at/😎🎵😎) are using them in their Twitter bios. Like any URL on the internet, Yats can redirect to another website, or they can function like a more eye-catching Linktree. While users could purchase their own domain name that supports emojis and use it instead of a Yat, many people don’t have the technical expertise or time to do so. Instead, they can make one-time purchase from Yat, which owns the Y.at domain, and the company will provide your with your own y.at subdomain for you.

This convenience, however, comes at a premium. Yat uses an algorithm to determine your Yat’s “rhythm score,” its metric for determining how to price your emoji combo based on its rarity. Yats with one or two emojis are so expensive that you have to contact the company directly to buy them, but you can easily find a four- or five-emoji identity that’ll only put you out $4.

Beyond that, CEO Naveen Jain — a Y Combinator alumnus, founder of digital marketing company Sparkart, and angel investor — thinks that Yat is ultimately an internet privacy product. Jain wants people to be able to use their Yats in any way they’re able to use an online identity now, whether that’s to make payments, send messages, host a website, or login to a platform.

“Objectively, it’s a strange norm. You go on the internet, you register accounts with ad-supported platforms, and your username isn’t universal. You have many accounts, many usernames,” Jain said. “And you don’t control them. If an account wants to shut you down, they shut you down. How many stories are there of people trying to email some social network, and they don’t respond because they don’t have to?”

Yat doesn’t plan to fuel itself with ad money, since users pay for the product when they purchase their Yat, whether they get it for $4 or $400,000.

In the long run, Yat’s CEO says the company plans to use blockchain technology as a way to become self-sovereign. Yats would become assets issued on decentralized, distributed databases. Today, there are several projects working to create a decentralized alternative to the current domain name system (DNS), which is managed by internet regulatory authority ICANN.  DNS is how you find things on the internet, but uses a centralized, hierarchical system. A blockchain domain name system would have no central authority, and some believe this could be the foundation of a next-gen web, or “Web 3.0.”

Today, words like “blockchain” and “cryptocurrency” don’t appear on the Yat website. Jain doesn’t think that’s compelling to average consumers — he believes in progressive decentralization, which explains why Yats are currently purchased with dollars, not ethereum.

“Something we think is really funny about the cryptocurrency world is that anyone who’s a part of it spends a lot of time talking about databases,” Jain said. “People don’t care about databases. When’s the last time you went to a website and it said ‘powered by MySQL’?”

Y.at, however, was registered at a traditional internet registrar, not on the blockchain.

“We agree that this is early stage, there’s no debate about that,” said Jain. “This is laying the foundation — there are certain elements of the vision that are certainly more of a social contract than actual implementation at this point in time. But this is the vision that we’ve set forth, and we’re working continuously towards that goal.”

Still, until Yat becomes more decentralized, it can’t yet give users the complete control it aspires to. At present, the Terms & Conditions give Yat the authority to terminate or suspend users at its discretion, but the company claims it hasn’t yet booted anyone from the system.

As Yat becomes more decentralized, our terms and conditions won’t be important,” Jain said. “This is the nature of pursuing a progressive decentralization strategy.”

In its “generation zero” phase (an open beta), Yat has sold almost $20 million worth of emoji identities. Now, as the waitlist to get a Yat ends, Yat is posting some rare emoji identities on OpenSea, the NFT marketplace that recently reached a valuation of $1.5 billion.

A still image of a Yat visualizer creation

“For the first time ever, we’re going to be auctioning some Yats on OpenSea, and we’re going to be launching minting of Yats on Ethereum,” Jain said. Before minting Yats as NFTs, users can create a digital art landscape for their Yats through a Visualizer. These features, as well as new emojis in the Yat emoji set, will launch this evening at a virtual event called Yat Horizon.

Yat Creators will now have more rights,” Jain said about the new ability to mint Yats as NFTs. “We are going to continue to pursue progressive decentralization until we achieve our ultimate goal: making Yat the best self-directed, self-sovereign identity system for all.”

Consumers have a demonstrated interest in retaining greater privacy on the internet — data shows that in iOS 14.5, 96% of users opted out of ad tracking. But the decentralization movement hasn’t yet been able to market its privacy advantages to the mainstream. Yat helps solve this problem because even if you don’t understand what blockchain means, you understand that having a personal string of emojis is pretty fun. But, before you spend $425,000 on a single-emoji username, keep in mind that Yat’s vision will only completely materialize with the advent of Web 3.0, and we don’t yet know when or if that will happen.

Twitter shuttering NY, SF offices in response to new CDC guidelines

Just two weeks after reopening its New York and San Francisco offices, social media giant Twitter said Wednesday that it will be closing those offices “immediately.”

The decision came “after careful consideration of the CDC’s updated guidelines, and in light of current conditions,” a spokesperson said.

“Twitter has made the decision to close our opened offices in New York and San Francisco as well as pause future office reopenings, effective immediately. We’re continuing to closely monitor local conditions and make necessary changes that prioritize the health and safety of our Tweeps,” the spokesperson added.

The company initially just reopened those offices on July 12. It declined to reveal headcount per office.

The CDC this week recommended that fully vaccinated people begin wearing masks indoors again in places with high Covid transmission rates amid concerns about the highly contagious Delta variant.

Earlier today, TechCrunch’s Brian Heater reported that Google CEO Sundar Pichai announced that the company will require employees to be vaccinated before returning to work on-site. It was part of a larger letter sent to Google/Alphabet staff that also noted the company will be extending its work-from-home policy through October 18, as the COVID-19 delta variant continues to sweep through the global population.

In a message to TechCrunch, Facebook’s VP of People, Lori Goler, confirmed a similar policy for the social media behemoth.

Amazon also responded to TechCrunch’s inquiry on the matter, noting, “We strongly encourage Amazon employees and contractors to be vaccinated as soon as COVID-19 vaccines are available to them.”

48-hour countdown to early bird savings on passes to TC Disrupt 2021

What’s big enough, bold enough and influential enough to inspire more than 10,000 people around the world to carve out three days from their intensely busy schedules? If you said TechCrunch Disrupt 2021, the grand matriarch of startup tech conferences, well friend, you’d be right on the money.

And speaking of money, you have just 48 hours left to score the early-bird price on TC Disrupt Innovator, Founder and Investor passes. Buy any of these passes and attend all three days of Disrupt for less than $100. Here’s the catch: The early bird price expires on July 30 at 11:59 pm (PT).

Don’t miss the dynamic 1:1 interviews and panel discussions on the Disrupt Stage. We’ve tapped high-profile speakers — all leading voices in their fields — to download their insight, trends and sage advice. You’ll hear U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg discuss some of the major challenges of moving people and packages around the block and across the globe.

Houseplant COO, Haneen Davies will join company co-founders Michael Mohr and Seth Rogen — who, it seems, has a somewhat successful side hustle as a Hollywood writer, director and actor — for a lively CBD: Cannabis Business Discussion.

Head on over to the Extra Crunch Stage where you’ll find strategic insight across a range of essential startup skills. Think fundraising, product iteration, tech stack development and growth marketing.

Here’s a quick peek at just some of what’s going down Extra Crunchy.

How to Cultivate a Community for your Company that Actually Lasts: The word of the year in startup-land is “community.” In this panel, Community Fund’s Lolita Taub, Commsor’s Alex Angel and Seven Seven Six’s Katelin Holloway will extract buzz from reality and help founders understand the growing importance of chief community officers in startup culture and, ultimately, financial success today.

The Path for Underrepresented Entrepreneurs: Founding a startup comes with a wide array of challenges but, unfortunately, underrepresented founders face an extra layer of bias, both conscious and unconscious. We’ll talk with Hana Mohan (MagicBell), Leslie Feinzaig (Female Founders Alliance) and Stephen Bailey (ExecOnline) about their journeys, as founders, through fundraising and scaling — and as advocates who can offer tactical insights and advice.

We’re just warming up, folks. You’ll hear from execs, founders and CEOs from companies like Twitter, Calendly, Mirror, Evil Geniuses, Andreessen Horowitz and plenty more. Check out the Disrupt 2021 agenda. We’ll add even more speakers, events and ticket discounts in the coming weeks. Register for updates so you don’t miss out.

TechCrunch Disrupt 2021 takes place on September 21-23. Buy your Disrupt pass before July 30 at 11:59 pm (PT), and get ready to join the big, bold and influential — for less than $100.

Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at Disrupt 2021? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.

Duolingo’s bellwether IPO

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast, where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

We were smaller team this week, with Natasha and Alex together with Chris to sort through yet another summer frenzy of a week.

This time around we actually recorded live on Twitter Spaces, which was a first for the podcast. If you missed it, it’s probably because we didn’t promote the taping since it was just an experiment. Good news, though, is that it went well, and we’re going to some more live tapings of the show with the entire crew on the mics. Make sure to follow the show on the Big Tweet to ensure that you can come hang with us next week. We’ll also do some Q&A at the end, if we’re in good moods.

Until then, let’s live in the present. Here’s what we got into in today’s show:

Have a lovely weekend, you lovely human.
Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PDT, Wednesday, and Friday morning at 7:00 a.m. PDT, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts.

Jack Dorsey says bitcoin will be a big part of Twitter’s future

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey confirmed to investors that bitcoin will be a “big part” of the company’s future, as he sees opportunities to integrate the cryptocurrency into existing Twitter products and services, including commerce, subscriptions and other new additions like the Twitter Tip Jar and Super Follows.

Dorsey has been a staunch bitcoin advocate for years, but how it would be put into action on Twitter’s platform had not yet been spelled out in detail. However, Dorsey has often publicly touted the cryptocurrency, saying it reminds him of the “early days of the internet” and that there wasn’t “anything more important” in his lifetime for him to work on.

More recently, Dorsey launched a $23.6 million bitcoin fund with Jay Z and announced plans to lead his other company Square into the decentralized financial services market by way of bitcoin. Square also this year acquired a majority stake in Jay-Z’s TIDAL music service with an eye toward how blockchain technologies and cryptocurrencies could change the music business.

Today, Dorsey also dubbed bitcoin one of three key trends for Twitter’s future, along with AI and decentralization — the latter which Twitter is pursuing through its “Bluesky” initiative.

He touted bitcoin to investors on Twitter’s second quarter earnings call, saying it could help the company move faster in terms of its product expansions, while explaining that it was the “best candidate” to become the “native currency” of the internet. (Incidentally, Square’s $50 million in bitcoin purchased in 2020 was worth $253 million by February 2021, and it purchased $170 million more earlier this year.)

Oh man, Jack Dorsey says he thinks Bitcoin is key to Twitter’s future. Says it will “ensure people and companies can freely trade goods and services anywhere on the planet”

— Alex Weprin (@alexweprin) July 22, 2021

“If the internet has a native currency, a global currency, we are able to able to move so much faster with products such as Super Follows, Commerce, Subscriptions, Tip Jar, and we can reach every single person on the planet because of that instead of going down a market-by-market-by-market approach,” Dorsey explained. “I think this is a big part of our future. I think there is a lot of innovation above just currency to be had, especially as we think about decentralizing social media more and providing more economic incentive. So I think it’s hugely important to Twitter and to Twitter shareholders that we continue to look at the space and invest aggressively in it,” he added.

A Twitter rep confirmed this is the first time that Dorsey has spoken publicly about how Twitter could integrate bitcoin into its product lineup.

Dorsey also pointed out Twitter would not be alone in pursuing a crypto strategy, noting that Facebook was backing the digital currency Diem.

“There’s an obvious need for this, and appreciation for it. And I think that an open standard that’s native to the internet is the right way to go, which is why my focus and our focus eventually will be on bitcoin,” he noted.

