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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.

Muskian Stupidity, Market Cupidity

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

I’m on the verge of blocking every occurrence of the name “Elon Musk” from my Twitter timeline because I have fucking had enough of him.

Never mind all his idiotic uninformed and uneducated prattle about free speech. He obviously can’t be bothered to read the 45 words which are the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment.

Nor can he be arsed to read the Constitution’s Article I, Section 8 regarding the regulation of commerce.

He also can’t be bothered to grasp what it means to “practice medicine without a license,” thereby exposing many more layers of laziness.

Spreading medical bullshit as unlicensed medical practice is regulated to prevent bellends killing or maiming or sickening people.

The worst part of all the Muskian bullshit is that Musk has enough assets not to care. He can throw lawyers at whatever problem confronts him to make it disappear and continue on his Muskian way. He can indulge his shallowness and narcissism with impunity, having ample fanboi trolls to dispatch at anyone who questions his motives or actions.

Muskian narcissism, bordering on Trumpian malignant narcissism, caring only about his own goals and not at all about anyone else though his personal value is completely reliant on others.

Insert Seinfeld meme here, “You know, we’re living in a society.

It’s not merely a meme; it’s the crux of the problem before us, whether we live in a democratic society in which free speech and the rights of individuals are respected, in which individuals act collectively through democratic process to achieve common goals — or not, as Musk appears to believe.

Though he hasn’t been the only person to do so over the last two decades, Elon Musk laid bare again ugly flaws in our democratic society, the biggest of which is that capital at a certain level provides an escape from not only from the limitations of this planet’s gravity but our society’s social compact.

He’s even escaped any accountability for his naked colonialist aspirations toward Mars.

The fascist right-wing cheers him for rejecting any responsibility to his fellow humans who have been the source of his wealth, lauding Musk’s so-called genius while embracing Kapital über alles.

Sure, his company SpaceX is worth some praise. Recycling of rocket components through controlled return to earth has been a paradigmatic shift in aerospace — a step forward which should encourage competitors to step up their game.

However Musk told his employees last November that SpaceX was at risk of bankruptcy. It’s not clear now if this was merely a means of pressuring his workforce to increase output since he tweeted a week later that “bankruptcy for SpaceX, while ‘unlikely,’ is also ‘not impossible,'” in response to reporting about the potential for SpaceX’s bankruptcy.

Starlink, his satellite-based internet service operated by SpaceX, has been but a narrow blessing with a much bigger potential risk to earth with its cluttering of the night sky — a colonialist occupation taking two steps back.

(Yes, again I say colonialist. What global authority gave permission to Musk to trash the heavens viewed by all earthlings for the sake of internet access? Was it the same global authority who told the British they could create an empire at the expense of indigenous people and then-extant nations? What global authority will deal with possible Starlink satellites’ failures should they fail and slip from their orbits?)

The rest of his business efforts have likewise been base hits followed by a swing and a miss, including Tesla which relied on a $465 million loan from the US government during the Obama administration to survive its early years.

A capitalist genius, reliant on socialized aid, ironically weaponizing free speech to the detriment of those who saved his company’s ass.

~ ~ ~

Here’s what really annoys the fuck out of me about all the fanboi-ing over the supposed Musk genius.

He offered roughly $44 billion for Twitter, $54.20 per share. This is what he’s attempting to buy:

Twitter (NYSE:TWTR) stock price, 1-year chart (source: Google Finance)

Here’s Twitter’s financial performance for fiscal year 2021:

Net income:

December 2021 – $181.69M
September 2021 – (536.76M)
June 2021 – $65.65M
March 2021 – $68.0M

Twitter’s financial performance, 2021 (source: Google Finance)

Note the return on equity:

Twitter’s financial statistics (source: Yahoo Finance)

By comparison, Facebook/Meta’s ROE is 31.10%.

Aljazeera reported an increase in active daily users over the last quarter:

Twitter reported an average of 229 million daily active users in the quarter, which was about 14 million more than a revised 214.7 million daily users in the previous quarter.

I can’t find the number I saw from late 2021 which said Twitter had 206 million active daily users. The uptick seems off considering the amount of work Twitter has done to remove bot accounts. Personally, I would guesstimate 5-10% of active daily user accounts are inauthentic, of which a third to half may represent attrition or float as bots are weeded out.

