Twitter plans to build ‘decentralized standard’ for social networks

Twitter CEO and co-founder Jack Dorsey is funding research aimed at changing the way information circulates on social media — with the goal of combating online violence, hate and disinformation. (AFP file photo)
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Updated 12 December 2019

Twitter plans to build ‘decentralized standard’ for social networks

  • The system, or “standard,” would not be owned by any single private company, says Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey
  • He said Twitter will fund the project, which will take many years to complete, but will not direct it

Twitter Inc. plans to set up an independent research group to create an “open and decentralized” system for social networks, CEO Jack Dorsey said on Wednesday, which could relieve pressure on the company to appease critics of its content policies but also give rise to a new crop of competitors.
The system, or “standard,” would not be owned by any single private company, Dorsey said, and would enable individuals to use a variety of services to access the same network, just like they choose different email providers to see the same messages.
Policing speech on social media sites has required hefty investments while still failing to stem criticism from users who find the policies either too aggressive or too lax.
“Centralized enforcement of global policy to address abuse and misleading information is unlikely to scale over the long-term without placing far too much burden on people,” Dorsey tweeted.
He said the new approach would also allow Twitter to “focus our efforts on building open recommendation algorithms which promote healthy conversation, and will force us to be far more innovative than in the past.”

The idea, as outlined in articles Dorsey shared, is that developers could use their own algorithms to offer like-minded individuals targeted access to the same social media networks.
For instance, an individual could sign up with a provider that would aggressively filter out racist material, or another that would promote conversations over other types of content.
The open standard, however, could upend Twitter’s business model in the process, giving rise to competitor services that offer filters, content suggestions or other tools that prove more popular with consumers.
In an article that Dorsey shared called “Protocols, Not Platforms,” tech news site Techdirt founder Mike Masnick outlined how an open standard could give rise to a “competition for business models” among developers.
Some providers might collect less user data for ads, while others might abandon advertising altogether, instead charging users for access to premium services like filters or data storage, Masnick wrote.
Dorsey said Twitter’s chief technology officer, Parag Agrawal, will be in charge of hiring a lead for the research team, called BlueSky. Twitter will fund the project, which will take many years to complete, but will not direct it, he said.
He went on to suggest that blockchain technology might provide a model for decentralizing content hosting, oversight and even monetization of social media, without elaborating on possible alternatives to Twitter’s ads-driven business.


Hit play: Sports content takes on new life on social media

Updated 26 October 2020

Hit play: Sports content takes on new life on social media

  • Sport — along with related topics like fitness and health — is one of the top three categories on TikTok right now

DUBAI: Whether you are playing or watching, sports are best enjoyed in person. But with social distancing measures in place since earlier this year, like many other activities, sports have gone virtual.

In May, when ESPN aired the final two episodes of its Michael Jordan docuseries “The Last Dance,” 20 of the 30 trending topics on Twitter were related to it. That night saw more than 1.5 million tweets about the final episode, bringing the total volume of tweets about the series above 11 million. Even before the pandemic, in 2019, 22 percent of consumers were seeking sports content on social media — up 47 percent from just 2016.

In fact, sport — along with related topics like fitness and health — is one of the top three categories on TikTok right now. “In the last couple of months, we have built a concentrated community that started allowing us to engage with different pillars of fitness and health,” said Rami Zeidan, head of video and creative at TikTok. These pillars include everything from fitness motivation and health, lifestyle and workout tips to stunts and street performances, such as parkour and freestyle football.

A 2020 study in Saudi Arabia found that 73 percent of people on Twitter are football fans, with 85 percent of them using Twitter to follow along while watching a game on TV. The respondents also said that they use Twitter to follow the official accounts of players (27 percent), to check out the latest video clips (38 percent) and to view pre-match news and post-match analysis (28 percent). The football fandom on the platform is evidenced by the 91 million tweets related to the 2019-20 Saudi Professional League (SPL) season just this month.

According to recent research by Twitter, football is the most popular sport on the platform in Saudi Arabia. In fact, the SPL season was marked by a three-day Twitter campaign that was launched on Oct. 19 under the hashtag روح_الدوري# (“The League’s Spirit”). The first day of the campaign saw Twitter’s account in the Middle East invite comedians to share their takes on the best SPL commentary moments. These were shared through voice tweets, which add a more human dimension to conversations and which allowed the comedians to incorporate their own personal style in the commentary. Although the feature is currently being tested on iOS devices, everyone on Twitter is able to hear voice tweets and reply to them.

FASTFACTS

Sport and Social Media

- 73% of Twitter users are football fans.

- Sports is one of the top three content categories on TikTok.

- 520% more Instagram Live videos were produced from March-July 2020, compared to 2019.

The focus for the second day of the campaign was Video Assistant Referee (VAR) technology. The comedians created their own VAR moments through humorous video content shared on the platform, which illustrated real-life scenarios in which VAR could come in handy — for example, to settle a challenge between friends or to find out who really spilled the popcorn. “Fans have always turned to Twitter to be part of the action in real time. We’re seeing the passion and energy of the football stadium now surging online. Twitter is where fans, players, experts and leagues weigh in with a range of viewpoints. With humor being a key element of Twitter conversation in Saudi, the روح_الدوري# campaign brought levity to a much-anticipated event in the Kingdom,” said Kinda Ibrahim, director of media partnerships, Middle East and North Africa, Twitter.

More than 170 million people follow fitness-related accounts (e.g. weightlifting, cycling, yoga, etc.) on Facebook, and more than 120 million people follow similar accounts on Instagram. Based on an index of Facebook and Instagram’s top fitness partners, 75 percent more Facebook Live videos were produced during the months of March through July in 2020 as compared to 2019, while 520 percent more Instagram Live videos were produced during the same months as compared to 2019. These numbers have resulted in the company capitalizing on the rise of sports and fitness content by building a team to focus on fitness, introducing products to help fitness businesses build an audience and generate revenue, and planning a Fitness Summit, where Facebook will share the latest product tips and best practices with fitness organizations. 

Even for fans that consume sports content on more traditional media like TV, social media platforms are almost always a part of the experience as a second screen. For instance, Snapchatters in the US send Snaps and Chats to their inner circle (29 percent), watch friends’ Stories (28 percent), post their own Stories (20 percent) and check out Discover highlights and shows (26 percent) while watching sports. Moreover, approximately 30 percent want sports leagues to use Snap to go behind the scenes, share news and player interviews, and tap into augmented reality (AR) that recreates the sporting venues they cannot visit.

The Middle East and North Africa region is among the most socially active and engaged regions, as well as one that loves consuming sports content. Social media plays a huge role, whether it is for clubs like Al-Ahli, celebrities like Mo Salah or independent social media fitness star Walid Yari. And with 26 to 33 percent of people in Saudi Arabia, the UAE, South Africa and Egypt saying that they use social media to follow sports news and events, it is time for brands to start paying attention. The sports industry is already realizing the power of social media, but advancements in technologies such as AR, accelerated by post-pandemic digitization, present new opportunities for growth.