December 4, 2022 / by 

 

Flipping the Bird: Social Media Update

Given Elon Musk’s concerted effort to turn Twitter into Gab, I wanted to update my current social media choices (I’ll invite other posters to do the same).

As a number of people have noticed, I locked up my Tweets the other day. That was a response to my inclusion on a list that fascists are attempting to deplatform on Twitter. I’ve heard from a number of people who don’t have an account and who only check Twitter for my Tweets. At least until the fascist campaign ends, and possibly for good, I plan to primarily post my journalistic tweets at Mastodon. And even ignoring that the Approve Follow Requests appears to be buggy at Twitter, I’ve got a long list of requests from entities that may or may not live in a troll farm in St. Petersburg.

So for those of you who might be locked out at Twitter, please check Mastodon.

The exception will be commentary about people on Twitter — commenting on things journalists or propagandists say on Twitter.

My Mastodon address is @[email protected].

I have gotten an account at Post.news, also @emptywheel. For a variety of reasons (privacy and format, among others), I’m taking a cautious approach with Post for now.

I do have accounts on other social media outlets, but for now, I’m focusing primarily on Mastodon.

As a reminder, you can get emailed notice of posts here at this link.


Three Things: Twitter Death Watch in Progress

[NB: check the byline, thanks. /~Rayne]

This could be hyperbole but it’s difficult to imagine a social media platform the size of Twitter surviving nearly 90% loss of employees across the organization inside a three-week time frame.

I certainly wouldn’t bet any of my money on it.

~ 3 ~

Thursday was the deadline Twitter’s owner Elon Musk set for remaining Twitter employees to commit to being “hardcore” for Elmo.

They were supposed to have clicked/not clicked by 5:00 p.m. to take an offer of termination with severance.

Many are choosing to walk away, their goodbyes recorded in this ongoing thread (link active at time of posting but no guarantees how long it will stay up):

Kylie Robison for Fortune Magazine reported in a Twitter thread that as much as 88% of the staff Twitter had when Musk took over on October 27 has either been fired or opted to leave.

There were employees on vacation, on medical leave, and under H1-B visa who have questions which haven’t been answered; they will not have been able to make a fair election of hardcore for Elmo or nope, thanks.

The number of employees which may fall under this category could be about 1000.

At one point it was said Musk was negotiating with a handful of key engineers critical to keeping Twitter running.

Zoe Schiffer at Platformer reported at 6:52 p.m. ET badge access had been suspended and the Twitter office buildings closed.

Her tweets leave open the possibility some of the employees who opted to leave may yet be asked to remain.

I wouldn’t hold my breath after reading BusinessInsider’s Kali Hays.

How does a company operate without payroll?

If Twitter has virtually no information security personnel, likely has no documented plan in place for dealing with this scenario, let alone failures all along the way for handling roll out of the Twitter Blue verification system which was a mess of violations all on its own, Twitter could be hammered hard by the Federal Trade Commission for failing to meet the terms of the 2011 consent agreement.

I don’t think it’d be unreasonable to say FTC has grounds to shut Twitter down right now if no users’ or advertisers’ data is secure; the FTC has shut down businesses before. Taking any money from advertisers at this point let alone users for Twitter verification or Twitter Blue would shortchange them if they expected data security.

As Alex Stamos, Facebook’s former CISO notes in this Twitter thread, it’s not just the FTC with whom Musk and Twitter will be in trouble. Twitter’s former outside counsel Riana Pfefferkorn agrees there are big problems and has more to add.

And Elmo’s response to all of this is shitposting.

Not even his own shitposting; he stole the meme from another user.

With total staffing and capabilities up in the air, will Twitter survive into the World Cup which begins on this coming Sunday November 20?

I won’t even put money on that.

~ 2 ~

Marcy wrote recently about Elmo’s forced marriage. Looking at the timeline of events leading up to the closing of the Twitter acquisition, there was certainly something iffy in the way Elmo avoided a background check and due diligence when offered a seat on the board of directors in April, and in the way he hustled out of Delaware’s Chancery Court in October where discovery might have revealed all that wasn’t back in April.

@capitolhunters found some embarrassing information about Elmo which might explain his skittishness. It’s public record but unless one is determined to find it, it won’t surface readily.

Read the entire thread at the Internet Archive; I wouldn’t count on it being available at Twitter. It may have been shadow banned at one point earlier Thursday evening as I couldn’t pull it up.

Is it possible the lack of qualifications and credentials as well as his former status as an illegal immigrant are the reasons why Musk appeared to avoid a background check and due diligence?

Is this a compelling reason he should not have been able to purchase Twitter to begin with — because he could be compromised because of repeated misrepresentations about his background?

~ 1 ~

If you’re a regular Twitter user, you may wish to see something constructive done and soon. There are entire communities of people who can’t just switch to another platform because they’ve had small businesses built up around their Twitter presence. There are minority groups who have difficulty switching to different platforms; without Twitter they lose contact with others in their minority community.

One only need look at the mass shooting at University of Virginia last weekend and the confusion about verification on Twitter to realize how serious the loss of Twitter’s integrity as a utility is to much of the U.S. — and it’s not just the U.S.

I recommend checking @Celeste_pewter’s Twitter thread for action items including calling your senator.

(There’s a copy of her thread at the Internet Archive just in case the original one at Twitter becomes unavailable.)

~ 0 ~

I can’t help think of two things:

— Oil producing countries Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and UAE financed a considerable portion of Musk’s purchase of Twitter, with Prince al Waleed being the second largest investor. Did they do it for an investment, for access to a media space to promote their agenda, or because they saw a way to screw with one of the most popular electric car manufacturers by giving its compromised CEO the means to fuck himself?

— Text messages produced as part of discovery in Twitter’s lawsuit against Musk included messages between Musk and his ex-wife Talulah (Jane) Riley in which she begged him to buy Twitter and delete it because Twitter had banned conservative satire site Babylon Bee. Riley had discussed the banning with her close friend Raiyah Bint Al-Hussein, wife of British journalist Ned Donovan, and half-sister to King Abdullah II of Jordan. Why would a British actress like Riley be so upset about an American conservative website’s banning by a U.S. social media platform?


