Trump gets on Twitch – TechCrunch

The reelection campaign will be live-streamed. US president Donald Trump has joined Amazon-owned live-streaming platform Twitch.

Twitch is best known as a social video streaming platform for gamers but does host other content, including politics.

The verified DonaldTrump Twitch account, spotted earlier by Reuters, has just one video in the recent broadcast section so far: A live stream of a Trump rally that took place in Minneapolis yesterday evening.

Alongside the saved video of this broadcast is a growing selection of user-generated clips culled from the stream, with titles such as “This is our president.”, “LOL”, “KEK” and “pepelaugh”.

Another clip remarks on how a single black man — who’s visible in the top corner of the shot of the audience behind Trump — vanishes as “they zoom him out of the picture”.

Trump is not the only high-profile US politician to be taking to Twitch to broadcast campaign rallies in real time ahead of next year’s presidential election.

Democratic senator Bernie Sanders, who is making a pitch to be the party’s presidential candidate, joined the platform a few months ago. And at the time of writing Sanders still has more followers than Trump on Twitch (88,795 vs 37,754).

Over on Twitter, meanwhile — Trump’s go-to social media soapbox for skewering opponents and deflecting criticism, via his preferred medium of the early morning attack tweet — the president has ~65.6M followers.

So Twitter is very unlikely to be concerned that its highest-profile user is flirting with Amazon’s social streaming platform. (Though it’s much less clear how happy “Jeff Bozo” will be about Trump getting on Twitch.)

Trump has dabbled with using Twitter’s own video streaming tool, Periscope. But the choice of Twitch for streaming his campaign rallies looks mostly like a case of horses for courses. Periscope is more for on-the-fly mobile streaming, whereas Twitch is a platform built for playing to (and building) a ‘lean back’ audience.

Troll culture also thrives on gamer Twitch. And Trump is of course edgelord of the trolls. Ergo he should fit right in.

With Periscope Twitter has been taking a stronger approach to tackling abusive comments in recent years (and also trying to fight fake and spam content) — in line with its stated desire to increase ‘conversational health’ on its platforms. So it’s probably happy to have dodged a bullet here.

Certainly Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey has more enough flying his way over whatever Trump choses to tweet next.

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Twitter comes back to the Mac – TechCrunch

Twitter has returned to the Mac with the debut of a new Catalyst-powered app for macOS Catalina, launched on Thursday. The company in June had been among the first to announce its plans to take advantage Mac Catalyst — Apple’s new toolset for bringing iPad apps to the Mac desktop — following Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference, where Catalyst had been officially introduced.

The idea with Catalyst is to make it easier for iOS developers to create software for the Mac ecosystem, by allowing them to leverage their existing iOS project and source code, then layer on native Mac features and convert touch controls to the keyboard and mouse.

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Twitter had been one of the more highly anticipated Catalyst apps to arrive, not only because of how it was created, but also because Twitter had decided to kill off its Mac desktop client last year, telling desktop users to just use its website instead.

That left users who preferred a native Mac experience to turn to third-party apps like TweetDeck, Twitterific 5 or Tweetbot 3. The former is designed more for those who work in social media or are heavy consumers or power users. The latter two, while great alternatives to an official client, are paid applications with a lot more bells and whistles than some require.

Twitter’s new Catalyst app is free and offers a consistent experience with the rest of the Twitter platform apps. The interface is familiar thanks to the code base sharing, and there’s even a dark mode option available. However, its timeline doesn’t refresh in real time — which has surfaced as one of users’ common complaints about the new app.

Others pointed out that the full-screen experience is lacking and that the double toolbar seemed like a poor fit. Plus, there are other odd differences between the desktop client and web app, some noted.

That said, the general sentiment is one where people are glad to have an official app back on the desktop. And it’s possible some of the other complaints will be addressed in time. Or so we hope.

The app only works on macOS Catalina, which not everyone has installed just yet. It’s a free download from the Mac App Store here. 

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Twitter admits it used two-factor phone numbers and emails for serving targeted ads – TechCrunch

Twitter has said it used phone numbers and email addresses, provided by users to set up two-factor authentication on their accounts, to serve targeted ads.

In a disclosure Tuesday, the social media giant said it did not know how many users were impacted.

The issue stemmed from the company’s tailored audiences program, which allows companies to target advertisements against their own marketing lists, such as phone numbers and email addresses. But Twitter found that when advertisers uploaded their marketing lists, it matched Twitter users to the phone numbers and email addresses users submitted to set up two-factor authentication on their account.

The issue was addressed as of September 17, the disclosure said.

Two-factor authentication is an important security feature that makes it far more difficult for hackers to break into user accounts. Although some use their phone number as a way to receive two-factor codes, it’s a method that has long been vulnerable to interception and SIM swapping attacks. Users should instead switch to Twitter’s authenticator-based two-factor.

Twitter finds itself in the same boat as Facebook, which last year was caught using users’ phone numbers and email addresses, which they gave Facebook for securing their accounts, for targeted advertising. The Federal Trade Commission fined the social networking giant $5 billion earlier this year and was prohibited from using the phone numbers it obtained for setting up two-factor for advertising.

For its part, Twitter said its ad targeting was “an error” and apologized.

It’s the latest in a number of security lapses at Twitter in the past year. Last year, the company admitted to storing passwords in plaintext, disclosed a phone number leak bug despite knowing about it for two years, and confirmed a location data leak in May.

In August, Twitter chief executive Jack Dorsey had his own account hacked.

