Start Up No.1904: Twitter’s moderation system slows, TikTok aims to sell, Meta fires staff who hijacked accounts, and more

A bizarre turn of events means South Korea’s Legoland project has created a full-blown government bond crisis. CC-licensed photo by Fido on Flickr.

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A selection of 9 links for you. Working from home. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Twitter’s moderation system is in tatters • WIRED

Condé Nast:


After Elon Musk bought the company and laid off 7,500 full time employees, disinformation researchers and activists say, the team that took down toxic and fake content vanished. Now, after years of developing relationships within those teams, researchers say no one is responding to their reports of disinformation on the site, even as data suggests Twitter is becoming more toxic.

The issue is particularly acute in Brazil, where a runoff presidential election between right-wing incumbent Jair Bolsonaro and Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva took place just days after Musk’s takeover. Observers and activists had warned for months that Bolsonaro’s supporters might not accept the results of the election should he lose, and could resort to violence. When Bolsonaro supporters began questioning the election results online, researchers found that Twitter had apparently fired all the people who should be monitoring the platform.

“At this moment, we have nobody to reach out to,” says Nina Santos, a researcher at the Brazilian National Institute of Science & Technology in Digital Democracy. “All the people that we were talking with are no longer there.” Santos says that until Musk’s takeover, Twitter had been “quite responsive” in taking down rule-breaking content that could undermine trust in the election or spread disinformation, compared to Meta and Google. The entirety of Twitter’s Brazil team was included in the 7,500 people laid off earlier this month.

Although Lula was declared the winner of the election, Santos says she still sees tweets questioning the result or calling for mobilization against the government. All of these, she says, are dangerous. Twitter’s current policy states that the company will “label or remove false or misleading information intended to undermine public confidence in an election or other civic process.” Christopher Bouzy, founder and CEO of Bot Sentinel, a project to fight disinformation and harassment on Twitter, was also monitoring the Brazilian elections, as well as the US midterms. Like Santos, he noticed that tweets claiming the Brazilian election was stolen remained up on Twitter.


Meanwhile, at Futurism: “Panicked Elon Musk reportedly begging engineers not to leave“:


Employees had until 5 pm on Thursday to click “yes” and be part of Twitter moving forward or take the money and part ways. The problem for Musk? According to former Uber engineer Gergely Orosz, who has had a close ear to Twitter’s recent inner turmoil, “far fewer than expected [developers] hit ‘yes.'”

So many employees called Musk’s bluff, Orosz says, that Musk is now “having meetings with top engineers to convince them to stay,” in an embarrassing reversal of his public-facing bravado earlier this week.


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Inside a boot camp for Chinese TikTok sellers bringing live e-commerce to the US • Rest of World

Yvaine Ye, Viola Zhou and Meaghan Tobin:


As livestreaming has ballooned into a $400bn industry in China, its success has convinced Chinese entrepreneurs — and TikTok itself — that it’s only a matter of time before the rest of the world begins to shop this way. Chinese suppliers, livestreamers, and talent agents have become the earliest proponents of TikTok live shopping for Western audiences, hoping sales tactics honed on Douyin and affordable goods will help them get consumers around the world hooked on China’s favorite way to shop online.

“There’s no offline store that can sell millions of a single product through a single storefront in one day,” Bian Shiqi, who attended the bootcamp in Guangzhou, told Rest of World. After working in international trade for a few years, the 35-year-old investor said she became convinced that TikTok could be the future of cross border e-commerce while watching a prolific seller on Douyin. 

Despite its global popularity, TikTok has yet to transform into a shopping destination. TikTok has tested a function called TikTok Shop — where shoppers can buy directly in the app — in Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, and the U.K., but in most other places, shoppers have to undertake an additional step and navigate to the streamer’s website to actually purchase something they saw on TikTok. Although shoppers aren’t tuning into TikTok livestreams by the millions the way they are on Douyin, livestreamers and talent agents believe live shopping can become as popular as TikTok itself.


