Current Issue
This Month's Print Issue

Follow Fast Company

We’ll come to you.

07.20.17 | 10:38 am

Twitter says its new anti-abuse efforts are working, but others aren’t convinced

For years, Twitter users have complained that the social platform doesn't adequately protect users from abuse, and that the reporting system it uses is opaque. So earlier this year, the company pledged to crack down on this problem and completely revamp how it handles reported abuse. 

Today, Twitter published an update on its progress, indicating that, by some measures, the efforts are working. According to Twitter, it takes action on 10 times as many abusive accounts now compared to last year. The company also says that one solution—which puts first offenders into a sort of "time out" and tells them why they're there—has produced promising results: 

"Accounts that we put into this period of limited functionality generate 25% fewer abuse reports, and approximately 65% of these accounts are in this state just once."

The company admits there's still a lot of work to be done, and anecdotal evidence on Twitter corroborates that. BuzzFeed, for example, looked into recent Twitter abuse situations that the new system did not protect against. In most cases, it took heightened public attention for Twitter to take action, instead of the abuse being handled by the system itself. When asked, Twitter declined to comment about those examples to BuzzFeed.

You can read Twitter's blog post about the new anti-abuse system here

07.11.17 | 4:19 pm

Twitter’s new CFO has tweeted a whopping 21 times

Twitter has a hired a new chief financial officer. His name is Ned Segal, and before today, he worked as a senior vice president at Intuit. Recode first reported the news, and Jack Dorsey confirmed it via a tweet.

So who is this Segal fella? He's taking over for Anthony Noto, who's had the gnarly job of both COO and CFO since late last year. We know that he worked at Goldman Sachs as a banker for many years. His LinkedIn page states that he was the CFO of the RPX Corporation for almost two years. 

Perhaps most important, however, is his Twitter presence. He has tweeted 21 times since he joined in 2011. Welcome to the jungle, Ned!

07.05.17 | 2:00 pm

Hey, Ed Sheeran: Here’s the science behind why internet trolls are so mean

Musician Ed Sheeran recently quit Twitter because Lady Gaga fans were just too mean to him (which is funny, because Ed Sheeran fans have been sending me death threats for years over a critical article I wrote about him). Now Quartz reports on a new study, slated to appear in the journal Personality and Individual Differences, that explains the specific psychology that makes internet trolls so darn nasty

Researchers at Australia's School of Health Science and Psychology at Federation University wanted to figure out what traits turn some people into online trolls. Through an online survey, they tested 415 men and women for a range of personality traits and a propensity for trolling behavior. In their study, "Constructing the Cybertroll: Psychopathy, Sadism, and Empathy," they reveal that trolls scored higher than average on two psychological traits: psychopathy, or lack of caring about others' feelings, and cognitive empathy, or the ability to understand others' emotions. Basically, trolls understand your feelings enough to know what will really hurt, and then go for it because they are incapable of caring. Read more here.

06.20.17 | 9:30 am

Sprout Social wants to make it easier for brands to build their own Twitter bots

For better or worse, Sprout Social wants to make it easier to make Twitter bots. Today, the social analytics company launched its new Bot Builder platform, which is aimed at helping social media users, customer service reps, or engagement teams create their own Twitter bots for conversations in Direct Messages. DM bots have become the latest way for brands to target with and engage Twitter users. Twitter rolled out new features last week that make it easier for bots to sell products, share links, or carry on conversations on the site. 

Like other bot makers, Bot Builder on Sprout Social aims to help people with no coding experience or technical knowledge create functional bots within a matter of minutes, all for the low low price of $249 a month. But when it comes to making Twitter bots, please use your powers for good and follow the examples of bots like the exhaustingly always appropriate @infinite_scream

Or the endearingly odd @MagicRealismBot (that may be penned by Milan Kundera)

Or even aggravate friends, enemies, and Branston Pickle with the likes of grammar stickler @_grammar_

06.15.17 | 9:00 am

Twitter is getting a bit cleaner and more modern

It's not a dramatic makeover—and definitely isn't as freighted with meaning as the death of the egg—but Twitter is rolling out some design refinements across its iOS, Android, and web incarnations, along with TweetDeck and Twitter Lite, "over the coming days." Among the changes:

• The iOS app is streamlining things by slimming down the number of tabs at the bottom and putting some stuff in a side navigation menu, a design already in place on Android.