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Ellen Pao calls out Twitter’s ‘public town square’ model as flawed – TechCrunch

Project Include CEO Ellen Pao, who has been working to foster diversity, inclusion and ethics in the tech industry, called out Twitter’s “public square” model as flawed — and a decision that indicates a lack of ethical consideration, on Twitter’s part.

The topic of Twitter came up on a panel at TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2019 this morning, when Pao was asked her opinion as to whether Twitter should make exceptions to its platform rules for public figures — like President Trump, for example.

She said doesn’t believe that it should. And not just because the decision in and of itself raises ethical questions, but because of how these decisions can ultimately shape the direction of Twitter’s platform as a whole.

“I think it’s a question of ethics to break these exceptions — because you want to drive this growth that you want to use to fuel your stock price and to fuel recruiting, and to fuel this capitalism — that’s driving all sorts of decisions without thinking about the long-term direction of where your platform is going,” Pao explained.

She also questioned whether Twitter has been successful in creating an online version of the public town square, which is how Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey has repeatedly described the social media platform.

“Jack talks about this public square, where you have this digital version of the public square. But people aren’t screaming at you on the public square, they’re not calling you racist things, they’re not throwing pictures of like horrible things…I don’t want to be in a public square like that,” Pao said. “And I don’t want to have a public square that’s digital create these horrible events in real life,” she added.

On Twitter (or really, on social media in general) the hateful words and sentiments can often spill over into real-world action.

“I don’t think that’s an ethical decision. I don’t think that’s a values-driven decision. I don’t think that’s creating a good public square, I don’t think that’s doing a service for your users who are from the groups that are being hated on,” Pao said. “I think you really have to think about your whole community. You have to think about the types of conversations you want to have.”

She clarified that it’s not about censoring speech, but the challenges in creating a place where people can actually engage in conversations — even those in which they disagree, and even those where there may be conflict.

Twitter’s failure has been not understanding where free speech ends and moderation begins. And this is not a problem unique to its platform. All of social media is struggling with this same issue.

In Pao’s mind, it’s a question of where meaningful conversation ends and outright harassment begins.

“Using the F-word, and the C-word, and the N-word? That’s not a conversation, right? That’s not an exchange of ideas,” she said. “I don’t think people think enough about what they want their platforms to be, what they want the platforms to encourage.”

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Twitter and TweetDeck hit with partial outages for hours – TechCrunch

Update: Twitter has said it’s “just about fixed” the partial outages that hit its apps for around seven hours today, limiting the content users could post or access.

Users should be able to Twitter as normal now or very shortly, per an update sent via its support account. It suggests anyone still experiencing problems should “give it a a few more minutes”, as well as thanking users for their patience.

In an update on its status page the history section now records the issue — categorizing it as a “partial service disruption”.

Per this page Twitter only began investigating the outage at 8:23AM UTC although its support account tweeted that the company was working on a fix several hours earlier.

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Our original report on the service issues follows below…

It’s not just you, Twitter has gone wobbly again. Users of the social network in Asia and Europe are reporting a range of problems tweeting and viewing certain types of content this morning.

Among the problems being reported are not being able to post certain types of content to the site (such as polls and media), though at least some users are still able to post text tweets saying they’re having problems.

Other users aren’t seeing latest replies to their tweets. In my case I’m unable to view latest replies on Twitter’s desktop product but can see them on an (older) version of Twitter’s iOS app.

Some Twitter users are also reporting problems posting to Android. Trending topics also appears to be down.

A Twitter spokeswoman confirmed to TechCrunch it’s having problems — pointing us to a tweet from @TwitterSupport where the company says it’s experiencing outages across both Twitter and its alternative client, TweekDeck.

The problem is also affecting being able to view DMs, per the tweet.

“We’re currently working on a fix, and should be back to normal soon,” Twitter adds, without providing detail about the cause of the issues.

The flakey service comes a few months after a major outage for Twitter.

Back in July Twitter’s service went down for a full hour. In that case an “internal configuration change” caused the issue — which Twitter subsequently rolled back.

It also suffered problems with direct messages in the same month.

Coincidentally or not, the company rolled out a major redesign of its desktop product this summer.

Twitter’s new ‘Facebook-style’ look has not been universally popular, to put it politely. Whether the redesign is the root cause of the recent bout of service flakiness remains to be seen.

Twitter’s status page sheds zero light on the matter — currently reporting that “all systems are operational” when that’s patently not the case.

We’ll update this report with any further details on the problems from Twitter.

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Twitter launches its anti-abuse filter for Direct Messages – TechCrunch

Twitter is rolling out its spam and abuse filter for Direct Messages, a month and a half after the company announced it had started testing the feature. The filter will be available on Twitter’s iOS, Android and Web apps.

The filter adds a new view to the Additional Messages inbox, where DMs from people you don’t follow go. If you click on it, messages that potentially contain offensive content also have their previews hidden, with an option to delete the message without opening it first.

The new DM filter is useful for people who want to keep their Twitter messages open, but (like most people) don’t want to see abusive content. The feature, however, feels long overdue considering that offensive messages are so common for users with open inboxes that third-party developers have launched their own filtering tools, including a recently-released plugin that detects and deletes dick pics.

Earlier this month, Twitter also released its Hide Replies feature in the U.S. and Canada after testing it in Canada. It gives users the option of picking replies to a tweet to hide, but does not delete them. Instead, they are still visible in a separate view that is linked to a button in the original tweet.

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In Latin America, the business of trolling threatens Twitter’s disruptive power – TechCrunch

In 2012, the emblematic podcast This American Life did a special on politics in Afghanistan. They noted that in order to be a politician in Afghanistan, one needs to command a personal armed militia. That’s how politics is practiced in a fragmented country with a long history of violence, and without a stable, credible centralized authority.

