Silicon Valley’s social media heavyweights have signed a hate speech ‘Code of Conduct’ with the European Union

Twitter, Facebook, Microsoft and Google signed the agreement.

European authorities have been chomping at the bit to get social media companies to be more aggressive in targeting hate speech online. For example, take this celebratory hashtag (#Brusselsisonfire) that surfaced after the March bombing in Belgium. Or look at when Twitter said in February that it had deleted more than 125,000 ISIS-affiliated accounts.

Today, Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Twitter announced that they’ve inked an online “Code of Conduct” with the EU’s European Commission to deal with the problem. The agreement is a “self-regulatory” measure, which means that it’s not legally binding, and it follows up on an earlier promise by the commission to regulate hate online.

The code of conduct enumerates a few specific commitments that Twitter, Facebook, et al, have made to address the problem:

  • The companies need to have clear and accessible ways of identifying and removing hateful content, and that they must review the majority of the content reported within 24 hours.
  • They have to work more with “civil society organizations” (nonprofits, advocacy organizations, etc.) to target such content.
  • They must train their staff “on current societal developments and to exchange views on the potential for further improvement.”

Despite the agreement signed today, these companies have a pretty tense relationship with European regulators, especially Google and Facebook. The EU is currently leveling antitrust charges against Google, and German regulators have begun looking into Facebook’s practices.

You can read the full code of conduct here.



Instagram’s ad business is looking more and more like Facebook’s ad business

Instagram is rolling out business accounts and promoted posts.

Instagram’s ad business is starting to look familiar. Very familiar.

Facebook-owned Instagram has been stealing page after page from Facebook’s advertising playbook, and on Tuesday it borrowed a few more ideas: Sponsored posts and business profiles.

Business profiles — think Facebook Pages — will let brands or companies add a contact button so that customers can click to call or email. A business profile will also open up more analytics so that businesses can see how well their photos and videos are performing on the service.

If they find a post performing particularly well, they can now pay to promote that post to get it in front of people who wouldn’t otherwise see it. Before this, Instagram ads were separate posts — that is, they didn’t live on as part of the advertiser’s profile after the campaign was over. Now they can promote a regular post just like they can on Facebook (or Twitter or Pinterest).

Both of these changes matter to you, the user, because of Instagram’s new algorithm, which will eventually push posts higher or lower in your feed. When Instagram announced the algorithm back in March, some brands saw it as a sign they would need to eventually pay in order to reach their followers, a strategy Facebook employed a few years back when it dramatically cut organic reach for brands.

Both of these Instagram changes could, theoretically, play into that fear. There was no way to boost a post on Instagram before Tuesday’s update, which meant the idea of “paying to reach your existing followers” wasn’t really an option. Now it is.

James Quarles, Instagram’s global head of business and brand development, downplayed this concern, saying that promoting a post is intended to get it in front of new users, not existing followers.

“It’s promote, not boost, and I think that’s an important distinction,” Quarles said. “You’re trying to promote [content] to a different audience … which is different from interacting or engaging with the audience you already have.”

Business profiles, on the other hand, means Instagram will now be able to easily determine a brand account from a “regular” user account. Quarles says that, at the moment, business profiles and regular profiles will be weighted the same in Instagram’s feed algorithm. You could imagine a time down the road, though, when that might not be the case.

Quarles was adamant that these changes aren’t intended to impact Instagram’s algorithm. “That’s not the strategy,” he said. Instead, the hope is to entice more businesses to use, and advertise on, Instagram.

Instagram has been testing these updates with some advertisers already, and will roll them out to advertisers in the U.S. and a few other English-speaking countries in June, with plans to have them worldwide by the end of the year.



Periscope has a new plan to fight back against internet trolls

Attention livestreamers: You’ve been summoned for jury duty.

Attention Periscope users: You’ve been summoned for jury duty.

Periscope, Twitter’s standalone livestreaming app, has created a new way to combat internet trolls, which includes a system to put internet bad guys on trial in front of their internet peers.

Here’s how the new abuse system works: If you’re watching a Periscope livestream and come across a vile or inappropriate comment, you can report that comment, triggering what Periscope calls a “flash jury” of other users watching the same livestream.

