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Early Snapchat employee debuts Yoni Circle, a social storytelling app for womxn

An early Snapchat employee who once architected the “Our Stories” product, Chloë Drimal, has now launched her own social app, Yoni Circle. Described as a membership-based community, the app aims to connect womxn using storytelling — including through both live video chat sessions as well as with pre-recorded stories that are available at any time.

The company has been quietly operating in beta since April 2020, but is now making its public launch.

Drimal came up with the idea for a social storytelling app, in part, because she saw the potential when working on the Snapchat “Our Stories” product.

Image Credits: Yoni Circle; founder Chloë Drimal

“I got to see that storytelling connects us,” she explains. “I got to peer into global experiences like New Year’s Eve or witnessing the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca, and I just saw firsthand how connected we are as people,” Drimal continues. “I got to see how that was affecting our Snapchat users and making them feel more connected to the world because of this art of storytelling,” she adds.

But another inspiration came from Drimal’s personal experience in being taken off the “Our Stories” product to work on other projects at Snap — a difficult time in her career that started to make her feel very alone. She later ended up having conversations with other women — often older women who shared their own experiences — who helped her realized that she wasn’t as alone as she first thought.

“Their stories empowered me to write my next chapter, and know that this wasn’t the end of my career as I dramatically thought as a twenty-five or twenty-four year-old. It really was just the beginning and it helped me see the healing of storytelling — but also the importance of what strangers being vulnerable can do,” she says.

After leaving Snap, where she had later run women’s initiatives, Drimal began hosting an in-person community focused around more structured storytelling circles. The community evolved to become what’s now the Yoni Circle app, whose beta version was built with help from former Snap engineer Akiva Bamberger, now a Yoni Circle advisor.

Image Credits: Yoni Circle

Today, the app has two main features: the interactive Storytelling Circles component and the more passive Yoni Radio.

The former allows members to join 60-minute moderated live video chat sessions with up to six womxn who connect with one another by listening to each others’ stories. During the Circle, a trained “Salonniere” guide will first lead the group through introductions, a breathing exercise, and will then introduce a storytelling prompt based on a specific theme, like “Stories on Gratitude,” or “Stories on Surprise,” for example.

The Salonnieres are not volunteers, but rather paid contractors who have undergone specific training to lead these sorts of sessions. Over time, they’ll also be able to gather members to paid web-based events, which could be things like yoga classes, book clubs, cooking classes and more.

Image Credits: Yoni Circle

The Circle sessions have a basic rule: take the stories with you, and leave the names behind. In other words, what’s shared in circles is meant to remain confidential, unless the member chooses to share it publicly. Anyone violating that rule will be banned.

Members are also advised to speak simply, leave their egos at the door, and respect differences. No one receives the topic beforehand, either, so members can’t rehearse their speeches and put on a “performance.” The act of participating is meant to be about authenticity and vulnerability.

During the session, each participant takes their turn to share their own story and will listen to the others’ in return. Users only speak when they have the “talking piece,” and they can react to another story with snaps, or by clicking a snap icon.

While the sessions may uplift members the way that group therapy does, they’re not really focused on addressing psychological issues. Instead, Drimal says members compare them to “a slumber party combined with a mindfulness class.”

Still, she says, members feel like participating is an act of self-care.

“You just feel lighter,” Drimal explains. “It’s hard not to listen to other stories, to see yourself and just be reminded that you aren’t alone in the highs and lows of life.”

Image Credits: Yoni Circle

Members can also opt to record their own stories and then set them as either public or private on their Yoni Circle profile. The team then curates the public stories to share as highlights on the app’s homepage, allowing users to listen at any time. This also powers the Yoni Radio feature.

Recently, the company had been testing a weekly broadcast of these recorded stories, but will soon trial a new “story of the day” feature instead.

The Yoni Circle app first launched into beta last April, just as the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S. had begun. That led to people isolating themselves at home away from friends, extended family, and other social interactions — driving demand for new social experiences.

But Yoni Circle doesn’t quite fit into the new live, interactive mobile market that’s developed as of late, led by apps like Clubhouse and Twitter Spaces.

“I like to think we’ve carved out something different,” says Drimal. “It is intimate because we’re creating a safe space to be vulnerable…the things that I share in any circle I would never share on Clubhouse,” she says. “I think that’s also why we’ve been so focused on the way we grow our community. Yes, we’re looking to have millions of members, but we need to get there carefully.”

Currently, Yoni Circle is open to people who identify as womxn, and it involves an application process where you have to share who you are and what you’re looking to gain from the experience. Longer-term, the goal is to evolve the platform into a safe space that’s open to all.

Though the pandemic helped generate initial interest in the app  — it now has members from 1,000 cities across 80 countries — the startup sees a future in the post-pandemic market with in-person events that further connect its members.

Yoni Circle today is available on iOS for free. It will later monetize through an Audible-like credits model which provides access to the Circle sessions.

The L.A. and New York-based team of seven is backed by $1.3 million in pre-seed funding, led by BoxGroup. Investors include Cassius Family, Advancit, and angels including Rent the Runway co-founder Jenny Fleiss, Mirror founder and CEO Brynn Putnam, Beme CTO Matt Hackett, early Snap engineer Daniel Smith.

