Twitter rolls out vaccine misinformation warning labels and a strike-based system for violations

Twitter announced Monday that it would begin injecting new labels into users’ timelines to push back against misinformation that could disrupt the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines. The labels, which will also appear as pop-up messages in the retweet window, are the company’s latest product experiment designed to shape behavior on the platform for the better.

The company will attach notices to tweeted misinformation warning users that the content “may be misleading” and linking out to vetted public health information. These initial vaccine misinformation sweeps, which begin today, will be conducted by human moderators at Twitter and not automated moderation systems.

Twitter says the goal is to use these initial determinations to train its AI systems so that down the road a blend of human and automated efforts will scan the site for vaccine misinformation. The latest misinformation measure will target tweets in English before expanding.

Twitter also introduced a new strike system for violations of its pandemic-related rules. The new system is modeled after a set of consequences it implemented for voter suppression and voting-related misinformation. Within that framework, a user with two or three “strikes” faces a 12-hour account lockout. With four violations, they lose account access for one week, with permanent suspension looming after five strikes.

Twitter introduced its first pandemic-specific policies a year ago, banning tweets promoting false treatment or prevention claims along with any content that could put people at higher risk of spreading COVID-19. In December, Twitter added new rules focused on popular vaccine conspiracy theories and announced that warning labels were on the way.

Daily Crunch: Twitter announces ‘Super Follow’ subscriptions

Twitter reveals its move into paid subscriptions, Australia passes its media bargaining law and Coinbase files its S-1. This is your Daily Crunch for February 25, 2021.

The big story: Twitter announces ‘Super Follow’ subscriptions

Twitter announced its first paid product at an investor event today, showing off screenshots of a feature that will allow users to subscribe to their favorite creators in exchange for things like exclusive content, subscriber-only newsletters and a supporter badge.

The company also announced a feature called Communities, which could compete with Facebook Groups and enable Super Follow networks to interact, plus a Safety Mode for auto-blocking and muting abusive accounts. On top of all that, Twitter said it plans to double revenue by 2023.

Not announced: launch dates for any of these features.

The tech giants

After Facebook’s news flex, Australia passes bargaining code for platforms and publishers — This requires platform giants like Facebook and Google to negotiate to remunerate local news publishers for their content.

New Facebook ad campaign extols the benefits of personalized ads — The sentiments are similar to a campaign that Facebook launched last year in opposition to Apple’s upcoming App Tracking Transparency feature.

Startups, funding and venture capital

Sergey Brin’s airship aims to use world’s biggest mobile hydrogen fuel cell — The Google co-founder’s secretive airship company LTA Research and Exploration is planning to power a huge disaster relief airship with an equally record-breaking hydrogen fuel cell.

Coinbase files to go public in a key listing for the cryptocurrency category — Coinbase’s financials show a company that grew rapidly from 2019 to 2020 while also crossing the threshold into unadjusted profitability.

Boosted by the pandemic, meeting transcription service Otter.ai raises $50M — With convenient timing, Otter.ai added Zoom integration back in April 2020.

Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch

DigitalOcean’s IPO filing shows a two-class cloud market — The company intends to list on the New York Stock Exchange under the ticker symbol “DOCN.”

Pilot CEO Waseem Daher tears down his company’s $60M Series C pitch deck — For founders aiming to entice investors, the pitch deck remains the best way to communicate their startup’s progress and potential.

Five takeaways from Coinbase’s S-1 — We dig into Coinbase’s user numbers, its asset mix, its growing subscription incomes, its competitive landscape and who owns what in the company.

(Extra Crunch is our membership program, which helps founders and startup teams get ahead. You can sign up here.)

Everything else

Paramount+ will cost $4.99 per month with ads — The new streaming service launches on March 4.

Register for TC Sessions: Justice for a conversation on diversity, equity and inclusion in the startup world — This is just one week away!

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 3pm Pacific, you can subscribe here.

Twitter’s ‘Super Follow’ creator subscription takes shots at Substack and Patreon

It’s been an all-around more ambitious year for Twitter. Following activist shareholder action last year that aimed to oust CEO Jack Dorsey, the company has been making long overdue product moves, buying up companies and aiming to push the envelope on how it can tap its network and drive new revenue streams. Things seem to be paying off for the company, as their share price sits at an all-time high — double that of its 2020 high.

Today, the company shared early details on its first ever paid product, a feature called “Super Follow” which aims to combine the community trends of Discord, the newsletter insights of Substack, the audio chat rooms of Clubhouse and the creator support of Patreon into a creator subscription. The company announced the service during its Analyst Day event Thursday morning.