Three Things: The Early Bird Got Wormed

[NB: Check the byline, thanks. /~Rayne]

The self-ownage continues at Twitter. I don’t even know where to start because there’s just so much damage in the bird app’s debris field.

Let’s go with the problems closest to deaths.

~ ~ ~

The brilliant billionaire who overpaid for Twitter, who thought his Tesla engineers were qualified to determine staffing levels on software created over 16 years they didn’t write, had another brilliant idea.

He played Jenga with code within the platform because the application was too slow.

(I haven’t heard anyone complain about Twitter’s speed in ages, and when there’ve been complaints they’re usually in tandem with a major event flooding the network and system with user requests and tweets.)

Twitter’s speed hasn’t been a bottleneck to increasing users or profitability.

In the process of unplugging stuff to see if the platform would speed up, a worker who actually knew something about all the legacy code criticized Musk’s absurd efforts.

Free speech absolutist Musk fired him, egged on by his fanboi trolls.



And then users began to experience problems with Two-Factor Authentication (2FA) over Short Message Service (SMS), otherwise know as text messages.

The security system which allows users to ensure their account can’t be accessed by unauthorized persons was broken, preventing users from accessing their accounts.

This also prevented users from checking their accounts to make sure they weren’t hacked and their verification worked.

~ ~ ~

Which is why during Sunday’s night’s mass shooting at University of Virginia, students as well as the public following the story were reportedly confused about UVA’s emergency message. They couldn’t be sure after Elon Musk’s back-and-forth changes to its verification system whether the message they read in Twitter from UVA-Emergency Management was legitimate.

Fortunately students used their own student-developed thread in a mobile app called Yik Yak to validate the emergency. Yik Yak has been problematic in the past, pulled from app stores because of unmoderated toxic behavior, but it was relaunched in 2021 and valuable to students during the shooting lockdown at UVA because Yik Yak limits reach to five miles. In other words, the students knew whoever was using the app was local to campus.

It’s possible the students could have deduced the UVA-Emergency Management tweet was legitimate because it displayed the source of the message – Rave Mobile Safety, an emergency messaging system. Had UVA-Emergency Management’s account been spoofed, a phone or desktop might have appeared instead of Rave.

This detail may not be available for much longer. Musk thinks identifying the source of tweets by device or application is just inconvenient bloatware.

Should we ask UVA students and their parents about Twitter’s bloatware problem?

~ ~ ~

As I noted in my previous Twitter acquisition timeline post, the company has been subject to a Federal Trade Commission consent decree since 2011 because of its failures to assure users’ personal data was secure.

From the FTC’s 2011 statement:

…The FTC alleged that serious lapses in the company’s data security allowed hackers to obtain unauthorized administrative control of Twitter, including both access to non-public user information and tweets that consumers had designated as private, and the ability to send out phony tweets from any account.

A $150 million penalty had been levied by the FTC only a month after Twitter and Musk agreed on terms for the acquisition.

And yet Musk noodled around with Twitter Blue and the blue check verification system, affecting the verification status of organizations as well as individuals – none of the changes done with documentation prepared in advance, or with red team testing for quality assurance.

Musk’s ham-handed mucking around in microservices temporarily affecting 2FA SMS – some accounts are apparently still affected – was likewise done without advance preparation, and in the face of criticism by seasoned employees who understood the system.

It’s worth noting in that same statement by the FTC these last two paragraphs:

NOTE: A consent agreement is for settlement purposes only and does not constitute an admission by the respondent that the law has been violated. When the Commission issues a consent order on a final basis, it carries the force of law with respect to future actions. Each violation of such an order may result in a civil penalty of up to $16,000.

The Federal Trade Commission works for consumers to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices and to provide information to help spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint in English or Spanish, visit the FTC’s online Complaint Assistant or call 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357). The FTC enters complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to more than 1,800 civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad. The FTC’s Web site provides free information on a variety of consumer topics. “Like” the FTC on Facebook and “follow” us on Twitter.

Though the FTC might want to rethink that last Follow, persons who felt their personal data was at risk over the last three weeks might want to drop the FTC a note.

~ ~ ~

After reading about the acquisition and the subsequent mass terminations along with the manifold fuck-ups like verification and 2FA SMS, I wonder if Musk and Twitter executives ever notified the FTC of the change in ownership as required by the consent decree.


The Tanking of Twitter

[NB: Check the byline, thanks. /~Rayne]

First, before the rest of this post, a warning: if you have a Twitter account, active or inactive, go turn on 2FA.
Do it on a desktop or laptop, not your phone.
Be sure to obtain a single-use backup code for secure login in case you’re unable to use 2FA.*

There are too many reports right now of quirky things going on at Twitter. Just play it safe and protect your account.

~ ~ ~

It’s amazing how little drag billions of dollars provides in the face of gravity — and by gravity I mean the force hubris and ignorance may exert when they meet reality.

This observation is spot on after Thursday’s conference call with Twitter’s current owner, Elon Musk:

I don’t even dare embed the original tweet because it may disappear if the worst should come to pass and swaths of Twitter are shuttered to outside access.

How the hell did Musk, the head of SpaceX and Tesla, manage to burn up so much goodwill inside 16 days?

Let’s take a look at the timeline of events since Musk began buying stock in Twitter.

Date

Description

31-JAN-2022

Musk begins accumulating shares of Twitter

14-MAR-2022

Musk now owns 5% of Twitter

25-MAR-2022

Musk polls Twitter users, “Free speech is essential to a functioning democracy. Do you believe Twitter rigorously adheres to this principle?” 70% of 2 million participants said no.