In the quaint and relatively peaceful Andean nation of Ecuador, snuggled between Colombia and Peru, a similar phenomenon takes place: politicians don’t require armed guards, but they do require their digital equivalent: Twitter troll centers, or businesses that sell online harassment as a service.

Indeed, much of the country’s public debate, or lack thereof, is now defined by the anonymous accounts that threaten, cajole and, ultimately, aim to silence voices of dissent. Though Ecuador may be too small to register on the Twitter executive team’s radar, under their noses the lucrative business of weaponizing the platform is already being exported to other countries in the region. The abuse of Twitter through troll centers not only threatens the company’s vision to become the world’s agora, it may also be putting lives at risk.

Imagine a populist president raging against his country’s elites, including the news media, as corrupt enemies of the people. Because of his innate distrust of journalists, he uses Twitter to speak divisive rhetoric directly to his digital faithful. At his disposal is an army of hardcore supporters ready to do his bidding, echo his message and attack anyone who dares disagree. If you recognize the character in this story, it’s probably because you’re familiar with Rafael Correa (56), the populist former president of Ecuador (January 2007- May 2017).

Correa now lives in Belgium and cannot return to Ecuador without facing trial for having ordered the kidnapping of a political opponent. The opponent in question fled Ecuador to neighboring Colombia in 2012, where he was trailed by members of Ecuador’s secret police and briefly kidnapped. Witnesses from the state security apparatus have since come forward to point the finger at Correa as the intellectual author of the crime.

The staunchest defenders of concentrated power are those who hold that power.

Correa denies the charges and claims they are merely politically motivated theater orchestrated by his former mentee and now sworn enemy, current Ecuadorian president, Lenín Moreno. But even if that were the case, Correa still has a number of other uncomfortable questions to answer to the Ecuadorian people. Since 2013, Latin America has been rocked by a corruption scandal called Lava Jato (the car wash) in which the Brazilian construction company Odebrecht paid bribes to politicians across the region to win public works projects (the Netflix series O Mecanismo, or The Mechanism in English, dramatizes the unfolding of the case in Brazil). In total, Odebrecht is said to have paid $788 million U.S. dollars in bribes in 12 countries in exchange for government contracts.

As a result of Lava Jato, former presidents in Brazil and Panama are in jail. In Peru, two former presidents are incarcerated, one is being held prior to an extradition hearing in California and, in April of this year, one dramatically committed suicide when police came to escort him to prison.

Ecuador’s government was no exception to the Brazil construction firm’s corruption: Rafael Correa’s former vice president and preferred successor, Jorge Glas, was convicted in December of 2017 of having directed multi-million-dollar contracts to the Brazilian firm in exchange for massive payoffs hidden through a series of offshore accounts. Indeed, Glas’s poor approval rating was the cause for Correa asking Moreno to come out of retirement and run for president.

Were Lava Jato not enough to spark wide-scale public outrage, a new scandal called Arroz Verde (green rice), revealed in May of 2019, exposed how the Correa election campaigns had government contractors cover expenses in order to flaunt spending restrictions. Numerous former ministers from the Correa government are currently either in jail or awaiting trial, under house arrest or have fled the country. Correa’s legacy as a tough yet modernizing progressive president is currently threatened by corruption scandals of previously unimaginable proportions.

It wasn’t supposed to be that way. When Rafael Correa was elected in 2007, Ecuador was emerging from a period of political, social and economic instability. In 2000, the country’s banks failed and the following economic collapse lead to Ecuador adopting the U.S. dollar as its official currency. Two years prior, a war with neighboring Peru resulted in the loss of a significant portion of Ecuador’s claim to the Amazon rain forest. In the early 2000s, close to 10% of the population, more than a million Ecuadorians, migrated to Spain and the United States in search of work. Three democratically elected presidents in a row were overthrown by street protests, including one colorful actor who was disposed after only six months in office. He was officially declared to have abandoned his role due to mental incapacity.

A relatively obscure leftist economics professor, Correa had a short stint as the country’s finance minister in 2005 during a transitional government. He left his post after a public spat with the International Monetary Fund. The IMF demanded Ecuador use its oil revenues to pay off its staggering external debt. Correa insisted that the country’s first priority should be its social debt and that the monies should be invested in health and education.

The fight vaulted Correa into the public eye and he was able to ride the momentum all the way to the presidency, defeating the country’s richest man in a run-off vote. Through his bombastic rhetoric, Correa took aim at the country’s business, political and media elites and fingered them as the origin of the country’s problems. He captured the populations’ unrest through the campaign slogan Dale Correa, which means both “Go Correa” and “Give ‘Em the Belt!”

Once in office, Rafael Correa set about an aggressive reform agenda. He rewrote the Constitution, the country’s 20th, and re-organized the state apparatus. Fueled by record high oil prices, Correa invested massively in highways, schools, hospitals and much-needed infrastructure like hydroelectric dams.

Shunning the country’s traditional alliance with the United States, Correa turned instead to China, a decision that, as The New York Times has documented, ended in billions of dollars being misspent on Chinese-built hydroelectric dams that don’t actually work at full capacity. In addition, China sold Ecuador technology which, though promoted as a 911 public safety tool, was used by the Correa government to keep tabs on and harass political opponents.