Overall, Twitter delivered strong earnings in a pandemic rebound, which saw the company posting its fastest revenue growth since 2014, according to CNBC, which drove Twitter shares 9% higher in extended trading. The company pulled in Q2 revenue of $1.19 billion versus the $1.07 billion Wall Street expected, a majority ($1.05 billion) from its advertising business. It also saw earnings per share of 20 cents versus the 7 cents expected.

However, monetizable daily active users (mDAUs) — Twitter’s own invented metric meant to fluff up often flat monthly user growth — were only at 206 million, an 11% year-over-year increase, while analysts were counting on 206.2 million. The company blamed the decline on a slower news cycle and end of shelter-in-place in many U.S. communities, which may have impacted Twitter usage during the quarter.

 

Trouble in fandom paradise: Tumblr users lash out against its beta subscription feature

The Tumblr community often refers to itself as the Wild West of the internet, and they’re not wrong. A text post with over 70,000 notes puts it best: “Tumblr is my favorite social media site because this place is literally uninhabitable for celebrities. No verification system, no algorithm that boosts their posts, it’s a completely lawless wasteland for them.”

But like any social media company, Tumblr needs to keep itself afloat in order for its users to continue sharing esoteric fan art, incomprehensible shitposts, and overly personal diary entries hidden beneath a “Read More” button. Yesterday, Tumblr announced the limited beta test of its Post+ subscription feature, which — if all goes as planned — will eventually let Tumblr users post paywalled content to subscribers that pay them $3.99, $5.99 or $9.99 per month.

Image Credits: Tumblr

Tumblr is far from the first social media platform to seek revenue this way — Twitter is rolling out Super Follows and a Tip Jar feature, and this week, YouTube announced a tipping feature too. Even Instagram is working on its own version of Twitter’s Super Follows that would let users create “exclusive stories.” But on a website with a community that prides itself as being a “completely lawless wasteland” for anyone with a platform (save for Wil Wheaton and Neil Gaiman, who are simply just vibing), the move toward paywalled content was not welcomed with open arms.

Monetization is a double-edged sword. It’s not considered uncool for a Tumblr artist to link to a third-party Patreon or Ko-fi site on their blog, where their most enthusiastic followers can access paywalled content or send them tips. So Post+ seems like an obvious way for Tumblr to generate revenue — instead of directing followers to other websites, they could build a way for fans to support creators on their own platform while taking a 5% cut. This isn’t unreasonable, considering that Twitter will take 3% revenue from its new monetization tools, while video-centric platforms like YouTube and Twitch take 30% and 50%, respectively. But Tumblr isn’t Twitter, or YouTube, or Twitch. Unlike other platforms, Tumblr doesn’t allow you to see other people’s follower counts, and no accounts are verified. It’s not as easy to tell whether the person behind a popular post has 100 followers or 100,000 followers, and the users prefer it that way. But Post+ changes that, giving bloggers an icon next to their username that resembles a Twitter blue check.

A Tumblr Post+ creator profile

Tumblr rolled out Post+ this week to a select group of hand-picked creators, including Kaijuno, a writer and astrophysicist. The platform announced Post+ on a new blog specific to this product, rather than its established staff blog, which users know to check for big announcements. So, as the most public user who was granted access, the 24-year-old blogger was the target of violent backlash from angry Tumblrites who didn’t want to see their favorite social media site turn into a hypercapitalist hellscape. When Kaijuno received death threats for beta testing Post+, Tumblr’s staff intervened and condemned harassment against Post+ users.

“We want to hear about what you like, what you love, and what concerns you. Even if it’s not very nice. Tell us. We can take it,” Tumblr wrote on its staff blog. “What we won’t ever accept is the targeted harassment and threats these creators have endured since this afternoon. […] all they’re doing is testing out a feature.”

Before making their post, a representative from Tumblr’s staff reached out to Kaijuno directly to check in on them regarding the backlash, but there’s only so much that Tumblr can do after a user has already been threatened for using their product.

“I felt like the sacrificial lamb, because they didn’t announce Post+ beforehand and only gave it to a few people, which landed me in the crosshairs of a very pissed-off user base when I’m just trying to pay off medical bills by giving people the option to pay for content,” Kaijuno told TechCrunch. “I knew there’d be some backlash because users hate any sort of change to Tumblr, but I thought that the brunt of the backlash would be at the staff, and that the beta testers would be spared from most of it.”

Why do Tumblr users perceive monetization as such a threat? It’s not a question of whether or not it’s valuable to support creators, but rather, whether Tumblr is capable of hosting such a service. Multiple long-time, avid Tumblr users that spoke to TechCrunch referenced an incident in late 2020 when people’s blogs were being hacked by spam bots that posted incessant advertisements for a Ray-Ban Summer Sale.

“Tumblr is not the most well-coded website. It’s easy to break features,” Kaijuno added. “I think anything involving trusting Tumblr with your financial information would have gotten backlash.”

Tumblr users also worried about the implications Post+ could have on privacy — in the limited beta, Post+ users only have the ability to block people who are subscribed to their blog if they contact Tumblr support. In cases of harassment by a subscriber, this could leave a blogger vulnerable in a potentially dangerous situation.

“Ahead of our launch to all U.S.-based creators this fall, Post+ will allow creators to block subscribers directly,” a Tumblr spokesperson told TechCrunch.

Still, the Extremely Online Gen Z-ers who now make up 48% of Tumblr know that they can’t expect the platform to continue existing if it doesn’t pull in enough money to pay for its staff and server fees. In 2018, Tumblr lost almost one-third of its monthly page views after all NSFW content was banned — since then, the platform’s monthly traffic has remained relatively stagnant.

Image Credits: SimilarWeb

A former Tumblr employee told TechCrunch that the feature that became Post+ started out as a Tip Jar. But higher-ups at Tumblr — who do not work directly with the community — redirected the project to create a paywalled subscription product.

“I think a Tip Jar would be a massive improvement,” said the creator behind the Tumblr blog normal-horoscopes. Through the core audience they developed on Tumblr, they make a living via Patreon, but they don’t find Post+ compelling for their business. “External services [like Patreon] have more options, more benefits, better price points, and as a creator I get to choose how I present them to my audience.”

But a paywalled subscription service is different in the collective eyes of Tumblr. For a site that thrives on fandom, creators that make fan art and fanfiction worry that placing this derivative work behind a paywall — which Post+ encourages them to do — will land them in legal trouble. Even Archive of Our Own, a major fanfiction site, prohibits its users from linking to sites like Patreon or Ko-Fi.

“Built-in monetization attracts businesses, corporate accounts, people who are generally there to make money first and provide content second,” said normal-horoscopes. “It changes the culture of a platform.”

Across Tumblr, upset users are rallying for their followers to take Post+’s feedback survey to express their frustrations. The staff welcomes this.

“As with any new product launch, we expect our users to have a healthy discussion about how the feature will change the dynamics of how people use Tumblr,” a Tumblr spokesperson told TechCrunch. “Not all of this feedback will be positive, and that’s OK. Constructive criticism fuels how we create products and ultimately makes Tumblr a better place.”

Tumblr’s vocal community has been empowered over the years to question whether it’s possible for a platform to establish new revenue streams in a way that feels organic. The protectiveness that Tumblr’s user base feels for the site — despite their lack of faith in staff — sets it apart from social media juggernauts like Facebook, which can put e-commerce front and center without much scrutiny. But even three years after the catastrophic porn ban, it seems hard for Tumblr to grow without alienating the people that make the social network unique.

Platforms like Reddit and Discord have remained afloat by selling digital goods, like coins to reward top posters, or special emojis. Each company’s financial needs are different, but Tumblr’s choice to monetize with Post+ highlights the company’s lack of insight into its own community’s wishes.

Twitter tests Reddit-style upvote and downvote buttons

Twitter will test the use of Reddit-like upvote and downvote buttons as a way to better highlight the more interesting and relevant replies in a longer conversation thread. The company announced this afternoon it would begin what it’s calling a “small research experiment” that will add upvote and downvote buttons to replies, or even replace the “Like” button entirely. In some cases, the upvote and downvote buttons may be up arrows and down arrows, while in other cases they may be thumbs up and thumbs down buttons.

And in one group of testers, users may continue to see the “Like” button (the red heart) but will now find a downvote button alongside it. In this group, the upvote would count as a “Like,” Twitter said.

Twitter clarified to TechCrunch that only a small number of testers will see these options appear in their Twitter iOS app, and users’ votes will not become public.

The company also said it’s not currently using this vote information to rank the replies at this time. (If, however, such a system ever become a public feature, that could certainly change.)

The goal with the test is to help Twitter to learn what sort of replies users find most relevant during their conversations, which is something Twitter has studied for some time. According to Twitter user researcher Cody Elam, past studies determined that users tended believed replies that were informative, supportive, positive and funny were the “best” types of replies. However, some of the best replies wouldn’t surface quickly enough — an issue Twitter hopes to be able to address with an upvoting and downvoting feature.

Today, we’re launching an experiment for voting within replies — a way to give us feedback on what replies you find most relevant.

How did research and exploration get us here? ⬇https://t.co/hvmNuXvs9S

— Cody Elam (@codyelam) July 21, 2021

Elam says the feature would allow users to privately voice their opinion on the replies’ quality without having to publicly shame other users. Over time, this data could help Twitter to improve its conversation ranking systems.

If Twitter were to act on this information to actually rank the replies, it could make it easier and more enjoyable to read longer Twitter threads — like those that follow viral tweets, for example. But it could also help to better showcase the replies that add something informative or interesting or even just funny to a conversation, while pushing any trolling remarks down the thread.

Today, Twitter allows users to manually hide the replies that detract from a conversation by placing them behind an extra click. Perhaps, in time, it could do something similar for replies that received too many downvotes, too — like Reddit does. But none of these types of features are being tested right now, to be clear.

This isn’t the first time Twitter has shown interest in other types of engagement buttons beyond the Like and Retweet. Earlier this year, for example, Twitter was spotted surveying users about their interest in a broader set of emoji-style reactions, similar to what you’d find on Facebook. That feature has since been put into development, it seems.

The same survey had also asked users how they felt about upvote and downvote buttons, in addition to emoji reactions.

Twitter says the test is rolling out now to a small group on iOS only.

Equity Monday: Cybersecurity startups see deluge of capital as Microsoft looks to buy RiskIQ

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

This is Equity Monday, our weekly kickoff that tracks the latest private market news, talks about the coming week, digs into some recent funding rounds and mulls over a larger theme or narrative from the private markets. You can follow the show on Twitter here and myself here.

It was a busy weekend for everyone, regardless of whether you were watching the technology, what Branson was up to, or the footie. I won’t take sides on the match, but I will say that it was gripping unto the very end and a great example of sport. Now, the news:

And don’t forget that earnings season is just around the corner. It’s a pretty important cycle. Why? Because startup valuations are hot, and could take a hit if earnings come up short. And the IPO market is pretty freaking active; poor earnings from major tech companies could crimp exit-prices for mature startups.

Ok! Talk to you on Wednesday!

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PST, Wednesday, and Friday at 6:00 a.m. PST, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts!

Twitter appoints resident grievance officer in India to comply with new internet rules

Twitter has appointed a resident grievance officer in India days after the American social media firm said to have lost the liability protection on user-generated content in the South Asian nation over non-compliance with local IT rules.

On Sunday, Twitter identified Vinay Prakash as its new resident grievance officer and shared a way to contact him as required by India’s new IT rules, which was unveiled in February this year and went into effect in late May.

Earlier this week, the Indian government had told a local court that Twitter had lost the liability protection on user generated content in the country as it had failed to appoint compliance, grievance, and a so-called nodal contact officials to address on-ground concerns.

Other internet giants including Facebook, Google, and Telegram have already appointed these local compliance officers in India.