Plenty of details are still up in the air for the feature, which notably does not have a launch timeline.

Image Credits: Twitter

Screenshots shared by Twitter showcase a feature that allows Twitter users to subscribe to their favorite creators for a monthly price (one screenshot details a $4.99 per month cost) and earn certain subscriber-only perks, including things like “exclusive content,” “subscriber-only newsletters,” “community access,” “deals & discounts,” and a “supporter badge” for subscribers. Creators in the program will also be able to paywall certain media they share, including tweets, fleets and chats they organize in Twitter’s Clubhouse competitor Spaces.

The company’s other big announcement of the event was “Communities,” a product that seems designed to compete with Facebook Groups but also will likely provide “Super Follow” networks a place to interact with creators in close cahoots. They also shared early details on a “safety mode” that will allow users to auto-block and mute abusive accounts.

Introducing paywalls into the Twitter feed could dramatically shift the mechanics of the service. Twitter has been pretty conservative over the years in building features that are intended for singular classes of users. Creator-focused features built for a network that is already home to so many creators could be a major threat to services like Patreon, which have largely popped up due to the lackluster monetization tools available from the big social platforms.

New revenue streams will undoubtedly be key to Twitter’s ambitious plan to double its revenues by 2023.

 

India announces sweeping guidelines for social media, on-demand streaming firms, and digital news outlets

India announced sweeping changes to its guidelines for social media, on-demand video streaming services, and digital news outlets on Thursday, posing new challenges for small firms as well as giants such as Facebook and Google that count the nation as its biggest market by users.

Ravi Shankar Prasad, India’s IT, Law, and Justice minister, said in a press conference that social media companies will be required to acknowledge the request within 24 hours and deliver a complete redressal in 15 days. In sensitive cases that surround rape or other sexual nature, firms will be required to takedown the objectionable content within 24 hours.

These firms will also be required to appoint a chief compliance officer, a nodal contact officer, who shall be reachable round the clock, and a resident grievance officer. The firms will also be required to have an office in the country.

For social media companies, Prasad said they will be required to disclose the originator of objectionable content. “We don’t want to know the content, but firms need to be able to tell who was the first person who began spreading misinformation and other objectionable content,” he said. WhatsApp has previously said that it can’t comply with such traceability request without compromising end-to-end encryption security for every user.

Firms will also be required to publish a monthly compliance report to disclose the number of requests they received and what actions they took. They will also be required to offer a voluntary option to users who wish to verify their accounts.

The guidelines go into effect for small firms effective immediately, but bigger services will be provided three months to comply, said Prasad.

New Delhi has put together these guidelines because citizens in India have long requested a “mechanism to address grievances,” said Prasad. India has been working on a law aimed at intermediaries since 2018. This is the first time New Delhi has publicly shared an update on the specifics of the guidelines.

“India is the world’s largest open Internet society and the Government welcomes social media companies to operate in India, do business and also earn profits. However, they will have to be accountable to the Constitution and laws of India,” he said, adding that WhatsApp had amassed 530 million users, YouTube, 448 million users, Facebook’s marquee service 410 million users, Instagram 210 million users, and Twitter, 175 million users in the country.

Full guidelines for social media firms and other intermediaries. (Source: Indian government.)

For streaming platforms, the draft, which will be legally enforceable when it becomes a law, has outlined a three-tier structure for “observance and adherence to the code.” Until now, on-demand services such as Netflix, Disney+ Hotstar, and MX Player have operated in India with little to no censorship.

New Delhi last year said India’s broadcasting ministry, which regulates content on TV, will also be overseeing digital streaming platforms. 17 popular streaming firms had banded together to devise a self-regulation code. Prakash Javedkar, Minister of Information and Broadcasting, said the proposed solution from the industry wasn’t adequate and there will be an oversight mechanism from the government to ensure compliance of code of practices.

Streaming services will also have to attach a content ratings to their titles. “The OTT platforms, called as the publishers of online curated content in the rules, would self-classify the content into five age based categories- U (Universal), U/A 7+, U/A 13+, U/A 16+, and A (Adult). Platforms would be required to implement parental locks for content classified as U/A 13+ or higher, and reliable age verification mechanisms for content classified as “A”,” the Indian government said.

“The publisher of online curated content shall prominently display the classification rating specific to each content or programme together with a content descriptor informing the user about the nature of the content, and advising on viewer description (if applicable) at the beginning of every programme enabling the user to make an informed decision, prior to watching the programme.”

