Facebook and Instagram are removing posts offering to mail abortion pills

In the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, some Facebook and Instagram users planning to help distribute legal abortion pills are finding themselves censored.

According to a Motherboard report, users on Friday began seeing Facebook remove posts offering to mail abortion pills — the same day that the Supreme Court issued the ruling.

Remarkably, Facebook’s moderation on the issue was so aggressive that users saw their posts removed within seconds. One user observed that their account was suspended after a post that read “I will mail abortion pills to any one of you. Just message me.”

Motherboard was able to replicate the phenomenon, also earning a 24-hour account suspension in the process. The key phrase for automated removal appears to be “abortion pills” as other posts with other combination of terms didn’t flag the platform’s moderation systems.

The Associated Press reported similar behavior on Instagram, with some users seeing their posts offering to support others in obtaining abortion pills removed “within moments.” The AP made a test post repeating the message about abortion pills and also saw the message removed in less than a minute.

Meta Policy Communications Director Andy Stone addressed in a Twitter reply reports of both platforms censoring posts about abortion pills, noting that the company’s policies do not allow transactions of prescription drugs.

Stone admitted that Meta found “some instances of incorrect enforcement” of its rules, though declined to clarify in more detail. He did not explain why posts with the phrase “abortion pills” saw such swift enforcement, even while other prohibited content about guns, pain pills and cannabis did not.

Stone cited Meta’s rules on restricted goods and services, which prohibit efforts to buy, sell or trade pharmaceuticals except in cases where “legitimate healthcare e-commerce businesses” offer delivery.

Instagram also tweeted Tuesday that some users were seeing “sensitivity screens” hiding posts that shouldn’t be hidden. The company called the behavior a bug and confirmed to TechCrunch that it was related to user reports about abortion-related content being censored. A Meta spokesperson noted that posts about abortion aren’t the only topic affected by the “bug,” but did not name other kinds of content that were affected.

With the aftershocks of the Supreme Court’s Roe decision beginning to reverberate, prescription abortion pills are poised to be a topic of extreme controversy. The White House issued a fact sheet on Friday noting the administration’s plans to defend access to mifepristone, which has been FDA approved to end pregnancy for over two decades.

The fact sheet mentioned that the Biden administration would work with Health and Human Services to “identify all ways” to maximize access to mifepristone, including through telehealth and the mail. As the legal status of mifepristone faces potential future state-level challenges, Biden’s Department of Justice could also become involved.

“And we stand ready to work with other arms of the federal government that seek to use their lawful authorities to protect and preserve access to reproductive care,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said. “… States may not ban Mifepristone based on disagreement with the FDA’s expert judgment about its safety and efficacy.”

Vimeo snaps up AI video startup Wibbitz and ‘shoppable’ video tech maker Wirewax to expand its enterprise video tools

Vimeo, the B2B video platform that spun out from IAC earlier this year, has made a pair of acquisitions aimed at building out the suite of features and tools it offers to businesses to create and run their own video strategies. The company has picked up short-form AI-based video creation platform Wibbitz; and Wirewax, which has built technology for marketers and other non-technical creatives to make objects in videos “shoppable” or linkable to other outside content.

Financial terms of the deals were not disclosed, but for some context, New York-based Wibbitz originally made its name as an Israeli startup that had built AI-based technology that automatically turned text into videos, a service that helped it raise around $30 million from investors that included a number of strategic backers (that is, customers) like the Associated Press, Bertelsmann, France’s TF1, and the Weather Channel, as well as traditional VCs like Horizons Ventures and Kima Ventures. London-based Wirewax, meanwhile, also had a strategic backer in the form of the BBC, and other investors included Passion Capital and the Plug and Play incubator. It had raised around $7 million. Both have large customers on their books.

Vimeo plans to keep both platforms operational and continue serving existing customers, which include the likes of Walmart, Disney, Google, and Nike for Wirewax and HubSpot, Bloomberg, Condé Nast, and Harvard University for Wibbitz. It is also planning to integrate its features into its wider video creation dashboard to over time sell a wider set of tools both to those customers and those already with Vimeo.