Which means Musk has offered an insane amount between ~$216 to ~$229 per authentic active daily user on a userbase which could plummet simply because he, Musk, bought it.

Or worse, from an advertising perspective: accounts could remain but degrade engagement to less than daily activity, making advertising space much less valuable, less functional.

Granted, his right-wing fanboi base could surge if many of their suspended or ejected accounts are allowed to return, but advertisers may balk if the volume of hate speech returns with them.

Very genius. Much capitalist. So Musk.

~ ~ ~

Twitter employees have expressed concern about Musk’s acquisition — well-earned concern considering Musk attacked a key BIPOC employee via tweets about Twitter’s handling of abusive or sensitive content in spite of a non-disparagement clause. What incredible blindness if not outright lack of sensitivity.

You’d think a South African by birth would be a bit more sensitive to the issue of race on top of the non-disparagement clause, but Twitter employees already had plenty to be concerned about given the problem of overt racism at Tesla documented in a successful lawsuit by a former contract employee , a class action lawsuit by employees, and a lawsuit by the state of California. Racist graffiti and epithets aren’t free speech in the workplace — they’re endorsements of racism in the corporate culture.

Musk may want to fire a lot of Twitter employees to cut costs and clean house, but losing the faith and respect of Twitter’s workforce before the ink has dried won’t serve the end he desires and needs, a seamless transition which doesn’t disrupt the platform so that advertisers will continue to buy ad space.

In spite of his fanbois’ approbation including tech and econ journalists, Musk’s musings about new monetizing efforts demonstrated a gross lack of understanding about the platform.

Like charging users to quote tweet or retweet content.

Way to kill his newly-acquired platform right out of the gate. This is such a stupid idea that one has to wonder if he understands the internet at all.

It doesn’t help Musk’s image with a substantive portion of Twitter users that while he benefits from government aid and contracts, his businesses don’t necessarily result in revenues.

Rumor has it Musk has also considered monetizing tweets based on popularity, paying users for most viral tweets as if this couldn’t be gamed.

(I know, this looks like jibberish to the olds but imagine Musk paying out a buck for every Like that kind of quote tweet generated.)

Will Musk expect to pay next to nothing in taxes if he ever makes Twitter profitable, while steadily undermining democracy with his craptastic notion of free speech?

Wouldn’t he be better off building a platform from scratch with less than a billion bucks investment given his access to and approval of so many techbros, thereby building a low-tax “free speech” vehicle on his own terms without Twitter’s baggage?

Especially since he has 84 million followers, an audience of which many are committed fanbois — can’t he start something and get them on board as his first users?

And if he can’t do that, why not?

~ ~ ~

Consensus among punditry and opiners is that Musk will drop a billion in penalty fees for exiting the deal and walk away.

But is there a reason Musk has gotten this far down the road with this acquisition project? Is there something else besides free speech motivating Musk to hang on?

This account suggests in this Twitter thread that Tesla’s challenges with current U.S. dealership laws are why Musk wants Twitter.

In other words, instead of lobbying in all states where manufacturers can’t sell their cars directly to the public without a third-party dealer, Musk would use the clout of his Twitter platform to press on the public to campaign for a change benefiting Tesla.

Timing is critical since pressure to exit fossil fuels has increased due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and the other major automakers are gearing up their plans for increased electric vehicle sales. Musk would surely like to get ahead of the competition more so than Tesla already is with its 2-3 million total EV sales to date.

But is this lobbying alternative approach really cost effective at $44 billion?

Or is he planning to use Twitter as his own personal advertising platform for Tesla and other products like Powerwall? Musk is now looking at promising some of his Tesla stock in lieu of his own cash to obtain financing; is this a gamble that Twitter will promote Tesla’s value enough that he won’t feel the loss of the Tesla stock offered to banks?

Or is Musk planning to sell another product — like users’ data — and he’s figured he’ll make enough from that product to offset his Tesla stock swapped for financing?

Whatever the case, I’ll be gone if he sells users’ data. I’ll leave a worthless hollow social media shell behind.

Free speech, the kind to which no advertiser wants to sell.

[Photo: Paul Rysz via Unsplash]

Three Things: Eclipsed, Killer Robots, Back to the Salt Mines [UPDATED]

I’ve been trying to write all morning but I’ve been interrupted so many times by people looking for information about eclipse viewing I’m just going to post this in progress.