26-MAR-2022

Reuters: Elon Musk giving ‘serious thought’ to build a new social media platform

Musk makes contact with former Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey as well as Twitter board members to discuss the platform

04-APR-2022

Musk filed a Schedule 13G with the Securities and Exchange Commission, revealing his acquisition of a 9% stake in Twitter.

The SEC acknowledged receipt of the 13G and asked Musk for clarification of several points including how Musk determined March 14 was the date which triggered a need for the 13G filing, and why he didn’t file within 10 days of March 14.

04-APR-2022

Twitter’s board offers Musk a seat on the board if he accumulates no more than 14.9% of the company’s stock. The offer includes a background check and completion of a D&O questionnaire.

https://www.sec.gov/Archives/edgar/data/1418091/000119312522095651/d342257dex101.htm

05-APR-2022

CEO Parag Agrawal welcomes Musk to the board via tweet.

09-APR-2022

Including a list of the Twitter accounts with the most followers, Musk tweets, “Most of these “top” accounts tweet rarely and post very little content. Is Twitter dying?

Agrawal replied that the tweets were unhelpful. It isn’t known until much latter via released text messages that Musk and Agrawal had been talking up to this point.

09+10-APR-2022

AP: Musk suggests Twitter changes, including accepting Dogecoin; Musk tweeted these ideas over the weekend.

11-APR-2022

AP: Tesla CEO Elon Musk won’t join Twitter’s board after all; Agrawal tweeted this news on Monday.

13-APR-2022

Musk files Amendment 2 to his Schedule 13D/A

The amendment includes his offer — a non-binding proposal — to Twitter’s Chairman of the Board Bret Taylor to acquire Twitter at $54.20/share and take it private.

15-APR-2022

Twitter adopted a rights agreement which included a poison pill.

20-APR-2022

Musk obtained $46.5 billion in financing commitments according to exhibits to amended 13D filed with the SEC.

25-APR-2022

Twitter’s board unanimously approved an offer by Musk to buy Twitter for $44 billion.

29-APR-2022

Reuters: Musk sells Tesla shares worth $8.5 billion ahead of Twitter takeover

02-MAY-2022

In 10-Q filing to SEC, Twitter estimated spam accounts as 5% or less of active users.

Musk tweeted, “Free speech is the bedrock of a functioning democracy, and Twitter is the digital town square where matters vital to the future of humanity are debated. I also want to make Twitter better than ever by enhancing the product with new features, making the algorithms open source to increase trust, defeating the spam bots, and authenticating all humans. Twitter has tremendous potential — I look forward to working with the company and the community of users to unlock it.”

04-MAY-2022

Amendment 6 to Schedule 13D showed Musk obtained commitments amounting to more than $7 billion in funding for the acquisition of Twitter.

10-MAY-2022

NPR: Elon Musk says he’ll reverse Donald Trump Twitter ban

12-MAY-2022

Twitter CEO announced a hiring freeze and cost cutting along with releasing two executives. They were:

– Kayvon Beykpour, general manager

– Bruce Falck, general manager for revenue

13-MAY-2022

WaPo: Elon Musk says Twitter deal is on hold, putting bid on shaky ground — Musk expressed concern that spam/accounts were in actuality more than 5% of users in spite of Twitter’s 10-Q statement.

25-MAY-2022

Federal Trade Commission and Dept of Justice Order Twitter to Pay $150 Million Penalty for Violating 2011 FTC Order and Cease Profiting from Deceptively Collected Data

06-JUN-2022

WaPo: Elon Musk threatens to back out of Twitter deal over withholding data – he claimed Twitter was “actively resisting” requests for information though his April agreement to purchase Twitter waived the right to look more deeply at the company’s data.

08-JUL-2022

WaPo: Elon Musk files to back out of Twitter deal – Musk’s letter to Twitter filed with the SEC said he was “terminating their merger agreement” but Twitter replied the same day saying it would sue Musk.

12-JUL-2022

NYT: Twitter Sues Musk After He Tries Backing Out of $44 Billion Deal – the company filed suit in Delaware’s Chancery Court.

19-JUL-2022

Chancellor Kathaleen St. Jude McCormick set a trial date for October 17 in Delaware’s Chancery Court.

29-JUL-2022

Bloomberg: Musk Files Defense Under Seal as Twitter Trial Set for Oct. 17

09-AUG-2022

A former Twitter employee was found guilty of spying on behalf of Saudi Arabia.

23-AUG-2022

USNews: Peiter Zatko, Twitter’s former security chief July 2020-January 2022, claimed in a whistleblower complaint filed in July with the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Justice that Twitter was not straightforward with regulators about its information security and its handling of disinformation.

13-SEP-2022

Twitter’s former security chief Zatko testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee about Twitter’s problematic information security.

03-OCT-2022

Musk tweets Vladimir Putin’s “peace plan”; it’s alleged this tweet occurred after Musk had a conversation with Putin.

04-OCT-2022

Twitter disclosed in an SEC filing that Musk agreed to complete the purchase of Twitter for $44 billion according to the terms established in April.

06-OCT-2022

WaPo: Twitter-Musk trial delayed as sides argue over money and trust

20-OCT-2022

Report: Musk explained to prospective investors that he will cut Twitter staffing by 75%

26-OCT-2022

Musk arrives at Twitter’s corporate offices carrying a bathroom sink. “Let that sink in!” he tweeted along with a video of his entrance.

27-OCT-2022

Musk takes control of Twitter, firing uppermost management including

– Parag Agrawal, Chief Executive Officer

– Ned Segal, Chief Financial Officer

– Vijaya Gadde, Global Lead of Legal Policy, Trust, and Safety

– Sean Edgett, General Counsel

30-OCT-2022

The Verge: Twitter is planning to start charging $20 per month for verification – Musk threatened to fire employees building this verified user system.