Imagine that: TikTok’s present incarnation might be its least successful form.
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Meta employees, security guards fired for hijacking user accounts • WSJ

Kirsten Grind and Robert McMillan:


Meta Platforms has fired or disciplined more than two dozen employees and contractors over the last year whom it accused of improperly taking over user accounts, in some cases allegedly for bribes, according to people familiar with the matter and documents viewed by The Wall Street Journal.

Some of those fired were contractors who worked as security guards stationed at Meta facilities and were given access to the Facebook parent’s internal mechanism for employees to help users having trouble with their accounts, according to the documents and people familiar with the matter.

The mechanism, known internally as “Oops,” has existed since Facebook’s early years as a means for employees to help users they know who have forgotten their passwords or emails, or had their accounts taken over by hackers.

As part of the alleged abuse of the system, Meta says that in some cases workers accepted thousands of dollars in bribes from outside hackers to access user accounts, the people and documents say.

…in part because the Oops system is off limits to the vast majority of Facebook users, a cottage industry of intermediaries has developed who charge users money to regain control of their accounts. In interviews with the Journal, some of those third parties claim to have access to Meta employees to help reset accounts.

“When you take someone’s Instagram account down that they’ve spent years building up, you’re taking away their whole means of generating an income,” says Nick McCandless, whose company McCandless Group operates a platform for content creators. McCandless says he charges his clients to reset accounts, sometimes through a contact he declined to name at Meta.

“You really have to have someone on the inside who will actually do it,” he said.


Inevitably, God mode gets abused. But you have to have it: hacker takeover (from outside) and other problems make it essential.
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Elon Musk’s politically polarizing effect • Morning Consult

Jordan Marlatt:


Elon Musk has turned Twitter’s fan base upside down in the past few weeks. Democrats are increasingly viewing the platform with antipathy and distrust as Republicans move in the opposite direction. Morning Consult Brand Intelligence data also suggests it’s fair to question whether Musk’s stewardship of the social media giant runs the risk of collateral damage to his other well-known properties. 

Musk’s acquisition of Twitter has dominated major news cycles for months, with each new revelation throwing the company’s fate into question. Since the takeover became official on Oct. 27, Musk has laid off thousands of Twitter employees and contractors, fired many of Twitter’s top executives or seen them exit, released an ill-fated revamp of the platform’s verification system and threatened to “thermonuclear name & shame” companies that pull their advertisements from the site. 

This has caused Twitter to experience the most significant month-over-month shift in opinion among Democrats since Morning Consult began tracking the brand in January 2017.

… Net favorability of Tesla is down around 20 points among Democrats since last month and up around 4 points among Republicans. Net favourability of SpaceX is also down among Democrats, but the decline has been more muted so far.

For Tesla and SpaceX, the partisan spillover effects could have profound implications. If the Tesla brand becomes increasingly right-leaning, that could put it out of alignment with core electric vehicle purchasing profiles, which lean more liberal.


So not just Twitter and his own reputation getting ruined. But can other companies take advantage of that reduced favourability? Or does it just translate into reduced sales? (Plus, what a mismatch between Tesla buyers and the company’s chief, eh.)
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UVA shooting highlights Twitter’s power in a crisis • Time

Megan McCluskey:


ate on Sunday, reports of an active shooter at large at the University of Virginia began circulating on social media. As is often the case in emergency situations, many people, including students, parents, and local residents, turned to Twitter in search of up-to-date and accurate news about the incident. However, it quickly became clear that Elon Musk’s tumultuous takeover of the site had made Twitter less reliable as a trusted source of information–especially in a time of crisis.

Experts fear Musk’s policy changes have greatly reduced people’s ability to assess the trustworthiness of the information that they’re being exposed to on the platform.

“There was a shooting at UVA in Charlottesville about an hour ago,” tweeted one user on Sunday night. “Looking for more information, I scroll Twitter. But with no reliable verified checkmark I have no clue which reports to believe & which are fake. That’s what verification is for.”

A less-reliable Twitter would mean losing “vital infrastructure,” says Caroline Orr, a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Maryland’s Applied Research Lab for Intelligence and Security. “It’s become such a huge part of how we learn about crises and how they get reported out to the public,” she says.