The idea behind the deals is to bring in more tools specifically targeting Vimeo’s larger enterprise customers, CEO Anjali Sud said in an interview, to provide more creative tools that are less technical to help them feed the video beast: video consumption has skyrocketed in the last couple of years, fueled in no small part by Covid-19 and people spending more time at home and on their screens rather than in public places.

That’s accelerated a lot of organizations’ video strategies, whether that involves providing tools for internal teams to get work done, or creating marketing campaigns, or building new products themselves.

“Companies are going from reactive to proactive, and employees are demanding it,” Sud said of the video push and how its customers are looking for more functionality in their video software. The knock-on effect for Vimeo, she added, has been to become a consolidator of many of the smaller video companies that have emerged over the years to address different aspects of the creation process, to make a bigger product that is easier to address that demand, with “several acquisitions helpful in expanding our product suite to create an all-in-one professional video solution. Our belief is that every startup has an interesting video feature to provide. We want to get every company using video every day, to get 1 billion knowledge workers using video. To do that you have to materially lower the barriers.”

It’s been a years-long strategy for the company, with other acquisitions including the purchase of Livestream, which it says now powers town halls and other live events (a platform that was expanded earlier this month by way of a new virtual events product); and Magisto, another short-form video creator tool.

Wirewax will be bringing more interactive video functionality to Vimeo, specifically with a drag-and-drop interface. One of the most obvious applications will be in the realm of e-commerce where users will be able to use the tech to build “shoppable” videos with links within the videos themselves to buying featured items; but other applications can be technical (eg to product demonstrations) or education (for further information about something in a video), or internal training for employees (for example links through to quizzes).

Wibbitz, meanwhile, is more focused on video creation, and specifically tools for marketing, internal communications and media teams to manage large amounts of video while keeping the content consistent with company branding and style. It also still offers a product for using AI to transform text to video automatically, although this is no longer the core service. Sud said that AI IP will be integrated into its existing products that also provide the same functionality (which it acquired via Magisto).

“Wirewax was built for the video-first future, evolving video to be a lean-in, fully engaging experience,” said Steve Callanan, CEO, Wirewax, in a statement. “Marrying Wirewax with Vimeo’s video leadership and global scale will put the power of next-generation interactive video into the hands of millions of users. It’s an exciting step to be joining Vimeo and contributing to helping organizations unleash their creativity and produce engaging experiences that drive better business outcomes, from shoppable videos to boost sales, to entirely new ways to improve training, education, and customer service.”

“Wibbitz and Vimeo have a shared goal of making video creation so simple that any employee can easily and quickly make beautiful, professional-quality videos at scale,” added Zohar Dayan, CEO, Wibbitz. “We have spent over 10 years honing our product to serve marketing, HR, and communications teams at some of the largest companies in the world, and are thrilled to join Vimeo’s world-class platform to accelerate the video transformation taking place across the enterprise.”

The pair of acquisitions nevertheless come on the heels of a mixed year for Vimeo. The company spun out as a public company from IAC in May, debuting at $57/share. However, it saw its stock dip on its first day of trading ending up with a market cap of $8.4 billion on its closing day. Today, its share price and valuation are more than halved, with a market cap of $4 billion. Some of the skepticism in the market appears to hinge on the fact that it’s spinning out into what has become a highly competitive space, with many a company with deep pockets also looking to address the same gap in the market for providing video services to businesses that want to do more in video.

Despite this, the fact remains that we have seen record-breaking levels for all kinds of video providers, from on-demand premium content companies like Netflix through to those focused as well on user-generated content like TikTok and YouTube, and those with more business focus, such as Zoom for conferencing.

That rising tide has also lifted 10-year-old Vimeo’s boat. The company posted quarterly revenues of $100 million in Q3 (it debuted in May with quarter revenues of $89.4 million). Sud tells us that the company now has “hundreds of millions” of free users and 1.6 million paying users (that latter figure is flat compared to May, when Vimeo disclosed 200 million free users).