30-OCT-2022

Musk tweeted, “The whole verification process is being revamped right now

01-NOV-2022

Departure of more Twitter officials revealed, top management gutted; exits include

– Sarah Personette, Chief customer officer

– Dalana Brand, Chief People and Diversity Officer

– Nick Caldwell, General manager for core technologies

– Leslie Berland, Chief marketing officer

– Jay Sullivan, Head of product

– Jean-Philippe Maheu, vice president of global sales

01-NOV-2022

Major brands pause advertising on Twitter, including Audi, General Mills, General Motors, Ad rep Interpublic Group, Mondelez International, Pfizer, Volkswagen

01-NOV-2022

Twitter to deny Blue subscribers access to ad-free articles

01-NOV-2022

Musk mixed it up with author Stephen King over the proposed $20/month fee for Twitter Blue verified status

01-NOV-2022

CNET: Twitter Will Charge $8 a Month for Verified Accounts, Elon Musk Suggests

04-NOV-2022

Half of Twitter’s workforce is pink slipped.

Included are personnel who were building the new verification system.

04-NOV-2022

CNN: Elon Musk said Twitter has seen a ‘massive drop in revenue’ as more brands pause ads

04-NOV-2022

Entire departments were gutted:

– Human Rights

– Communications

– Accessibility Experience Team

– META (Machine learning ethics, transparency and accountability)

– Curation

04-NOV-2022 through 08-NOV-2022

CNN: Elon Musk sold nearly $4 billion worth of Tesla stock since Twitter deal closed

05-NOV-2022

Engadget: Twitter starts testing paid account verification on iOS

06-NOV-2022

Bloomberg: Twitter Now Asks Some Fired Workers to Please Come Back – some were fired “by mistake”

06-NOV-2022

Actor Kathy Griffin suspended by Twitter after mocking Musk by changing her account name and avatar to copy Musk’s.

07-NOV-2022

CBS: Musk says Twitter account holders who impersonate others will be banned

08-NOV-2022

Guardian: Twitter to offer ‘official’ label for select verified accounts – “Accounts that will receive [the label] include government accounts, commercial companies, business partners, major media outlets, publishers and some public figures,” Twitter’s Early Stage Products manager Esther Crawford tweeted.

08-NOV-2022

Reuters: Twitter engineer says he was fired for helping coworkers who faced layoffs — several employees are now filing a lawsuit against Twitter for firing them while engaged in protected work per the National Labor Relations Board.

09-NOV-2022

1:45 p.m. ET – Twitter users note there are two Twitter Blue services at different prices.

2:00 p.m. ET – Engadget: Twitter’s $8 a month Blue subscription with verification is rolling out; available on iOS only relying on Apple’s identity verification.

2:52 p.m. ET – Twitter users receive a notice there will be a change in Twitter Blue service; the service is being revamped with current subscriptions to be canceled at the end of the month.

09-NOV-2022

5:26 p.m. ET – Twitter Support tweets, “We’re not currently putting an “Official” label on accounts but we are aggressively going after impersonation and deception.

10-NOV-2022

Several high-level technical executives resigned, including

– Yoel Roth, Lead, Integrity and Safety

– Lea Kissner, CISO

– Damien Kieran, Chief Privacy Officer

10-NOV-2022

Internal communications about separations and outstanding compensation are a mess.

10-NOV-2022

With little advance notice, Musk hosts an Ask Me Anything-type of meeting with employees. Topics included:

– turning Twitter into a banking services business-news

– insufficient cash flow with bankruptcy a possibility

– elimination of remote/work from home with mandatory return to the office

– offering short-form video in competition with TikTok (like Twitter’s now-defunct Vine service)

10-NOV-2022

Multiple outlets note that Twitter may be in violation of the FTC’s 2011 Consent Decree by not developing a security program documented in writing within days of rolling out new services.

A former outside counsel to Twitter warned of FTC fines for lack of compliance, but Twitter is apparently requiring its engineers to “self certify” while failing to put new services through full red team review before implementation in production environment.

10-NOV-2022

A U.S. Senator, a major pharmaceutical company, a major aerospace and defense company, and Chiquita are among the noted individuals and organizations whose identities have been spoofed by accounts using the new Twitter Blue verification service.

10-NOV-2022

Twitter paused its Twitter Blue verification service on Thursday night after the new service had been abused with misinformation.

11-NOV-2022

NYT: Insiders report as much as 80% of engineering staff have been fired, leaving little more than a skeleton crew to manage key portions of the platform.

11-NOV-2022

Twitter’s remaining Human Resource team sent laid-off workers an email acknowledging delays sending their separation agreements and release of claims documents. But HR sent it CC: not BCC: with a Reply-All barrage following.

Stories of badly handled terminations are becoming public.

12-NOV-2022

Thread: “Scoop from within Twitter: small things are breaking, not enough engineers to fix them. Noticed that notification counts are not showing? The BE service powering it is down since Thursday. A bug was filed, but the team that would fix it is full on with verification work.

12-NOV-2022

More personnel are being terminated overnight, without warning. Managers are learning as their reports including contract personnel suddenly disappear from resources.

The last couple of items were added late Saturday night. I’m afraid to look and see what might have transpired since I checked last.

There’s no nice way to put this: this entire situation is fucked up and it’s all on Elon Musk.

He’s done immense damage to Twitter’s brand as well as his own personal brand. He seems to think branding isn’t important though advertising customers like Eli Lilly, Lockheed Martin, and Chiquita offer evidence brand damage from sloppy management actually costs money.

The FTC is likely to punctuate this even further because of the egregious manner in which Twitter under Musk’s ownership has failed to comply with the 2011 consent decree. Musk ought to talk with Facebook’s Zuckerberg about how expensive this can be.

And there are humans who are going to pay for Musk’s cavalier behavior — families who might be expecting a child who are now dealing with COBRA, remote workers who are being forced back to the office in areas with severe housing shortages (that’d be Ireland, not just the U.S.). Musk has tweeted about this but this issue didn’t come up out of thin air, and like everything else so far has been handled badly.

There’s some question whether Twitter has adequate staffing related to compliance with EU regulations and GDPR and are they in Ireland.