Concerns over trolls and impersonators spreading misinformation about the shooting proved to be justified. One verified account impersonating Sen. Ted Cruz shared a tweet in response to the incident that received thousands of likes before it was taken down. Meanwhile, other users were struggling to discern the facts of the situation while the search for the suspect was still ongoing.


Shows how far we’ve come that people think Twitter is the place to go to find this stuff out. That all really became embedded with the shootings in Ferguson in August 2014, when Twitter was alive with eyewitness reports, while Facebook was amplifying ice bucket posts.
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A theme park crisis threatens South Korea’s economy • Foreign Policy

S. Nathan Park:


To construct Legoland Korea, the Gangwon provincial government established a special purpose entity called Gangwon Jungdo Development Corp. (GJC), owned 44% by the province and 22.5% by Merlin Entertainments, the British company that owns the rights to Legoland. To fund the construction, GJC, through a subsidiary, issued bonds worth 205bn won (about $150m). The bonds were backed by the GJC-owned real estate for the theme park and its surrounding area, as well as a guarantee from the Gangwon provincial government, then led by liberal Gov. Choi Moon-soon. Korea Investors Service, the South Korean affiliate of Moody’s, gave the GJC bonds an A1 rating, the highest rating available for corporate bonds.

But Legoland Korea struggled out of the gate, too far from Seoul and too expensive for what was on offer, and it did not generate enough revenue to honor the bonds. Also, as South Korea’s real estate market softened, the value of the real estate backing the bonds began falling below the amount of the debt. As the first due date for the bonds was approaching on Sept. 29, GJC was in talks to extend the deadline with BNK Securities, the underwriter for the bonds. Negotiating for such an extension is a tense affair but a relatively common one. GJC was close to buying itself a three- or four-month reprieve, by prepaying BNK four months’ worth of interest that it would additionally owe by extending the due date.

Then came the disaster. Out of the blue, on Sept. 28, Gangwon’s newly elected conservative governor, Kim Jin-tae, announced that he would not honour the government’s guarantee. Instead, GJC would enter into bankruptcy, meaning that creditors would receive pennies on the dollar. BNK Securities declared a default on the GJC bonds and sought assurances that Gangwon would pay back the 205 billion won, but the government gave only a vague promise that it would honor the guarantee without giving a specific date. By mid-October, the GJC bonds were downgraded to junk status.

Kim’s declaration was brutally unnecessary. He claimed that he was trying to reduce the debt left behind by his liberal predecessor who, according to Kim, irresponsibly embarked on a white elephant project in Legoland Korea. But Gangwon’s decade-long pursuit of building a Legoland had always been a bipartisan affair, linked more to a hope of revitalizing the province than to any political faction. As a legislator representing Chuncheon, Kim was a vocal advocate for the theme park, claiming in 2014 that he would “jump into the Soyang River” along the city if South Korea’s Cultural Heritage Administration blocked the project because of the ancient artifacts discovered at the construction site. Nor was the bond amount anything excessive. Gangwon’s annual budget is over 17.7trn won (about $13bn), in which a debt of 205bn won is but a line item. Nor was the provincial government being asked to pay the entire 205bn won in one shot; it only had to assist GJC in paying the extra interest it would have incurred for extending the bonds’ due date.

By itself, extending the due date for the bonds would have cost Gangwon a bit, but it would have stayed contained. Kim’s move, however, has shattered trust in government bonds.


And now the country faces a huge credit crunch. It’s like the tiny block to giant block meme.
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Meta’s layoffs make it official: Facebook is ready to part ways with the news • Nieman Journalism Lab

Sarah Scire:


Among the mass layoffs at the company formerly known as Facebook last week are several roles that have served as a bridge between the news industry and the sprawling tech company.

The Meta Journalism Project Accelerator’s David Grant, a program manager, and Dorrine Mendoza, who led local news partnerships for the platform, were both laid off. Other journalism-adjacent positions eliminated include the head of news partnerships for South East Asia, a program manager for news, two program managers for news integrity, and multiple news communications jobs.