Digital news outlets will be required to disclose the size of their reach and structure of their ownership.

Industry executives have expressed concerns over the new proposed regulation, saying New Delhi hasn’t consulted them for these changes. IAMAI, a powerful industry body that represents nearly all on-demand streaming services, said it was “dismayed” by the guidelines, and hoped to have a dialogue with the government.

Javedkar and Prasad were asked if there will be any consultation with the industry before these guidelines become law. The ministers said that they had already received enough inputs from the industry.

This is a developing story. More to follow…

Twitter relaunches test that asks users to revise harmful replies

Twitter is running a new test that will ask users to pause and think before they tweet. According to the company’s announcement, when Twitter detects what appears to be a potentially harmful or offensive reply to someone else’s tweet, it will prompt you to consider revising your text instead of tweeting.

Users whose tweets are flagged in this way will see a pop-up message appear on their screen, which asks, “Want to review this before Tweeting?” There are three buttons to then choose from: one to tweet the reply anyway, an Edit button (this is as close as we’ll get, apparently), and a delete button to discard the tweet entirely. There is also a small link to report if the system got things wrong.

This is not the first time Twitter has run a test like this.

In May 2020 and again in August 2020, Twitter ran variations on this same experiment. In those cases, the text on the pop-up screen was largely the same, but the layout of the three buttons looked different and were less colorful.

The earlier tests ran on Android, iOS and web, but this current iteration is only on iOS, for the time being.

At the time of the initial test, Twitter explained its systems were able to detect harmful language based on the kind of language that had been used in other tweets that had been reported in the past.

It’s been shown that these sorts of built-in small nudges can have an impact.

For example, when Twitter began prompting users to read the article linked in a tweet before retweeting it, the company found that users would open the articles 40% more often than without the nudge. Twitter has also built similar experiments to try to slow down the pace of online conversation on its platform, by doing things like discouraging retweets without commentary or slow down “Likes” on tweets containing misinformation.

Other social networks use small nudges like this, too, to influence their users’ behavior. Instagram back in 2019 launched a feature that would flag potentially offensive comments before they were posted, and later expanded this to captions. TikTok more recently launched a banner that would ask users if they were sure they wanted to share a video that contains “unverified content.”

It’s unclear why Twitter hasn’t simply rolled out the pop-up to combat online abuse — still a serious issue on its platform — and then iterated on the design and style of the message box, as needed.

Compared with the much larger engineering and design efforts the company has had underway — including its newer Stories feature known as Fleets and a Clubhouse rival called Spaces — a box asking users to pause and think seems like something that could have graduated to a full product by now.

Twitter explored buying India’s ShareChat and turning Moj into a global TikTok rival

Twitter recently held talks to acquire Indian social media startup ShareChat as the company explored ways to expand its presence in the world’s second largest internet market and build a global rival to TikTok, three sources familiar with the matter told TechCrunch.

The American firm, which is already an investor in Bangalore-based ShareChat, offered to buy the Indian startup for $1.1 billion and had committed an additional investment of $900 million, two of the sources said.

The talks are no longer ongoing, two sources said, requesting anonymity as the matter is private. TechCrunch could not determine why the talks did not materialize into a deal.

Two sources said Twitter had expressed intention to take Moj, a short-form video app that ShareChat owns, to international markets and position it as a rival to Chinese app TikTok.

Twitter declined to comment and ShareChat did not respond to a request for comment.

India’s ban on TikTok last year prompted scores of local startups and international giants to try their hands at short-form video format.

Moj, with over 80 million users already, has emerged as one of the largest players in the category. Earlier this month, Snap inked a deal with ShareChat to integrate its Camera Kit into the Indian short video app. This is the first time Snap had formed a partnership of this kind with a firm in India.

With the buyout offer no longer being entertained, ShareChat has resumed talks with other investors for its new financing round. These investors include Google, Snap, as well as Tinder-parent firm Match Group, the sources said.

TechCrunch reported in January that the Indian startup was talking to Google and Snap as well as some existing investors including Twitter to raise over $200 million. A potential acquisition by Twitter prolonged the investment talks.

ShareChat, which claims to have over 160 million users, offers its social network app in 15 Indian languages and has a large following in small Indian cities and towns, or what venture capitalist Sajith Pai of Blume Ventures refer as “India 2.” Very few players in the Indian startup ecosystem have a reach to this segment of this population, which thanks to users from even smaller towns and villages — called “India 3” — getting online has expanded in recent years.