Yoni Circle plans to raise a seed round in a few weeks.


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Bustle CEO Bryan Goldberg explains his plans for taking the company public

Bustle Digital Group — owner of Bustle, Inverse, Input, Mic and other titles — could eventually join the ranks of startups going public via a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC).

During an interview about the state of BDG and the digital media industry at the end of 2020, founder and CEO Bryan Goldberg laid out ambitious goals for the next few years.

“Where do I want to see the company in three years? I want to see three things: I want to be public, I want to see us driving a lot of profits and I want it to be a lot bigger, because we’ve consolidated a lot of other publications,” he said.

He added that those goals connect, because by going public, BDG can raise “hundreds of millions dollars,” which Goldberg wants to use to “buy a lot of media companies.”

That might seem like bluster after a year in which many digital media companies (including BDG) had to make serious cuts. But Goldberg said that the company would be profitable in 2020, with revenue that’s “a little bit under $100 million.” And it won’t be the first digital media company to take a similar route — Group Nine created a SPAC that went public last week.

“I want to prove that we can be highly profitable,” he said. “A lot of startups don’t have that goal. A lot of VCs tell their startups: Don’t worry about profits, don’t worry about losing money. I don’t believe in that.”

In addition to his plans to go public, Goldberg also discussed how acquisitions have helped Bustle’s business, his joint venture to purchase W Magazine and digital media’s “overcapitalization” problem. You can read our full conversation, edited for length and clarity, below.

TechCrunch: The last time I caught up with someone at BDG, it was with [the company’s president Jason Wagenheim] and that was when you guys were dealing with the initial fallout [from the pandemic]. Now we’re a lot further into whatever this new world is, so what is your sense of where BDG is now, versus where it was in the early days of the pandemic?

Bryan Goldberg: It might be the craziest, most eventful six months for many of us in our lives. And certainly, for those of us in this industry, the difference between April and October, it’s really hard to fathom, it’s complete night and day. April was a very frightening time for everyone, personally and professionally across the country, across the world.

From an advertising standpoint, it was a really scary time, because we have clients across every industry, and every industry was impacted differently. We have clients who were greatly impacted — theme parks, car makers, hotel companies, airlines — and then we had clients who were not as badly affected, such as a lot of CPG clients, who everybody depended upon so much during the pandemic.

There was a huge pause in our business in in March, April and May. For a lot of clients, tossing advertising was a sort of knee-jerk reaction to the sudden shock of COVID, and so we saw a huge negative impact in our second quarter. What we started to see in the third quarter, and especially now in the fourth quarter, is now that the shock of COVID is behind us, the macro trends that were catalyzed by COVID are now moving into the forefront.

The story of media is no longer about the shock of COVID. The story of media is now about all of the changes to our world, and changes to our industry that were brought about as a consequence of COVID.

The good news for our company, and the good news for other digital media companies, is it looks like the future is being accelerated. It looks like people are watching less television, and so advertisers are moving their budgets into digital faster than they would have had it not been for COVID. Even things like live sports, [their] TV ratings are way down. And a lot of advertisers are saying, “Is there efficacy anymore in cable television or broadcast television?” And the magazine industry was heavily impaired, simply because magazines are a physical medium, and people didn’t want to pass around magazines or read magazines at the dentist’s office, so we probably saw some print budget move into digital as well.

Industry analysts now are going to take up their estimates of what digital revenue is going to look like in 2021, 2022 and beyond. I also think we’ve seen a world in which a lot of brand advertisers are starting to think about what happens when they start to spend beyond Facebook and Google. For most of the last three years, there’s been so much talk about the duopoly, the idea that Facebook and Google are going to eat almost every last dollar of advertising. What we’ve seen in the last three months is advertisers saying that this needs to be the moment in which they learn how to deploy advertising spend digitally beyond Facebook or Google.

No, it doesn’t mean they’re all pulling out of Facebook — Facebook and Google are doing just fine. But there are still tens of billions of dollars that need to be deployed outside of Facebook and Google. And you’re seeing winners such as Snapchat, Pinterest. Both had incredibly strong earnings. They’re benefiting from the same thing that benefits Bustle Digital Group and a lot of other digital media players who aren’t Facebook and Google, which is you’re seeing big ad spenders finally deciding that now’s the time to find other ways to deploy advertising spend.

I think those are the two big trends: Dollars moving to digital out of TV faster than we thought, and major advertisers using now as a time to find other channels beyond Facebook and Google.

So when you look at how that is impacting Bustle’s business, has it returned to pre-COVID levels?

For us, when we reflect upon the year 2020, we see that we had a great first quarter, we see that we’re having an incredible fourth quarter, and we have a big, epic crater in the second and third quarters. So when we look at the year, we basically have to say to ourselves, if it were not for that crater in the second and third quarters, what would this year have looked like? We would have had revenue well in excess of $100 million. Now, we’re gonna have revenue a little bit under $100 million.