Internet services enjoy what is broadly referred to as “safe harbor” protection that say that tech platforms won’t be held liable for the things their users post or share online. If you insult someone on Twitter, for instance, the company may be asked to take down your post (if the person you have insulted has approached the court and a takedown order has been issued) but it likely won’t be held legally responsible for what you said or did.

Without the protection, Twitter — which according to mobile insight firm App Annie, has over 100 million users in India — is on paper responsible for everything those users say on its platform. Indian police have already filed at least five cases against the company or its officials in the country over a range of issues.

The new development should help assuage the tension between Twitter and the Indian government. A special squad of Delhi police made a surprise visit to two of Twitter’s offices in late May in what many perceived as an intimidation tactic. Twitter said at the time that it was “concerned by recent events regarding our employees in India and the potential threat to freedom of expression for the people we serve” and requested the Indian government to grant it three additional months to comply with the new IT rules.

Earlier this week, Twitter told an Indian court that it was working to “fully comply” with the new rules.

More countries are formulating similar requirements for tech giants in their nations. Russia President Vladimir Putin signed a law that mandates foreign social media giants to open offices in Russia. Any social firm with a daily user base of 500,000 people or more is required to comply with the new law.

Trump’s new lawsuits against social media companies are going nowhere fast

Trump’s spicy trio of lawsuits against the social media platforms that he believes wrongfully banned him have succeeded in showering the former president with a flurry of media attention, but that’s likely where the story ends.

Like Trump’s quixotic and ultimately empty quest to gut Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act during his presidency, the new lawsuits are all sound and fury with little legal substance to back them up.

The suits allege that Twitter, Facebook and YouTube violated Trump’s First Amendment rights by booting him from their platforms, but the First Amendment is intended to protect citizens from censorship by the government — not private industry. The irony that Trump himself was the uppermost figure in the federal government at the time probably won’t be lost on whoever’s lap this case lands in.

In the lawsuits, which also name Twitter and Facebook chief executives Jack Dorsey and Mark Zuckerberg as well as Google CEO Sundar Pichai (Susan Wojcicki escapes notice once again!), Trump accuses the three companies of engaging in “impermissible censorship resulting from threatened legislative action, a misguided reliance upon Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, and willful participation in joint activity with federal actors.”

The suit claims that the tech companies colluded with “Democrat lawmakers,” the CDC and Dr. Anthony Fauci, who served in Trump’s own government at the time.

The crux of the argument is that communication between the tech companies, members of Congress and the federal government somehow transforms Facebook, Twitter and YouTube into “state actors” — a leap of epic proportion:

“Defendant Twitter’s status thus rises beyond that of a private company to that of a state actor, and as such, Defendant is constrained by the First Amendment right to free speech in the censorship decisions it makes.”

Trump’s own Supreme Court appointee Brett Kavanaugh issued the court’s opinion on a relevant case two years ago. It examined whether a nonprofit running public access television channels in New York qualified as a “state actor” that would be subject to First Amendment constraints. The court ruled that running the public access channels didn’t transform the nonprofit into a government entity and that it retained a private entity’s rights to make editorial decisions.

“… A private entity… who opens its property for speech by others is not transformed by that fact alone into a state actor,” Justice Kavanaugh wrote in the decision.

It’s not likely that a court would decide that talking to the government or being threatened by the government somehow transform Twitter, YouTube and Facebook into state actors either.

Trump vs. Section 230 (again)

First Amendment aside — and there’s really not much of an argument there — social media platforms are protected by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, a concise snippet of law that shields them from liability not just for the user-generated content they host but for the moderation decisions they make about what content to remove.

In line with Trump’s obsessive disdain for tech’s legal shield, the lawsuits repeatedly rail against Section 230. The suits try to argue that because Congress threatened to revoke tech’s 230 protections, that forced them to ban Trump, which somehow makes social media companies part of the government and subject to First Amendment constraints.

Of course, Republican lawmakers and Trump’s own administration made frequent threats about repealing Section 230, not that it changes anything because this line of argument doesn’t make much sense anyway.

The suit also argues that Congress crafted Section 230 to intentionally censor speech that is otherwise protected by the First Amendment, ignoring that the law was born in 1996, well before ubiquitous social media, and for other purposes altogether.

For the four years of his presidency, Trump’s social media activity — his tweets in particular — informed the events of the day, both nationally and globally. While other world leaders and political figures used social media to communicate or promote their actions, Trump’s Twitter account was usually the action itself.

In the shadow of his social media bans, the former president has failed to re-establish lines of communication to the internet at large. In May, he launched a new blog, “From the Desk of Donald J. Trump,” but the site was taken down just a month later after it failed to attract much interest.

The handful of pro-Trump alternative social platforms are still struggling with app store content moderation requirements at odds with their extreme views on free speech, but that didn’t stop Gettr, the latest, from going ahead with its own rocky launch last week.

Viewed in one light, Trump’s lawsuits are a platform too, his latest method for broadcasting himself to the online world that his transgressions eventually cut him off from. In that sense, they seem to have succeeded, but in all other senses, they won’t.

Twitter shares its ideas around new privacy features, including a way to hide your account from searches

Twitter today has shared a few more ideas it’s thinking about in terms of new features around conversation health and privacy. This includes a one-stop “privacy check-in” feature that would introduce Twitter’s newer conversation controls options to users, and others that would allow people to be more private on the service, or to more easily navigate between public and private tweets or their various accounts.

Of these, the privacy check-in feature would probably be of most use, as Twitter’s recent spurt of innovation has also made the service more complex. Over time, a centralized destination — like Google’s or Facebook’s Privacy Checkup where users can adjust their privacy controls — could become a valuable addition.

Privacy sets

We’ve found lots of people don’t know about all the conversation control and discoverability settings available to them — so how about a check-in that lets you pick among various groups of settings depending on your needs?

(ID in replies) pic.twitter.com/q9En2Z2xQv

— Lena Emara (@LenaEmara) July 6, 2021

Twitter’s privacy check-in feature would walk users through a series of questions that help them think about how public or private they want to be on Twitter’s platform. For example, they could choose whether everyone can see their tweets or not, who’s allowed to send them direct messages, or who can tag them in photos.

Other new ideas under consideration include a tweak to the Compose screen to better highlight which account you’re posting from (and if it’s public), as well as another feature that would add reminders that appear when you reply to someone from a private account. The reminder would alert you that the account wouldn’t be able to see your response because your account is currently set to “protected.” It would also provide a tool to switch your tweets to public so you can participate in the conversation.

Replies

If you have a protected account and reply to someone who isn’t following you, you may not know they can’t see your reply. So I dropped in a reminder 👇🏼

And what do you think about making it easier to switch to Public if you DO want them to see your reply?

(ID in reply) pic.twitter.com/aOkZSJKYaQ

— Lena Emara (@LenaEmara) July 6, 2021

One of the more interesting concepts being considered, however, is related to your discoverability. Often, when someone is being harassed by a group, it begins to attract even more unwanted attention. While the user could report the trolls for abuse, it won’t immediately stop their attacks. To deal with this sort of troll brigade, some users set their account to private or delete their Twitter account altogether.

Twitter’s potential new feature would offer a third option: making your account hidden. Users could be alerted to the increase in negative attention their account was receiving through a push notification and then be pointed to new privacy controls that would let them disable the ability for other Twitter users to find them through search. One toggle would disable people from finding your account by searching for your username while another would disable the account from being recommended under the “Who To Follow” feature. You could also set time limits on how long you want these options disabled, in case you want to hide for a certain amount of time.

Twitter says these are, for now, just ideas — not features being built. It wants to hear from the Twitter user community what they think, and then weigh that feedback before going forward.

The company has been posting several other design concepts like this in recent days, including, just last week, a few new ideas about tweeting only to friends or using different personas, among other things. Earlier this month, the company also showed off concepts around a potential “unmention” feature that would let users untag themselves from others’ tweets.

As of yet, Twitter hasn’t made any decisions on which, if any, of its new concepts will be turned into real-world features. But they stand as another example of a company that’s been re-enegrized after years of stagnation to become more innovative, and at a much faster pace. Late last year, for example, Twitter launched its Stories product called Fleets to all users. It has since rolled out or is soon rolling out a number of significant new products, including its audio networking service Twitter Spaces, a crowd-sourced factchecker Birdwatch, a premium subscription called Twitter Blue, newsletters from Revue, a tip jar, and a creator subscription called Super Follow, which just opened applications.

Didi gets hit by Chinese government, and Pelo raises $150M

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture-capital-focused podcast where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

This is Equity Monday Tuesday, our weekly kickoff that tracks the latest private market news, talks about the coming week, digs into some recent funding rounds and mulls over a larger theme or narrative from the private markets. You can follow the show on Twitter here and myself here.

What a busy weekend we missed while mostly hearing distant explosions and hugging our dogs close. Here’s a sampling of what we tried to recap on the show:

It’s going to be a busy week! Chat tomorrow.

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PST, Wednesday, and Friday at 6:00 a.m. PST, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts!

3 guiding principles for CEOs who post on Twitter

Lisa W. Liu
Contributor

Lisa W. Liu is a senior partner at The Mitzel Group, where her practice focuses on business and immigration issues.

A CEO’s fiduciary duties to their company and its shareholders do not end when they are off the clock — they must always act in good faith. However, navigating the boundaries between a company’s official communications and a personal voice can be difficult in today’s social-media-connected environment.

What a CEO posts on Twitter can raise not only serious reputational issues for themselves and their companies but posting the wrong things at the wrong time can also cause breach of fiduciary duties and may even run afoul of securities laws.

Reputation and goodwill take a long time to build and are difficult to maintain, but it only takes one tweet to destroy it all.

Fiduciary duties can be divided into three buckets: (1) duty of care — CEOs must act in good faith with the care of a reasonable person in a like position with a reasonable belief that their decisions are in furtherance of their company’s best interest; (2) duty of loyalty — CEOs must put the interest of shareholders and the company above their own self-interest; and (3) duty of good faith — CEOs must act with honesty and fairness to shareholders and the company.

There is no denying that Twitter can be leveraged as a powerful tool. Used appropriately, it can fortify the reputation of a company and its CEO, forge stronger consumer relationships and drive business profits. For example, Tim Cook’s habit of tweeting about his interactions with Apple customers demonstrates his customer-service values and effort to connect with consumers, which can potentially lead to a bigger and more loyal following.

Lately, more and more CEOs are communicating their stance on issues that are important to their consumer base to exhibit authenticity, relatability and demonstrate their personal and corporate values through social media. Following last year’s murder of George Floyd and rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, nearly 60% of all S&P 100 tech CEOs, unicorn CEOs, and Fortune 500 CEOs tweeted, “Black Lives Matter.” This was the first time CEOs active on Twitter overwhelmingly voiced their position on racial and social justice issues.

Twitter can also be an opportunity to show transparency in policy. CEOs can use social media to announce new management initiatives, capability expansions and new investments in employees (diversity initiatives, new roles for women, organizational changes) that are positive in tone and speak about the future direction of the company. These can have a positive correlation with stock prices.

It wasn’t that long ago that the world was fixated on Donald Trump’s Twitter posts and their correlation with the stock market. Words have permanence and their impact can be catastrophic. Given their elevated role as a leader and representative of the company and the fiduciary duties they owe, CEOs must watch what they say and when they say it. What it all boils down to is awareness, common sense and the law.

Don’t break the law and stick to the facts

For U.S. publicly traded companies, SEC Regulation Fair Disclosure (Reg FD) says that “an issuer may not disclose material nonpublic information to certain groups, either intentionally or unintentionally, without disclosing the same information to the entire marketplace.” If companies use social media to announce key information, to comply, they must alert investors that social media will be used to disseminate such information.

Regardless of whether it is a public or private company, CEOs are corporate officers and owe fiduciary duties to their companies and their shareholders. Fiduciary duty requires CEOs to act in good faith, apply their best business judgment and to act in the best interest of the company. This is true whether they are in the boardroom or on Twitter.