Three points about Musk’s Twitter acquisition really boggle my mind after reading all this material. First,

Mr. Musk had brought his own advisers, many of whom had worked at his other businesses, such as the digital payments company PayPal and the electric carmaker Tesla. They parked themselves in the “war room,” on the second floor of a building attached to Twitter’s headquarters. The area, which Twitter used to fete big-spending advertisers and dignitaries, was stocked with company memorabilia. …

The advisers included the venture capitalists David Sacks, Jason Calacanis and Sriram Krishnan; Mr. Musk’s personal lawyer Alex Spiro; his financial manager Jared Birchall; and Antonio Gracias, a former Tesla director. Joining in were engineers and others from Tesla; from Mr. Musk’s brain interface start-up, Neuralink; and from his tunneling company, the Boring Company.

Musk is relying on the expertise of people in disparate businesses which have nothing to do with social media — unless Musk is already thinking he’s going to Johnny Mnemonic users’ heads with their Twitter accounts using Neuralink, a product which is likely to go nowhere since it is technically a medical device and it’s not ready for testing in humans.

The Boring Company, though. Really? Name a successful, profitable installation. Don’t mind me not holding my breath waiting, though.

There have been rumors Musk is surrounded by yes men and sycophants. We may now know who they are.

The  second questionable point:

The scope of layoffs was a moving target. Twitter managers were initially told to cut 25 percent of the work force, three people said. But Tesla engineers who reviewed Twitter’s code proposed deeper cuts to the engineering teams. Executives overseeing other parts of Twitter were told to expand their layoff lists.

Tesla. Engineers.

The people who engineer electric cars, the software of which is not safe for autonomous self driving, somehow understand enough about social media software used by hundreds of millions of accounts globally, 7/24/365, to make an assessment of staffing requirements.

They somehow understand the issues consumers, governments, industries, nonprofits/NGOs have had using and relying on this social media application since it was launched 16 years ago.

Clearly not since they missed the part about the FTC’s consent decree which might shape how any code is written, tested, rolled out, operates, and maintained.

The third doozy:

Twitter executives also suggested assessing the lists for diversity and inclusion issues so the cuts would not hit people of color disproportionately and to avoid legal trouble. Mr. Musk’s team brushed aside the suggestion, two people said.

This is the same Elon Musk whose businesses have been sued more than once for discriminatory practices, pointedly choosing to ignore federal and state employment law.

It’s a pattern of behavior and it’s not acceptable, particularly if Musk’s corporations are beneficiaries of federal incentives.

~ ~ ~

We’re long overdue to regulate social media, not just because they are monopolistic and oligopolistic.

Our businesses, our personal lives have become dependent on some of these platforms. So has our government. It should not be possible to spoof the identity of a U.S. member of Congress let alone any other government employee or entity. It should not be easy to trash businesses’ reputations for the lulz.

Nor should we as individuals be waiting for the moment we learn our personal data has been breached because a billionaire was sloppy and indifferent about its security though it’s a key facet of the business he bought for the lulz.

Democrats may have a majority in both houses of Congress next year. But they already have one now and they should use it immediately learn why Elon Musk thinks his new toy is above the law and beyond regulatory oversight.

__________
* I meant to add you should seriously consider deleting the Twitter app from your phone. I suspect there will be attempts to hack users’ accounts using the cell phone information Twitter has on record. Protecting this data was at the heart of the FTC’s consent decree.


Lasciando il matrimonio di Elmo

[NB: check the byline, thanks. /~Rayne]

My moderation team counterpart bmaz is a bit put out at people who are flouncing Twitter dramatically. We don’t see eye to eye about the topic of departing Twitter now. I’m among those who are unwinding their accounts now that Elmo has been forced into marrying Twitter, Inc.

Elmo’s turbulent management style is one reason I’d like to leave. Who knows what any given day will yield – will a new policy pop up out of the blue insisting users must pay for services to which they’ve become accustomed for years?

Security is another matter of concern, and in saying security I mean I have my doubts about personal data security now that Elmo has capriciously announced he’s going to fire 75% of Twitter’s personnel…and now 50% this Friday…and maybe with or without compliance with state or federal WARN Act.

Does anyone really think Twitter personnel are at top form right now when they’re looking over their shoulder for their pink slip? Could you blame them if they aren’t?

But my biggest single reason for wanting to leave Twitter is this: I do not want to be Elmo’s product.

~ ~ ~

Artist Richard Serra said of his experience viewing the painting Las Meninas (c. 1656) by Diego Velázquez:

“I was still very young and trying to be a painter, and it knocked me sideways. I looked at it for a long time before it hit me that I was an extension of the painting. This was incredible to me. A real revelation. I had not seen anything like it before and it made me think about art and about what I was doing, in a radically different way. But first, it just threw me into a state of total confusion.”

When one first sets eyes upon the painting, it appears to be one of the young Infanta Margaret Theresa of Spain and her ladies in waiting, standing next to a portraitist at work. It takes a moment to realize that the portraitist isn’t painting the Infanta but whomever the Infanta is observing, and yet another moment to realize the subject of the portrait and the Infanta’s gaze can be seen in the mirror behind them.

The painting’s observer will then realize they are standing in for the Infanta’s parents who are being painted by the portraitist — and the painting is a self portrait of Velázquez at work. The painting’s observer is a proxy who has not fully consented to their role but nonetheless becomes the subject of the painter at work.

It is this same inversion which must be grasped to understand why I refuse to be Elmo’s product.

I know that I am not Twitter’s customer. I’m not the consumer.

If I remain I am the consumed in Elmo’s forced marriage scenario.

~ ~ ~

Serra and director Carlota Fay Schoolman produced a short film in 1973 entitled, “Television Delivers People.” It was considered video art, using a single channel with a text scroll to critique television.

This excerpt explains the relationship between the audience and television:

Commercial television delivers 20 million people a minute.
In commercial broadcasting the viewer pays for the privilege of having himself sold.
It is the consumer who is consumed.
You are the product of t.v.
You are delivered to the advertiser who is the customer.
He consumes you.
The viewer is not responsible for programming —
You are the end product.