• The reply icon, which some people mistook as a back or delete button, is now a word balloon, just like in Instagram.

• Avatars are now displayed inside circles, a design trend that's been around so long elsewhere that it no longer counts as a trend.

• Reply, like, and retweet counts now update dynamically, letting you see them rack up in real time.

• The iOS app opens up the articles people share in a Safari view, so you're already logged into any sites you may have accounts with.

06.08.17 | 4:46 pm

John McCain’s weird questioning was the most tweeted moment of James Comey’s hearing

We know what you did today. While former FBI director James Comey was being grilled by the Senate over his meetings with President Trump, Twitter users sent a staggering 3.6 million tweets about the hearing. That's according to new data from Twitter, which looked at tweets sent between 7 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. 

The most tweeted-about moment goes to John McCain's baffling line of questioning, during which the Arizona senator couldn't seem to grasp the difference between an open investigation and a closed one. The second most tweeted moment goes to Comey's T-shirt-ready "Lordy" comment, followed by his "no fuzz" remark.

[Image: Twitter]

06.05.17 | 11:45 am

Would you pay to use Twitter? A “strict paywall” may be the platform’s only hope, analysts say

The idea of paying for Twitter may seem antithetical to the spirit of open social networks, but some analysts are saying a subscription model might be Twitter's only chance at surviving as an attractive company (outside of being bought, that is). In a research note last week, analyst firm MoffettNathanson noted that Twitter's ad revenue keeps declining and nothing on the horizon appears to offer a viable path toward turning things around. If Twitter can't make a meaningful profit from ads, a paywall is the only revenue model that makes sense, the firm writes. And not just any paywall—they're talking about a rigid, all-or-nothing model that forces users to either pay up or forfeit their tweeting rights.

"The idea is to pivot from an ad-supported model to a subscription model," write Michael Nathanson and Perry Gold. "To be clear, we mean Twitter would move behind a strict paywall. Customers who don't pay a monthly fee simply cannot use the platform anymore. It's a draconian approach and one which likely drastically reduces the size of the platform and could be massively unpopular. However, by our calculations, it is one which could yield multiples of the revenue Twitter drives today and importantly this revenue stream would be recurring and wouldn't be as choppy or seasonal as advertising revenue." 

As a way of bolstering their argument, the analysts point to Twitter's relatively small but loyal base of power users who basically can't live without it. Translation: The snarky journalists, celebrities, and the Patton Oswald types who have become regular Twitter fixtures might fork over a few bucks a month to stick around. What do you think? Would you pay for the privilege of being able to tweet? Tweet at me here with your thoughts. 


06.05.17 | 10:57 am

This Twitter bot turns all of Donald Trump’s tweets into official White House statements

Kellyanne Conway thinks the media is overly obsessed with President Trump's Twitter feed. "This obsession with covering everything he says on Twitter and very little of what he does as president," she said this morning in a snappish exchange with the hosts on TodayWhen MSNBC's Craig Melvin noted that Twitter appears to be the president's preferred method of communication, Conway replied, "That's not true." But the reality is, Trump hasn't held a press conference in three weeks, opting instead to tweet his thoughts to the nation.

Now, there's a new Twitter bot that turns the president's tweets into official White House statements. The RealPressSecBot is an inane service that serves as an important reminder that not only are Trump's tweets a matter of the public record (yes, that means future generations can debate the true meaning of "covfefe"), but that the president's Twitter feed is— for better or worse—serving as an official form of communication from  the current resident of the White House. 