But when we think about how we prepare for 2021 and set goals for 2021, we have to set goals for 2021 as though COVID had never happened, we have to set goals for 2021 without using Q2 and Q3 as a sort of excuse for lowering expectations. Because the fourth quarter, the quarter we’re currently in, has exceeded our wildest expectations.

People sort of sat up and took notice of the company because you had a pretty aggressive acquisition strategy. I imagine that strategy had to change a little bit in 2020. To what extent do you feel that ambition is something that you can pick up again?

So to be clear, not only do we feel great about our strategy, our strategy was critical in helping our company survive and ultimately thrive in the wake of the virus. You know, we made two acquisitions [in 2019] — in the science and technology category, we bought Inverse, which is a science and technology publication, and then Josh Topolsky launched a tech-and-gadget publication for us called Input Magazine that’s growing very quickly.

It’s critical that we had that strategy, because no single advertiser category has performed better for us in 2020 than tech — we more than tripled our revenue from technology clients this year, because technology has thrived through COVID. Had we not had an acquisition strategy, had we not diversified into tech media publishing, we certainly would not have had the outcome we had in 2020. That’s just the reality.

Categories like beauty, fashion, retail were very hard hit. Those have traditionally been our bread and butter, and they’re going to be great again, in 2021. But this spring, beauty companies weren’t doing so well, because people weren’t leaving the house. So the strategy worked, in part, because we diversified the categories in which we created content, which allowed us to diversify the advertiser base. And we’re gonna continue full speed ahead in 2021.

Now, you know, we did six acquisitions in 2019. I don’t know if we’ll do six acquisitions in 2021. But I want to do a lot more than one acquisition in 2021.

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Threat of inauguration violence casts a long shadow over social media

As the U.S. heads into one of the most perilous phases of American democracy since the Civil War, social media companies are scrambling to shore up their patchwork defenses for a moment they appear to have believed would never come.

Most major platforms pulled the emergency break last week, deplatforming the president of the United States and enforcing suddenly robust rules against conspiracies, violent threats and undercurrents of armed insurrection, all of which proliferated on those services for years. But within a week’s time, Amazon, Facebook, Twitter, Apple and Google had all made historic decisions in the name of national stability — and appearances. Snapchat, TikTok, Reddit and even Pinterest took their own actions to prevent a terror plot from being hatched on their platforms.

Now, we’re in the waiting phase. More than a week after a deadly pro-Trump riot invaded the iconic seat of the U.S. legislature, the internet still feels like it’s holding its breath, a now heavily-fortified inauguration ceremony looming ahead.

(Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)

What’s still out there

On the largest social network of all, images hyping follow-up events continued to circulate mid this week. One digital Facebook flyer promoted an “armed march on Capitol Hill and all state Capitols,” pushing the dangerous and false conspiracy that the 2020 presidential election was stolen.

Facebook says that it’s working to identify flyers calling for “Stop the Steal” adjacent events using digital fingerprinting, the same process it uses to remove terrorist content from ISIS and Al Qaeda. The company noted that it has seen flyers calling for events on January 17 across the country, January 18 in Virginia and inauguration day in D.C.

At least some of Facebook’s new efforts are working: one popular flyer TechCrunch observed on the platform was removed from some users’ feeds this week. A number of “Stop the Steal” groups we’d observed over the last month also unceremoniously blinked offline early this week following more forceful action from the company. Still, given the writing on the wall, many groups had plenty of time to tweak their names by a few words or point followers elsewhere to organize.

With only days until the presidential transition, acronym-heavy screeds promoting QAnon, an increasingly mainstream collection of outrageous pro-Trump government conspiracy theories, also remain easy to find. On one page with 2,500 followers, a QAnon believer pushed the debunked claim that anti-fascists executed the attack on the Capitol, claiming “January 6 was a trap.”

QAnon sign

(Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

On a different QAnon group, an ominous post from an admin issued Congress a warning: “We have found a way to end this travesty! YOUR DAYS ARE NUMBERED!” The elaborate conspiracy’s followers were well represented at the deadly riot at the Capitol, as the many giant “Q” signs and esoteric t-shirt slogans made clear.

In a statement to TechCrunch about the state of extremism on the platform, Facebook says it is coordinating with terrorism experts as well as law enforcement “to prevent direct threats to public safety.” The company also noted that it works with partners to stay aware of violent content taking root on other platforms.

Facebook’s efforts are late and uneven, but they’re also more than the company has done to date. Measures from big social networks coupled with the absence of far-right social networks like Parler and Gab have left Trump’s most ardent supporters once again swearing off Silicon Valley and fanning out for an alternative.

Twitter’s decentralized future


Social media migration

Private messaging apps Telegram and Signal are both seeing an influx of users this week, but they offer something quite different from a Facebook or Twitter-like experience. Some expert social network observers see the recent migration as seasonal rather than permanent.

“The spike in usage of messaging platforms like Telegram and Signal will be temporary,” Yonder CEO Jonathon Morgan told TechCrunch. “Most users will either settle on platforms with a social experience, like Gab, MeWe, or Parler, if it returns, or will migrate back to Twitter and Facebook.”

That company uses AI to track how social groups connect online and what they talk about — violent conspiracies included. Morgan believes that propaganda-spreading “performative internet warriors” make a lot of noise online, but a performance doesn’t work without an audience. Others may quietly pose a more serious threat.