Mostly because I’m also helping my kid rig an eclipse viewer — lots of tape, binder clips and baling wire.

~ 3 ~

As you’ve no doubt heard, much of the U.S. will experience a solar eclipse over the next three hours. It’s already begun on the west coast, just passing totality right now in Oregon; the eclipse started within the last 25 minutes in Michigan. And as you’ve also heard, it is NOT safe to look directly at the sun with the naked eye or sunglasses. A pinhole viewer is quick and safe to make for viewing. See NASA’s instructions here and more eclipse safe viewing info here.

You can also watch NASA’s live stream coverage on Twitch TV.

We are also experiencing one of NASA’s most important services: public education about our planet and science as a whole, of particular value to K-12 educators. We can’t afford to defund this valuable service.

At this point you may imagine me on my deck holding a Rube Goldberg contraption designed to view the early partial eclipse we’ll see in Michigan — only 77% or so coverage.

~ 2 ~

KILLER ROBOTS: There’s been a fair amount of coverage this week touting Elon Musk’s call to ban ‘killer robots’. Except it’s not just Elon Musk, it’s a consortium of more than 100 technology experts which published an open letter asking the United Nations to restrain the development of ‘Lethal Autonomous Weapon Systems’ (LAWS).

I’ve pooh-poohed before the development of new military technology, mostly because DARPA doesn’t seem to be as fast at it as non-military researchers. Exoskeletons are the best example I can think of. But whether DARPA, the military, military contractors, or other non-military entities develop them, AI-enabled LAWS are underway.

More importantly, we are very late to dealing with their potential risks.

Reading about all the Musk-ban-killer-robots pieces, I recalled an essay by computer scientist Bill Joy:

… The 21st-century technologies – genetics, nanotechnology, and robotics (GNR) – are so powerful that they can spawn whole new classes of accidents and abuses. Most dangerously, for the first time, these accidents and abuses are widely within the reach of individuals or small groups. They will not require large facilities or rare raw materials. Knowledge alone will enable the use of them.

Thus we have the possibility not just of weapons of mass destruction but of knowledge-enabled mass destruction (KMD), this destructiveness hugely amplified by the power of self-replication.

I think it is no exaggeration to say we are on the cusp of the further perfection of extreme evil, an evil whose possibility spreads well beyond that which weapons of mass destruction bequeathed to the nation-states, on to a surprising and terrible empowerment of extreme individuals.

Nothing about the way I got involved with computers suggested to me that I was going to be facing these kinds of issues. …

He wrote this essay, The Future Doesn’t Need Us, in April 2000. Did we blow him off then because the Dot Com bubble had popped, and/or our heads hadn’t yet been fucked with by post-9/11’s hyper-militarization?

This part of his essay is really critical:

… Kaczynski’s dystopian vision describes unintended consequences, a well-known problem with the design and use of technology, and one that is clearly related to Murphy’s law – “Anything that can go wrong, will.” (Actually, this is Finagle’s law, which in itself shows that Finagle was right.) Our overuse of antibiotics has led to what may be the biggest such problem so far: the emergence of antibiotic-resistant and much more dangerous bacteria. Similar things happened when attempts to eliminate malarial mosquitoes using DDT caused them to acquire DDT resistance; malarial parasites likewise acquired multi-drug-resistant genes.2

The cause of many such surprises seems clear: The systems involved are complex, involving interaction among and feedback between many parts. Any changes to such a system will cascade in ways that are difficult to predict; this is especially true when human actions are involved. …

The Kaczynski he refers to is Ted “Unabomber” Kaczynski, who Joy believes was a criminally insane Luddite. But Kaczynski still had a valid point. Remember StuxNet’s escape into the wild? In spite of the expertise and testing employed to thwart Iran’s nuclear aspirations, they missed something rather simple. In hindsight it might have been predictable but to the experts it clearly wasn’t.

Just as it wasn’t obvious to computer scientists over more than a decade to close every possible port — including printer and server maintenance ports — regardless of operating system so that ransomware couldn’t infect systems. Hello, WannaCry/Petya/NotPetya…

We’ve already seen photos and videos of individuals weaponizing drones — like this now-five-year-old video of an armed quadrotor drone demonstrated by a friendly chap, FPSRussia — the military-industrial complex cannot and should not believe it has a monopoly on AI-enabled LAWS if these individuals have already programmed these devices. And we don’t even know yet how to describe what they are in legal terms let alone how to limit their application, though we’ve received guidance (read: prodding) from technology experts already.