In an interview with TechCrunch last year, Ankush Sachdeva, co-founder and chief executive of ShareChat, said the startup’s marquee app was growing “exponentially” and that users were spending, on an average, more than 30 minutes a day on the service.

Twitter, itself, has struggled to make inroads outside of bigger cities and towns in India. Its app reached about 75 million users in the country in the month of January, according to mobile insight firm AppAnnie, data of which an industry executive shared with TechCrunch. It inked a deal with news and social app Dailyhunt to bring Moments — curated tweets pertaining to news and other local events — to the Google-backed Indian app.

The American social network has broadened its product offering in the past year amid pressure from activist investors to accelerate growth.

Twitter says Trump is banned forever — even if he runs for president again

As the second impeachment trial of his presidency unfolds, there’s another bit of bad news for the former president. In a new interview on CNBC’s Squawk Box, Twitter Chief Financial Officer Ned Segal gave the decisive word on how the company would handle Trump’s Twitter account long-term.

Responding to a question about what would happen if Trump ran again and was elected to office, Segal didn’t mince words.

“The way our policies work, when you’re removed from the platform, you’re removed from the platform — whether you’re a commentator, you’re a CFO, or you are a former or current public official,” Segal said.

“Remember, our policies are designed to make sure that people are not inciting violence, and if anybody does that, we have to remove them from the service and our policies don’t allow people to come back.”

Twitter banned Trump from its platform one month ago citing concerns about the “risk of further incitement of violence.” Trump’s role in instigating the deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol ultimately sealed his fate on his platform of choice, where he’d spent four years rallying his followers, amplifying conspiracies and lambasting his critics.

Twitter takes actions on over 500 accounts in India amid government warning

Twitter said on Wednesday it has taken actions on more than 500 accounts and reduced visibility of some hashtags in India in the past 10 days to comply with “several” orders from the Indian government after New Delhi threatened to take action against executives with American social network for not obeying its notices.

Twitter said since January 26, when protests from millions of farmers in India took a violent turn and misinformation started to spread on the platform, the company has taken actions — including in some cases, permanent suspension — on hundreds of accounts that violated its rules and prevented certain terms from appearing in the Trends section.

“Over the course of the last 10 days, Twitter has been served with several separate blocking orders by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY), Government of India, under Section 69A of the Information Technology Act. Out of these, two were emergency blocking orders that we temporarily complied with but subsequently restored access to the content in a manner that we believe was consistent with Indian law. After we communicated this to MeitY, we were served with a non-compliance notice,” the company said, in part to be transparent about the steps it has taken in the world’s second largest internet market.

The company said it has also withheld a portion of the accounts that New Delhi had ordered to be blocked, keeping them available outside of the country. It did not take any action on accounts that consist of news media entities, journalists, activists, and politicians, the company said. “To do so, we believe, would violate their fundamental right to free expression under Indian law. We informed MeitY of our enforcement actions today, February 10, 2021,” it said.

Several users in India had tweeted using the hashtag #modiplanningfarmersgenocide that were aimed at New Delhi’s agriculture reforms. The company said several accounts and hashtags violated the Twitter Rules, particularly inciting violence, abuse, wishes of harm, and threats that could trigger the risk of offline harm. A Twitter spokesperson told TechCrunch that hashtags that were merely supporting farmers have not been restricted.

India demanded Twitter to block hundreds of accounts earlier this month over concerns that many users were producing false, intimidatory and provocative tweets late last months. Twitter had initially complied with the order, which resulted in blocking accounts of The Caravan (a news outlet that conducts investigative journalism), political commentator Sanjukta Basu, activist Hansraj Meena, actor Sushant Singh, and Shashi Shekhar Vempati, chief executive of state-run broadcasting agency Prasar Bharti. Accounts of at least two politicians with Aam Aadmi Party — Preeti Sharma Menon and Jarnail Singh — that governs the National Capital Territory of Delhi were also blocked.

However, hours later, Twitter lifted the block, citing users’ freedom of speech. The move prompted a showdown between the American social network and the Indian government, which issued a warning saying non-compliance with its order may result in penal action against Twitter and up to seven year of jail time to its executives.

“We will continue to advocate for the right of free expression on behalf of the people we serve and are actively exploring options under Indian law — both for Twitter and for the accounts that have been impacted. We remain committed to safeguarding the health of the conversation occurring on Twitter, and strongly believe that the Tweets should flow,” the company said today.