“The different types of engagement we saw during the assault on the Capitol mirror how these groups have fragmented online,” Morgan said. “We saw a large mob who was there to cheer on the extremists but didn’t enter the Capitol, performative internet warriors taking selfies, and paramilitaries carrying flex cuffs (mislabeled as “zip ties” in a lot of social conversation), presumably ready to take hostages.

“Most users (the mob) will be back on Parler if it returns, and in the meantime, they are moving to other apps that mimic the social experience of Twitter and Facebook, like MeWe.”

Still, Morgan says that research shows “deplatforming” extremists and conspiracy-spreaders is an effective strategy and efforts by “tech companies from Airbnb to AWS” will reduce the chances of violence in the coming days.

Cleaning up platforms can help turn the masses away from dangerous views, he explained, but the same efforts might further galvanize people with an existing intense commitment to those beliefs. With the winds shifting, already heterogeneous groups will be scattered too, making their efforts desperate and less predictable.

Twitter’s decentralized future


Deplatforming works, with risks

Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, told TechCrunch that social media companies still need to do much more to prepare for inauguration week. “We saw platforms fall short in their response to the Capitol insurrection,” Greenblatt said.

He cautioned that while many changes are necessary, we should be ready for online extremism to evolve into a more fractured ecosystem. Echo chambers may become smaller and louder, even as the threat of “large scale” coordinated action diminishes.

“The fracturing has also likely pushed people to start communicating with each other via encrypted apps and other private means, strengthening the connections between those in the chat and providing a space where people feel safe openly expressing violent thoughts, organizing future events, and potentially plotting future violence,” Greenblatt said.

By their own standards, social media companies have taken extraordinary measures in the U.S. in the last two weeks. But social networks have a long history of facilitating violence abroad, even as attention turns to political violence in America.

Greenblatt repeated calls for companies to hire more human moderators, a suggestion often made by experts focused on extremism. He believes social media could still take other precautions for inauguration week, like introducing a delay into livestreams or disabling them altogether, bolstering rapid response teams and suspending more accounts temporarily rather than focusing on content takedowns and handing out “strikes.”

“Platforms have provided little-to-nothing in the way of transparency about learnings from last week’s violent attack in the Capitol,” Greenblatt said.

“We know the bare minimum of what they ought to be doing and what they are capable of doing. If these platforms actually provided transparency and insights, we could offer additional—and potentially significantly stronger—suggestions.”

Telegram blocks ‘dozens’ of hardcore hate channels threatening violence


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Color of Change, activist groups step up pressure to kick Trump off Twitter, Facebook

Color of Change, the nonprofit civil rights advocacy group, along with a growing number of other organizations, called for social media companies such as Twitter and Facebook to remove President Donald Trump from their platforms, following a chaotic day of protests and rioting that led a mob of pro-Trump supporters to storm the U.S. Capitol and prompted a lockdown and an evacuation of lawmakers.

Color of Change and other activist organizations have said that major tech and financial service companies are complicit in the insurrection in Washington, D.C. and called for social media to take action. Twitter has locked the president of the United States’ Twitter account and forced the removal of three offending tweets, but the social media platform has not removed him from the platform altogether. The lock of the Twitter account will last for at least 12 hours.

Color of Change President Rashad Robinson tweeted Wednesday “Enough is enough. It’s time for Facebook and Twitter to kick Trump off their platforms. We’ve been in contact with @Facebook and @Twitter leadership about this but we need your help.”

Twitter locks Trump out of his account for at least 12 hours

The organization also launched a petition that people can use to make a direct appeal to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey. The petition reads:

Dear CEO Jack Dorsey,

Donald Trump has historically violated your terms of service with impunity and now, as a result of his promotion and facilitation of today’s chaos, insurrectionists have stormed our Senate building leaving Senators, staffers, and building employees fearing for their lives. Trump’s tweets have endangered the lives of millions of Americans, from his rants cheering on white supremacists to now advocating for the National Guard to use deadly force against Americans who are protesting against police killings. There is no excuse for allowing this dangerous user to exploit your platform It’s time to #KickTrumpOffTwitter.

Numerous other activist organizations, business groups and tech leaders have used social media to condemn the events Wednesday. Accountable Tech, an ethics organization, tweeted Wednesday that the violent assault has been heartbreaking, but not expected. “Sadly, Twitter and Facebook’s preparedness and response has been wildly inadequate. Simply labeling incitements of violence is not enough.”

The violent assault on the Capitol today has been heartbreaking, but not entirely unexpected. Sadly, Twitter and Facebook's preparedness and response has been wildly inadequate. Simply labeling incitements of violence is not enough.

— Accountable Tech (@accountabletech) January 6, 2021

Other organizations such as the U.S. Travel Association, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs and Business Round Table offered their own condemnations of the events, but didn’t directly criticize social media for its involvement.

Business Roundtable, whose members are chief executive officers of major United States corporations, focused efforts on Trump and called for an end to the chaos and a peaceful transition of power. Others such as the National Association of Manufacturers used stronger language, noting that the protesters supporting Trump was an act of “sedition” and “mob rule” and urged Vice President Mike Pence to “seriously consider” invoking the 25th amendment.