When Americans talk about Donald Trump’s latest scandals, Latin Americans mostly roll their eyes. After all, Latin Americans have seen the Donald Trump character interpreted by numerous strongmen, or caudillos, throughout the region’s history. They have even seen how it plays out on Twitter. Both Venezuela’s late President Hugo Chávez and Rafael Correa saw in Twitter an opportunity to go around their countries’ respective traditional media and speak directly to the citizens, a benefit of social media President Trump has also touted.

Correa would regularly engage in banter with citizens and do the work of government through tweets. His famous expression Favor Atender (please see to this) followed by a mention of a high-level minister or official was his calling card to government to get directly involved in resolving citizen complaints brought to his attention through Twitter. Correa went so far as to host lunches in the presidential palace for the Twitter users who most supported and defended him. The novelty of the hands-on approach soon revealed its dark side.

What happened next is the stuff of Benghazi-like conspiracy theories.

Many historians point to the 30th of September 2010 as the date when Rafael Correa started breaking bad. The day began as any other in the perpetually sunny capital of Quito. As mountain climbers will note, people at high altitudes sometimes make bad decisions due to the thin air, and Ecuador’s capital Quito stands at 9,350 feet. On this day, the National Police declared to the news media they were going on strike to protest a restructuring of their compensation packages. A group of police officers took a regiment and Rafael Correa decided that the best course of action was to go in person and confront them. Surrounded by his handlers and sustaining himself with a cane after a recent knee operation, Correa berated  the police officers, ripped his shirt open like a tropical hulk and dared the officers to shoot him in the chest. “Here I am and if you want to kill me, go ahead and kill me!” he cried.

What happened next is the stuff of Benghazi-like conspiracy theories. Depending on who you believe, Correa was either kidnapped and taken to a police hospital or went there voluntarily. The army eventually responded and a shoot-out ensued between the police and the army in the streets of Quito. Five people were killed, including three police officers, a soldier and a citizen. The president was eventually rescued by the military and restored to his functions about 12 hours after the debacle began. In a country used to coups and presidential turnover, democracy seemed to have won.

From the beginning of his time in office, Rafael Correa was determined not to suffer the fate of his overthrown predecessors. Having experienced the potential for that fate up-close, Rafael Correa reacted by removing his tyrannical constraints. Correa became increasingly belligerent on and off Twitter. Notoriously thin-skinned, Correa made a habit of throwing people in jail for flipping him off. He even stopped his motorcade to personally stick his finger in the nose of an irreverent teenager who Correa later had thrown in jail (the young man was eventually freed after apologizing).

Correa continued his crusade against journalists who wrote things about him with which he didn’t agree. Sometimes he insulted and threatened them; other times he hit them with multi-million-dollar lawsuits, which friendly judges were more than willing to oblige with speedy trials and favorable outcomes for the president.

The Ecuadorian government, it was leaked, spent millions on the Italian firm Hacking Team to spy on its citizens. On his weekly traveling Saturday Show, broadcast across radio, television and the internet, Correa would read tweets from people who insulted him and then reveal their true identities and addresses and call for retaliation. Whilst on the world stage, Correa portrayed himself as a defender of free speech by famously receiving Julian Assange in the Ecuadorian embassy in London; on the homefront, Correa hunted down dissenters and used the entire state apparatus to punish whistleblowers.

The Correa government’s harassment wasn’t only digital: as Gimlet’s Reply All podcast documented in their story Favor Atender, one of Correa’s most fervent Twitter adversaries, Gabriel González, received death threats in February 2015 after making memes that poked fun at things like the government’s sometimes absurdly inefficient healthcare system. Worried for his safety, Gabriel left Quito. Then, at his hideout hundreds of miles away, he received a Sopranos-like wreath of flowers along with pictures of his wife and child (Disclosure: Gabriel briefly freelanced for me as a contractor before the aforementioned events took place), stating it would be a shame if anything were to happen to them. When the price of oil started to decline and Correa’s spending power was curtailed, his popularity began to waver. After this, the president’s digital antics only worsened.

Whenever anyone tweeted something unpleasant to the president, they immediately faced a barrage of incoming attacks and insults.

Carlos Andrés Vera is one journalist for whom online harassment become offline harassment. A documentary filmmaker, publicist and former editor of the Ecuadorian edition of Soho Magazine, Carlos Andrés drew the ire of the Correa government by being highly critical of the administration, including its management of the Ecuadorian Amazon and its mishandling of the safety of the uncontacted tribes that are currently threatened by oil exploitation in and around the Yasuní National Park.

A prolific tweeter, Carlos Andrés frequently engaged his trolls, as well as numerous government ministers and operators. He first felt threatened when a troll account published a photo of his son that was on his phone but that he hadn’t published anywhere. The troll account suggested making a pornographic movie with Carlos Andres’s underaged son.

On more than one occasion he was threatened on the street by individuals who made reference to his digital activism. Then, in 2015, Carlos Andrés was the victim of a secuestro express, or express kidnapping. Usually victims of secuestro express are roughed up and then driven from bank machine to bank machine to empty their account, and then set free. In his case, Carlos Andrés was held and beaten for a number of hours, but the perpetrators never drove him to a bank machine nor did they even take his wallet. The event occurred at a time when Carlos Andrés was involved in fierce and aggressive Twitter debates with high-level government authorities. Carlos Andrés is convinced the incident was coordinated by the government and meant to intimidate him into digital silence. According to Carlos Andrés, “no government, not even Russia or Venezuela, was as advanced as the Correa government in weaponizing Twitter against its citizens.”

Out for a run on a recent Saturday, I noticed a particularly dirty street close to an official billboard declaring that “Quito is once again great.” In May of this year a new mayor had taken office after a surprise victory, slipping his way through a crowded group of 18 candidates and crowning himself mayor despite winning less than 30% of the popular vote (in Ecuador voting is mandatory, and though run-off elections are held at the presidential level, they are not used for municipal elections).

