Twitter Troubles

Thanks to this, Twitter is in full-on damage control:

US President Donald Trump’s Twitter account briefly vanished on Thursday but has since been restored, the social media company said.

An employee deactivated the @realdonaldtrump account, it said, clarifying that it had been their last day in the job.

The account was down for 11 minutes and Twitter is now investigating.

Now part of this is quite amusing, and I confess had someone done it to Obama I’d be chuckling away. But it’s actually quite serious:

Firstly, the employee is an idiot. Sure, he might gain some street cred with his lefty mates and have liberals fawning over him for a day or two, but Twitter could (and probably should) clobber him for this. “But it’s my last day!” doesn’t provide immunity from sabotage or malicious acts; sure, you can bare your arse on the way out the door but if you were to start interfering with a customer’s account in any other business you’d be in deep shit. Of course, there is also a reasonable argument that perhaps Trump shouldn’t be on Twitter at 3am shooting his mouth off and all presidential communications ought to go through proper, secured channels – but this is Trump, and I can understand why he wants to bypass the mainstream media that openly colluded with his opponent during the election.

But despite all this, and despite Twitter on some measures being little more than a giant playground, it is still a large and influential public company and this latest incident says a lot about how it’s run. One would have thought that anyone with admin rights over accounts – particularly those belonging to people like Trump – would be put on gardening leave the moment they submit their resignation. At the very least, they should have their admin rights pulled. There’s also the question over who is given these admin rights; it appears Twitter doesn’t distinguish between the accounts of high-profile and ordinary people, and a lowly administrator can make changes on everyone’s accounts. I bank with NatWest, but I’d hazard a guess the person who picks up the phone to unblock my card or help me set up a direct debit wouldn’t be able to access the accounts of any celebrities or billionaires who banked with them; they’d have their own account administrators, who would be vetted more thoroughly.

Unfortunately for the Twitter management, this isn’t the only time they’ve been accused of running the company like a students’ union rather than a blue-chip tech corporation. Last week they made the decision to pull all adverts from accounts owned by Russia Today, thus endorsing the rather wild view that such adverts may have swung the election for Donald Trump. Not only is this ludicrous political posturing – Twitter is full of adverts from dodgy regimes, the latest I am seeing is from Saudi Arabia attacking Qatar over Yemen – but RT has responded by saying they were approached by Twitter in the run-up to the election:

RT was thereby forced to reveal some details of the 2016 negotiations during which Twitter representatives made an exclusive multi-million dollar advertising proposal to spend big during the US presidential election, which was turned down.

Do I believe RT unconditionally? Hell no. Do I think it plausible, even likely, that Twitter approached RT at that time in order to secure millions in advertising funds? Yes I do. Do I think the Twitter management would cynically ban RT a year later in order to pander to Democrat politicians? Yes, I do. Even if the Russians are making this up, it doesn’t make Twitter look good.

This has not come out of a clear blue sky, of course. During the election campaign Twitter stood accused, with good reason, of shadow-banning conservative or pro-Trump accounts, i.e. hiding them from people’s news feeds without telling them. Many people believe, again with good reason, that Twitter’s enthusiasm for banning people tends to be directed mainly at those whose views don’t align with prevailing progressive orthodoxy, and liberals are free to hurl abuse with gay abandon in a manner which would get a conservative suspended. As ZMan pointed out in one of his podcasts, Twitter and other social media sites actually brag about how many people they’ve silenced, how many accounts they’ve shut down, and how they are committed to protecting people from the wrong sort of opinions. This sounds very unlike a business interested in making money and a lot more like a bunch of people with an aim to control narratives for political and social purposes.