What television did in the 1970s, social media does today. It consolidates access to disparate individuals over distances into audiences of varying sizes and offers them to advertisers.

Social media is mass media.

Social media, however, doesn’t serve audiences to advertisers alone. Given the right kind of incentives and development, audiences can be bought for other purposes.

There are almost no regulatory restrictions on audiences being identified, aggregated, bought, and resold, and very little comprehensive regulation regarding data privacy.

Elmo so far doesn’t appear to understand any of this between his uneducated blather about free speech and his ham handedness about Twitter’s business model.

I do not want to be sold carelessly and indifferently by Elmo.

~ ~ ~

If you are a social media user, even if validated or a celebrity with millions of followers, you are the product. You are being sold by the platform to advertisers.*

There may even be occasions when you’re not sold but used – recall the access Facebook granted to researcher Aleksandr Kogan in 2013 as part of experimentation, which then underpinned the work of Cambridge Analytica ahead of the 2016 election.

Facebook was punished by the Federal Trade Commission for violating users’ privacy, but there’s still little regulatory framework to assure social media users they will not be similarly abused as digital chattel.

What disincentives are there to rein in a billionaire with an incredibly short attention span and little self control now that he’s disbanded Twitter’s board of directors? What will prevent Elmo from doing what Facebook did to its users?

I’ve raised a couple kids with ADD. I don’t want to be on the other end of the equation, handled as digital fungible by an adult with what appears to be ADD weaponized with narcissism.

I deserve better.

I’m only going to get it if I act with this understanding, attributed again to Serra:

If something is free, you’re the product.

~ ~ ~

By now you should be used to hearing this, but I’m leaving this marriage, Elmo.

Treat this as an open thread.

__________

* We do not sell data about our community members.


Elmo’s Forced Marriage

I feel like a lot of the commentary about Elon Musk’s purchase of Twitter — which includes a great deal of Kremlinology about what Elmo says on Twitter — has forgotten how we got here.

Elmo entered what is effectively a forced marriage.

Consider this dramatic reenactment:

Twitter: Hey, Elon, can you come help build value in our platform? Jack said it’d be a good idea.

Elmo: It’s a deal!

Twitter: Oh wait, we have to do due diligence on you first.

Elmo: Fuck that. I’m buying you all out. Twitter sucks!!!

Twitter: Okaaayyyy… If you want to buy us without yourself doing due diligence, you got it.

Elmo: But wait! Bots! Twitter sucks!!!

Twitter: You said no due diligence.

Elmo: Deal is off! Bots! Twitter sucks!!

Twitter: See you in court.

Twitter: Huh. These emails you sent are really interesting. We really look forward to the deposition and trial.

Elmo: Uh … uh … uh, alright then, the deal is back on.

At this point, a week into Elmo’s ownership, it’s unclear whether he went through with the purchase because he really wanted to buy the joint, or because in the face of exposure in the spring (in the form of due diligence), and last month (in the form of a deposition and trial), he kept doubling down, effectively dodging scrutiny of his own suitability to run Twitter by throwing money at it, $44 billion instead of the billion he’d have to pay to back out of the deal. And for much of that time, Elmo responded to Twitter’s scrutiny by attacking the company.

Thus far, it seems clear that Elmo is not suitable to run Twitter.

If he were merely the richest man in the world and not instead a billionaire whose wealth is heavily invested in an existing company that is subject to the whim of the market, a company the value of which has been damaged by Elmo’s Twitter tantrum — if he were spending his own money on the purchase — it might have ended there. But to pull off the purchase, he added a bunch of new debt to a company already reeling under its existing debt load, making the dire financial situation of Twitter even worse, in the middle of a tech downturn.

To make matters still worse, the entire world knows that the richest man in the world just made one of the worst deals in history, buying a company worth maybe $20 billion — a company whose own worth he spent months diminishing — for $44 billion.

It’s got to rankle a thin-skinned egotist like Elmo, knowing that all the pinheads he attacked at the beginning of this process just watched him get utterly fleeced in a business deal.

The richest man in the world just got his ass handed to him, and in his first act after consummating this forced marriage, he fired the people who handed him his ass in such a way that Elmo will either have to pay severance or settle lawsuits for the way he fired them.

And that’s reason why I think people are investing far too much faith in what Elmo is saying on Twitter. Is he saying what he’s saying because he’s testing out an affirmative business plan? Or is he saying what he’s saying because he loathes many of the most prominent people on Twitter, who all told him he was wrong and just watched him make an epically bad business deal, but he nevertheless needs to con enough advertisers and funders and Twitter members in the interim to stave off further personal losses on the company?

One of his first instincts was to prove those pinheads wrong about disinformation by embracing conspiracy theories about the attempted kidnapping of Nancy Pelosi.

After deleting that with no acknowledgment of how stupid the tweet was, Elmo laughed it off by calling the NYT fake news, something that may have salved his ego but surely made advertisers even more wary of continuing to spend money with him.

Since then, Elmo has turned to making it look like There Is a Plan to charge for Twitter.

Elmo would later admit that verification would be replaced with notice of someone’s stature, akin to what is currently used by politicians. This exchange — getting put in his place by the creator of great horrors — really amounted to Elmo announcing the roll-out of the Twitter Blue program that he and Jack Dorsey talked about last spring.

Even in spite of getting rebuked by Stephen King, Elmo kept pitching the pay service — to the people he needs to keep on Twitter to retain its value — as a solution to problems other than that Twitter is over-leveraged.

In the process of his serial attempts to claim that forcing users to pay for what is free now, Elmo repeatedly revealed he either doesn’t understand or doesn’t much care about what brings value to Twitter, the free content from people like Stephen King. Similarly, he repeatedly claimed that his efforts to monetize Twitter were instead efforts to address things that the pinheads value, disinformation, and things he used to attack Twitter when trying to back out of the deal, the bots.