The new mayor, Jorge Yunda, was a former Correa collaborator who had since distanced himself from the now out of favor ex-president. The owner of a number of radio stations whose frequencies were granted in a process many consider to be less than transparent and fair, Yunda shamelessly copied Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan and adopted it to Quito. Unlike Trump, Yunda resisted the temptation to name and shame a public enemy.

Despite the candidate’s poor showing in the popular vote, Yunda’s team brazenly plastered Quito with “Quito is now great again” billboards, despite having yet to accomplish anything. Angry with the juxtaposition of a government declaring victory whilst having a major garbage management crisis on its hands, I took a picture and trolled the mayor.

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.@lorohomero, explain to me once again, this time slowly, how is it that Quito is great again?

By the time I finished my run I had regretted my tweet. The tweet wasn’t going to accomplish anything and Twitter doesn’t need more angry voices shouting into deep internet space. I thought about deleting it, and when I arrived home and I opened my phone it took me by surprise to see that in 10 minutes the tweet had received 134 responses, including one from the mayor asking me for more time to get his house in order.

The volume of responses was surprising because it was early on a Saturday morning, so I dug a little further and quickly picked up on a familiar pattern: many of the accounts of the respondents had less than 50 followers and they only followed a handful of people. Their usernames were often combinations of names plus a string of numbers. Most were saying more or less the same thing in response to my tweet. Soon thereafter, Twitter began automatically deleting some of the responses as if in recognition that the pattern of behavior was malicious.

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I say the behavior was familiar because I had seen it before. I was a vocal critic of the outgoing municipal administration (May 2014-May 2019) lead by Mauricio Rodas (44). The mayor then reached out through a mutual friend and offered me a job, which I turned down.

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Dear Matt, Thank you for your email. I’m sorry you won’t be able to join the team. I would have liked you to but I understand your reasons. I’m really enthusiastic about the idea that you might be able to collaborate with us through a consulting gig. Let’s please set this up through Carolina so we can do this immediately. A hug, Mauricio.

Though my relationship with the mayor was cordial, I continued to offer my critique of his administration’s work. After some time I began to receive messages that attacked me and used personal information, including a number of tweets that attacked my and my wife’s fertility.

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@ecuamatt poor guy, by the way is your wife (Michelle) pregnant yet? Can you not yet get it up? Hahaha

Aside from its crudeness, what was surprising was that the then-mayor (2014-2019), Mauricio Rodas, had been elected to counter the increasingly overbearing influence of Rafael Correa. Promising to stand up to the president, Rodas declared that it was time for a new form of politics without the tricks and dirty games popularized by the Correa government. Yet here was Mauricio Rodas using the same means by which Correa attacked and silenced his critics.

A company close to Rafael Correa was the first in Ecuador to begin to monetize the practice of Twitter trolling.

I researched my trolls and noticed a number of patterns between their accounts and a number of accounts of certain high-level municipal officials who appeared to be outsourcing the management of their twitter profiles, including who they followed and which images they used in their profiles and their posts. I then prepared a dossier that pointed to the intellectual authors behind the fake accounts and, in good faith, asked the mayor and two of his advisors to look into the kind of behavior that was being undertaken on his administration’s behalf. I asked them to consider the impact on democratic culture and public debate should politicians like him replicate the behavior of silencing critics through intimidation tactics. I received no reply, though the tweets and most of the accounts that attacked me were deleted. The trolling of the mayor’s critics, however, continued. One of the recipients of my dossier, Rodas’ communication secretary, later became a communications advisor to the incoming Yunda  administration.

A company close to Rafael Correa was the first in Ecuador to begin to monetize the practice of Twitter trolling, and Twitter itself was uncomfortably close to this company. Ximah Digital was started by young businessmen from the port city of Guayaquil whose main asset was their close connections to the government. When Twitter began selling ads in Latin America in 2012, it hired the region-wide firm Internet Media Services (IMS) to re-sell its advertising products in the region. Twitter then hired me in 2013 to manage its relationship with IMS (because I worked from a country in which Twitter had no office and am not an American citizen, I was technically hired as a foreign contractor). IMS, an accomplished digital re-seller with operations in much of Latin America, did not have an office of its own Ecuador and thus used Ximah Digital as its official national re-seller.

IMS choosing Ximah as its re-seller was a strange decision, as the small digital agency did not have established relationships amongst the country’s largest brands. Ximah did, however, have high-level government connections, and the government quickly became Twitter’s largest client in Ecuador.

During my time managing the relationship between Twitter and IMS, numerous individuals came to me with accusations that Ximah was managing troll centers whilst acting as the country’s exclusive Twitter sales channel, but I initially didn’t take the threats seriously. The accusations mostly came from individuals aligned with the opposition and, in that moment, I naively thought they were politically motivated. I went so far as to unwittingly take Ximah representatives to meetings with political actors Ximah was allegedly trolling and I defended Ximah publicly. I also don’t recall raising the issue with IMS before I left Twitter in May of 2014.

Ximah then lost plausible deniability on the 5th of September 2014 when a video circulated on social media showing that a number of well-known troll accounts were controlled by Ximah Digital employees. IMS responded to the controversy by firing Ximah Digital and opening its own office. Afterwards, Ximah went quiet for some time, then re-launched itself as a digital consultancy focused on political marketing.