Twitter now lets people more popular than you profit from Super Follows

Twitter now lets people more popular than you profit from Super Follows

Let the great shilling commence. 

Twitter announced Tuesday that select users can apply for early access to two new features that will empower them to charge other Twitter users for access to their precious — and presumably premium — content. Dubbed Super Follows and Ticketed Spaces, the programs aim to officially monetize the relationship between Twitter content creator and follower.  

In order to apply for Super Follows, first announced in February, a user must have at least 10,000 followers and be a “U.S. creator” (among other requirements). To apply to run a ticketed Space, you must have at least 1,000 followers, be a U.S. creator, and have run at least three spaces in the last month.  Read more…

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

Twitter is eyeing new anti-abuse tools to give users more control over mentions

Twitter is looking at adding new features that could help users who are facing abusive situations on its platform as a result of unwanted attention pile-ons, such as when a tweet goes viral for a reason they didn’t expect and a full firehose of counter tweets get blasted their way.

Racist abuse also remains a major problem on Twitter’s platform.

The social media giant says it’s toying with providing users with more controls over the @mention feature to help people “control unwanted attention” as privacy engineer, Dominic Camozzi, puts it.

The issue is that Twitter’s notification system will alert a user when they’ve been directly tagged in a tweet — drawing their attention to the contents. That’s great if the tweet is nice or interesting. But if the contents is abusive it’s a shortcut to scale hateful cyberbullying.

Twitter is badged these latest anti-abuse ideas as “early concepts” — and encouraging users to submit feedback as it considers what changes it might make.

Sometimes you want to talk, and sometimes you just … don’t.

Check out these early concepts that could help control unwanted attention on Twitter.

Feedback, especially at this beginning stage, is invited (and wanted)! 🧵pic.twitter.com/6SpzqiwFlL

— Dominic Camozzi (@_dcrc_) June 14, 2021

Potential features it’s considering include letting users ‘unmention’ themselves — i.e. remove their name from another’s tweet so they’re no longer tagged in it (and any ongoing chatter around it won’t keep appearing in their mentions feed).

It’s also considering making an unmention action more powerful in instances where an account that a user doesn’t follow mentions them — by providing a special notification to “highlight potential unwanted situations”.

If the user then goes ahead and unmentions themselves Twitter envisages removing the ability of the tweet-composer to tag them again in future — which looks like it could be a strong tool against strangers who abuse @mentions. 

Twitter is also considering adding settings that would let users restrict certain accounts from mentioning them entirely. Which sounds like it would have come in pretty handy when president Trump was on the platform (assuming the setting could be deployed against public figures).

Twitter also says it’s looking at adding a switch that can be flipped to prevent anyone on the platform from @-ing you — for a period of one day; three days; or seven days. So basically a ‘total peace and quiet’ mode.

It says it wants to make changes in this area that can work together to help users by stopping “the situation from escalating further” — such as by providing users with notifications when they’re getting lots of mentions, combined with the ability to easily review the tweets in question and change their settings to shield themselves (e.g. by blocking all mentions for a day or longer).

The known problem of online troll armies coordinating targeted attacks against Twitter users means it can take disproportionate effort for the object of a hate pile-on to shield themselves from the abuse of so many strangers.

Individually blocking abusive accounts or muting specific tweets does not scale in instances when there may be hundreds — or even thousands — of accounts and tweets involved in the targeted abuse.

For now, it remains to be seen whether or not Twitter will move forward and implement the exact features it’s showing off via Camozzi’s thread.

A Twitter spokeswoman confirmed the concepts are “a design mock” and “still in the early stages of design and research”. But she added: “We’re excited about community feedback even at this early stage.”

The company will need to consider whether the proposed features might introduce wider complications on the service. (Such as, for example, what would happen to automatically scheduled tweets that include the Twitter handle of someone who subsequently flips the ‘block all mentions’ setting; does that prevent the tweet from going out entirely or just have it tweet out but without the person’s handle, potentially lacking core context?)

Nonetheless, those are small details and it’s very welcome that Twitter is looking at ways to expand the utility of the tools users can use to protect themselves from abuse — i.e. beyond the existing, still fairly blunt, anti-abuse features (like block, mute and report tweet).

Co-ordinated trolling attacks have, for years, been an unwanted ‘feature’ of Twitter’s platform and the company has frequently been criticized for not doing enough to prevent harassment and abuse.

The simple fact that Twitter is still looking for ways to provide users with better tools to prevent hate pile-ons — here in mid 2021 — is a tacit acknowledgment of its wider failure to clear abusers off its platform. Despite repeated calls for it to act.

A Google search for “* leaves Twitter after abuse” returns numerous examples of high profile Twitter users quitting the platform after feeling unable to deal with waves of abuse — several from this year alone (including a number of footballers targeted with racist tweets).

Other examples date back as long ago as 2013, underlining how Twitter has repeatedly failed to get a handle on its abuse problem, leaving users to suffer at the hands of trolls for well over a decade (or, well, just quit the service entirely).

One recent high profile exit was the model Chrissy Teigen — who had been a long time Twitter user, spending ten years on the platform — but who pulled the plug on her account in March, writing in her final tweets that she was “deeply bruised” and that the platform “no longer serves me positively as it serves me negatively”.

A number of soccer players in the UK have also been campaigning against racism on social media this year — organizing a boycott of services to amp up pressure on companies like Twitter to deal with racist abusers.

At least 70 racial slurs on my social accounts counted so far. For those working to make me feel any worse than I already do, good luck trying 👍🏾

— Marcus Rashford MBE (@MarcusRashford) May 26, 2021

While public figures who use social media may be more likely to face higher levels of abusive online trolling than other types of users, it’s a problem that isn’t limited to users with a public profile. Racist abuse, for example, remains a general problem on Twitter. And the examples of celebrity users quitting over abuse that are visible via Google are certainly just the tip of the iceberg.

It goes without saying that it’s terrible for Twitter’s business if highly engaged users feel forced to abandon the service in despair.

The company knows it has a problem. As far back as 2018 it said it was looking for ways to improve “conversational health” on its platform — as well as, more recently, expanding its policies and enforcement around hateful and abusive tweets.

It has also added some strategic friction to try to nudge users to be more thoughtful and take some of the heat out of outrage cycles — such as encouraging users to read an article before directly retweeting it.

Perhaps most notably it has banned some high profile abusers of its service — including, at long last, president troll Trump himself earlier this year.

A number of other notorious trolls have also been booted over the years, although typically only after Twitter had allowed them to carry on coordinating abuse of others via its service, failing to promptly and vigorously enforce its policies against hateful conduct — letting the trolls get away with seeing how far they could push their luck — until the last.

By failing to get a proper handle on abusive use of its platform for so long, Twitter has created a toxic legacy out of its own mismanagement — one that continues to land it unwanted attention from high profile users who might otherwise be key ambassadors for its service.

Twitter teases the ability to edit… other people’s tweets

Twitter teases the ability to edit... other people's tweets

When it comes to Twitter features, number one on the wish list of the platform’s heaviest users — apart from a Super Mega Block option that instantly yeets a nasty user into the sea — is the edit button. CEO Jack Dorsey has vowed it will never happen, but the company still drops tiny crumbs of hope every now and then just to show us it could do it if it really wanted. For example, late Monday, a designer for the company teased a feature that would let you remove your handle from someone else’s already-published tweet. What is that if not editing?

We jest, but this new potential feature is genuinely a good one — we could call it the I Would Very Much Like To Be Excluded From This Narrative button, but the designer responsible has dubbed it the “Unmention”. Read more…

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

Supreme Court revives LinkedIn case to protect user data from web scrapers

The Supreme Court has given LinkedIn another chance to stop a rival company from scraping personal information from users’ public profiles, a practice LinkedIn says should be illegal but one that could have broad ramifications for internet researchers and archivists.

LinkedIn lost its case against Hiq Labs in 2019 after the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the CFAA does not prohibit a company from scraping data that is publicly accessible on the internet.

The Microsoft-owned social network argued that the mass scraping of its users’ profiles was in violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, or CFAA, which prohibits accessing a computer without authorization.

Hiq Labs, which uses public data to analyze employee attrition, argued at the time that a ruling in LinkedIn’s favor “could profoundly impact open access to the Internet, a result that Congress could not have intended when it enacted the CFAA over three decades ago.” (Hiq Labs has also been sued by Facebook, which it claims scraped public data across Facebook and Instagram, but also Amazon, Twitter, and YouTube.)

The Supreme Court said it would not take on the case, but instead ordered the appeal’s court to hear the case again in light of its recent ruling, which found that a person cannot violate the CFAA if they improperly access data on a computer they have permission to use.

The CFAA was once dubbed the “worst law” in the technology law books by critics who have long argued that its outdated and vague language failed to keep up with the pace of the modern internet.

Journalists and archivists have long scraped public data as a way to save and archive copies of old or defunct websites before they shut down. But other cases of web scraping have sparked anger and concerns over privacy and civil liberties. In 2019, a security researcher scraped millions of Venmo transactions, which the company does not make private by default. Clearview AI, a controversial facial recognition startup, claimed it scraped over 3 billion profile photos from social networks without their permission.

Twitter to add a newsletter ‘subscribe’ button to profiles for simple sign-ups

Twitter to add a newsletter 'subscribe' button to profiles for simple sign-ups

Newsletters are coming to a Twitter profile near you. Or, at least the chance to sign up for them is.

Twitter is set to continue its ongoing reinvention of the most sacred of social-media spaces — the user profile — in the next few weeks with the addition of a newsletter subscription button. The goal, as the company explained to Mashable, is to help newsletter writers better leverage their existing Twitter followers in an effort to grow their subscriber bases. 

The “subscribe” button, which will live prominently on the profile pages of those who choose to turn on the feature, will be available to anyone with a Revue account (sorry, Substackers). The move shows the continued emphasis Twitter is placing on newsletters following its January acquisition of the subscription newsletter service. Read more…

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

Twitter’s Art Decider will no longer decide what is art

Twitter's Art Decider will no longer decide what is art

Art Decider has finally decided its art is at an end.

Announced in a tweet on Tuesday, the beloved novelty account has decided it will no longer arbitrate what is and is not art on Twitter, leaving it to the huddled masses to discern meaning for themselves.

“I’ve decided that The Art Decider will end today,” wrote Art Decider, which is run by New York actor and writer Michael Tannenbaum. “I see this as a happy occasion since I’m able to end this project on my own terms.”

Active for over half a decade, Art Decider was a Twitter account with one simple premise: Decide whether something was “art,” or “not art.” Posting its simple assessments free of judgement, the account eventually gained over 200,000 followers, with people frequently tagging Art Decider under tweets to request arbitration. Read more…

More about Twitter, Art, Culture, and Web Culture

Twitter restricts accounts in India to comply with government legal request

Twitter disclosed on Monday that it blocked four accounts in India to comply with a new legal request from the Indian government.

The American social network disclosed on Lumen Database, a Harvard University project, that it took action on four accounts — including those of hip-hop artist L-Fresh the Lion and singer and song-writer Jazzy B — to comply with a legal request from the Indian government it received over the weekend. The accounts are geo-restricted within India but accessible from outside of the South Asian nation. (As part of their transparency efforts, some companies including Twitter and Google make requests and orders they receive from governments and other entities public on Lumen Database.)

All four accounts, like several others that the Indian government ordered to be blocked in the country earlier this year, had protested New Delhi’s agriculture reforms and some had posted other tweets that criticized Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s seven years of governance in India, an analysis by TechCrunch found.

A Twitter spokesperson told TechCrunch that when the company receives a valid legal request, it reviews it under both its own rules and local laws.