Since its pivot to B2B four years ago, Vimeo’s customer base has settled on a pretty wide mix, ranging from SMBs through to startups and some 6,000 large enterprises including Starbucks, Amazon and Spotify. Enterprise revenues grew 60% in the last quarter compared to a year ago, figures that the company is holding in place as it looks to the future.

“We think in the long term of decades, not years,” Sud said.

Twitter partners with AP and Reuters to address misinformation on its platform

Twitter announced today it’s partnering with news organizations The Associated Press (AP) and Reuters to expand its efforts focused on highlighting reliable news and information on its platform. Through the new agreements, Twitter’s Curation team will be able to leverage the expertise of the partnered organizations to add more context to the news and trends that circulate across Twitter, as well as aid with the company’s use of public service announcements during high-visibility events, misinformation labels and more.

Currently, the Curation team works to add additional information to content that includes Top Trends and other news on Twitter’s Explore tab. The team is also involved with how certain search results are ranked, to ensure that content from high-quality searches appear at the top of search results when certain keywords or hashtags are searched for on Twitter.

The team may also be involved with the prompts that appear in the Explore tab on the Home Timeline related to major events, like public health emergencies (such as the pandemic) or other events, like elections. And they may help with the misinformation labels that appear on tweets that are allowed to remain visible on Twitter, but are labeled with informative context from authoritative sources. These include tweets that violate Twitter’s rules around manipulated media, election integrity, or COVID-19.

However, the team operates separately from Twitter’s Trust and Safety team, which determines when tweets violate Twitter’s guidelines and punitive action, like removal or bans, must be taken, Twitter confirmed that neither the AP nor Reuters will be involved in those sorts of enforcement decisions.

Image Credits: Twitter

By working more directly with AP and Reuters, who also partner with Facebook on fact checks, Twitter says it will be able to increase the speed and scale to which it’s able to add this additional information to tweets and elsewhere on its platform. In particular, that means in times where news is breaking and when facts are in dispute as a story emerges, Twitter’s own team will be able to quickly turn to these more trusted sources to improve how contextual information is added to the conversations taking place on Twitter.

This could also be useful in stopping misinformation from going viral, instead of waiting until after the fact to correct misleading tweets.

Twitter’s new crowdsourced fact-checking system Birdwatch will also leverage feedback from AP and Reuters to help determine the quality of information shared by Birdwatch participants.

The work will see the Curation team working with the news organizations not just to add context to stories and conversations, but also to help identify which stories need context added, Twitter told us. This added context could appear in many different places on Twitter, including on tweets, search, in Explore, and in curated selections, called Twitter Moments.

Twitter has often struggled with handling misinformation on its platform due its real-time nature and use by high-profile figures, who attempt to manipulate the truth for their own ends. To date, it has experimented with many features to slow or stop the spread of misinformation from disabling one-click retweets, to adding fact checks, to banning accounts, and more. Birdwatch is the latest effort to add context to tweets, but the system is a decentralized attempt at handling misinformation — not one that relies on trusted partners.

“AP has a long history of working closely with Twitter, along with other platforms, to expand the reach of factual journalism,” noted Tom Januszewski, vice president of Global Business Development at AP, in a statement about the new agreement. “This work is core to our mission. We are particularly excited about leveraging AP’s scale and speed to add context to online conversations, which can benefit from easy access to the facts,” he said.

“Trust, accuracy and impartiality are at the heart of what Reuters does every day, providing billions of people with the information they need to make smart decisions,” added Hazel Baker, the head of UGC Newsgathering at Reuters. “Those values also drive our commitment to stopping the spread of misinformation. We’re excited to partner with Twitter to leverage our deep global and local expertise to serve the public conversation with reliable information,” Baker said.

Initially, the collaborations will focus on English-language content on Twitter, but the company says it expects the work to grow over time to support more languages and timezones. We’re told that, during this initial phase, Twitter will evaluate new opportunities to onboard collaborators that can support additional languages.

Twitter blocks state-controlled media outlets from advertising on its social network

Twitter is now blocking state-run media outlets from advertising on its platform.