He has not admitted that the cost of Twitter Blue would now have to pay for his epically shitty business deal, on top of what it would have paid for in April, before he started his six month tantrum. How much of an $8 monthly fee amounts to bailing Elmo out of a deal that everyone knows was epically stupid?

Elmo’s top advisors aren’t any better. Here, David Sacks took a break from apologizing for Putin to ask why Jeff Bezos and other billionaires don’t give away the content that their own employees create for free, apparently not understanding that Twitter’s employees don’t create the content on offer.

All the while, both these inapt advisors and Elmo himself keep boasting as if they’re not the ones who just got their asses handed to them in a business deal.

I don’t know how this is going to go — other than downhill. Once I paint my walls I’ll start building up my presence at @[email protected]. I’ve got an account at CounterSocial but for now I’m focusing on Mastodon. I hope and expect alternatives to both will be rushed out to fill the role Twitter once did.

Until then, though, I think Elmo’s serial meltdown on Twitter is better explained by his discomfort in a new role, in which he needs to convince ordinary people and security-conscious celebrities to stay, rather than persuading venture capitalists and captive tech journalists of the brilliance of his grandiose ideas, all while trying to snooker everyone into believing that the pay system will address the problems with Twitter rather than the problems built into Elmo’s purchase of Twitter.

Elmo loathes precisely the people he needs most right now, and he loathes them, in part, because they just saw him make an epically shitty business deal, a deal so epically shitty, in part, because Elmo wanted to prevent anyone from looking at him too closely. His response to that is to invite their complaints, so long as they pay $8 to make them.

It’s a con, but for some reason Elmo thinks the people who just saw him get fleeced will fall for it.

Update: One thing I didn’t provide enough focus on in this is that — as Drew in Bronx notes — Elmo really didn’t have a choice just to pay $1 billion to get out of the deal because his other DE-based property (eg, in Tesla) could have been used to fulfill his obligations. Once he was convinced he would lose at trial, he was stuck.

I agree this is a forced marriage. But to be clear, there was absolutely no way that Musk was going to get out of it once he signed the contract. Delaware Chancery Court is its own special thing, and Musk got outlawyered at the outset because of his own impulsiveness. The (chief) Chancellor in Delaware is brilliant & tough and has no pity for white shoe law firms having to work long hours on short schedules. Also, since Tesla is a Delaware corporation, once a judgement was entered, if it wasn’t honored she would simply seize Musk’s shares in Tesla to satisfy it-no recourse for Elmo.

Update: This account of how dysfunctional Twitter has been since Elmo took over is worth reading in full, especially the description of “psychological warfare” in lieu of management.

One Blind post from a Twitter worker, viewed by The Post on Wednesday, said simply, “This level of silent treatment is totally unprofessional.” Another Twitter employee replied, “It’s not silent treatment it is psychological warfare.”


On Conspiracy

In comments, Harpie went back to Elizabeth de la Vega’s summary of conspiracy.

Since Eureka brought this up above, I figured it might be timely to post it again:

Conspiracy Law – Eight Things You Need to Know.
One: Co-conspirators don’t have to explicitly agree to conspire & there doesn’t need to be a written agreement; in fact, they almost never explicitly agree to conspire & it would be nuts to have a written agreement!
Two: Conspiracies can have more than one object- i.e. conspiracy to defraud U.S. and to obstruct justice. The object is the goal. Members could have completely different reasons (motives) for wanting to achieve that goal.
Three: All co-conspirators have to agree on at least one object of the conspiracy.
Four: Co-conspirators can use multiple means to carry out the conspiracy, i.e., releasing stolen emails, collaborating on fraudulent social media ops, laundering campaign contributions.
Five: Co-conspirators don’t have to know precisely what the others are doing, and, in large conspiracies, they rarely do.
Six: Once someone is found to have knowingly joined a conspiracy, he/she is responsible for all acts of other co-conspirators.
Seven: Statements of any co-conspirator made to further the conspiracy may be introduced into evidence against any other co-conspirator.
Eight: Overt Acts taken in furtherance of a conspiracy need not be illegal. A POTUS’ public statement that “Russia is a hoax,” e.g., might not be illegal (or even make any sense), but it could be an overt act in furtherance of a conspiracy to obstruct justice.

de la Vega has been consistently good on conspiracy going back to the first failed impeachment effort and the lead up to it. I posted this at least once before, think on a post I penned, but not sure, so am going to put this out here again.

At any rate, here are a set of model jury instructions (that I have previously patterned off of for real trials) for a conspiracy case. They are for a drug case, but conspiracy is conspiracy, and the law is pretty much the same, and has long been. What Harpie cited from de la Vega is correct. But to give you a look at how it actually goes down in a court, check out actual pattern jury instructions, because real instructions are always the guide in a real criminal trial. Substitute in the elements for 18 USC §373 and 18 USC §2101, or any of the other various putative crimes being discussed ad nauseam and you will get the picture.

As you read through them, keep in mind the question of “what holes could a competent criminal defense attorney drive a truck through here given a beyond a reasonable doubt burden?”

Now would Trump acquire an actually competent criminal defense attorney were, in the unlikely event he is really charged? Now there is a great question! But, if he were to, there are currently still a LOT of holes. People are getting ahead of themselves. Read the instructions, they scan pretty fast. But keep in mind that once you charge and put a defendant, any defendant, on trial, things are not as easy as they are here or on social media.


After Wailing That No One Was Reporting on the Hunter Biden Laptop, Glenn Greenwald Is Now Wailing because Ben Collins Did

As I’ve addressed both here and on Twitter (post 1, post 2), Glenn Greenwald has written at least three error-ridden posts wailing that no one has written about the Hunter Biden laptop that Steve Bannon and Rudy Giuliani used to seed an attempted attack on Joe Biden.