When it worked defending Rafael Correa, the troll centers were easy to detect. Usually the troll accounts tweeted the exact same message as every other troll account in an attempt to control trending topics. The government also used its large number of verified accounts, which hold an extra weight in Twitter’s trending topic algorithm, to control the day’s conversation. The troll accounts could be brutal: Whenever anyone tweeted something unpleasant to the president, they immediately faced a barrage of incoming attacks and insults.

So how does one pay for trolling services? According to past reporting and confirmed by past and current employees, the government would often disguise contracts as general social media management RFPs (request-for-projects), then ensure their provider won the contract. In other instances companies were overpaid to provide legitimate services and there would be an agreement beforehand to provide trolling services in addition to the legitimate services.

Tracking the contracts can be tricky: As the investigative journalists at the leak-publishing site Milhojas have reported, a network of over 16 agencies, some of whom listed unaware farm-workers as their general managers on official documents, earned hundreds of thousands of dollars in government contracts. Many of these agencies shared a single official address, the same address as Ximah Digital.

According to company insiders, Ximah has since sophisticated its operation and now exports its services to other countries in Latin America. Whereas reverse image searches used to reveal the origin of their fake profile pictures, Ximah now scours the Ecuadorian coastal provinces and takes pictures of digital exiles to use their unique pictures as profile images. Ximah has also invested in technology, including AI, to enable automatic responses that are no longer copy-paste and therefore harder to detect. Ximah also trains other digital agencies to be trolls: Former employees from Ximah and employees from other local agencies, including agencies that manage major international clients in industries such as telecommunications, confirmed that Ximah trained their staff how to troll.

If companies like Ximah were founded because of an ideological conviction and affinity with Rafael Correa, they no longer have any qualms about who they work for. One morning I received a WhatsApp message alerting me to a corruption scandal involving a politician that used to be aligned with Rafael Correa and who was running for mayor of Guayaquil, Ecuador’s largest city. The sender’s number came from Cambodia, which was strange. The language and the aesthetics of the “leaks” page was reminiscent of past work I knew to be from Ximah: an anonymous source then confirmed that Ximah had been hired to manage the slanderous campaign on behalf of Cynthia Viteri, the eventual winning candidate of Guayaquil’s municipal elections. That fact was also confirmed by a political operative close to the Viteri campaign. Viteri’s political party was meant to be the sworn enemy of Rafael Correa. Viteri herself was the victim of Ximah trolling. In numerous campaigns throughout the years, Viteri promised a break from the Correa-era demagoguery… and yet.

Rafael Correa eventually made a career defining miscalculation. Though prior to leaving office Correa reformed the constitution he authored in order to remove the term limits he once insisted upon, he left power temporarily in the hands of his first vice president, the one not in jail for corruption charges, Lenín Moreno.

Tensions between the out-going and in-coming presidents started to show in the campaign, but no-one anticipated the complete 180 that would happen when the wheelchair bound Moreno would assume office. Throwing his predecessor and former mentor under the bus, Moreno promised to investigate and prosecute corruption “caiga quién caiga,” or regardless of who falls. Correa went berserk. Moreno, true to his promise, lost his first and second vice presidents to corruption charges. Moreno also held a referendum to reinstate term limits.

Correa spends his days tweeting hate from an attic in Belgium to his weakened but still dangerous troll army. He, the man who once wielded the power of a state against his enemies, now wallows in his own victimhood. So belligerent were his posts that Facebook closed his account. Twitter hasn’t censored him. Correa talks about returning to Ecuador as a vice-presidential candidate in two years. Ecuador’s weak institutions and strong journalists tremble at the thought.

In his drawn-out interview with Joe Rogan, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey speaks sincerely about the desire to have Twitter become the world’s discussion form. When Twitter works well it can foster debate and generate otherwise impossible interactions between people from all walks of life. It is clear that Jack firmly believes in this mission.

At the same time, Jack is notoriously tone-deaf, as was put on display when he tweeted about the benefits of vacationing in Myanmar without so much as a thought for the victims of the Mynmar government’s ongoing genocidal campaign against its Muslim population. As a former insider and as a close watcher of Twitter’s growth and evolution, I am not convinced Twitter really feels the urgency to make its platform a safer space for healthy debate and accurate information.

Twitter’s indifference is Latin America’s loss. For much of the history of Latin America, media ownership has been concentrated in the hands of a few who generally held sway over public opinion. Media outlets often belonged to prominent businessmen from important industries. The concentration of power in the hands of a few brokers from business, media and politics represented a Petri dish for corruption.

Twitter is raw, open and immediate, allowing the crowd to determine relevance.

Twitter blew up in Latin America because it represented a true opportunity to break from the aforementioned traditional power structure. Unlike Facebook, which tries to curate the world’s information to increase our engagement, Twitter is raw, open and immediate, allowing the crowd to determine relevance. All of a sudden voices that were excluded from national conversations can now be heard, and they can determine and influence debates, much like the #BlackLivesMatter (2013) and #MeToo (2017) movements in the United States.

Information that used to be suppressed now achieves its goal of being free. It is no coincidence that the rise of Twitter coincides with the unraveling of a corruption scandal that compares in size and scope only to the corruption inherent in the European colonization of the Americas. In the digital age it is harder to hide information. Corruption, the region’s chief operating system, leaves an Exxon Valdez-sized oil-slick of a paper trail. Those who benefit from corruption are, for the first time, vulnerable.

If information is power, that means that when information is democratized, power is democratized. But the expression of that power, meaning the systems through which that power is exercised, do not necessarily democratize. Indeed, maybe our greatest democratic gap of the modern era is found in the fact that humans can produce a big bang of information every day, but our democracy, as the Argentine democratic hacktivist Santiago Siri has stated, can only process one bit of information per citizen roughly every four years. We have sophisticated users trying to stuff their sophisticated thoughts, expressions and identities into a system with wildly outdated hardware and software that appears to be infected with a powerful firmware virus called corruption.