[Photo: Flickr User Gage Skidmore]

05.31.17 | 6:45 pm

Clinton says “covfefe” reflects Trump’s “authoritarian” use of social media

Hillary Clinton on Wednesday said false stories spread on Facebook and Twitter had helped to influence the outcome of the 2016 election, and called Trump's unusual Twitter activity part of an effort to "divert attention."

"It's like 'covfefe'—trending worldwide!" she said at Recode's Code Conference in California. "Maybe for a minute you'll forget about [the White House] conspiring with Russia, or the trillion-dollar mathematical mistake in their budget, or depriving 23 million of health care," she said. "It's the circus, right? It's what a classic authoritarian does."

Clinton said Twitter had provided "positive information, quick turnaround information to a very large audience. But I think it has become victimized by deliberate efforts to shape the conversation and push it toward conspiracies, lies, false information." Facebook, she said, also had to "help prevent fake news from creating a new reality." She noted that it was "hard not to" believe that the Trump campaign had not coordinated with Russia in spreading disinformation.

In November, university researchers reported that a quarter of all election related Tweets were spread by bots, and that pro-Trump hashtags got five times as much traffic from those accounts as hashtags that were pro-Clinton. 

In questioning Trump's use of Twitter, Clinton herself mentioned a report that has since been debunked: that Trump's Twitter account had gained millions of bot followers in recent days. The increase in followers was far lower than that, and it's not yet clear who the followers are. According to the website Twitteraudit, only 51% of Trump's Twitter followers are thought to be real; Clinton's ratio of real Twitter followers is 61%.


[Photo: Flickr user Marc Nozell]

05.31.17 | 4:00 pm

Spicer weighs in on “covfefe,” deepening mystery

"The president and a small group of people know exactly what he meant," said White House press secretary Sean Spicer, when asked the mysterious, viral tweet President Trump sent late last night.

Predictably, the vague explanation drew laughter from the press and more scorn on Twitter, where commentators had previously joked about the press secretary being forced to explain what most assumed to be a typo.

Meanwhile, Wikipedia users attempted to interpret Trump's coinage on a page devoted to the word. "The most common theory is that given the context, Trump meant to type 'coverage,'" according to Wikipedia. "Others have put forth the possibility that it could be a codeword, neologism, or proper noun. The lack of punctuation suggests that Trump may have been interrupted mid-tweet. Some Trump supporters hailed the tweet as an example of how Trump expresses what he really thinks rather than looking to polls or focus testing before putting forth his ideas and new words."

05.23.17 | 6:48 pm

Bug in Twitter’s ads code allowed hackers to tweet from anyone’s account

Much as some of us might wish, it doesn't explain Donald Trump's tweets, but there's a chance it could explain irregularities in tweets from any number of other Twitter accounts.

It, in this case, is a bug that would have allowed hackers to post from anyone's account–even Trump's, and even before Trump added two-factor authentication. According to Motherboard, code from Twitter's ads team had introduced the vulnerability. Discovered in February by someone who goes by the nickname kedrisch, the flaw "in the handling of Twitter Ads Studio requests…allowed an attacker to tweet as any user. By sharing media with a victim user and then modifying the post request with the victim's account ID the media in question would be posted from the victim's account. This bug was patched immediately after being triaged and no evidence was found of the flaw being exploited by anyone other than the reporter." Twitter seems to have paid kedrisch a bounty of $7,500 for discovering the bug.

[Photo: Unsplash user Benjamin Balázs]

05.23.17 | 1:40 pm

Twitter’s sponsored tweets can now start private conversations with chatbots

Twitter has created a new way to help brands get their bots in front of potential customers. Now brands can create sponsored interactive tweets—when a customer engages with them, they pull those potential shoppers into a direct message conversation with the brand's bot. Unlike some bots that are designed to handle customer service issues, these are meant to engage customers, ultimately leading them to make a purchase.

For instance, one of the first brands participating is Patron Tequila. Patron has a sponsored tweet advertising "Bot-Tenders" that can help you create the perfect cocktail. From the tweet, you pick the type of event you're mixing up drinks for, and then Patron will DM you a few questions about your flavor preferences and present a few appropriate recipes.