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Tech leaders speak out about platforms’ roles in US Capitol riots

After pro-Trump extremists violently stormed the U.S. Capitol, a number of tech executives and industry leaders are calling on Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to more aggressively curb the president’s messages amplifying and endorsing violence.

After Trump released a video calling the extremists “very special” and telling them to go home, Facebook and Twitter have taken down the content. Twitter has locked Donald Trump’s Twitter account for at least 12 hours, warning that “any future violations” of Twitter rules will result in permanent suspension of the account.

The riot triggered the platforms, after long scrutiny, to finally react to Trump’s incendiary tweets and messaging. As the situation continues to play out, some prominent tech figures see the root of the riots as the platforms that ignored and amplified misinformation surrounding the election, allowing violent rhetoric to spin out of control in the final days of the Trump presidency.

Pro-Trump mob storms the US Capitol, touting ‘Stop the Steal’ conspiracy

Chris Sacca, one of the earliest investors in Twitter, wrote “you’ve got blood on your hands, [Jack] and Zuck. For four years you’ve rationalized this terror. Inciting violent treason is not a free speech exercise. If you work at those companies, it’s on you too. Shut it down.”

Alexis Ohanian, the co-founder of Reddit, added to Sacca’s remark, saying: “there are a lot of hard questions we’re going to have to answer for our children.” Ohanian left Reddit’s board in 2020 following Black Lives Matter protests.

Alex Stamos, Facebook’s former chief security officer, wrote that both companies needed to act, arguing that the “labeling won’t do it” and that Twitter and Facebook “have to cut him off.”

There have been good arguments for private companies to not silence elected officials, but all those arguments are predicated on the protection of constitutional governance.

Twitter and Facebook have to cut him off. There are no legitimate equities left and labeling won't do it. pic.twitter.com/Nji6A4sJum

— Alex Stamos (@alexstamos) January 6, 2021

Tech platforms have repeatedly come under fire for failing to address the rise of misinformation and groups coalescing around conspiracy theories. Twitter’s latest response has been the introduction of tags to flag potential misinformation.

Ellen Pao, tech investor and the former CEO of Reddit, argues today’s chaos is directly linked to Dorsey’s inaction. In November, Pao and Laura Gómez, a former tech founder and CEO, called on Dorsey to limit Trump’s influence on Twitter, explicitly accusing Trump of using Twitter to incite “a coup.”

“[We] told them to do the right thing. They didn’t. And here we are,” Pao wrote on Twitter today.

This is on Twitter and @jack. In November, @laura and I told them to do the right thing. They didn't. And here we are. https://t.co/U4qKCa1T17 pic.twitter.com/nUorO3HSt6

— Ellen K. Pao (@ekp) January 6, 2021

Timnit Gebru, a top researcher who recently was fired from Google’s AI team, slammed Facebook and Twitter, but further placed blame on YouTube, which she says has “completely managed to get out of the spotlight” for facilitating hate speech.

What happened today here, platforms like @Facebook @YouTube and @Twitter have been facilitating a lot of that in countries that are not considered "important" with unfettered misinformation, hate speech and what have you.

— Timnit Gebru (@timnitGebru) January 6, 2021

A recent video from Trump, where he calls the rioters “special people” and urges them to go home, has recently been taken down from Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.

Guy Rosen, VP of Integrity at Facebook, tweeted that the events are an “emergency situation and we are taking appropriate emergency measures, including removing President Trump’s video. We removed it because on balance we believe it contributes to rather than diminishes the risk of ongoing violence.” Facebook released an official statement as well.

With Inauguration Day just two weeks out, platforms will continue to play an intense role in safeguarding a peaceful transfer of power. Today’s events feel like a tipping point. The terrorism has pushed Silicon Valley tech figures to criticize some of the industry’s most powerful leaders and implore them to act before further violence takes place.

“Let me say in no uncertain terms @jack @vijaya @kayvz: If you do not suspend Donald Trump’s Twitter account for the next day at least, this mob attack on Congress is also on you. Sorry, but he has incited violence for days, using your tools in large part and you need to act now,” tech media figure Kara Swisher wrote in a post on Twitter.

Let me say in no uncertain terms @jack @vijaya @kayvz: If you do not suspend Donald Trump’s Twitter account for the next day at least, this mob attack on Congress is also on you. Sorry, but he has incited violence for days, using your tools in large part and you need to act now.

— Kara Swisher (@karaswisher) January 6, 2021

Color of Change, activist groups step up pressure to kick Trump off Twitter, Facebook


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Daily Crunch: Trump tweets approvingly as rioters storm US Capitol

A pro-Trump mob stormed the U.S. Capitol while the president encouraged them on Twitter and … well, it feels extremely hard to care about anything else right now.

That said, there was a whole other news cycle before then, and I know you read The Daily Crunch for tech headlines. So I’ll do my best to carry on and squeeze everything in.

This is your Daily Crunch for January 6, 2021.