Meta declined to comment on the layoffs or confirm how many of the 11,000 positions eliminated were jobs relating to the news business. It’s unclear what impact the job losses will have on all of Facebook’s various news-related efforts, including the Meta Journalism Project itself. (Meta spokespeople and Campbell Brown, Meta’s vice president of global media partnerships, did not respond to requests for comment on the future of the Meta Journalism Project.)

The layoffs are another step in Meta’s journey to get the heck away from news. Meta, which promised $300m in support of local journalism back in 2019 when it was still Facebook, has shifted resources away from its News tab, shuttered the Bulletin newsletter program, ended support for Instant Articles, eliminated human-curation in favor of algorithms, and stopped paying US publishers to use their news content.

Instead, the company is focused on competing with rising platforms like TikTok and trying to build a metaverse that people actually want to spend time in.


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Kuo: only iPhone 15 Pro models will support higher-speed data transfers with USB-C upgrade • MacRumors

Juli Clover:


The iPhone 15 Pro models that are planned for next year will support higher wired transfer speeds thanks to the transition to USB-C, according to Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo.

While all iPhone 15 models are going to feature USB-C ports instead of Lightning ports, the faster transfer speeds will be limited to the iPhone 15 Pro models. Standard iPhone 15 models will continue to feature USB 2.0 speeds, the same as Lightning.

Kuo says that transfer speeds will likely “improve markedly” on the iPhone 15 Pro models, with support for “at least” USB 3.2 or Thunderbolt 3. With the upgrade, iPhone 15 Pro models will be able to transfer video files and other file types at quicker speeds, with Kuo predicting a significantly improved user experience.

USB 2.0 transfer speeds are limited to 480Mb/s, while USB 3.2 supports speeds up to 20Gb/s. Thunderbolt 3 supports data transfer speeds up to 40Gb/s, so if Kuo is correct, there will be a major difference in wired data transfer speeds between Pro and non-Pro iPhone 15 models.


That would make sense: keep the high speed transfer (useful for high quality video transfer, which presently is too slow for the amount of video you can capture) for the Pro models. Natural upsell.
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PR emails: I said yes to every single one for a day. Oof • Slate

Dan Kois:


Over the past year, I’ve received press releases about all those stories and more from Lawn Love, and I’m certain many other journalists have too. Every day I get dozens of emails from publicists around the country, and around the world, informing me about new products, pitching story ideas, and always assuring me that the publicist would be happy to connect me to this pool safety startup CEO or that divorce attorney to talk about their very important topic. As I delete these emails, I often wonder: Who are all these people who want to talk to a reporter, any reporter, so badly that they will pay a publicist to email every journalist they can think of—including me, a guy who doesn’t write about pool safety or divorce or witches at all? Who actually opens these emails, let alone responds to them? Do they ever work? And what would happen if I tried?

Well, on Wednesday, Oct. 26, I decided to find out. I declared Oct. 26 my Publicist Pitch Day of Yes. I would respond to every single pitch email that asked me to talk to a client, replying, Yes! Yes, I would like to talk to this handbag entrepreneur, this life coach, this writer and social activist on a mission to empower women of color. Yes, I am available on the phone, or over Zoom, at their convenience. Yes, I will ask them about their revolutionary clitoral sonogram, their terrible opinions about cops and COVID vaccines, their advice for how to cope during the holiday season—a challenging time, as you know, for those who struggle with body image.

Ask most journalists if they would ever reply to one of these emails, not to mention write a story based on it, and you will invite an instinctive, chilling scowl. But on that day and in the week after, as I spoke to hopeful client after hopeful client, I was surprised to find that I enjoyed every single conversation, in one way or another. I certainly learned something each time. Could it be possible that the publicists are on to something? Is the daily flood of hopeless pitches actually a secret window into American ingenuity, optimism, and desperation—not to mention a very interesting line of scientifically tested sex toys?


Long, and proof that deleting those emails (and not answering the phone) is a good idea.
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• Why do social networks drive us a little mad?
• Why does angry content seem to dominate what we see?
• How much of a role do algorithms play in affecting what we see and do online?
• What can we do about it?
• Did Facebook have any inkling of what was coming in Myanmar in 2016?

Read Social Warming, my latest book, and find answers – and more.

Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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