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Mastodon Hailed as Open Alternative to Twitter After Elon Musk Takeover: All You Need to Know

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By Reuters | Updated: 8 November 2022

With Twitter in disarray since the world’s richest person took control of it last week, Mastodon, a decentralised, open alternative from privacy-obsessed Germany, has seen a flood of new users.

“The bird is free,” tweeted Tesla mogul Elon Musk when he completed his $44 billion (roughly Rs. 3,37,465 crore) acquisition of Twitter. But many free-speech advocates reacted with dismay to the prospect of the world’s “town square” being controlled by one person and started looking for other options.

For the most part, Mastodon looks like Twitter, with hashtags, political back-and-forth and tech banter jostling for space with cat pictures.

But while Twitter and Facebook are controlled by one authority — a company — Mastodon is installed on thousands of computer servers, largely run by volunteer administrators who join their systems together in a federation.

People swap posts and links with others on their own server— or Mastodon “instance” — and also, almost as easily, with users on other servers across the growing network.

The fruit of six years’ work by Eugen Rochko, a young German programmer, Mastodon was born of his desire to create a public sphere that was beyond the control of a single entity. That work is starting to pay off.

“We’ve hit 1,028,362 monthly active users across the network today,” Rochko tooted – Mastodon’s version of tweeting – on Monday. “That’s pretty cool.”

That is still tiny compared with his established rivals. Twitter reported 238 million daily active users who had seen an advert as of the second quarter of 2022. Facebook said it had 1.98 billion daily active users as of the third quarter.

But the jump in Mastodon users in a matter of days has still been startling.

“I’ve gotten more new followers on Mastodon in the last week than I have in the previous five years,” Ethan Zuckerman, a social media expert at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, wrote last week.

Before Musk completed the Twitter acquisition on October 27, Mastodon’s growth averaged 60-80 new users an hour, according to the widely-cited Mastodon Users account. It showed 3,568 new registrations in one hour on Monday morning.

Rochko started Mastodon in 2017, when rumours were spreading that PayPal founder and Musk ally Peter Thiel wanted to buy Twitter.

“A right-wing billionaire was going to buy a de facto public utility that isn’t public,” Rochko told Reuters earlier this year. “It’s really important to have this global communications platform where you can learn what’s happening in the world and chat to your friends. Why is that controlled by one company?”

Toots and instances

There is no shortage of other social networks ready to welcome any Twitter exodus, from Bytedance’s Tiktok to Discord, a chat app now popular far beyond its original constituency of gamers.

Mastodon’s advocates say its decentralised approach makes it fundamentally different: rather than go to Twitter’s centrally-provided service, every user can choose their own provider, or even run their own Mastodon instance, much as users can e-mail from Gmail or an employer-provided account or run their own e-mail server.

No single company or person, can impose their will on the whole system or shut it all down. If an extremist voice emerged with their own server, the advocates say, it would be easy enough for other servers to cut ties with it, leaving it to talk to its own shrinking band of followers and users.

The federated approach has downsides: it is harder to find people to follow in Mastodon’s anarchic sprawl then on the neatly ordered town square that centrally administered Twitter or Facebook can offer.

But its growing group of supporters say those are outweighed by the advantages of its architecture.

Rochko, whose Mastodon foundation runs on a shoestring crowdfunded budget topped up with a modest grant from the European Commission, has found a particularly receptive audience among privacy-conscious European regulators.

Germany’s data protection commissioner is waging a campaign to get government bodies to close their Facebook pages, since, he says, there is no way of hosting a page there that conforms to European privacy laws.

Authorities should move to the federal government’s own Mastodon instance, he says. The European Commission also maintains a server for EU bodies to toot from.

“No exclusive information should be sent over a legally questionable platform,” data commissioner Ulrich Kelber said earlier this year.

While Mastodon is busier than ever before, it still has few of the big names from politics and showbiz that have made Twitter an addictive online home for journalists in particular. Few know comic Jan Boehmermann — Germany’s answer to John Oliver — outside his country, but more names are arriving daily.

For Rochko, the project’s only full-time employee, programming at his home in a small town in eastern Germany for a modest EUR 2,400 (roughly Rs. 1,96,800) monthly salary, the work continues.