“If the content violates Twitter’s Rules, the content will be removed from the service. If it is determined to be illegal in a particular jurisdiction, but not in violation of the Twitter Rules, we may withhold access to the content in India only. In all cases, we notify the account holder directly so they’re aware that we’ve received a legal order pertaining to the account,” the spokesperson added.

The new legal request, which hasn’t been previously reported, comes at a time when Twitter is making efforts to comply with the Indian government’s new IT rules, new guidelines that several of its peers including Facebook and Google have already complied with.

On Saturday, India’s Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology had given a “final notice” to Twitter to comply with its new rules, which it unveiled in February this year. The new rules require significant social media firms to appoint and share contact details of representatives tasked with compliance, nodal point of reference and grievance redressals to address on-ground concerns.

Tension has been brewing between Twitter and the government of India of late. Last month, police in Delhi visited Twitter offices to “serve a notice” about an investigation into its intel on classifying Indian politicians’ tweets as misleading. Twitter called the move a form of intimidation, and expressed concerns for its employees and requested the government to respect citizens’ rights to free speech. Late last month, Twitter had requested New Delhi to extend the deadline for compliance with the new rules by at least three months.

The Jack Dorsey-led company has grappled with several tough situations in India this year. After briefly complying with a New Delhi order early this year, the company faced heat from the government for restoring accounts that had posted tweets critical of the Indian government’s policy or the Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The two faced off again publicly in April after New Delhi ordered Twitter and Facebook to take down posts that were critical of the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

In search of a new crypto deity

Hello friends, and welcome back to Week in Review!

Last week, I wrote about tech taking on Disney. This week, I’m talking about the search for a new crypto messiah.

If you’re reading this on the TechCrunch site, you can get this in your inbox from the newsletter page, and follow my tweets @lucasmtny.


The Big Thing

Elon has worn out his welcome among the crypto illuminati, and the acolytes of Bitcoin are searching out a new emperor god king.

This weekend, thousands of crypto acolytes and investors have descended on a Bitcoin-themed conference in Miami, a very real, very heavily-produced conference sporting crypto celebrities and actual celebrities all on a mission to make waves.

Even though I am not at the conference in person (panels from its main stage were live-streamed online), I have plenty of invites in my email for afterparties featuring celebrities, open bars and endless conversations on the perils of fiat. The cryptocurrency community has never been larger or richer thanks to its most fervent bull run yet, and despite a pretty noteworthy correction in the past few weeks, people believe the best is yet to come.

Despite having so much, what they still seem to be lacking is a patron saint.

For the longest bout, that was SpaceX and Tesla CEO Elon Musk who bolstered the currency by pushing Tesla to invest cash on its balance sheet into bitcoin, while also pushing for Tesla to accept bitcoin payments for its vehicles. As I’ve noted in this newsletter in the past, Musk had a tough time reconciling the sheer energy use of bitcoin’s global network with his eco warrior bravado which has seemed to lead to his mild and uneven excommunication (though I’m sure he’s welcome back at any time).

Goods & services are the real economy, any form of money is simply the accounting thereof

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) June 5, 2021

There are plenty of celebrities looking to fill his shoes — a recent endorsement gone wrong by Soulja Boy was one of the more comical instances.

Crypto has been no stranger to grift — of that even the most hardcore crypto grifters can likely agree — and I think there’s been some agreement that the only leader who can truly preach the gospel is someone who is already so rich they don’t even need more money. It’s one reason the community has offered up so much respect for Ethereum founder Vitalik Buterin who truly doesn’t seem to care too much about getting any wealthier — he donated about $1 billion worth of crypto to Covid relief efforts in India. A Musk-like cheerleader serves a different purpose though, and so the community is in search of a Good Billionaire.

The best runner-up at the moment appears to be one Jack Dorsey, and while — like Musk — he is also another double-CEO, he is quite a bit different from him in demeanor and desire for the spotlight. He was, however, a headline speaker at Miami’s Bitcoin conference.

Dorsey gathers the most headlines for his work at Twitter but it’s Square where he is pushing most of his crypto enthusiasm. Users can already use Square’s Cash App to buy Bitcoin. Minutes before going onstage Friday, Dorsey tweeted out a thread detailing that Square was interested in building its own hardware wallet that users could store cryptocurrency like bitcoin on outside of the confines of an exchange.

Square is considering making a hardware wallet for #bitcoin. If we do it, we would build it entirely in the open, from software to hardware design, and in collaboration with the community. We want to kick off this thinking the right way: by sharing some of our guiding principles.

— jack (@jack) June 4, 2021

“Bitcoin changes absolutely everything,” Dorsey said onstage. “I don’t think there is anything more important in my lifetime to work on.”

And while the billionaire Dorsey seems like a good choice on paper — he tweets about bitcoin often, but only good tweets. He defends its environmental effects. He shows up to House misinformation hearings with a bitcoin tracker clearly visible in the background. He is also unfortunately the CEO of Twitter, a company that’s desire to reign in its more troublesome users — including one very troublesome user — has caused a rift between him and the crypto community’s very vocal libertarian sect.

Dorsey didn’t make it very far into his speech before a heckler made a scene calling him a hypocrite because of all this with a few others piping in, but like any good potential crypto king would know to do, he just waited quietly for the noise to die down.


(Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)

Other things 

Here are the TechCrunch news stories that especially caught my eye this week:

Facebook’s Trump ban will last at least 2 years
In response to the Facebook Oversight Board’s recommendations that the company offer more specificity around its ban of former President Trump, the company announced Friday that it will be banning Trump from its platforms through January 2023 at least, though the company has basically given itself the ability to extend that deadline if it so desires…

Nigeria suspends Twitter
Nigeria is shutting down access to Twitter inside the country with a government official citing the “use of the platform for activities that are capable of undermining Nigeria’s corporate existence.” Twitter called the shutdown “deeply concerning.”

Stack Overflow gets acquired for $1.8 billion
Stack Overflow, one of the most-visited sites of developers across the technology industry, was acquired by Prosus. The heavy hitter investment firm is best known for owning a huge chunk of Tencent. Stack Overflow’s founders say the site will continue to operate independently under the new management.

Spotify ups its personalization
Music service Spotify launched a dedicated section this week called Only You which aims to capture some of the personalization it has been serving up in its annual Spotify Wrapped review. Highlights of the new feature include blended playlists with friends and mid-year reviews.

Supreme Court limits US hacking law in landmark case
Justices from the conservative and liberal wings joined together in a landmark ruling that put limits on what kind of conduct can be prosecuted under the controversial Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.

This one email explains Apple
Here’s a fun one, the email exchange that birthed the App Store between the late Steve Jobs and SVP of Software Engineering, Bertrand Serlet as annotated by my boss Matthew Panzarino.


illustration of money raining down

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin / TechCrunch

Extra things

Some of my favorite reads from our Extra Crunch subscription service this week:

For SaaS startups, differentiation is an iterative process
“The more you know about your target customers’ pain points with current solutions, the easier it will be to stand out. Take every opportunity to learn about the people you are aiming to serve, and which problems they want to solve the most. Analyst reports about specific sectors may be useful, but there is no better source of information than the people who, hopefully, will pay to use your solution..”

3 lessons we learned after raising $6 million from 50 investors
“…being pre-product at the time, we had to lean on our experience and our vision to drive conviction and urgency among investors. Unfortunately, it just wasn’t enough. Investors either felt that our experience was a bad fit for the space we were entering (productivity/scheduling) or that our vision wasn’t compelling enough to merit investment on the terms we wanted.

The existential cost of decelerated growth
“Just because a technology startup has a hot start, that doesn’t mean it will grow quickly forever. Most will wind up somewhere in the middle — or worse. Put simply, there is a larger number of tech companies that do fine or a little bit worse after they reach scale.”

 

Again, if you’re reading this on the TechCrunch site, you can get this in your inbox from the newsletter page, and follow my tweets @lucasmtny.

Nigeria bans Twitter for deleting a post from the president

Nigeria bans Twitter for deleting a post from the president

Twitter’s Nigerian users face a dilemma: Leave the platform or tweet and be arrested.

On Friday, Nigeria banned Twitter — yes, the entirety of Twitter — from the country.

The move comes after Twitter deleted a tweet from Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari on Wednesday. The company also suspended Buhari from using the platform for 12 hours.

According to CNN, Twitter said the tweet violated its abusive behavior policies. Many Nigerians had reported the president’s tweet as well.

Ironically, the Nigerian government announced its “indefinite” suspension of Twitter on…Twitter.

The Federal Government has suspended, indefinitely, the operations of the microblogging and social networking service, Twitter, in Nigeria.

— Fed Min of Info & Cu (@FMICNigeria) June 4, 2021 Read more…

More about Twitter, Nigeria, Tech, Big Tech Companies, and Politics

Nigeria suspends Twitter operations, says platform ‘undermines its corporate existence’

The Nigerian government via its Ministry of Information and Culture today announced its decision to suspend the activities of social media platform Twitter in the country.

The statement which was made by Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, and signed off by his media aide Segun Adeyemi could see telecoms in the country prevent Nigerians from using Twitter.

Here’s the statement issued by the ministry:

The Federal Government has suspended indefinitely the operations of the microblogging and social networking service Twitter in Nigeria. The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, announced the suspension in a statement issued in Abuja on Friday, citing the presistent use of the platform for activities that are capable of undermining Nigeria’s corporate existence.

The Minister said the Federal Government has also directed the National Broadcasting Comission (NBC) to immediately commence the process of licensing all OTT and social media operations in Nigeria.

Today’s announcement is a culmination of events that have happened this past week. Yesterday, Twitter deleted tweets and videos of President Muhammadu Buhari making threats of punishment to a sect called IPOB in the South-Eastern part of the country after he blamed them for attacks on government buildings. For that, he referenced the events that happened in Nigeria’s civil war back in the 1960s which seemed offensive to many Nigerians.

Buhari who was the country’s Head of State in the 1980s and served in the army against secessionists said young Nigerians in the southeastern part of the country were too young to remember the horrible events that occurred during the war. According to him, the activities of the present-day secessionists are likely headed towards war, hence, it was prereogative to stop them beforehand.

“Those of us in the fields for 30 months, who went through the war, will treat them in the language they understand,” he said.

Twitter decided to delete the tweet after several calls by Nigerians to take them down and also because it violated the platform’s abusive behaviour policy. Twitter also suspended the president’s account leaving it in a ‘read-only mode’ for 12 hours.

Following Twitter’s decision, Mr Mohammed called out Twitter by saying the social media company was biased in its decision and raised suspicion about the platform’s intention in the country.

We have reached out to Twitter for comments.

This is a developing story…

Twitter officially launches ‘Twitter Blue,’ its new subscription service

Twitter officially launches 'Twitter Blue,' its new subscription service

“Yes, the rumors are true,” reads a tweet from Twitter’s official communications team . 

The rumors are about Twitter’s often talked about paid subscription service. Twitter unveiled the new subscription tier, Twitter Blue, on Thursday. It is rolling immediately in Canada and Australia.

That’s right, Canadian and Australian Mashable readers. Twitter is launching this service’s “first iteration,” exclusively for you.

So, what’s included?

Yes, the rumors are true
Twitter Blue is now available in Australia and Canada

Bookmark Folders? ✔️
Undo Tweet? ✔️
Reader Mode? ✔️

Plus other fun surprises

More about Twitter Blue: https://t.co/NlVeWDUEqy

And don’t forget to follow @TwitterBlue to share your feedback!

— Twitter Comms (@TwitterComms) June 3, 2021 Read more…

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

Twitter’s acquisition strategy: eat the public conversation

Evan J. Zimmerman
Contributor

Evan J. Zimmerman is the founder and CEO of Drift, a genomics software company, and chairman of Jovono, a venture capital firm.