This is a developing story. More to follow…

CD Projekt hit by ransomware attack, refuses to pay ransom

Polish video game maker CD Projekt, which makes Cyberpunk 2077 and The Witcher, has confirmed it was hit by a ransomware attack.

In a statement posted to its Twitter account, the company said it will “not give in nor negotiate” with the hackers, saying it has backups in place. “We have already secured our IT infrastructure and begun restoring data,” the company said.

According to the ransom note, the hackers said they would release the company’s stolen source code and other internal files if it did not pay the ransom, since the company would “most likely recover from backups.”

But the company said for now that no personal data was taken. “We are still investigating the incident, however at this time we can confirm that — to our best knowledge — the compromised systems did not contain any personal data of our players or users of our services.”

It’s an increasingly hostile tactic used by ransomware actors: Hackers target high-value businesses and companies with file-encrypting malware and hold the files for a ransom. But since many companies have backups, some ransomware groups threaten to publish the stolen files unless the ransom is paid.

CD Projekt Red did not immediately respond to TechCrunch’s questions, including what kind of ransomware was used to attack its systems.

It’s thought to be the second time in recent years that the company has been hit by ransomware. The game maker confirmed in 2017 that a hack resulted in the compromising of early work related to the Cyberpunk 2077. Weeks following the game’s launch Sony and Microsoft offered gamers refunds, citing bugs and poor performance on older consoles.

Twitter confirms plans to experiment with new models, like subscriptions, in 2021

Twitter is continuing to explore the addition of subscription services and other paid features to supplement its advertising revenues, according to a report from Bloomberg this morning. The company is considering a range of ideas, the report said, including tipping, paid consumer-facing features like profile customizations or an “undo send” option, or subscription-based access to Twitter’s Tweetdeck app. Twitter confirmed the company is researching and experimenting with new models, but declined to provide details.

Twitter’s interest in paid features, including subscriptions, were already public knowledge.

The company last summer ran a survey which asked users which options they were willing to pay for — including things like custom colors, the ability to publish longer and more high-def videos, profile badges, auto responses, an “undo send” (an alternative to the “edit” button users actually want), and, for brands, things like the ability to run brand surveys and added “social listening” analytics.

Then, during its Q2 2020 earnings, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey told investors it’ll likely run subscription tests.

“We do think there is a world where subscription is complementary. We think there is a world where commerce is complementary,” Dorsey said at the time. “You can imagine work around helping people manage paywalls, as well, that we believe is complementary. So that’s what we’re looking for. We have a small team who is exploring our options, obviously we’re hiring for those teams,” he had noted.

And last year, a Twitter job posting was spotted which referenced a team “building a subscription platform.”

Twitter CFO Ned Segal during its Q3 2020 earnings then confirmed those plans, noting “you will see tests from us” on the subscription front. But he also warned these wouldn’t be things that impacted Twitter revenue in the near-term.

Bloomberg’s report added just a couple of new details to our earlier understanding of these efforts. It noted that one of the research projects around subscriptions was code-named “Rogue One,” and another involved the idea of “tipping” for exclusive content.

This latter item could perhaps reference an idea of how Twitter could monetize its recent acquisition of newsletter platform Revue, now rolled out on the web. That is, users could possibly “tip” (pay) to read someone’s newsletter. But Twitter could also be considering a tipping feature inside Twitter’s audio-based networking feature and Clubhouse rival, Twitter Spaces. Or it could be something else — The Information had also previously reported a tipping feature was being looked into, last month, but Twitter told them nothing was yet in development.

Twitter today declined to offer any further clarifications about its plans on this front.

Reached for comment, the company confirmed it was still considering new monetization models in order to grow its revenue.

“Increasing revenue durability is our top company objective. You will see us continue to research and experiment with ways to further diversify our revenue beyond ads in 2021 and beyond,” said Bruce Falck, Revenue Product Lead, in a statement provided to TechCrunch.

“These may include subscriptions and other approaches that will give people and businesses of all sizes on Twitter access to unique features and enhanced opportunities for content creation, discovery, and engagement. While we’re excited about this potential, it’s important to note we are still in very early exploration and we do not expect any meaningful revenue attributable to these opportunities in 2021. Given the massive opportunity to build upon our strengths, our main focus continues to be on growing our ads business,” he added.

Twitter in Q3 2020 had beat analyst expectations on revenue and net income, but investors are still stuck on Twitter’s inability to substationaly grow its user base. The company reports its Q4 2020 earnings on Tuesday, where its plans for new revenue models may again be discussed.