“Would you believe me if I told you I’m extremely tired?” he tooted on Sunday.

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Facebook Dating Will Allow Users to Verify Their Age Using AI Face Scanning, Meta Says

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Meta says the new age verification systems will help stop children from accessing features meant for adults.
By ANI | Updated: 6 December 2022

Meta on Monday announced that it has introduced a new method for users to verify their age on its Facebook Dating service. Facebook is experimenting with methods, such as using an AI face scanner, to allow users of the platform’s dating service to verify their age.

Meta announced in a blog post that it would start prompting users on Facebook Dating to verify that they’re over 18 if the platform suspects a user is underage.

Users can then verify their age by sharing a selfie video that Facebook shares with a third-party business or by uploading a copy of their ID. According to Meta, the company, Yoti, uses facial cues to determine a user’s age without identifying them.

Meta says the new age verification systems will help stop children from accessing features meant for adults. It doesn’t appear that there are any requirements for adults to verify their age on Facebook Dating.

The US social media giant has used Yoti for other age verification purposes, including vetting Instagram users who attempt to change their birthdate to make them 18 or older.

However, according to a report by The Verge, the system isn’t equally accurate for all people: Yoti’s data shows that its accuracy is worse for “female” faces and people with darker complexions.

Last year, Instagram announced that it had started prompting users to fill in their birthday details. The prompts could initially be dismissed but the social media giant eventually made it compulsory for users who wanted to continue using Instagram. The prompts were designed to ascertain how old users were on Instagram and prevent content that isn’t suitable for young people to appear on their feed. At the time, Instagram had stated that the information is necessary for new features it was developing to protect young people.

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Meta Threatens to Remove News From Platform if US Congress Passes Media Bill

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US lawmakers are said to be considering adding the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act to a must-pass annual defence bill.
By Reuters | Updated: 6 December 2022

Facebook parent Meta Platforms on Monday threatened to remove news from its platform if the US Congress passes a proposal aimed at making it easier for news organisations to negotiate collectively with companies like Alphabet’s Google and Facebook.

Sources briefed on the matter said lawmakers are considering adding the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act to a must-pass annual defense bill as way to help the struggling local news industry. Meta spokesperson Andy Stone in a tweet said the company would be forced to consider removing news if the law was passed “rather than submit to government-mandated negotiations that unfairly disregard any value we provide to news outlets through increased traffic and subscriptions.”

Meta statement on the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act: pic.twitter.com/kyFqKQw7xs— Andy Stone (@andymstone) December 5, 2022

He added the proposal fails to recognise that publishers and broadcasters put content on the platform because “it benefits their bottom line – not the other way around.”

The News Media Alliance, a trade group representing newspaper publishers, is urging Congress to add the bill to the defense bill, arguing that “local papers cannot afford to endure several more years of Big Tech’s use and abuse, and time to take action is dwindling. If Congress does not act soon, we risk allowing social media to become America’s de facto local newspaper.”

More than two dozen groups including the American Civil Liberties Union, Public Knowledge and the Computer & Communications Industry Association on Monday urged Congress not to approve the local news bill saying it would “create an ill-advised antitrust exemption for publishers and broadcasters” and argued the bill does not require “funds gained through negotiation or arbitration will even be paid to journalists.”

A similar Australian law, which took effect in March 2021 after talks with the big tech firms led to a brief shutdown of Facebook news feeds in the country, has largely worked, a government report said.

Since the News Media Bargaining Code took effect, various tech firms including Meta and Alphabet have signed more than 30 deals with media outlets, compensating them for content that generated clicks and advertising dollars, the report added.

© Thomson Reuters 2022

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Apple, Amazon Resume Advertising on Twitter After Elon Musk Takeover: Reports

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By Reuters | Updated: 5 December 2022

Amazon and Apple are planning to resume advertising on Twitter, according to media reports on Saturday. The developments follow an email sent by Twitter on Thursday to advertising agencies offering advertisers incentives to increase their spending on the platform, an effort to jump-start its business after Elon Musk’s takeover prompted many companies to pull back.