The last few months have been interesting for Twitter.

After years of no innovation at all, Twitter is making big product changes. It has acquired Breaker and Revue, and presumably has more M&A coming. It’s coming out with Spaces. The only thing it clearly isn’t working on is an edit button.

The core idea is that Twitter is doubling down on multichannel engagement for creators so that they never have to leave for anywhere else.

Strategically, though, what is a microblogging service doing buying a social podcasting company and a newsletter tool while also building a live broadcasting sub-app? Is there even a strategy at all?

I humbly propose this: There is a strategy. Twitter is trying to revitalize itself by adding more contexts for discourse to its repertoire. The result, if everything goes right, will be an influence superapp that hasn’t existed anywhere before. The alternative is nothing less than the destruction of Twitter into a link-forwarding service.

Let’s talk about how Twitter is trying to eat the public conversation.

Why now?

Twitter’s problem is pretty simple. It’s this.

Twitter revenue quarterly growth 2013-21

Twitter revenue quarterly growth 2013-21. Image Credits: Macrotrends

Another way of putting it is: Twitter is not generating as much money from ads as it used to. Ad revenue has failed to grow because Twitter is generally considered to have a poorly performing product for marketers. As a result, its stock price has been flat for years.

The irony, though, is that Twitter became more socially important during this period of financial stagnation to the point that the president of the United States nearly launched several wars on the platform!

The core reason is that since becoming a public company, Twitter has been considered by most to be one of the most boring tech companies productwise. Yes, people joke about the lack of an edit button, but the platform really has been slow to innovate in any real way.

Twitter was one of the most dynamic companies around, going from the fail whale company to being the company that invented the hashtag and acquiring some of the hottest companies, from Periscope to Vine.

But it all failed. Twitter rarely used acquisitions successfully. It stopped putting out new features and barely even managed simple improvements. Despite describing itself as “what’s happening now,” it missed every boat. Until this year.

What changed?

  1. Twitter started to face its first real competition in years due to the social media renaissance. Twitter’s strength has always come from being where the news happens. Podcasts, Clubhouse, newsletters and other new channels are true competitive threats.

Indivisible is training an army of volunteers to neutralize political misinformation

The grassroots Democratic organization Indivisible is launching its own team of stealth fact-checkers to push back against misinformation — an experiment in what it might look like to train up a political messaging infantry and send them out into the information trenches.

Called the “Truth Brigade,” the corps of volunteers will learn best practices for countering popular misleading narratives on the right. They’ll coordinate with the organization on a biweekly basis to unleash a wave of progressive messaging that aims to drown out political misinformation and boost Biden’s legislative agenda in the process.

Considering the scope of the misinformation that remains even after social media’s big January 6 cleanup, the project will certainly have its work cut out for it.

“This is an effort to empower volunteers to step into a gap that is being created by very irresponsible behavior by the social media platforms,” Indivisible co-founder and co-executive director Leah Greenberg told TechCrunch. “It is absolutely frustrating that we’re in this position of trying to combat something that they ultimately have a responsibility to address.”

Greenberg co-founded Indivisible with her husband following the 2016 election. The organization grew out of the viral success the pair had when they and two other former House staffers published a handbook to Congressional activism. The guide took off in the flurry of “resist”-era activism on the left calling on Americans to push back on Trump and his agenda.

Indivisible’s Truth Brigade project blossomed out of a pilot program in Colorado spearheaded by Jody Rein, a senior organizer concerned about what she was seeing in her state. Since that pilot began last fall, the program has grown into 2,500 volunteers across 45 states.

The messaging will largely center around Biden’s ambitious legislative packages: the American Rescue plan, the voting rights bill HR1 and the forthcoming infrastructure package. Rather than debunking political misinformation about those bills directly, the volunteer team will push back with personalized messages promoting the legislation and dispelling false claims within their existing social spheres on Facebook and Twitter.

The coordinated networks at Indivisible will cross-promote those pieces of semi-organic content using tactics parallel to what a lot of disinformation campaigns do to send their own content soaring (In the case of groups that make overt efforts to conceal their origins, Facebook calls this “coordinated inauthentic behavior.”) Since the posts are part of a volunteer push and not targeted advertising, they won’t be labeled, though some might contain hashtags that connect them back to the Truth Brigade campaign.

Volunteers are trained to serve up progressive narratives in a “truth sandwich” that’s careful to not amplify the misinformation it’s meant to push back against. For Indivisible, training volunteers to avoid giving political misinformation even more oxygen is a big part of the effort.

“What we know is that actually spreads disinformation and does the work of some of these bad actors for them,” Greenberg said. “We are trying to get folks to respond not by engaging in that fight — that’s really doing their work for them — but by trying to advance the kind of narrative that we actually want people to buy into.”

Truth Sandwich:
1. Start with the truth. The first frame gets the advantage.
2. Indicate the lie. Avoid amplifying the specific language if possible.
3. Return to the truth. Always repeat truths more than lies.
Hear more in Ep 14 of FrameLab w/@gilduran76https://t.co/cQNOqgRk0w

— George Lakoff (@GeorgeLakoff) December 1, 2018

She cites the social media outrage cycle perpetuated by Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene as a harbinger of what Democrats will again be up against in 2022. Taylor Greene is best known for endorsing QAnon, getting yanked off of her Congressional committee assignments and comparing mask requirements to the Holocaust — comments that inspired some Republicans to call for her ouster from the party.

Political figures like Greene regularly rile up the left with outlandish claims and easily debunked conspiracies. Greenberg believes that political figures like Greene who regularly rile up the online left suck up a lot of energy that could be better spent resisting the urge to rage-retweet and spreading progressive political messages.

“It’s not enough to just fact check [and] it’s not enough to just respond, because then fundamentally we’re operating from a defensive place,” Greenberg said.

“We want to be proactively spreading positive messages that people can really believe in and grab onto and that will inoculate them from some of this.”

For Indivisible, the project is a long-term experiment that could pave the way for a new kind of online grassroots political campaign beyond targeted advertising — one that hopes to boost the signal in a sea of noise.

Twitter Blue, a $3 monthly subscription service, could be coming soon

Great news for typo-prone tweeters: Twitter Blue, a $2.99 monthly subscription, appears to be coming soon to a Timeline near you.

Two weeks ago, researcher Jane Manchun Wong first reported that Twitter’s new subscription service is in the works. But yesterday, Twitter’s iOS App Store listing updated to list Twitter Blue as an in-app purchase, confirming earlier findings from this unofficial source. Though users can’t yet subscribe to Twitter Blue – even after downloading app update – Wong dug up details about the service, signaling that its launch could be imminent.  

In addition to the undo button, which Wong uncovered as early as March, this service will include a reader mode, which turns tweet threads into “easy-to-read text.” Twitter acquired Scroll and Revue this year in an effort to improve users’ reading experience on the app, so this addition makes sense. Plus, users will be able to change the color of the Twitter app icon, as well as the color theme of their Timeline, a feature that’s already available on the web. Twitter Blue subscribers can also organize tweets into Collections – this feature looks like an updated version of Bookmarks, but with the added ability to organize tweets into folders. 

Currently, Twitter ads make up 85% of the company’s revenue. Twitter told Bloomberg in February that it plans to “research and experiment” with new ways to monetize the platform, especially as its user growth has slowed. But over the last several months, Twitter has teased some of the platform’s biggest changes since doubling the 140-character tweet limit in 2018. These features include Super Follows, Tip Jar, Twitter Spaces, and more.

This week at J.P. Morgan’s Global Technology, Media, and Communications conference, Twitter CFO Ned Segal indicated that the company views Twitter Blue and Super Follows as two separate types of subscriptions. On Google Play, the Twitter app page lists an in-app product priced at $4.99 per item, which might indicate the upcoming launch of Super Follows, too. Segal also said that Twitter would offer more information about the service in the coming months, then “ultimately roll it out to people around the world.”

Finally, for those of us wondering – no, there’s no indication of plans for an “edit tweet” button at this time.

Twitter’s App Store listing confirms $2.99 price for ‘Twitter Blue’ paid service

Twitter's App Store listing confirms $2.99 price for 'Twitter Blue' paid service

It appears that Twitter is serious about launching a paid service. 

The company’s own listing in Apple’s App Store now says the Twitter app offers in-app purchases. The only in-app purchase listed is for something called ‘Twitter Blue,’ and it costs $2.99. 

Look what we have here.

Look what we have here.

Image: stan schroeder/Twitter

We’ve known about this for a few weeks; researcher Jane Manchun Wong recently dug out references to Twitter Blue, as well as the $2.99 price, in the Twitter app. One of the features offered by what is presumably Twitter’s paid, premium service, is Collections, which lets you “save and organize your favorite Tweets into Collections so that they’re easier to find later.” Read more…

More about Twitter, Tech, and Social Media Companies

Twitter says concerned with India intimidation, requests 3 more months to comply with new IT rules

Twitter called the recent visit by police to its Indian offices a form of intimidation and said it was concerned by some of the requirements in New Delhi’s new IT rules.

Speaking for the first time since a special squad of Delhi police made a surprise visit to two of its offices on Monday, Twitter said it is “concerned by recent events regarding our employees in India and the potential threat to freedom of expression for the people we serve.”

The company also said that it joins many organizations in India and around the world that have “concerns with regards to the use of intimidation tactics by the police in response to enforcement of our global Terms of Service, as well as with core elements of the new IT Rules.”

A Twitter spokesperson added: “We plan to advocate for changes to elements of these regulations that inhibit free, open public conversation. We will continue our constructive dialogue with the Indian Government and believe it is critical to adopt a collaborative approach. It is the collective responsibility of elected officials, industry, and civil society to safeguard the interests of the public.”

Tension between American tech giants Twitter and Facebook and the Indian government has been brewing for months. Twitter faced heat from politicians after it refused to block accounts that criticised New Delhi’s reforms and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

India is one of the largest markets for American tech firms that poured billions of dollars in the South Asian nation in the past decade to get more people connected to the web. According to Indian government estimates, Twitter has 175 million users in India, while WhatsApp has amassed over 530 million users.

Their tension escalated Wednesday after WhatsApp sued the Indian government in a court in Delhi over the new IT rules that it said would compromise users’ privacy and give New Delhi the power to conduct mass surveillance.

India announced the new IT rules in February and gave firms three months to comply. The deadline expired this week, and on Wednesday the Ministry of Electronics and IT asked social media firms for an update on their compliant status, TechCrunch first reported.

Twitter said Thursday that the new IT rules’ requirements to make a compliance officer criminally liable for content on the platform, proactive monitoring, and blanket authority to seek information about users represented a dangerous overreach that was inconsistent with open and democratic principles.

The microblogging platform also requested New Delhi to consider granting a minimum of 3 months extension to comply with the new IT rules and publish Standard Operating Protocols on aspects of compliance of public consultation.

Twitter said it was recently served with another non-compliance notice in India and withheld a portion of the content identified in the notice under. The content identified in the notice, Twitter said, was originally reported in the blocking orders since February 2021.

It said in recent months it has been compelled to withhold content in response to a non-compliance notice. Not doing so, it said, poses penal consequences with many risks for Twitter employees.

Twitter teases its upcoming ‘premium’ service which it plans to release globally

Would you pay for an upgraded Twitter? That’s a question Twitter will soon answer when it rolls out a new subscription service that will present users with an expanded feature set available only to paid subscribers. This is a different offering than Twitter’s previously announced Super Follow subscription plans, which will allow users to subscribe to individual creators’ for access to exclusive content. Instead, the new subscription service will target Twitter’s power users who tweet frequently enough or otherwise engage with the product to the point that they’d be willing to pay to do even more.