Finally, you have the farce which is the blue check-mark. Originally it was a good idea, used to verify that an account appearing to belong to someone famous was actually administered by that person. Anyone can sign up to Twitter claiming to be Ryan Giggs, but by verifying accounts with a blue tick users would know which one was officially his. But somehow this morphed into a system whereby even obscure people whose views align with Twitter staff get a blue check mark while world-famous people they don’t like are denied. Julian Assange, for example, has not been verified even though it is clearly him (he puts a blue diamond after his name to highlight this). Now you might not like Assange or agree with him, but he’s definitely someone whose account ought to be verified as belonging to him. Contrast this with a chap called Ben Spielberg who I picked at random: he has less than 10k followers (Assange has over 500k) and seems to be known mainly for running a blog focussing on civil rights and occasionally writing for the Huffington Post.

Equally controversially, Milo Yiannopoulos was unverified by Twitter, i.e. they removed his blue check-mark for reasons unknown back in January, before he got booted off altogether. If the verification was genuinely an indicator of an account-holder’s identity as Twitter claimed, they would not threaten to withdraw it as punishment for expressing forbidden views. I suppose if you inhabit an ultra-liberal Silicon Valley bubble then all of this might seem perfectly acceptable and give you a sense of smug satisfaction you’re improving the world. But when all this is added up, it is clear Twitter is not run by adults nor managed in the vein of a serious, multinational corporation. Their increasingly opaque policies, particularly those to do with breaches of code of conduct and suspension of accounts, are more akin to those of an off-topic message board on a gaming forum or a personal blog than a tech giant with the ear of governments.

What Twitter’s investors make of this is anyone’s guess but I’m with ZMan on this: the smart money got out of there a long time ago. How long Twitter can keep this up will be interesting to watch.

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22 thoughts on “Twitter Troubles

  1. So many unremarkable part time scribblers with 3k followers were ‘verified’.

    I expect it has become something a young lefty writer puts on their CV.

  2. > they’d have their own account administrators,

    Yes.

    > who would be vetted more thoroughly.

    Err …

  3. Err …

    Fair enough, I might have thought I was putting far too much faith in the staff at British banks.

  4. I’ve a cousin who’s of such exalted status that he has a Personal Account Manager (Caps, obviously, to indicate what a privilege this is) We both got our plastic nicked in the same break-in at his Portugal villa. Regrettably, I’ve an account at the same bank. So he rings his Personal Account Manager to stop his card. Then passes over the phone to his beloved cousin to stop his. Who is baulked at the security check. Because, no I don’t know my account number because I haven’t got my plastic. And, no I don’t know what the last transaction on my card was because I’m not in the habit of carrying my complete banking file when going for a weekend in Portugal. So I can’t prove my identity, despite having a person sitting next to me has known me since his mother brought him back from the maternity ward.
    Just because he is your Personal Account Manager doesn’t stop him being a complete f***ing cretin.
    It would help if I hadn’t spent quite so many hours getting my card unblocked because the said bank can’t cope with someone who changes country regularly. Apparently blocking it then, without confirming my identity, is less problematic.

  5. Headline of the day.

    Trump Departs For Longest Asian Tour Since Bush Vomited On Japan’s PM

  6. Just because he is your Personal Account Manager doesn’t stop him being a complete f***ing cretin.

    Oh, I know. Oh boy oh boy oh boy do I know that. The one who called me last must have been dropped on his head as a child, and is a complete wanker. I’m hoping they’ve changed him in the meantime.

    It would help if I hadn’t spent quite so many hours getting my card unblocked because the said bank can’t cope with someone who changes country regularly. Apparently blocking it then, without confirming my identity, is less problematic.

    Absolutely standard I’m afraid, even with those international branches of the banks specifically tailored to expats.

  7. Their increasingly opaque policies, particularly those to do with breaches of code of conduct and suspension of accounts, are more akin to those of an off-topic message board on a gaming forum

    I see someone is familiar with rpg.net.

  8. “and liberals are free to hurl abuse with gay abandon”

    Yellow flag for improper use of the word gay. 😉

    Cheers

  9. Currently, there’s a battle going on in twitter.

    Large groups of progressives are making a concerted effort – an organized one – to report to twitter any conservative voices as being offensive per twitter’s TOS. Twitter is banning people in droves.