Periscope will ask this flash jury, which consists of five other random users, if they also consider the comment abusive or offensive. If the majority agrees with you, the commenter will be placed in a one minute time-out with commenting disabled. Repeat offenders will be muted for good.

In other words, Periscope wants its user base to police itself, all the way down to the verdict.

The new system is pretty unusual. Most social sites like Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat rely on users to report abusive and inappropriate material, but Periscope seems to be the first one asking other users to then weigh in. The thinking, according to senior Periscope engineer Aaron Wasserman, is that unlike most other social platforms, Periscope streams are live and comments happen fast, which means Periscope needs to move fast, too.

“These comments are gone almost as quickly as they appear and the damages happen that quickly,” he said.

Why not simply ban a user for good if their comment is found by the group to be offensive? “It was really important for us to offer a path to rehabilitation,” he explained. “We’re actually inviting you to stick around and do better next time.”

Wasserman wouldn’t say how often Periscope deals with these types of comments today, but the problem was obviously frequent enough to merit a new, specialized solution. Twitter, Periscope’s parent company, has struggled with abuse and bullying issues that have turned many users, particularly women, away from the platform over the years. Periscope, which is just over a year old, is clearly trying to avoid a similar reputation.

The new feature will start to roll out to users on Tuesday as part of a free app update.


Kicking off today: Code Conference 2016 | Recode Daily: May 31, 2016

Featuring Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, Bill and Melinda Gates, Nick Denton and more.

.Recode’s annual Code Conference kicks off tonight, and we’ll be updating with live coverage from the scene in Rancho Palos Verdes, California, for the next few days. A selection of the event’s speakers: Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, Sheryl Sandberg, Bill and Melinda Gates, Jack Dorsey and Gawker Media CEO Nick Denton. Click below for more details.
[Recode Staff]

.Verizon and its unionized workers have negotiated an end to the six-and-a-half week strike of some 40,000 workers across the company. Though both sides are claiming victory, it looks like the union got the upper hand by quashing pension cuts and other Verizon proposals.
[Noam Scheiber | The New York Times]

.On this week’s Recode Decode podcast, guest host Kurt Wagner talks with Maverick Carter, manager to NBA superstar LeBron James. Carter talks about why sports columnists matter less and less, and why LeBron’s infamous “Decision” TV special worked out in his favor despite the immense backlash.
[Eric Johnson | Recode]

.Viacom’s leadership battle between CEO Philippe Dauman, majority owner Sumner Redstone and Redstone’s daughter Shari is now reaching the media conglomerate’s board of directors, who say they are ready to fight Redstone if he tries to remove them.
[Joe Flint | The Wall Street Journal]

.Former Attorney General Eric Holder said in a podcast interview that NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden’s 2013 leak performed a “public service” by “raising the debate” about the extent of government surveillance and American citizenry’s digital privacy. In his previous job, one of Holder’s responsibilities was to help prosecute Snowden.
[Matthew Jaffe | CNN]

By Tony Haile
The single most important thing media companies can do is to nurture the growth of as many different platforms as possible.
By Amy Keyishian
Never has “I need more space” held so much emotional heft.
By Mark Lowenstein
It’s nearly impossible to contact Google for help. No direct email. No phone support. Not even chat. You’re basically on your own.
Capital Gains
By Noah Kulwin
Volkswagen also jumps into the ride-hailing game.
By Jason Del Rey
No Man’s Sky is delayed by about a month. You can survive.

Mister Softee is in a war with New York Ice Cream, a group of renegades that has stolen the midtown Manhattan market. As summer heats up, the New York Times reports on one of the city’s most seasonally relevant industries. Aggressive tactics mentioned include boxing in trucks belonging to the competition, and more automotive sabotage.


‘Silicon Valley’ season three, episode six: Oh, the Bachmanity!

Never has “I need more space” held so much emotional heft.

Each week, we watch “Silicon Valley” on HBO and then reflect on the ways the show mirrors — or doesn’t — the real Silicon Valley. This week, our founding fellas make halting forays into the world of romance. To catch up on the recaps, you can see them all here.