Twitter has already broadly hinted at its forthcoming subscription plans, having told Bloomberg in February that it would “research and experiment” with ways to diversify its revenue beyond advertising in 2021 and beyond. Twitter ads are 85% of revenue, but Twitter often faces slowing or flat user growth. That has led the company to consider new ways to extract more money from existing users. It told Bloomberg this plan “may include subscriptions” and other approaches that gave businesses and users access to “unique features.”

It also reiterated its interest in subscription products during its Twitter Analyst Day later that same month, when it said it would “experiment with subscriptions.” And its Twitter Investor Relations account tweeted in March that it would “test subscription products in public.”

But so far, the only subscription product Twitter has fully detailed is Super Follow, also announced during its Analyst Day event. It had not specifically spelled out what its other subscription tests would look like, nor provided any sense as to when they would arrive beyond tests that would begin rolling out “over the course of this year.”

What we know of Twitter’s efforts on this particular front doesn’t come from official sources.

Instead, it comes from app researcher Jane Manchun Wong, who earlier this month scooped not only Twitter’s premium subscription offering itself but also its name and pricing. She found the forthcoming subscription plan, currently dubbed “Twitter Blue,” would cost $2.99 per month and would include access to new features like bookmark collections and the Undo Tweets feature that Twitter had previously confirmed to CNET were being tested.

However, when tech news site The Verge asked Twitter to comment on Twitter Blue, the company declined.

This week at J.P. Morgan’s Global Technology, Media, and Communications conference, Twitter spelled things out a bit more clearly.

Instead of vaguely hinting at forthcoming “experiments” or tests that gave users “people and businesses of all sizes access to unique features,” as it said before (gotta love that corporate speak!), Twitter CFO Ned Segal told investors its new “premium service” would be aimed at people who use Twitter’s service — “and they pay us for it.”

Segal noted this premium offering was one of the two types of subscriptions that Twitter had in the works, the other being Super Follows.

The premium service also sounded less of an “experiment,” than when Twitter had discussed its plans before. In earlier statements, it had seemed as if Twitter was embarking on some kind of research project to see if there was even any demand for a Twitter premium subscription at all. The wording the company used in the past didn’t make it clear how seriously this effort was.

Segal said the company would offer more info about Twitter’s premium service in the coming months. It would test the service to learn more but then, it would “ultimately roll it out to people around the world,” he said.

That’s no “experiment” — that’s a roadmap.

Twitter won’t replace the core, free product it offers, in case you were concerned. He cleared that up, too. It will provide premium features “on top of [Twitter’s] continuous improvement mindset around the free version of the service that everybody will continue to have access to.”

Twitter shouldn’t have to tweak the new offering too much, as it’s already done a lot of pre-launch research on what features users are most interested in, including via user base surveys back in 2020. Not surprisingly, the Undo Tweet option — as close as we’ll ever get to an “edit” button, was among those features users wanted most.

While Twitter didn’t really say anything we didn’t know already, thanks to assumptions, leaks and vague confirmations in the past, it’s nice to see it spelled out in a more straightforward manner as a forthcoming product meant for users worldwide.

“We want to make sure that we have a durable business for our benefit, but also for the benefit of people who use the service,” Segal said.

The question now remains whether Twitter’s users will actually subscribe.

India asks social media firms if they have complied with the new regulations

India has asked social media firms to provide specific details about whether they have complied with its new IT rules “as soon as possible” and “preferably today” even as the new regulations are being challenged by WhatsApp.

In a letter to “significant social media intermediaries” — which New Delhi defines as social media firms with over 5 million registered users in India — on Wednesday, Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology asked the firms to share the names of their apps, websites, or services that will come under the scope of the new IT rules and the status of their compliance.

The letter, obtained by TechCrunch, also asks the firms to provide names and contact details of chief compliance officer, nodal contact person, and resident grievance officer that they have appointed in India as part of the compliance, and also asked for the physical address of the local office. The new rules mandate that firms have several officials in India to address on-ground concerns.

The letter also implies that India doesn’t plan to give social media firms any extension on the deadline to comply with the new regulations. “The additional due diligence required from SSMI have come into effect today, at the conclusion of three additional months given to SSMIs,” it said.

“If you are not considered as SSMI, please provide the reasons for the same including the registered users on each of the services provided by you,” the letter adds. “The government reserves the right to seek any additional information, as may be permitted within these Rules and the IT Act.”

Earlier on Wednesday, WhatsApp sued the Indian government challenging the second largest internet market’s new regulations that it said could allow authorities to make people’s private messages “traceable,” and conduct mass surveillance.

This is a developing story. More to follow…

Tiger Global leads $30 million investment in Indian Twitter rival Koo

Investors are backing Koo, an Indian alternative to Twitter, with large size checks at a time when tension is brewing between the American social network and New Delhi.

The Indian startup said on Wednesday it has raised $30 million in a financing round led by Tiger Global Management. Mirae Asset and IIFL’s venture capital fund and existing investors 3one4 Capital, Blume Ventures, and Accel also participated in the round, which valued the Bangalore-based startup at over $100 million, up from about $25 million in February.

Like Twitter, Koo app allows users to send out posts in English and half a dozen Indian languages. The app has gained popularity in India in recent months following flare-ups between Twitter and the Indian government after the San Francisco-headquartered firm refused to block accounts that criticized New Delhi and Prime Minister Narendra Modi earlier this year.

(The Indian government, like Singapore’s, also ordered Twitter and Facebook last week to take down posts that identified a new variant of the coronavirus as “Indian variant”. Also last week, New Delhi objected to Twitter’s labeling of some of its politicians’ tweets as manipulated media. Earlier this week, police in Delhi visited Twitter offices to “serve a notice.”)

Several prominent government officials — including Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal, Information and Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javadekar, Union Cabinet Minister Smriti Irani, Electronics and IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad — and many celebrities have signed up on Koo in recent months and urged their followers to follow suit.

Though the app, co-founded by Aprameya Radhakrishna (who also co-founded TaxiForSure, which was sold to local giant Ola; and is a prolific angel investor), has won the trust of investors, it is yet to gain ground.

One-year-old Koo app had fewer than 6 million monthly active users in India in April, according to mobile insight firm App Annie (data of which an industry executive shared with TechCrunch).

The startup says it aims to build a social network for the entire nation and not just a fraction of it. Twitter remains largely popular among users in urban cities in India.

Koo, whose initial traction has been credited to Hindu nationalists, is currently one of the handful of social networks that has complied with India’s new IT rules that grant New Delhi greater power to take down posts it deems offensive.

The revised IT rules, announced in February, would put an end to “double standards” by making platforms more accountable to the local law, government officials said then. Failure to comply might bereft social networks of safe harbor protection.

The deadline to comply with the new rules expires on Wednesday. Facebook, which identifies India as its largest market, said it “aims to comply” with the new rules, while Google said in a statement that it “respects” India’s legislative process.

Koo is the latest investment from Tiger Global in India this year. The hedge fund, which has backed over 20 Indian unicorns, has emerged as the most prolific investor in Indian startups in recent months, winning founders with its pace of investment, check size, and favorable terms.

European Parliament amps up pressure on EU-US data flows and GDPR enforcement

European Union lawmakers are facing further pressure to step in and do something about lackadaisical enforcement of the bloc’s flagship data protection regime after the European Parliament voted yesterday to back a call urging the Commission to start an infringement proceeding against Ireland’s Data Protection Commission (DPC) for not “properly enforcing” the regulation.

The Commission and the DPC have been contacted for comment on the parliament’s call.

Last summer the Commission’s own two-year review of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) highlighted a lack of uniformly vigorous enforcement — but commissioners were keener to point out the positives, lauding the regulation as a “global reference point”.

But it’s now nearly three years since the regulation begun being applied and criticism over weak enforcement is getting harder for the EU’s executive to ignore.

The parliament’s resolution — which, while non-legally binding, fires a strong political message across the Commission’s bow — singles out the DPC for specific criticism given its outsized role in enforcement of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). It’s the lead supervisory authority for complaints brought against the many big tech companies which choose to site their regional headquarters in the country (on account of its corporate-friendly tax system).

The text of the resolution expresses “deep concern” over the DPC’s failure to reach a decision on a number of complaints against breaches of the GDPR filed the day it came into application, on May 25, 2018 — including against Facebook and Google — and criticises the Irish data watchdog for interpreting ‘without delay’ in Article 60(3) of the GDPR “contrary to the legislators’ intention – as longer than a matter of months”, as they put it.

To date the DPC has only reached a final decision on one cross-border GDPR case — against Twitter.

The parliament also says it’s “concerned about the lack of tech specialists working for the DPC and their use of outdated systems” (which Brave also flagged last year) — as well as criticizing the watchdog’s handling of a complaint originally brought by privacy campaigner Max Schrems years before the GDPR came into application, which relates to the clash between EU privacy rights and US surveillance laws, and which still hasn’t resulted in a decision.

The DPC’s approach to handling Schrems’ 2013 complaint led to a 2018 referral to the CJEU — which in turn led to the landmark Schrems II judgement last summer invalidating the flagship EU-US data transfer arrangement, Privacy Shield.

That ruling did not outlaw alternative data transfer mechanisms but made it clear that EU DPAs have an obligation to step in and suspend data transfers if European’s information is being taken to a third country that does not have essentially equivalent protections to those they have under EU law — thereby putting the ball back in the DPC’s court on the Schrems complaint.

The Irish regulator then sent a preliminary order to Facebook to suspend its data transfers and the tech giant responded by filing for a judicial review of the DPC’s processes. However the Irish High Court rejected Facebook’s petition last week. And a stay on the DPC’s investigation was lifted yesterday — so the DPC’s process of reaching a decision on the Facebook data flows complaint has started moving again.

A final decision could still take several months more, though — as we’ve reported before — as the DPC’s draft decision will also need to be put to the other EU DPAs for review and the chance to object.

The parliament’s resolution states that it “is worried that supervisory authorities have not taken proactive steps under Article 61 and 66 of the GDPR to force the DPC to comply with its obligations under the GDPR”, and — in more general remarks on the enforcement of GDPR around international data transfers — it states that it:

Is concerned about the insufficient level of enforcement of the GDPR, particularly in the area of international transfers; expresses concerns at the lack of prioritisation and overall scrutiny by national supervisory authorities with regard to personal data transfers to third countries, despite the significant CJEU case law developments over the past five years; deplores the absence of meaningful decisions and corrective measures in this regard, and urges the EDPB [European Data Protection Board] and national supervisory authorities to include personal data transfers as part of their audit, compliance and enforcement strategies; points out that harmonised binding administrative procedures on the representation of data subjects and admissibility are needed to provide legal certainty and deal with crossborder complaints;

The knotty, multi-year saga of Schrems’ Facebook data-flows complaint, as played out via the procedural twists of the DPC and Facebook’s lawyers’ delaying tactics, illustrates the multi-layered legal, political and commercial complexities bound up with data flows out of the EU (post-Snowden’s 2013 revelations of US mass surveillance programs) — not to mention the staggering challenge for EU data subjects to actually exercise the rights they have on paper. But these intersecting issues around international data flows do seem to be finally coming to a head, in the wake of the Schrems II CJEU ruling.

The clock is now ticking for the issuing of major data suspension orders by EU data protection agencies, with Facebook’s business first in the firing line.

Other US-based services that are — similarly — subject to the US’ FISA regime (and also move EU users data over the pond for processing; and whose businesses are such they cannot shield user data via ‘zero access’ encryption architecture) are equally at risk of receiving an order to shut down their EU-US data-pipes. Or else having to shift data processing for these users inside the EU.

US-based services aren’t the only ones facing increasing legal uncertainty, either.

The UK, post-Brexit, is also classed as a third country (in EU law terms). And in a separate resolution today the parliament adopted a text on the UK adequacy agreement, granted earlier this year by the Commission, which raises objections to the arrangement — including by flagging a lack of GDPR enforcement in the UK as problematic.