The big story: Trump tweets approvingly as rioters storm US Capitol

As you almost certainly know already, a pro-Trump mob entered the U.S. Capitol today, forcing the Senate and House to flee as they were in the process of debating and certifying Joe Biden’s election as president.

These Trump supporters were chanting slogans like “stop the steal,” which grew out of online conspiracy theories that have spread on social media. At least one gunshot victim has been reported, and an explosive device was also detonated safely outside the Republican National Committee.

Meanwhile, President Trump continued to tweet his unfounded and unsubstantiated claims of election fraud and even posted a video telling the rioters, “Go home, we love you.” Twitter has posted warnings but there are calls for the platform to go further.

The tech giants

Facebook redesigns Pages with a more simplified layout and no ‘Like’ button — The redesign includes a new look-and-feel, updated navigation, the introduction of a dedicated News Feed and a new Q&A format.

Twitter acqui-hires creative agency Ueno to help design new products — Twitter is essentially buying an agency with which it already had a close working relationship.

TikTok rolls out its first lidar-powered AR effect — The effect features an AR ball, similar to the one that drops in Times Square on New Year’s Eve.

Startups, funding and venture capital

Perfect Corp., developer of virtual beauty app YouCam Makeup, closes $50M Series C led by Goldman Sachs — The YouCam Makeup app lets users “try on” virtual samples from more than 300 global brands.

Plant-centered prepared food delivery startup Thistle raises $10.3M — The company delivers plant-based full menus for its customers, along with a range of juices and sides.

Teamflow lands $3.9M for a productive virtual HQ platform — Teamflow, formerly Huddle, is creating a virtual headquarters to help distributed teams collaborate and communicate from a singular platform.

Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch

Why VC funding is falling out of favor with top D2C brands — In 2020, venture capitalists unceremoniously broke up with D2C brands and product-based businesses.

Revenue-based financing: The next step for private equity and early-stage investment — The financial structures used by VCs haven’t evolved much since they first emerged in 1957.

Extra Crunch Live is back in 2021, connecting founders with tech giants and each other — Somehow, we did 44 episodes of the show in 2020.

(Extra Crunch is our membership program, which aims to democratize information about startups. You can sign up here.)

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 3pm Pacific, you can subscribe here.


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Social media allowed a shocked nation to watch a coup attempt in real time

Today’s historic and terrifying coup attempt by pro-Trump extremists in Washington, D.C. played out live the same way it was fomented — on social media. Once again Twitter, streaming sites and other user-generated media were the only place to learn what was happening in the nation’s capital — and the best place to be misled by misinformation and propaganda.

In the morning, official streams and posts portended what people expected of the day: a drawn-out elector certification process in Congress while a Trump-led rally turned to general protests. But when extremists gathered at the steps of the U.S. Capitol building, the country watched isolated flare-ups between them and police turn into a full-blown violent invasion of several federal buildings, including where Congress was holding a joint session.

Pro-Trump mob storms the US Capitol, touting ‘Stop the Steal’ conspiracy

Network news and mainstream sources struggled to keep up as people on both sides documented the chaos that followed. As extremists pushed into the outlying buildings, then the rotunda, then the House and Senate chambers, everyone from White House press pool reporters to political aides and elected officials from both parties live-tweeted and streamed the events as they happened.

Videos of outnumbered security guards retreating from mobs or trading blows were seen by millions, who no doubt could barely believe it was really occurring. Meanwhile, reports propagated from around the country as smaller invasions of government buildings took place.

They’re shooting into the chamber. pic.twitter.com/l9owW7BAVt

— Matt Fuller (@MEPFuller) January 6, 2021

On one hand, it further demonstrated the power of social media to serve as a distributed, real-time aggregator of important information. It is hard to overstate the importance of receiving information directly from the source, such as when people inside the Senate chamber posted images of the rioters attempting to break through a barricaded door while security inside pointed their guns through broken windows.

Representatives, aides and reporters posted live as they were evacuated from their offices, told to lie on the ground to avoid being shot or given gas masks in case tear gas or pepper spray was deployed. What might have seemed an abstraction when reported by a talking head on the National Mall was rendered shockingly visceral as these people expressed fear for their lives. The people to whom we have been trained to alert of such things, our elected officials, were the very ones being threatened.

However, social media also allowed for the amplification and normalization of these historic crimes as rioters streamed as they went and posted images to fringe sites like Parler and Trump-themed Reddit clones. It wasn’t hard to spot rioters apparently “doing it for the ‘gram” despite those images and videos comprising what amounts to a confession of a federal crime.

Cops are taking selfies with the terrorists. pic.twitter.com/EjkQ83h1p2

— Timothy Burke (@bubbaprog) January 6, 2021

Meanwhile Trump and his allies downplayed the violence, blaming Democrats for using “malicious rhetoric” and repeating unfounded claims regarding the election.

Years of “we take this very seriously” by the likes of Jack Dorsey and Mark Zuckerberg have done little to curb the activity by the likes of white supremacists, self-styled “militias” like the Proud Boys, and misinformation aggregators like “Stop the steal” groups. Despite constant assurances that AI and a crack team of moderators are on the job, it is still on these platforms that we find misleading and false information about topics such as COVID-19 and election security.