In an apparent attempt to generate more subscribers to his Substack of non-stop Hunter Biden laptop posts, Glenn continues to wail about people doing actual journalism. Yesterday, for example, he attacked Brandy Zadrozny (who was recently targeted directly by Glenn’s buddy Tucker Carlson) and Ben Collins, claiming that their reporting on organized disinformation efforts,  “is not journalism: it’s quashing of dissent.”

Collins responded with a long thread of the reporting that he had done over the last year, describing along the way the victims of such disinformation.

Among those stories, Collins included a story where he reported that a month before the Hunter Biden laptop was “discovered,” a fake person was pushing it.

Just days before the election, then, Collins was doing precisely what Glenn was demanding, reporting on the Hunter Biden laptop. Only, he wasn’t telling the precise story Glenn wanted told about the “laptop.”

One month before a purported leak of files from Hunter Biden’s laptop, a fake “intelligence” document about him went viral on the right-wing internet, asserting an elaborate conspiracy theory involving former Vice President Joe Biden’s son and business in China.

The document, a 64-page composition that was later disseminated by close associates of President Donald Trump, appears to be the work of a fake “intelligence firm” called Typhoon Investigations, according to researchers and public documents.

The author of the document, a self-identified Swiss security analyst named Martin Aspen, is a fabricated identity, according to analysis by disinformation researchers, who also concluded that Aspen’s profile picture was created with an artificial intelligence face generator. The intelligence firm that Aspen lists as his previous employer said that no one by that name had ever worked for the company and that no one by that name lives in Switzerland, according to public records and social media searches.

One of the original posters of the document, a blogger and professor named Christopher Balding, took credit for writing parts of it when asked about it and said Aspen does not exist.

Glenn replied to Collins’ thread with a ridiculously dickish response, then tried to suggest that because Collins is paid by NBC, he must be a fraud.

To recap then. Glenn has spent weeks suggesting no one at big media outlets was reporting on the Hunter Biden laptop.

Collins noted that he did.

Glenn’s response to was to call him a fraud because he did that reporting at NBC.

I guess it wasn’t reporting he was really after.


The Fabulous Emptywheel Music Blog: Little Richard

Things come, and they go. And we all do sooner or later. Today, Little Richard passed. I once heard (no, I have no idea where) Keith Richards say, and I am paraphrasing only slightly, “Chuck Berry wrote all the rock and roll songs”. Paraphrasing or not, that is about right. But he should have included Little Richard.

And now Richard Wayne Penniman is gone, There have been rock performers as big, sure. But few as seminal and important as Little Richard. He was, and stands, for everything rock became in his and Chuck Berry’s forever wake.

As Rolling Stone said:

“In 2004 Little Richard wrote a profile of himself for our Immortals issue. He explained why he was so dangerous at the time — because was the first black artist whose records the white kids were starting to buy”

Yes, along with Chuck, that is exactly right. So, a little bit of Tutti Fruity for the weekend.

On another sad note, I was lazy and did not put up a thing last weekend. But our Roving Reporter Rosalind wanted to acknowledge a friend. And we shall do so now. The Covid deaths are real, and they hit home to one and all. So, a few words from Rosalind:

“While we are surrounded by sadness at the growing number of people losing their lives to Covid-19, we mourn also the everyday deaths that take away friends and family. Today I honor my longtime neighbor, Sam Lloyd, the hilarious character actor best known as the lawyer “Ted” on Scrubs. We had side-by-side parking spots at our Hollywood apartment building and caught up with each other regularly heading in and out. Beyond being one of the nicest and funniest human beings, he possessed a gorgeous singing voice, featured regularly with his four-part harmony group “The Blanks” on Scrubs. The tributes to Sam on twitter from all around the world show how far his comedic and musical powers reached. We are so fortunate to have a world of re-runs to keep us smiling, and his memory alive.

For me, I will always remember standing in line at the grocery check-out stand when Sam suddenly rushed up and asked if he could cut in line. He was headed to a show with The Blanks and realized his Commando Action Figure’s batteries were dead (those lucky to see The Blanks show in person know the Commando Action Figure is a highlight of their set). I of course let him in, and he threw down the cash and ran out batteries and Commando Action Figure in hand. Rest in peace, Sam.

Such is where we are at today. The world is going crazy and you wonder if anybody gives a damn anymore. Here, we do. Thank you for doing so along with us. There will, of course, be others. But Little Richard was special. RIP.


We Don’t Do That

Go read this article by David Roth at the Columbia Journalism Review, it is brutally true. Here is a taste, but do read the whole thing:

It all happened in the way that decline generally happens in American culture, which is one anxious, hopeful, cynical capitulation at a time. We have compressed and corroded and finally collapsed what used to be the core of a publication—its relationship with its readers, and the basic notion that one should not make it hard for them to read.

It goes without saying that everyone involved is perpetually maxed-out and stressed and scrabbling for a dwindling and finite amount of money in an arbitrary and artificially constricted ad economy that runs on wobbly, untrustable, and easily manipulated data. (A friend who works in advertising operations described the work as “a game of catching falling knives.”)

In the last half-decade, ads have rapidly migrated from the sides and top of the page into the actual text. This is the result of pressures created by the transition from desktop computers to mobile devices. The ads need to get seen on a screen with no margins.

The ads that stalk you down the page reflect advertisers’ demands that their ads remain “in view.” And all the clammy unbidden video stuff is exactly as desperate as it looks. Not many people will watch video ads if given any choice in the matter. Taking choice out of the equation helps a lot.

Some sites have deliberately made the experience of reading them for free more assaultive, in order to bully readers into buying subscriptions. For the price of a small monthly indulgence on your end, it can all go back to normal and your laptop’s fan can finally turn off.

And then take a look at the site/forum you are currently reading on, Emptywheel. There is no infinite scroll. There are no ads, pop up or otherwise. There is nothing but…..content. And it is free. If you have a few extra shekels or rubles, consider throwing them Marcy’s way (there are all kinds of links for this on the right margin). It helps. And thank you to all who come here.

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Originally Posted @ https://www.emptywheel.net/blogs-internet-and-new-media/