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.


YouTube steers viewers to climate denial videos: nonprofit

Updated 16 January 2020

YouTube steers viewers to climate denial videos: nonprofit

  • Avaaz said it scrutinized results of YouTube searches using the terms “global warming,” “climate change,” and “climate manipulation” to see what was offered by an “up next” feature
  • 16 percent of the top 100 videos served up in relation to the term “global warming” contained misinformation, it said

SAN FRANCISCO: YouTube has driven millions of viewers to climate denial videos, a US activist group said Thursday as it called for stopping “free promotion of misinformation” at the platform.
New York-based Avaaz said it scrutinized results of Google-owned YouTube searches using the terms “global warming,” “climate change,” and “climate manipulation” to see what was offered by an “up next” feature and as suggestions.
In response to the report, YouTube said it downplays “borderline” video content while spotlighting authoritative sources and displaying information boxes on searches related to climate change and other topics.
The video sharing platform has remained firm that while it removes content violating its policies against hate, violence and scams, it does not censor ideas expressed in accordance with its rules.
“Our recommendations systems are not designed to filter or demote videos or channels based on specific perspectives,” YouTube said in response to an AFP inquiry.
The company added that it has “significantly invested in reducing recommendations of borderline content and harmful misinformation, and raising up authoritative voices.”
According to Avaaz, 16 percent of the top 100 videos served up in relation to the term “global warming” contained misinformation, with the top 10 of those averaging more than a million views each.
The portion of potentially misleading videos climbed to 21 percent for YouTube searches on the term “climate manipulation” but fell to eight percent for searches using the term “climate change,” according to Avaaz.
“This is not about free speech, this is about the free advertising,” Avaaz senior campaigner Julie Deruy said in a release.
“YouTube is giving factually inaccurate videos that risk confusing people about one of the biggest crises of our time.”
An AFP search at YouTube using the term “global warming” yielded a results page topped by a box containing a Wikipedia summary of the subject and a link to the page at the online encyclopedia.
A list of suggested videos on the topic was dominated by sources such as National Geographic, NASA, TED and major news organizations including CBS, PBS, Sky News, and AFP.
Last year, consumption on “channels” of authoritative news publishers at the platform grew by 60 percent, according to YouTube.
“We prioritize authoritative voices for millions of news and information queries, and surface information panels on topics prone to misinformation — including climate change — to provide users with context alongside their content,” YouTube said.
Avaaz called on YouTube to yank climate change misinformation videos from its recommendation formula completely, and make certain such content doesn’t make money from ads at the platform.
The nonprofit also wants YouTube to collaborate with fact-checkers and post correction notices on videos with false climate change information.
YouTube automatically placed ads on some of the videos containing misinformation regarding climate change, making money for the service and the content creators, according to Avaaz.
This could apply to news videos expressing rival sides of the climate change debate. YouTube works with advertisers and provides tools to opt-out of having their ads displayed with certain types of content, such as climate change discourse.
Avaaz said after seeing the YouTube response that the company’s rankings lacked transparency and “put a blackbox around their algorithm preventing researchers and investigators from seeing exactly what is happening inside.”
“The bottom line is that YouTube should not feature, suggest, promote, advertise or lead users to misinformation,” Deruy said.