Tech leaders today voiced, not for the first time, their frustration with these companies, and while deplatforming has proven effective in some ways, it is not a complete solution. As the cost and difficulty of launching, say, a streaming site, continues to decrease, it is only to be expected that when a YouTuber gets kicked off that platform, they will land softly on another and their audience will follow.

Tech leaders speak out about platforms’ roles in US Capitol riots

The promise and the danger of social media were both on display today at their absolute maximum. One can hardly imagine such an event playing out in the future without the intimate details to which we were treated from the sides of both government and insurrectionists.

While Twitter, Facebook and YouTube have taken varying actions, of varying seriousness and permanence, it seems clear that whether or not they want to crack down on the worst of it, they may no longer be able to, either because they lack the tools, or the offenders have built a Twitter, Facebook and YouTube of their own.

Twitter locks Trump out of his account for at least 12 hours


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Facebook and YouTube remove Trump video calling extremists ‘special’

Facebook and YouTube have removed a video posted by President Trump telling rioters who stormed Congress “we love you.” The same video was left online but blocked from being shared by Twitter just minutes ago.

A great deal of video and content from the chaotic scene in Washington, D.C. can be found on social media, but Trump’s commentary was spare. His posts suggested the rioters “remain peaceful,” well after they had broken into the Capitol buildings and Congress had been evacuated.

At about 5 PM Eastern time, Trump posted a video in which he reiterated that the election was “stolen” but that “you have to go home now. Go home, we love you. You’re very special.”

On Twitter this was soon restricted, with a large warning that “this Tweet can’t be replied to, Retweeted, or liked due to a risk of violence.”

Twitter adds huge pop-up warning to Trump video telling Capitol Hill rioters ‘we love you’

Guy Rosen, VP of Integrity at Facebook, wrote on Twitter that “this is an emergency situation and we are taking appropriate emergency measures, including removing President Trump’s video. We removed it because on balance we believe it contributes to rather than diminishes the risk of ongoing violence.”

At Facebook there is some precedent for one of Trump’s posts being removed. In August, the company took down a video in which Trump stated that children were “almost immune” to COVID-19, a dangerous and false claim not supported by science.

As Twitter and Facebook crafted bespoke policies to address threats to the election leading into November, YouTube mostly remained quiet. In early December, a month after the election, the company announced that it would begin removing content that made false claims that the U.S. election was affected by “widespread fraud or errors.” YouTube’s decision to remove the president’s video on Wednesday aligned with that policy.

“We removed a video posted this afternoon to Donald Trump’s channel that violated our policies regarding content that alleges widespread fraud or errors changed the outcome of the 2020 U.S. Election,” a YouTube spokesperson told TechCrunch, noting that the video is allowed if accompanied by proper context for “educational” value.

This story is developing.

Pro-Trump mob storms the US Capitol, touting ‘Stop the Steal’ conspiracy


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Facebook and Instagram block #StormTheCapitol, lock Trump out of posting for 24 hours

After removing a video in which President Trump praised a violent group of his supporters who broke into the U.S. Capitol building, Facebook is rolling out a new set of rules in response to the day’s shocking events.

Both Facebook and Instagram also announced that the president would be locked out of posting to his accounts for 24 hours, escalating the consequences for his role in sowing Wednesday’s violent chaos considerably.

We've assessed two policy violations against President Trump's Page which will result in a 24-hour feature block, meaning he will lose the ability to post on the platform during that time.

— Facebook Newsroom (@fbnewsroom) January 7, 2021

We are locking President Trump’s Instagram account for 24 hours as well. https://t.co/HpA79eSbMe

— Adam Mosseri 😷 (@mosseri) January 7, 2021

Facebook says that the group of people who rushed into the Capitol Wednesday now fall under the company’s policies on “dangerous individuals and organizations” — a designation it uses to enforce rules against terrorists, mass murderers and violent hate groups. Last June, the company added the anti-government “boogaloo” movement, which encourages its adherents to take up arms and prepare for or incite a civil war, to the same list.

“The violent protests in the Capitol today are a disgrace,” a Facebook spokesperson told TechCrunch.

Facebook and Instagram have both begun blocking content posted to the #StormTheCapitol hashtag. Facebook says that it is in the process of removing any content praising the Trump supporters who infiltrated the U.S. Capitol as well as any other “incitement or encouragement” of Wednesday’s events, including photos and videos from the individuals’ perspectives.

“At this point they represent promotion of criminal activity which violates our policies,” Facebook VP of Integrity Guy Rosen and VP of Global Policy Management Monika Bickert wrote in a blog post. Rosen and Bickert called Wednesday’s events an “emergency” for the platform:

“Let us speak for the leadership team in saying what so many of us are feeling. We are appalled by the violence at the Capitol today. We are treating these events as an emergency. Our Elections Operations Center has already been active in anticipation of the Georgia elections and the vote by Congress to certify the election, and we are monitoring activity on our platform in real time.”

The company will also crack down on anyone organizing any kind of protest that violates Washington D.C.’s newly implemented curfew, even peaceful gatherings. Any “attempts to restage violence” will also be removed.