The new policy was announced just hours after the company identified an information operation involving hundreds of accounts linked to China as part of an effort to “sow political discord” around events in Hong Kong after weeks of protests in the region. Over the weekend over 1 million Hong Kong residents took to the streets to protest what they see as an encroachment by the mainland Chinese government over their rights.

State-funded media enterprises that do not rely on taxpayer dollars for their financing and don’t operate independently of the governments that finance them will no longer be allowed to advertise on the platform, Twitter said in a statement. That leaves a big exception for outlets like the Associated Press, the British Broadcasting Corp., Public Broadcasting Service, and National Public Radio, according to reporting from BBC reporter, Dave Lee.


The affected accounts will be able to use Twitter, but can’t access the company’s advertising products, Twitter said in a statement.

“We believe that there is a difference between engaging in conversation with accounts you choose to follow and the content you see from advertisers in your Twitter experience which may be from accounts you’re not currently following. We have policies for both but we have higher standards for our advertisers,” Twitter said in its statement.

The policy applies to news media outlets that are financially or editorially controlled by the state, Twitter said. The company said it will make its policy determinations on the basis of media freedom and independence including editorial control over articles and video, the financial ownership of the publication, the influence or interference governments may exert over editors, broadcasters and journalists, and political pressure or control over the production and distribution process.

Twitter said the advertising rules wouldn’t apply to entities that are focused on entertainment, sports, or travel, but if there’s news in the mix, the company will block advertising access.

Affected outlets have 30 days before they’re removed from Twitter and the company is halting all existing campaigns.

State media has long been a source of disinformation and was cited as part of the Russian campaign to influence the 2016 election. Indeed, Twitter has booted state-financed news organizations before. In October 2017, the company banned Russia Today and Sputnik from advertising on its platform (although a representative from RT claimed that Twitter encouraged it to advertise ahead of the election).


Data.world raises $12M to help Fortune 500 companies close the great data divide

Airbnb, Uber, Lyft, Warby Parker and a long list of other startups of the 21st century have appointed C-level employees to roles focused exclusively on data science.

These digital-age companies have established “data cultures,” which provide employees broad access to high-quality data, advocate for data literacy and have data-driven decision-making processes, according to Carl Anderson, who previously led data analytics and data science at Warby Parker and WeWork.

Fortune 500 companies are still a long way from this ideal. Data.world, a sort of social networking site for data projects and teams, wants to give them the tools to get there. Its collaborative data community gives employees at large businesses a place to upload, exchange and catalog data sets, then discuss their findings with other employees.

“There is a huge data divide that has occurred between these big traditional companies that were built from the ground up from atoms and these digital-age companies that were built from the ground up from bits,” data.world chief executive officer Brett Hurt told TechCrunch.

Today, Austin-based data.world is announcing a $12 million investment led by Workday Ventures, with participation from the Associated Press (AP) and OurCrowd. The round brings the company’s total raised since its 2016 launch to $45.3 million, including an $18.7 million Series B in February 2017.

Data.world will use the capital to continue building out its enterprise offering, which it rolled out recently. The enterprise product, which counts the AP as a customer, connects with Tableau, Microsoft Excel and Power BI, IBM SPSS, MicroStrategy, Google Data Studio and more.

Hurt, who previously founded the now-public customer reviews and social commerce platform Bazaar Voice, says GitHub was a big inspiration for data.world.

“They’ve done an incredible job of democratizing access to code,” he said. “They made every programmer in the world better by giving them access to the world’s code, and data is one of those things that’s very liberating if you have access to [it].”

The data.world platform is also widely used by journalists, hence the investment from the AP. Using data.world, journalists can access complex data sets quickly and efficiently. Hurt says it’s “changed the game for data journalism.”

“AP was born back in 1846 as a cooperative of newspaper publishers sharing access to a fast horse to get news updates from the war in Mexico,” said Jim Kennedy, AP’s senior vice president for strategy and enterprise development in a statement. “The data.world platform is like that fast horse, enabling us to open important new territory for newsgathering in the 21st century.”

Other backers of data.world include Chicago Ventures, Shasta Ventures, Fyrfly Venture PartnersHunt Technology Ventures LPLiveOak Venture Partners and Sherpa Asset Management AG.