The genie is out of the bottle. We must find a way to coax it back into its confines.

~ 1 ~

SALT MINES: On a lighter note, molten salt may become a cheaper means to reserve energy collected by alternative non-fossil fuel systems. Grist magazine wrote about Alphabet’s X research lab exploring salt as a rechargeable battery as an alternative to the much more expensive current lithium battery systems. Lithium as well as cobalt have challenges not unlike other extractive fuels; they aren’t widely and cheaply available and require both extensive labor and water for processing. Salt — sodium chloride — is far more plentiful and less taxing on the environment when extracted or collected.

One opportunity came to mind as soon as I read the article. Did you know there was a salt mine 1200 feet below the city of Detroit for decades? It’s a source of road salt used on icy roads. It may also be the perfect place for a molten salt battery system; the Grist article said, “Electricity in the system is produced most efficiently when there is a wider temperature difference between the hot and cold vats.” A salt mine underneath Detroit seems like it could fit the bill.

Could Detroit become an Electric Motor City? Fingers crossed.

~ 0 ~

I feel for you folks in states with cloud cover — no good excuse today to take a break outside and slack off beneath the eclipse.

This is an open thread.

Wednesday Morning: Simple Past, Perfect Future

There are thirteen verb tenses in English. I couldn’t recall the thirteenth one to save my life and now after digging through my old composition texts I still can’t figure out what the thirteenth is.

If I have to guess, it’s probably a special case referring to future action. Why should our language be any more lucid than our vision?

Vision we’ve lost; we don’t elect people of vision any longer because we don’t have any ourselves. We vote for people who promise us bullshit based on illusions of a simple past. We don’t choose people who assure us the road will be hard, but there will be rewards for our efforts.

Ad astra per aspera.

Fifty-five years ago today, John F. Kennedy Jr. spoke to a join session of Congress, asking our nation to go to the moon. I was six months old at the time. This quest framed my childhood; every math and science class shaped in some way by the pursuit, arts and humanities giving voice to the fears and aspirations at the same time.

In contrast I look at my children’s experience. My son, who graduates this year from high school, has not known a single year of K-12 education when we were not at war, when terrorism was a word foreign to his day, when we didn’t worry about paying for health care because we’d already bought perma-warfare. None of this was necessary at this scale, pervading our entire culture. What kind of vision does this create across an entire society?

I will say this: these children also don’t recall a time without the internet. They are deeply skeptical people who understand how easy it is to manipulate information. What vision they have may be biased toward technology, but their vision is high definition, and they can detect bullshit within bits and pixels. They also believe we have left them no choice but to boldly go and build a Plan B as we’ve thoroughly trashed Plan A.

Sic itur ad astra. Sic itur ad futurum.

Still looking at past, present, and future…

Past

Present

Future

  • Comparing Apple to BlackBerry, developer Marco Arment frets for Apple’s future (Marco.org) — I can’t help laugh at this bit:

    …When the iPhone came out, the BlackBerry continued to do well for a little while. But the iPhone had completely changed the game…

    Not only is Arment worrying Apple hasn’t grokked AI as Google has, he’s ignored Android’s ~80% global marketshare in mobile devices. That invisible giant which hadn’t ‘completely changed the game.’

  • Ivanpah Solar Power Facility in the Mojave Desert caught fire (WIRED) — IMO, sounds like a design problem; shouldn’t there be a fail-safe on this, a trigger when temps spike at the tower in the wrong place? Anyhow, it looks like Ivanpah has other problems ahead now that photovoltaic power production is cheaper than buggy concentrated solar power systems.
  • Women, especially WOC, win a record number of Nebula awards for sci-fi (HuffPo) — Prizes for Novel, Novella, Novelette, Short Story and Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy works went to women, which is huge improvement given how many writers and readers are women and women of color. What does the future look like when a greater percentage of humans are represented in fiction? What does a more gender-balanced, less-white future hold for us?

Either I start writing late the night before, or I give up the pretense this is a * morning * roundup. It’s still morning somewhere, I’ll leave this one as is for now. Catch you tomorrow morning — maybe — or early afternoon.