On that front the parliament highlights how adtech complaints filed with the ICO have failed to yield a decision. (It writes that it’s concerned “non-enforcement is a structural problem” in the UK — which it suggests has left “a large number of data protection law breaches… [un]remedied”.)

It also calls out the UK’s surveillance regime, questioning its compatibility with the CJEU’s requirements for essential equivalence — while also raising concerns about the risk that the UK could undermine protections on EU citizens data via onward transfers to jurisdictions the EU does not have an adequacy agreement with, among other objections.

The Commission put a four year lifespan on the UK’s adequacy deal — meaning there will be another major review ahead of any continuation of the arrangement in 2025.

It’s a far cry from the ‘hands-off’ fifteen years the EU-US ‘Safe Harbor’ agreement stood for, before a Schrems challenge finally led to the CJEU striking it down back in 2015. So the takeaway here is that data deals that allow for people’s information to leave Europe aren’t going to be allowed to stand unchecked for years; close scrutiny and legal accountability are now firmly up front — and will remain in the frame going forward.

The global nature of the Internet and the ease with which data can digitally flow across borders of course brings huge benefits for businesses — but the resulting interplay between different legal regimes is leading to increasing levels of legal uncertainty for companies seeking to take people’s data across borders.

In the EU’s case, the issue is that data protection is regulated within the bloc and these laws require that protection stays with people’s information, no matter where it goes. So if the data flows to countries that do not offer the same safeguards — be that the US or indeed China or India (or even the UK) — then that risk is that it can’t, legally, be taken there.

How to resolve this clash, between data protection laws based on individual privacy rights and data access mandates driven by national security priorities, has no easy answers.

For the US, and for the transatlantic data flows between the EU and the US, the Commission has warned there will be no quick fix this time — as happened when it slapped a sticking plaster atop the invalidated Safe Harbor, hailing a new ‘Privacy Shield’ regime; only for the CJEU to blast that out of the water for much the same reasons a few years later. (The parliament resolution is particularly withering in its assessment of the Commission’s historic missteps there.)

For a fix to stick, major reform of US surveillance law is going to be needed. And the Commission appears to have accepted that’s not going to come overnight, so it seems to be trying to brace businesses for turbulence…

On EU-US transfers, I am in close contact with 🇺🇸 authorities to find future-proof solutions. We are working hard to provide stakeholders with practical guidance. There will be no quick-fix, as this will need to fully comply with EU law, not. the fundament right to privacy (3/3) pic.twitter.com/OzxCDvlEVD

— Didier Reynders (@dreynders) May 20, 2021

The parliament’s resolution on Schrems II also makes it clear that it expects DPAs to step in and cut off risky data flows — with MEPs writing that “if no arrangement with the US is swiftly found which guarantees an essentially equivalent and therefore adequate level of protection to that provided by the GDPR and the Charter, that these transfers will be suspended until the situation is resolved”.

So if DPAs fail to do this — and if Ireland keeps dragging its feet on closing out the Schrems complaint — they should expect more resolutions to be blasted at them from the parliament.

MEPs emphasize the need for any future EU-US data transfer agreement “to address the problems identified by the Court ruling in a sustainable manner” — pointing out that “no contract between companies can provide protection from indiscriminate access by intelligence authorities to the content of electronic communications, nor can any contract between companies provide sufficient legal remedies against mass surveillance”.

“This requires a reform of US surveillance laws and practices with a view to ensuring that access of US security authorities to data transferred from the EU is limited to what is necessary and proportionate, and that European data subjects have access to effective judicial redress before US courts,” the parliament adds.

It’s still true that businesses may be able to legally move EU personal data out of the bloc. Even, potentially, to the US — depending on the type of business; the data itself; and additional safeguards that could be applied.

However for data-mining companies like Facebook — which are subject to FISA and whose businesses rely on accessing people’s data — then achieving essential equivalence with EU privacy protections looks, well, essentially impossible.

And while the parliament hasn’t made an explicit call in the resolution for Facebook’s EU data flows to be cut off that is the clear implication of it urging infringement proceedings against the DPC (and deploring “the absence of meaningful decisions and corrective measures” in the area of international transfers).

The parliament also states in the resolution that it wants to see “solid mechanisms compliant with the CJEU judgement” set out — for the benefit of businesses with the chance to legally move data out of the EU — saying, for example, that the Commission’s proposal for a template for Standard Contractual Clauses (SCCs) should “duly take into account all the relevant recommendations of the EDPB“.

It also says it supports the creation of a tool box of supplementary measures for such businesses to choose from — in areas like security and data protection certification; encryption safeguards; and pseudonymisation — so long as the measures included are accepted by regulators.

It also wants to see publicly available resources on the relevant legislation of the EU’s main trading partners to help businesses that have the possibility of being able to legally move data out of the bloc get guidance to help them do so with compliance.

The overarching message here is that businesses should buckle up for disruption of cross-border data flows — and tool up for compliance, where possible.

In another segment of the resolution, for example, the parliament calls on the Commission to “analyse the situation of cloud providers falling under section 702 of the FISA who transfers data using SCCs” — going on to suggest that support for European alternatives to US cloud providers may be needed to plug “gaps in the protection of data of European citizens transferred to the United States” and — in a more blatant push for digital sovereignty — “reduce the dependence of the Union in storage capacities vis-à-vis third countries and to strengthen the Union’s strategic autonomy in terms of data management and protection”.

Chrissy Teigen has quit Twitter

Chrissy Teigen has quit Twitter

Twitter queen Chrissy Teigen has abdicated her throne, proving once again that she is better than the rest of us.

In a final series of tweets on Wednesday night, Teigen announced she would be leaving Twitter due to the negative impact the social media platform was having on her. Minutes later, her entire account had been deleted.

“For over 10 years, you guys have been my world,” said Teigen in a now-deleted tweet thread. “I honestly owe so much to this world we have created here. I truly consider so many of you my actual friends.

“But it’s time for me to say goodbye. This no longer serves me as positively as it serves me negatively, and I think that’s the right time to call something.” Read more…

More about Twitter, Chrissy Teigen, Culture, and Celebrities

Twitter will now ban users for spreading coronavirus vaccine misinformation

Twitter will now ban users for spreading coronavirus vaccine misinformation

Twitter has introduced a new strikes system intended to combat coronavirus vaccine misinformation. Under the new policy announced in a blog post on Monday, users who repeatedly spread harmful or misleading information on the COVID-19 vaccines may soon find themselves permanently suspended.

Of course, said users will get a few warning shots before they’re booted off Twitter entirely. Accounts that violate Twitter’s COVID-19 policy will first be notified when action is taken against their account, giving them time to reconsider and change their misinformed ways.

“Through the use of the strike system, we hope to educate people on why certain content breaks our rules so they have the opportunity to further consider their behavior and their impact on the public conversation,” wrote Twitter. Read more…

More about Twitter, Misinformation, Tech, and Big Tech Companies

Twitter explored buying India’s ShareChat and turning Moj into a global TikTok rival

Twitter recently held talks to acquire Indian social media startup ShareChat as the company explored ways to expand its presence in the world’s second largest internet market and build a global rival to TikTok, three sources familiar with the matter told TechCrunch.

The American firm, which is already an investor in Bangalore-based ShareChat, offered to buy the Indian startup for $1.1 billion and had committed an additional investment of $900 million, two of the sources said.

The talks are no longer ongoing, two sources said, requesting anonymity as the matter is private. TechCrunch could not determine why the talks did not materialize into a deal.

Two sources said Twitter had expressed intention to take Moj, a short-form video app that ShareChat owns, to international markets and position it as a rival to Chinese app TikTok.

Twitter declined to comment and ShareChat did not respond to a request for comment.

India’s ban on TikTok last year prompted scores of local startups and international giants to try their hands at short-form video format.

Moj, with over 80 million users already, has emerged as one of the largest players in the category. Earlier this month, Snap inked a deal with ShareChat to integrate its Camera Kit into the Indian short video app. This is the first time Snap had formed a partnership of this kind with a firm in India.

With the buyout offer no longer being entertained, ShareChat has resumed talks with other investors for its new financing round. These investors include Google, Snap, the sources said.

TechCrunch reported in January that the Indian startup was talking to Google and Snap as well as some existing investors including Twitter to raise over $200 million. A potential acquisition by Twitter prolonged the investment talks.

ShareChat, which claims to have over 160 million users, offers its social network app in 15 Indian languages and has a large following in small Indian cities and towns, or what venture capitalist Sajith Pai of Blume Ventures refer as “India 2.” Very few players in the Indian startup ecosystem have a reach to this segment of this population, which thanks to users from even smaller towns and villages — called “India 3” — getting online has expanded in recent years.

In an interview with TechCrunch last year, Ankush Sachdeva, co-founder and chief executive of ShareChat, said the startup’s marquee app was growing “exponentially” and that users were spending, on an average, more than 30 minutes a day on the service.

Twitter, itself, has struggled to make inroads outside of bigger cities and towns in India. Its app reached about 75 million users in the country in the month of January, according to mobile insight firm AppAnnie, data of which an industry executive shared with TechCrunch. It inked a deal with news and social app Dailyhunt to bring Moments — curated tweets pertaining to news and other local events — to the Google-backed Indian app.

The American social network has broadened its product offering in the past year amid pressure from activist investors to accelerate growth.

Google-backed Dailyhunt and Josh’s parent firm raises over $100 million

VerSe Innovation, the parent firm of popular news and entertainment app Dailyhunt and short video app Josh, said on Monday it has raised over $100 million as part of a Series H financing round from Qatar Investment Authority and Glade Brook Capital Partners.

The announcement follows another $100 million+ investment the startup secured from Google, AlphaWave, and Microsoft in December last year. That tranche of investment, also part of Series H, had turned Dailyhunt into a unicorn (giving it a valuation of $1 billion or higher). The startup has to-date raised about $430 million.

Dailyhunt, co-run by Virendra Gupta and former Facebook India head Umang Bedi, is a popular news and entertainment app that serves more than 285 million users each day in 14 local languages in India. Its reach in India, the world’s second largest internet market, would explain why Twitter last month partnered with the Indian firm to bring Moments to Dailyhunt.

VerSe Innovation expanded to short form videos last year, with Josh, after New Delhi banned TikTok and created a theoretical void for snacking content in the country. Scores of large giants and startups — including MX Player and ShareChat — have attempted to try their hand at short form videos in the recent quarters.

Facebook launched Instagram Reels in India last year, and YouTube launched Shorts, which is already garnering over 3.5 billion daily views in India, it said last month. (With over 450 million users in India, YouTube is closing in on WhatsApp’s market lead in India.)

Josh appears to have emerged as one of the leading players: The startup says Josh has amassed over 85 million monthly active users — 40 million of whom check the app each day — and the app sees more than 1.5 billion video plays everyday.

Now the startup says it is exploring expansion into more categories and like with Dailyhunt and Josh, cater users in smaller cities and towns and eventually replicate this model in international markets.

India’s internet economy is expected to be worth $639 billion by 2030, analysts at Citi wrote in a report to clients late last month. The coronavirus pandemic accelerated digital adoption and users’ appetite to transact online, a report from analysts at UBS said last week.

India leads with Tier 2 cities comparable to Tier 1. Biggest catch up opportunity in Philippines and Vietnam (UBS)

“Josh represents a confluence of India’s top 200+ best creators, the 10 biggest music labels, 15+ million UGC creators, best in class content creation tools, the hottest entertainment formats, and formidable user demographics. Josh has been consistently rated as the leading Indian short-video app in India on the Play store,” the startup said in a statement.

The startup said it will deploy the fresh capital to broaden its local languages content offering, and expand its creators ecosystem and AI and ML tech stacks.