Happy Birthday Twitter!
Ten years in, and Twitter is at a crossroads.
A worrying liability and cautionary tale for the failing unicorns around it are labels that can apply today. The IPO of Twitter was hotly anticipated, and the company opened to sky-high valuations, which have come back down to reality over the past two years. As Mathew Ingram points out in Fortune this week, Twitter can be seen as both a massive success and a huge disappointment at the same time.
The New York Times has gathered the thoughts of several influential Twitter users, most of whom agree that it has been net good, and should continue to be an open, public service. The fact that Twitter the company has to contradict Twitter the service sometimes is a reality of a world where Wall Street expects ever growing returns, and countries expect the ability to control what their citizens can see, hear, or say.
I personally say a fair amount on Twitter, and hope to see it through another ten years or beyond. At a point I’d like to see it be a public utility, going along with the internet in general as a system that bridges our world and can be used for good. If you want to stick with the positive, skip the Microsoft AI story below, where Twitter users can remind us that not everyone on the service is perfect.
Nick Denton, Gawker
Terry Bollea’s lawyers are slick, underhanded and play right into the stereotypes that have come to be associated with the profession. The Hulk Hogan sex tape scandal – of which no real scandal could rightly be called to exist with that public personality – was never about a clip from a sex tape, purports Gawker founder Nick Denton. Instead, it was a calculated attempt to shut down or shut up a news outlet that had access to even worse tapes of the showman making racist remarks.
I’m not a fan of Gawker, Valleywag, or many of the other sites under their media umbrella. I don’t agree with much of what Nick Denton says, but I still believe that he has been a valuable voice for online news. His insistence on remaining independent, not taking any outside investment until forced to by this lawsuit earlier this year, and the fiercely independent streak of reporting are things that I admire. While it may have many enemies in New York, Silicon Valley, the greater media landscape, literally everywhere, Gawker Media can be a canary in the coal mine for what can happen to other online news sites who dare post stories that famous people don’t like.
Hogan’s defense team originally called for $100 million in damages. The jury awarded them $140 million. The chilling effect that can result from this verdict, which I hope reaches more level heads in appeal, is that organizations who cannot afford to take that kind of hit (I would imagine every news organization out there) will avoid publishing some stories entirely. That is unacceptable, and does in practice what those lawyers can’t do legally: silence voices that displease them.
Jason Koebler, Motherboard
Necessity is the mother of invention, and zero-rated internet services lead to free pirate parties. The non-profit in use is understandably unhappy with this secondary use of their service.
Crafty Angolan users of Wikipedia Zero and Facebook Free Basics, services that have met hostility in some countries, and even an outright ban in India, have setup systems where they use Wikimedia Commons to store music, movies, television shows, and anime, much of it copyrighted. They then link those files in private Facebook Groups, making it a bit easier to discover and share files.
The hard part for moderators of Wikipedia and it’s related websites is that, while they do not want to be used as a repository for copyrighted content, a blanket ban on Angola or even Wikipedia Zero users in the country is “Not on the table”. While some of what is being done may not be deemed illegal in Angola itself, the services that are enabling don’t want to be too hard on their users or be viewed as totalitarian, but also want to respect the rights being abridged of those copyright holders.
Hope King, CNN Money
Earlier this week, Microsoft launched a chatbot on Twitter that was meant to sound like a regular teenager. What ended up happening – surprising no one who has been on the internet ever – was a chatbot that held racist, sexist, xenophobic and bigoted views. Microsoft too the bot offline after a day to work on it, and deleted most of the offensive Tweets, though DMs weren’t able to be removed that way.
Of course, it’s not the bot, but the users we should fear. Microsoft trained it’s bot to use public Twitter info including tweets directed toward it to learn how to talk, and it did exactly that. After we make working AI, maybe we can make working people.