    In opposition, conservative groups are banding together to do the same thing to progressive twits. Because the banning process is so highly automated, it’s working. Both sides are getting banned.

    It’s fun to watch.

  10. It’s funny. From the photo, I reckon I can state 99% of her political positions. I can also make a 90% guess at her sexuality.

    She’d probably call it “being judgemental based on her appearance”.

    I’d call it “accurately reading exactly what she is intentionally signalling with her appearance.”

  11. Lots of action on Twitter right now with conservative or Deplorable accounts suspended, deactivated etc., in the case of many, ridiculously so. For things like a bit of America ra ra ra, no more, from suburban housewives.

  12. From the photo, I reckon I can state 99% of her political positions. I can also make a 90% guess at her sexuality.

    I’ve just seen it, and I agree completely.

    She’d probably call it “being judgemental based on her appearance”.

    She would.

    I’d call it “accurately reading exactly what she is intentionally signalling with her appearance.”

    And you’d be right.

  13. I see someone is familiar with rpg.net.

    Hah no, not exactly: I just threw that one out there knowing the off-topic message boards on *every* forum work in exactly the same way. 🙂

  14. Interesting, this talk of those expressing views not acceptable to the progressives being banned from Twatter. Twatter, like all the free-to-use social media sites, depends on its users going out & buying stuff. Because no manufacturers or service customers are going to put their advertising budget in the direction of something doesn’t produce sales. At this point it’s worth considering the Guardian, which also crafts its product for the progressive market. And where the pay-to-use ( dead tree edition), advertising revenue & passing the begging bowl around its readers still leave its P&L accounts perennially in the red.
    How long’s it going to take the companies who are paying for Twatter to notice the sort of people who vocally espouse progressive views don’t actually buy very much. And certainly not very much in the discretionary spending categories. High proportion of unemployed/unemployable, still in education, time on their hands, bottom end of the earnings scale, current or potential losers.
    Sounds to me like Twatter might have hit on a business model likely to put it out of business.

  15. “There’s also the question over who is given these admin rights; it appears Twitter doesn’t distinguish between the accounts of high-profile and ordinary people, and a lowly administrator can make changes on everyone’s accounts. I bank with NatWest, but I’d hazard a guess the person who picks up the phone to unblock my card or help me set up a direct debit wouldn’t be able to access the accounts of any celebrities or billionaires who banked with them; they’d have their own account administrators, who would be vetted more thoroughly.”

    It varies from organisation to organisation (I think NatWest may just refer people like celebs to Coutts) but I’ve worked on things like phone and mortgage systems and this sort of thing exists. You need supervisor/manager access.

    There is another thing here which is about startup culture vs most computing. People talk about silicon valley all the time as if it’s a big deal, and sure, it has these high profile names, but they’re a tiny chunk of the computing business. It’s like thinking of the jobs in music as being about The Rolling Stones and Beyonce, rather than disco bands doing weddings and piano teachers for kids.

    The Bay area thing isn’t like the rest of us. Places like Vodafone and Nationwide are full of sober, sensible types, up and down the organisation. There’s no table football tables, no wearing shorts, no Beer Fridays. They don’t attract the sort of people who think it would be OK to do this. They attract people who want to get paid and want to keep getting paid.

  16. bloke in spain,

    “How long’s it going to take the companies who are paying for Twatter to notice the sort of people who vocally espouse progressive views don’t actually buy very much. And certainly not very much in the discretionary spending categories. High proportion of unemployed/unemployable, still in education, time on their hands, bottom end of the earnings scale, current or potential losers.”

    Actually, online ads are very easy to measure – you can track right through from someone clicking on an ad to recording how much they spent.

    One thing with all young people (and I include myself when I was young) is how inexperienced they are about the world. You get tricked into “this will make you happy”. When you get older, you pretty much know what makes you happy. You know what’s good value and what isn’t. It’s not so much that older people have more discretionary spending. It’s that older people aren’t prone to manipulation by advertising.

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