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Why Worry About Political Ad Pinocchios With @Jack Dorsey’s Twitter BotNet Apps?

November 15, 2019 Comments off

Cancelling political ads that tread on (or even trample…or even incinerate) someone’s truth are all the rage.  Having skimmed the cream from political ad revenue, Twitter has announced it is banning political ads to great fanfare–after the cow escaped from the barn.  (What this “ban” actually means in practice remains to be seen.)  Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey said he would announce the policy today, although I haven’t seen it yet as of this writing.  (Almost sounds like…a publisher…don’t it?)

This banning announcement came directly from Jack in a series of platitudinous Tweets, one of which was particularly eye catching:

Jack Dorsey Pol Ads

What Twitter did not tell you is that while they may take a hit on revenue from dropping political ads and they feel great about preserving democracy, bot farming is alive and well on Twitter.  Let’s take two examples of apps that permit bot nets based on rules established by Twitter for this purpose.

Phone2Action

Phone2Action is a private for-profit company that has raised millions in the private VC market.  The company creates “civic engagement” tools used by some progressive campaigns and nonprofits, but also used by Big Tech for “grass roots” organizing.  In fact, the head of the Consumer Technology Association (remember him?) is closely tied to Phone2Action.

phone2action gary shapiro

“Civic engagement” by a corporation is also called “lobbying” in some circles.  David Lowery has some excellent research on why this “civic engagement” looks fake (a la the European Copyright Directive debacle that backfired on Google’s use of similar tools), but suffice it to say there’s some oddities about how Phone2Action pulls off this “civic engagement,” and their Twitter app is one of them.

These campaigns center around sending messages to elected officials with the client messaging and also some call-in apps that allow anyone from anywhere in the world to call elected officials in their country or another country to lobby on the client’s message.

Boaty

The call-in app has some spooky implications highlighted by that sturdy Scot Boaty McBoatface when demonstrating a similar fake call-in campaign from Fight for the Future:

 

Note–if Boaty hadn’t told Rand Paul’s office he was calling from Scotland, Sen. Paul’s office could have gotten the misapprehension that Boaty was a constituent.  You get the idea.

Take a close look at the permissions that Phone2Action requires from users of its app on Twitter:

P2A TWITTTER annotated

Call me cynical, but when I read these permissions they seem far beyond tweeting something like “I called my Member of Congress”.  It’s more like someone gets the ability to manipulate your own Twitter account without your knowing it is happening.  We’ve seen things like this in the past produce results like this disproportionate number of likes (from the European Copyright Directive):

Bot 4 1-5-19

Bots 14-2-19 Edited

So even if Jack thinks that he will get lots of praise for cancelling political ads on Twitter, as long as he allows for-profit companies to create botnets to lobby for their interests, that ain’t nothing compared to twitter bots he allows to masquerade as true grassroots.

TikTok

Not only does Jack allow Phone2Action to monetize bot farms on Twitter, he let’s TikTok do the same.  This is another element of the national security investigation into TikTok or should be.  Here’s the identical Twitter permissions granted by everyone using the TikTok app for Twitter:

TikTok Twitter

Again, Twitter allows TikTok to have extraordinary access to your Twitter account, just like Phone2Action.  And if you think the Chinese government doesn’t have access to your data, ask Jack Ma who really owns Alibaba.

So here’s a few questions that immediately come to mind:  How much does Twitter charge for this level of access?  Who gets the data?  How much of the data scraped from users and the “look alikes” (who you follow and who follows you) is sold and resold and to whom?

And of course, which messages are they sending out in your Twitter account?  One that relates to the campaign you originally signed up for?  Or something completely unrelated?

We’re way past political ads now.

 

@ericdharvey Misses Music Twitter’s Defining Feature: Refuse Licenses and Pay Zero Royalties via @ArtistRights Watch

October 17, 2019 Comments off

Eric Harvey has a great must-read article in Pitchfork about what he describes as “Music Twitter” (“How Twitter Changed Music“).  Mr. Harvey makes that case that Twitter was designed with both music and the music business in mind.  That is certainly true.  Twitter couldn’t be a more perfect way for pop and rap stars to connect with their fans and introduce new music.  If willing to put in the time (aka free labor for Twitter), artists from any genre can find it useful.  Unbelievable numbers of recordings are promoted, linked, streamed and talked about on Twitter.

Mr. Harvey makes a point that many of us probably didn’t know:

When Twitter was dreamed up, in fact, it was with music in mind. “This is why we built this thing! For concerts and music shows!” Noah Glass told fellow co-founder Jack Dorsey in 2006, according to Nick Bilton’s book, Hatching Twitter. At that point, when the site had only a handful of users, Glass and Dorsey road-tested Twitter at Coachella and attempted a partnership with the 2007 VMAs. As the site grew in popularity, Bilton recounts, pop stars made pilgrimages to the company’s modest San Francisco headquarters, like when a couple of Twitter engineers “found a member of the band blink-182, half-asleep and half-drunk, pouring a small bottle of gin into a bowl of Fruity Pebbles cereal, then chowing down on breakfast.”

But after you read the post, I think you may realize that there’s a dog that didn’t bark–despite the fact that some of Jack Dorsey’s best friends may be musicians, Twitter has consistently refused to even accept the premise that the site needs licenses and should pay royalties.  However “intertwined” Twitter may be with the music business, the company steadfastly refuses to acknowledge that value by respecting business of the artists, songwriters, producers, musicians and vocalists who drive what Mr. Harvey shows pretty conclusively is a big chunk of Twitter’s value.

Mr. Harvey dives into the many connections between the company’s founders who designed their product to free ride on the artists they claim to admire.  It is clear that Twitter owes a lot of its success to the star making machinery behind the popular song:

Judging by the numbers alone, Twitter is more deeply intertwined with music than any other industry. Four of the top five—and half of the top 20—most-followed Twitter accounts are solo musicians. More than movie stars or major athletes, whose work is more obviously collaborative and done according to others’ scripts, the pop star/fan relationship maximizes what Twitter does best, fostering emotional connections rooted in the personal authenticity of a single, spectacular figure. This has led to an environment where millions of Twitter users are there purely to serve as foot soldiers in their idol’s digital army, and where the tantalizing (or mortifying) possibility of direct contact is always present.

Maybe it’s time that Twitter did the right thing and stopped abusing the absurdly outdated DMCA safe harbor game of whack a mole.  Please let’s not be told that Twitter’s value is exposure or that data is worth having your rights ignored.  Data may be the new exposure, but you do have to ask how do people like Jack Dorsey sleep at night.

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