Twitter billed the offer as the “biggest advertiser incentive ever on Twitter,” according to the email reviewed by Reuters. US advertisers who book $500,000 (roughly Rs. 4 crore) in incremental spending will qualify to have their spending matched with a “100 percent value add,” up to a $1 million (roughly Rs. 8 crore) cap, the email said.

On Saturday, a Platformer News reporter tweeted that Amazon is planning to resume advertising on Twitter at about $100 million (roughly Rs. 814 crore) a year, pending some security tweaks to the company’s ads platform.

However, a source familiar with the matter told Reuters that Amazon had never stopped advertising on Twitter.

Separately, during a Twitter Spaces conversation, Musk announced that Apple is the largest advertiser on Twitter and has “fully resumed” advertising on the platform, according to a Bloomberg report.

Last week, Twitter’s new CEO accused Apple of threatening to block the microblogging service from its app store without saying why in a series of tweets that also said the iPhone maker had stopped advertising on the social media platform. The billionaire CEO of Twitter and Tesla said Apple was pressuring Twitter over content moderation demands.

Musk’s first month as Twitter’s owner has included a slashing of staff including employees who work on content moderation and incidents of spammers impersonating major public companies, which has spooked the advertising industry.

Many companies from General Mills to luxury automaker Audi of America stopped or paused advertising on Twitter since the acquisition, and Musk said in November that the company had seen a “massive” drop in revenue.

Apple and Twitter did not immediately respond to Reuters request for comment on the matter.

© Thomson Reuters 2022

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Twitter Offers Advertisers Incentives Amid Marketer Exodus After Elon Musk Takeover: Report

Many companies from General Mills to luxury automaker Audi of America have stopped or paused advertising on Twitter since the acquisition.

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Twitter is offering advertisers incentives to increase their spending on the platform, according to an email sent on Thursday to advertising agencies, an effort to jump-start its business after Elon Musk’s takeover prompted many companies to pull back.

Details of the incentive offer were first reported by newsletter Marketing Brew.

Twitter billed the offer as the “biggest advertiser incentive ever on Twitter,” according to the email reviewed by Reuters. US advertisers who book $500,000 (roughly Rs. 4 crore) in incremental spending will qualify to have their spending matched with a “100 percent value add,” up to a $1 million cap, the email said.

Musk’s first month as Twitter’s owner has included a slashing of staff including employees who work on content moderation and incidents of spammers impersonating major public companies, which has spooked the advertising industry.

Many companies from General Mills Inc to luxury automaker Audi of America stopped or paused advertising on Twitter since the acquisition, and Musk said in November that the company had seen a “massive” drop in revenue.

Musk previously stated that Twitter was experiencing a “massive drop in revenue” from the advertiser retreat, blaming a coalition of civil rights groups that has been pressing the platform’s top advertisers to take action if he did not protect content moderation.

Ad sales account for about 90 percent of Twitter’s revenue.

Twitter did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.

Advertisers in Britain and Japan who book $250,000 (roughly Rs. 2 crore) in incremental spending would receive a 100 percent match, while brands in all other regions that spend $50,000 (roughly Rs. 40,57,100) would receive the match, according to the email.

Earlier in October, Musk said he wanted Twitter to be “the most respected advertising platform” and not a “free-for-all hellscape”, in a bid to gain the trust of ad buyers ahead of the close of his deal.

© Thomson Reuters 2022

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Elon Musk Meets Tim Cook, Says Apple Never Considered Removing Twitter From App Store

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By Reuters | Updated: 1 December 2022

Elon Musk on Wednesday tweeted that the misunderstanding about Twitter potentially being removed from Apple’s App Store was resolved following his meeting with the iPhone maker’s Chief Executive Tim Cook.

“Tim was clear that Apple never considered doing so,” the billionaire CEO of Twitter and Tesla said in a tweet.

Thanks @tim_cook for taking me around Apple’s beautiful HQ pic.twitter.com/xjo4g306gR— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) November 30, 2022

On Monday, Musk had accused Apple of threatening to block Twitter from its app store without saying why in a series of tweets that also said it had stopped advertising on the social media platform.

He had later tagged Cook’s Twitter account in another tweet, asking “what’s going on here?”

