Farhad and Mike’s Week in Tech: Twitter and Reddit Take a Stand

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Farhad: I’m not going to dignify that with an answer. Anyway, in the run-up to that testimony, Twitter — which has been criticized by lawmakers for its response so far — announced that it would ban two Russian news organizations from buying Twitter ads. The two news sites are Russia Today and Sputnik, both of which are backed by the Kremlin and are accused of furthering Russian propaganda worldwide.

Mike: I was a bit stumped by this. You could praise Twitter for taking some action against groups that have clearly acted against the interests of the American people.

That said, I find it difficult for a tech company to position itself as a stateless platform while also largely adhering to Western value structures. Does Twitter block CNN from Russia if Russia lodges a similar election interference complaint?

Farhad: I’m not sure how effective this change will be in limiting Russian propaganda, since these outlets will still be allowed to have a presence on Twitter — they just can’t buy ads. This also puts Twitter in a spot I thought it didn’t want to be in; it’s unclear what policies and guidelines it will use to determine whether a news service is actually a propaganda outfit. Is it government funding? Well, then what about the BBC? Is it aggressively pushing a nationalistic point of view? What about Fox News? This is opening a can of worms.

Mike: Yep, fully agree. Twitter is trying to push back a bit on that through the lens of “transparency.” That is, the company promised to give details to individual users on where the ads are coming from and who’s spending money to target them specifically. The company hasn’t really dug into the details on that yet, but we’ll see if it actually makes a difference.

Reddit Bans Nazis, and Honolulu Bans Distracted Walking

Farhad: Russia Today wasn’t the only thing that was banned this week. It was a big week in bans! Reddit shut several sections of its site that catered to Nazis and white supremacists. This comes after a policy change that now prohibits content that calls for violence. It’s a big change for Reddit, which has long had an anything-goes policy.

Mike: We can’t really emphasize enough how big of a shift this is for Reddit. As you’ve said, the site has essentially taken a stance similar to Twitter since its inception: Free speech, no matter how odious you may find it, above all else. That has led Reddit down some dark paths, like refusing to ban outright racist groups and topic pages, not to mention dealing with an entire community devoted to “creepshots” of underage women.

I don’t know what changed in their thinking. Perhaps Reddit, which has raised significant venture financing over the past two years, is trying to present a more polished view of itself in hopes of one day being acquired or going public.

Photo

Twitter announced that it would ban two Russian news organizations, Russia Today and Sputnik, from buying ads.

Credit
Matt Rourke/Associated Press

Farhad: Meanwhile the city of Honolulu banned looking at your phone while walking. If you look at your phone while crossing the street, police officers can fine you $35 for the infraction. Mike, if they had this ban in San Francisco or New York, I’d be very very poor.

Mike: I do this thing where if a stranger is looking down at their phone and coming at me on the sidewalk, I refuse to move out of the way. Either they look up at the last minute and apologize, or they run right into me. I don’t take a stand on many things, but this is one of them.

Anyway, go Honolulu!

Snap’s Spectacles Flopped

Farhad: Finally, there was news about Snap. Remember them? They make a popular messaging app that teenagers love. But apparently they don’t love it enough to make them O.K. with goofy glasses.

According to The Information, Snap badly overestimated demand for Spectacles, the camera-enabled glasses it released last year. I loved these glasses! I thought they were one of the most innovative gadgets I’ve used in a while.

Apparently kids don’t think like dads. Snap sold only 150,000 pairs of specs, and the company has hundreds of thousands of unsold units in its warehouse. And even those it did sell weren’t used very much; according to Business Insider, most of the people who bought Specs stopped using them after a few weeks.

Mike, are you still wearing your specs?

Mike: Sadly, no. But not really for any philosophical or fashion reasons. Basically, it’s because they’re not prescription and I don’t want to start running into walls without my regular glasses on.

Does the company insurance plan cover Snap prescriptions?

Farhad: Um, somehow I doubt that. O.K., see you next week!

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