And not everyone has an interest in upgrading the software. In the same way that a small number  of powerful Bitcoin miners can prevent Bitcoin from increasing the block size, there are powerful actors who benefit from preventing an upgrade to democracy. Principally, those actors who have figured out how to hack and monopolize the old system will seek to ensure the new system does not threaten their concentrated hold on power. Even if they started out as rebels in the old system, as Rafael Correa once did, the rebels eventually learn how to be successful in the old model and hence become its strongest defenders.

Indeed, the staunchest defenders of concentrated power are those who hold that power. Increasingly desperate to stay at the helm, the holders-on employ mafia-like tactics to defend their mafia-like organizations, all in the name of their good intentions and sacred causes wrapped in a bow of “for the people.”  In this world, however, there is only one truth, and that truth weaves a thread between all Latin American governments, be they dictatorial or democratic, left or right, loved or despaired: that idea is that the ends always justifies the means.

Twitter threatens the concentration of power of the old system, which is why Twitter becomes the battleground between tyranny and democracy. The winners in the old system, as discussed here, are fighting back, and that fight is coming to a democracy near you. By not taking sides, Twitter is ultimately taking a side. By siding with the trolls in the name of free speech, Twitter is standing against everyone else’s free speech. Twitter’s troll centers in Latin America aren’t an unfortunate minor externality or a regional nuance: they’re a business model that threatens to take away any value that the platform might create. The stakes are unimaginably high.

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Twitter details new policies designed to crack down on financial scams – TechCrunch

Twitter today says it’s expanding its policies to prohibit financial scams on its platform — something you’d think would have already been banned, but apparently was never directly addressed through Twitter’s policy documentation. Instead, financial scams until now have been handled through Twitter’s spam reporting tool, which was expanded last year to specifically identify what exact type of spam a tweet contained.

Among the choices were options to indicate if the tweet contained malicious links, was from a fake account or was using hashtags or the reply function to post spam, among other things. It didn’t address the numerous sorts of financial spams that appear on Twitter, however.

The new policy better spells out what Twitter considers a financial scam.

Specifically, it says that using scam tactics to obtain money or private financial information is prohibited under the new policy, and users may not create accounts, tweets or send Direct Messages for this purpose.

It also details what kind of scams it’s on the lookout for, including relationship/trust-building scams, money-flipping schemes, fraudulent discounts and phishing scams. These are detailed in its help documentation here.

The new policy arrives at a time when Twitter has been criticized for allowing crypto scams to proliferate on its service. Many of these involve impersonation, using the reply function to spam and general promises to make victims lots of money. Twitter also this year allowed an obvious PayPal phishing attempt to run as a promoted tweet, which spoke to the need for stronger oversight in this area.

With regard to the new policy, users are still instructed to report the tweet, as before. That means clicking the “report tweet” option from the menu, then selecting “It’s suspicious or spam,” followed by the option that best explains how the tweet is suspicious.

Twitter also clarified that it doesn’t intervene in other financial disputes that fall outside this policy, like claims related to the sale of goods on Twitter, disputed refunds or complaints about poor-quality goods.

As with other scams, financial scammers will risk permanent suspension if they continue to post scams, phishing and fraud, Twitter says.

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What’s the right way to sponsor a YouTube influencer? – TechCrunch

We’ve aggregated the world’s best growth marketers into one community. Twice a month, we ask them to share their most effective growth tactics, and we compile them into this Growth Report.

This is how you’re going stay up-to-date on growth marketing tactics — with advice you can’t get elsewhere.

Our community consists of 600 startup founders paired with VP’s of growth from later-stage companies. We have 300 YC founders plus senior marketers from companies including Medium, Docker, Invision, Intuit, Pinterest, Discord, Webflow, Lambda School, Perfect Keto, Typeform, Modern Fertility, Segment, Udemy, Puma, Cameo, and Ritual.

You can participate in our community by joining Demand Curve’s marketing webinars, Slack group, or marketing training program. See past growth reports here, here and here.

Without further ado, onto the advice.

How do you sponsor YouTube influencers cost-effectively?

Based on insights from Bjarke Felbo of Rune (LinkedIn). Lightly edited with permission.

  • Influencers often expect compensation proportional to subscribers, but conversions happen proportional to views. So go after the influencers with high views and low subscribers. That’s the trick.
  • We’ve had the best success with 30-60 second promo spots at the beginning of the influencer’s video.
  • We’ve seen success depend on the video it’s attached to and what time of day/week it’s posted, so we’re strict about setting rules around that. Or, we give them a bonus based on the video’s view count to incentivize them to put our spot on a high-quality video.
  • Be careful with repeat promotions with the same influencer. These haven’t yielded noteworthy returns for us — even after months. It’s likely that the audience becomes saturated.

For SEO, how much does link building really matter in 2019?

From Nat Eliason of Growth Machine. Lightly edited by Demand Curve with permission.

  • Links are still important, but their importance is decreasing steadily. Google is getting better at evaluating content quality, and it’s focusing more on that.
  • Consider this: Google doesn’t want to be gameable, and domain authority and link building are very gameable. But content quality is not. You can’t fake good content.
  • Many major blogs outside of high authority spaces have grown rapidly using less link-building. Much of their energy is instead spent on choosing the right keywords (low competition, but still acceptable volume) and writing useful content that satisfies the searcher’s intent.
  • However, link-building can still speed up the process quite a bit if you’re on a tight timeline, or if you’ve given content 3-4 months to rank and aren’t seeing the results you want.