Pro-Trump mob storms the US Capitol, touting ‘Stop the Steal’ conspiracy

Facebook says that it is also scouring the platform for any posts calling for people to bring weapons to a location “not just in Washington but anywhere in the US — including protests.”

Facebook also made a few tweaks to “emergency measures” it put in place for the U.S. election, including requiring additional admin review for group posts and auto-disabling comments on group posts that attract a “high rate” of hate speech or encouragement of violence.

Facebook’s blog post also mentions previous crackdowns on militias, the Proud Boys and the “violence-inducing” QAnon conspiracy. Each group connected and grew on Facebook before eventually eventually being booted from the platform and all three had a presence at Wednesday’s violent attempt to overthrow the U.S. election results.

Militia tied to plot to kidnap Gov. Whitmer was removed from Facebook in boogaloo purge


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Facebook publicly launches its collaborative music video app, Collab

Collab, Facebook’s experimental app for making collaborative music videos, is today launching out of private beta testing with a public release on the App Store. The app is one of now many projects from Facebook’s internal R&D group, NPE Team, which tests new ideas that could ultimately influence Facebook’s next steps in social media. Collab itself first emerged in late May, as the pandemic forced users to stay home and find new ways to entertain themselves online.

For musicians, the pandemic has meant the lack of live concerts, which had been a key way they connected with fans. They, too, turned to online platforms to experiment with live-streamed concerts and jam sessions in order to keep those connections flowing. At the same time, short-form videos took off, led by TikTok, which also includes collaborative features like duets and stitches, which allow users who don’t know each other to incorporate each other’s content into their own.

Collab stepped into this space with its combination of short-form video and the collaborative aspects of modern social media, but with a direct focus on music.

In the app, a “collab” is a selection of three 15-second independent videos, stacked on top of each other, that play in sync. For example, a collab could consist of a guitarist, drummer and a singer, each playing alongside each other in their respective videos. Users can either create a collab by playing along with someone else’s video or, if you lack musical experience, you can just swipe on one of the three rows to choose a different video to slot into the mix from those available.

When you first open Collab, you’re presented with an endless scrolling feed of these “collabs,” which you can swipe through to find one you want to join or mix. As you discover musicians you like to play along with, you can favorite them in the app to be notified when they post new clips. This also personalizes the main feed.

Indie pop artist morgxn is one of the musicians who joined Collab during the beta earlier this year.

“This year, I was dropped by my record label the same day that Billie Eilish [posted] about me — about my song ‘Home’ being inspiring to her song ‘Bad Guy.’ So I had this catastrophic thing happening as we were entering quarantine, while the internet was giving me this boost of confidence.”

Morgxn decided to release his song “Wonder” on Collab, asking fans to come make a video with him by playing along. That song now has 43 million streams. There’s even a Spanish-language version, thanks to Collab.

“If anything came from this year where everything kind of fell apart, I also was really inspired to find new ways to do everything,” morgxn says. “If you leap, you might find something incredibly exciting, new and fresh. That’s how I ended up on Collab, and I’m excited.”

https://techcrunch.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/RemixV5__Final.mp4

During the beta, Facebook made improvements to the app’s audio-syncing capabilities and other technical aspects.

The app itself will handle the complexities of audio and video syncing by offering in-app tools that can nudge your clip back into alignment when you’re off, so the resulting “collab” will be perfectly synced. Facebook also tested Collab with dozens of headsets and hardware configurations to optimize Collab for a variety of different setups. Users can now even use external audio interfaces to bring music from electronic instruments, like keyboard, guitars and drum kits into their recordings.

The app doesn’t offer a direct integration to Facebook, but the company notes that musicians are often using their bio to post links to their various social media presences, which may include their Facebook or Instagram profiles or pages. However, the videos you create in Collab can be exported to other places through the iOS share, meaning you can publish to your Instagram Story or even to rival TikTok. The export will be watermarked to allow for attribution as the video is more widely distributed, too.

The mechanics in Collab could allow for different types of mashed up videos in the future — like videos that include dance or humor, for instance, which have made an appearance during the beta. But for the time being, Facebook is remaining focused on music, says Collab Product lead, Brittany Mennuti.

Image Credits: Facebook

Mennuti, who had studied both Fine Arts and Business while in college, leads a small team inside Facebook with other creatives, including artists and musicians.

“I knew that I had to get really embedded in the community of musicians and music enthusiasts to build this product — and that’s exactly what we did. We created a Facebook group for our beta testers, and we communicate with them in that group daily, she says. In the group, musicians post questions, suggestions and share their music. “Aside from helping us figure out their needs, the most beautiful thing about this group is that they’ve actually connected with one another — there’s like a real community blossoming within the beta of people who might not have ever made music together.”

As it goes public, Facebook’s goal for Collab is to carve out a niche in the short-form video space that offers something more than a TikTok clone, like Instagram’s Reels or Snap’s Spotlight. However, to what extent Collab would live on independently, if it succeeded, rather than being merged into one of Facebook’s larger products remains to be seen.

Collab is live in the App Store in the U.S.

Facebook launches Collab, a mix-and-match app for making collaborative music videos

 

 


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