The world’s most valuable firm spent an estimated $131,600 (roughly Rs. 1,07,42,900) on Twitter ads between November 10 and November 16, down from $220,800 (roughly Rs. 1,80,23,385) between October 16 and October 22, the week before Musk closed the Twitter deal, according to ad measurement firm Pathmatics.

In the first quarter of 2022, Apple was the top advertiser on Twitter, spending $48 million (roughly Rs. 390 crore) and accounting for more than 4 percent of total revenue for the period, the Washington Post reported, citing an internal Twitter document.

Twitter and Apple did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Musk’s latest tweet. Apple has not responded publicly to Musk’s earlier tweets.

Among the list of grievances tweeted by Musk on Monday was the up to 30 percent fee Apple charges software developers for in-app purchases, with Musk posting a meme suggesting he was willing to “go to war” with Apple rather than paying the commission.

The self-described free speech absolutist, whose company has in the past few days reinstated several Twitter accounts including that of former US President Donald Trump, has blamed activist groups for pressuring advertisers.

Ben Bajarin, the head of consumer technologies at research firm Creative Strategies, previously stated that Musk may have been reading too much into a regular process Apple goes through in-app reviews.

“App review from Apple is not perfect by any means and a consistently frustrating process for developers but from what I hear it is a two-way conversation,” he said.

“Tim was clear that Apple never considered doing so,” the billionaire CEO of Twitter and Tesla said in a tweet.

On Monday, Musk had accused Apple of threatening to block Twitter from its app store without saying why in a series of tweets that also said it had stopped advertising on the social media platform.

He had later tagged Cook’s Twitter account in another tweet, asking “what’s going on here?”

Twitter and Apple did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Musk’s latest tweet. Apple has not responded publicly to Musk’s earlier tweets.

Among the list of grievances tweeted by Musk on Monday was the up to 30 percent fee Apple charges software developers for in-app purchases, with Musk posting a meme suggesting he was willing to “go to war” with Apple rather than paying the commission.

© Thomson Reuters 2022

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Twitter Not Safer Under Elon Musk Leadership, Says Former Head of Trust and Safety

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By Reuters | Updated: 30 November 2022

Twitter’s former head of trust and safety Yoel Roth on Tuesday said the social media company was not safer under new owner Elon Musk, warning in his first interview since resigning this month that the company no longer had enough staff for safety work.

Roth had tweeted after Musk’s takeover that by some measures, Twitter safety had improved under the billionaire’s ownership.

Asked in an interview at the Knight Foundation conference on Tuesday whether he still felt that way, Roth said: “No.”

Roth was a Twitter veteran who helped steer the social media platform through several watershed decisions, including the move to permanently suspend its most famous user, former US President Donald Trump, last year.

His departure further rattled advertisers, many of whom backed away from Twitter after Musk laid off half of the staff, including many involved with content moderation.

Before Musk assumed the helm at Twitter, about 2,200 people globally were focused on content moderation work, said Roth. He said he did not know the number after the acquisition because the corporate directory had been turned off.

Twitter under Musk began to stray from its adherence to written and publicly available policies toward content decisions made unilaterally by Musk, which Roth cited as a reason for his resignation.

“One of my limits was if Twitter starts being ruled by dictatorial edict rather than by policy … there’s no longer a need for me in my role, doing what I do,” he said.

The revamp of the Twitter Blue premium subscription, which would allow users to pay for a verified checkmark on their account, launched despite warnings and advice from the trust and safety team, Roth said.

The launch was quickly beset by spammers impersonating major public companies such as Eli Lilly, Nestle and Lockheed Martin.

Roth also said Tuesday that Twitter erred in restricting the dissemination of a New York Post article that made claims about then-Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s son shortly before the 2020 presidential election.

But he defended Twitter’s decision to permanently suspend Trump for risk of further incitement of violence after the riot at the US Capitol on January 6, 2021.

“We saw the clearest possible example of what it looked like for things to move from online to off,” Roth said. “We saw people dead in the Capitol.”

Musk tweeted on November 19 that Trump’s account would be reinstated after a slim majority voted in favour of the move in a surprise Twitter poll.

© Thomson Reuters 2022

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