While the guys are out at a bar, putting the last of Richard Hanneman’s Tres Commas tequila into a giant virgin margarita, Richard makes contact with a woman. A woman who is not contractually obliged to speak to him. This sets off a competitive avalanche of attempted hookups in which Dinesh tries to make a love connection with a remote coder in Estonia, Jared turns out to have mucho mojo and Richard ruins everything by letting his coding standards overshadow his actual almost-relationship.

The issue: When coders are writing the letters in ASCII that will later become code, there are certain finicky details that don’t affect the code in the end, but that different coders have definite opinions about. For example, in some instances you can insert carriage returns just to make it easier on the eyes; to some coders, this is just annoyingly stupid, while others like the aesthetic appearance of the ASCII.

In this episode, Richard makes it clear — overly clear, maybe — that he disapproves of some coders’ preference for spaces where he would use tabs. In the workplace, this is a boss-preference thing and easy for coders to change. But when Richard’s date, Winnie, reveals that she isn’t on the same page, he can’t see past it. It’s like the coding equivalent of Jason Alexander’s character in “Shallow Hal” — the guy who dumps a beautiful woman because she has one weird toe.

Coders of my acquaintance confirm that “spaces versus tabs” is, indeed, something people get excited about, but none of them had strong feelings about it. Yes, Richard’s “tabs” method saves a minimal amount of file size, but the alternate “spaces” method allows for more specific alignment. For a deep dive into how that works, read this fantastic PopSci article.

“Of course,” said one of my supercoder friends, “the correct answer is tabs and the [visual] editor. The use of spaces is just indicative of the dumbing down of programming; tabs will make America great again.” Another added, “I find writing ASCII so objectionable. We may as well use crayons on construction paper. Why do programmers still live in technology that wasn’t even cutting edge in 1970?”

Did I say none of my coding friends had strong feelings about this? My mistake.

In Season 2, we saw this view of a Mexican restaurant. Is it the same one with the giant margaritas?

A few folks wondered about the restaurant the Pied Piper team is in. The Mexican-themed outing seems to be a leitmotif throughout the series; in fact, this looks like the same place where Richard and Gavin had a confrontation at the end of Runaway Devaluation (season two, episode two), in which a dramatic moment is interrupted by a mariachi band.

A quick search reveals that there was a place called Compadres (the name written on one of the sombreros on the wall), but it closed years ago. (Maybe it was beloved of Mike Judge during his brief tenure as an engineer.) Palo Alto Sol is a less-fancy Mexican restaurant that serves non-giant margaritas and is known to be a favorite of Mark Zuckerberg. And there is an adorable place called Nola, also in Palo Alto, which is not Mexican but that does have giant cocktails. (Recode/Silicon Valley meetup? Name the date!)

Suds, not barf.

This episode also featured a very specific tribute to the particular San Francisco Bay Area style of street theater protests — Gavin should be grateful he was only doused with suds, not barf. In response, Gavin reminisces about the good old days when men like him could have protesters beaten and/or killed, a direct reference to Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. Is Gavin ideological buds with Trump delegate Peter Thiel?

See you next week and on Twitter, folks.

“founder hounder”

tres commas tequila

runaway devaluation (s2 e2)


Silicon Valley HBO: The Recode recaps

The Recode view of the nerd sitcom.

Welcome back to the Recode recap of HBO’s “Silicon Valley”! After last week’s failed prediction, you’d think I’d slink back to my lair, but it turns out I don’t actually have a lair. So I’m back to unpack this week’s episode the Recode way.

Just the facts: Richard took interim control over Pied Piper’s day-to-day operations and put the company into austerity mode. Unfortunately, his lingering fury at being dethroned from his CEO role led him to unknowingly run his mouth to a tech blogger. To halt the story, he found a better one: Big Head revealed how Gavin Belson scrubs the internet of negative mentions of him.

During the company’s fire sale, Dinesh accidentally sold his hard drive; Gilfoyle posed as a Geek Squad worker to destroy it. Laurie admitted she never should have un-CEOed Richard and reinstalled him. Erlich manipulated Big Head into creating a vanity project for him. And Jared is just frickin’ weird.