Growth masterclasses kick off now

Today, the advanced growth masterclasses kick off. They’re all free.

These are rapid-fire, short, and advanced webinars. They’re not boring introductory lectures. This is some of the best content we produce. Don’t miss these, especially when they’re free.

Enroll here:

What’s the best way to take over a Twitter account from an inactive user?

Based on insights from Andrew Ettinger of Atoms. Lightly edited with permission.

Someone has your brand name as their Twitter handle and their account is inactive. How do you get access to it?

  1. Create an ads account with an existing handle you want to swap for the one you’re trying to claim.
  2. Go to
  3. Click on Account issues -> Claim an inactive username.
  4. Submit a case.

You’ll then want your Twitter ads account manager to escalate your case (give them the case #).

This is not guaranteed. Your best chance of claiming that handle will be to have an existing Twitter employee escalate your case.

Demand Curve’s Asher King Abramson will lead a growth marketing session where he’ll tear down your landing pages and Facebook/Instagram ads in front of a live audience. He’ll deconstruct how effective they are at (1) conveying what you do (2) and doing so enticingly — so that people click.

If you’re attending Disrupt and want to participate, you can submit your assets to for him to consider.

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Twitter discloses another 10,000 accounts suspended for fomenting political discord globally – TechCrunch

Twitter’s ongoing, and possibly Sisyphean, effort of policing and removing nefarious content disseminated on its platform is taking another step forward today. The company’s safety team has disclosed the removal of another 10,112 accounts across six countries that were found to be actively spreading misinformation and encouraging unrest in politically sensitive climates.

The accounts noted today follow the same fault lines of unrest that you will find in the news at the moment: they include more than 4,000 each in United Arab Emirates and China, over 1,000 in Equador, and 259 in Spain. The full trove is being posted for researchers and others to parse and you can find it, and the wider archive — now numbering in the millions of Tweets and with one terabyte of media — here.

Today’s removals mark nearly one year of Twitter’s efforts to identify and remove accounts that are spreading political misinformation for the purposes of changing public sentiment — something that has wide-ranging impact beyond simply being annoyed on social media, including not least democratic processes like voting in elections or referendums. Today’s list is on par with some of the other notable disclosures Twitter has made every few months in the last year, such as its first removals process last October covering some 4,500 accounts out of Russia; but they are a far cry from its biggest removal effort to date, identifying and suspending some 200,000 accounts in China aimed at sowing discord in Hong Kong this past August.

Given that, if anything, Twitter is trying to make it easier, not harder, to open accounts and start using the service,  one could argue that trying to police the bad guys is a never-ending, and possibly impossible effort, since like the universe itself, Twitter just keeps expanding.

But on the other hand, it’s a necessary process, one that can help us learn about how social media is being misused (Twitter says that ‘thousands’ of researchers have accessed the data to date).

Those who are able can try to figure out ways to fix it, and we the public become smarter about spotting and passing over the bad stuff. Plus, in a climate where social networks are now getting increasingly scrutinised by governments for their role in aiding and abetting the bad actors, it also helps Twitter (and others that also identify and remove accounts, like Facebook) demonstrate that it is self-policing, making an effort and producing results, before states step in and do the policing for them. (Related sidenote: Just yesterday, Colin Crowell, Twitter’s VP of public policy for the last eight years, who had a big role in interfacing with the powers that be by overseeing lobbying efforts, announced yesterday that he would be stepping down.)

More details on the list announced today:

United Arab Emirates & Egypt: Twitter said it removed 267 accounts originating in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Egypt. “These accounts were interconnected in their goals and tactics: a multi-faceted information operation primarily targeting Qatar, and other countries such as Iran. It also amplified messaging supportive of the Saudi government,” Twitter notes. Additionally, it identified that all these accounts came from one tech company called DotDev, which has also been permanently suspended (along with other accounts associated with it).

A separate group of 4,258 accounts operating from the UAE, mainly directed at Qatar and Yemen, were also removed. “These accounts were often employing false personae and tweeting about regional issues, such as the Yemeni Civil War and the Houthi Movement.”

Saudi Arabia: Just six accounts linked to Saudi Arabia’s state-run media apparatus were found to be “engaged in coordinated efforts to amplify messaging that was beneficial to the Saudi government.” The accounts presented themselves as journalists and media outlets.

Twitter also singled out the account of Saud al-Qahtani, a former media advisor to the King, for violations of its platform manipulation policies. (The account is not included in the archives disclosed today.)

Spain: Partido Popular — the Spanish political party founded by a former Franco minister that has been tied up in corruption scandals — was identified as operating some 259 accounts that were falsely boosting public sentiment online in Spain. The accounts were active for only a short time, Twitter notes.

Ecuador: There were 1,019 accounts removed this summer affiliated with the PAIS Alliance political party. The network of primarily fake accounts “was primarily engaged in spreading content about President Moreno’s administration, focusing on issues concerning Ecuadorian laws on freedom of speech, government censorship, and technology.”

China (PRC)/Hong Kong: It’s not 200,000 accounts as in August but still, another 4,302 accounts have been identified in helping to “sow discord about the protest movement in Hong Kong.”

As with previous datasets that Twitter has disclosed, the company notes that this is an ongoing effort that will see further announcements in the months ahead as more accounts are identified. But the question you have to ask is whether the company has been trying to figure out if there is a way of preventing these accounts from coming on to the platform in the first place.

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