So let’s unpack this:

Didn’t Big Head sign a major NDA?

Erlich’s new business venture, Bachmanity, depends on the $20 million severance Big Head got from Hooli. But let’s look back at that severance, back in this season’s first episode:

The most important aspect is the nondisclosure / nondisparagement clause, in which you agree not to say anything negative in the press, in public or in private, about Hooli or Gavin Belson. You will not discuss anything you did at Hooli, at all, in perpetuity, throughout the universe.

The $20 million hinges on that. I would say that CodeRag (no, it’s not a real publication; that’s an HBO-made site) definitely qualifies as “the public,” even if some might argue it doesn’t quite live up to “the press.” So I think what we’re looking at in a few episodes is Big Head getting totally wrecked by his actions in support of his old friend, with Erlich being a pretty satisfying ancillary casualty.

Really, the greater mystery here is why he’s not calling his company Bachman Big-Head Overdrive.

Stop saying Clinkle

What is Clinkle? It was a once-promising startup that was cloaked in mystery and secrecy for months. It had a 22-year-old wunderkind as CEO. It got $30 million in funding and created a weird commercial for itself. In the end, it turned out to be a money-transfer app like Venmo or Square, and it pretty much imploded.

What is Pied Piper? It’s a promising startup with a 26-year-old wunderkind as CEO. It got $5 million in funding for tech that nobody has really seen in action. It has a weird logo. And as of this episode, it looked like it was going to implode.

It’s not an unfair comparison.

Pop culture synchronicity

First of all, totally adorable: In praise of Richard being renamed Pied Piper CEO, Jared recites the beginning of the second stanza of of “O Captain! My Captain!”, a Walt Whitman poem written to eulogize Abraham Lincoln. Kinda dark! Like Richard is maybe a zombie president rising from the dead! Still really sweet, though.

But kind of funny that it aired the same weekend as this SNL sketch, since any reference to that poem necessarily references the 1989 literary bro-drama “Dead Poets Society.” Keep watching:

It’s also funny that the word “gallivanting” was bandied with such nonchalance, considering what happened about an hour earlier on “Game of Thrones”:

HBO / Recode

And, of course, big fun for both H.L. Mencken fans out there.

The hardest of drives

Disposal of hard drives is a touchy subject for techies. In another bout of synchronicity, Tom Limoncelli, author of six books on computer system administration and a former Googler, just posted a rant about used hard disks on Facebook. Contacted by email, he said, “Erasing disks before they are disposed is a real issue. An easy way to get PR is to buy some used hard drives on eBay and write a security paper about all the info found: Credit card numbers, personal information and naked pictures.”

He recommends DBAN software to erase disks rather than going the Gilfoyle route: “Drilling a disk through the spindle does not erase the magnetic material, and there are services that can recover such things. Gilfoyle should have used a process that would have shattered the individual platters, not just break the spindle. The gold standard is to first erase it, then crush it — Google uses a wood-chipper.

Also useful for getting rid of Steve Buscemi.

See you guys next week, or earlier on Twitter!


Gawker’s Nick Denton is coming to Code Conference this week

We’ve asked Peter Thiel to join us, too.

Some of Silicon Valley’s most powerful leaders will be onstage at this week’s Code Conference. Also onstage: A man Silicon Valley leaders love to hate.

Gawker Media owner Nick Denton, who has been fighting what could be crippling lawsuit funded by billionaire investor Peter Thiel, will join us on Thursday for an interview with Recode’s Kara Swisher.

This is going to be a good one: The Denton vs. Thiel fight has been the talk of the tech and media world for the last week, and depending on how you want to look at it it’s either a slam-dunk case or a knotted, nuanced argument.

And while Denton and many of his tech critics have sparred for years, they don’t often gather in the same space.

The only thing that would make this better would be if Thiel joined Denton onstage on Thursday. We’ve asked him several times in the past few days, but haven’t gotten a response.

We’ve also asked some of Denton’s most prominent critics from the tech world. They either could not or declined to come.

So Peter: If you want to join us, you’ve got a standing invitation. Just get down to Terranea by Thursday morning.