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Inflatable Angry Emoji Looms Over Facebook’s Annual Shareholder Meeting

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Protesters carrying an inflatable angry emoji greeted Facebook shareholders as they gathered for the company’s annual meeting on Thursday, the latest sign of its struggle to shake off privacy scandals and rein in fake news and hate speech.

The social media giant again faced demands for reform at Thursday’s meeting, including shareholder proposals that called for revamping the company’s voting structure and ousting Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg as chairman.

The measures had little chance of succeeding, as a dual-class share structure gives Zuckerberg and other insiders control of about 58% of the votes. Many investors have shrugged off the scandals swirling around the company, as it has beaten Wall Street’s estimates for revenue growth and continues to add users globally.

Zuckerberg declined to answer a shareholder question on why he would not agree to create an independent board chair, instead restating his view that regulators should set the rules for companies around privacy and content.

But even though the votes are largely symbolic, they are still seen as a useful barometer of investor sentiment about how well the social media icon is coping with unprecedented challenges to its hands-off approach to content.

Last year, about 83% of shares held by outside investors voted for a proposal that would have the company move to a structure of one vote per share and do away with the supermajority shares.

A coalition of activist groups have urged big investors to reject Zuckerberg’s nomination to the board this year, saying Facebook has failed to protect users, especially racial and religious minorities.

Outside the hotel, a small group of protesters filmed themselves hoisting the 8-foot (2.5-meter) red emoji balloon, saying the company failed to protect its users, particularly minorities, from hate speech and other abuses.

“Zuckerberg has said that he wants to protect people from white supremacy but there’s still a ton of white supremacists organising on Facebook,” said Leila Deen, program director for SumOfUs, the group in the coalition responsible for the balloon.

Nearby, an opposing protester in a red hat stamped with “Make America Great Again,” a slogan of US President Donald Trump, used a loudspeaker to accuse Facebook of censoring conservatives.

The coalition, led by consumer group Majority Action and civil rights advocate Color of Change, said they had gathered 125,000 signatures on a petition targeting BlackRock, one of Facebook’s biggest outside investors.

BlackRock’s funds backed all of Facebook’s director nominees last year, but also voted for two shareholder proposals that would have reorganized Facebook’s governance structure.

It declined to comment on the petition, with a spokesman saying it did not preview votes or comment on specific companies.

Other shareholders in the meeting said the company created a “hostile work environment” for people with conservative views and pressed for a diversity report reflecting its public policy positions.

Under scrutiny
Facebook has been under scrutiny from regulators and shareholders since last year, when reporting revealed that the data of some 87 million users had been shared with now-defunct political data firm Cambridge Analytica.

The company has also come under fire over Russian meddling in the 2016 US presidential election, which used social media to spread disinformation, and its frequently shifting policies around which content is permitted on its platform.

US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi criticised the company on Wednesday, saying she was no longer willing to give Facebook the benefit of the doubt on Russia after it refused to remove a heavily edited video that attempted to make her look incoherent.

“I thought it was unwittingly, but clearly they wittingly were accomplices and enablers of false information to go across Facebook,” she said.

The comments raise the spectre of harsher action in Congress against Facebook. Pelosi has previously warned that Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which shields tech companies from legal liability for content created by their users, was a “gift” that had been abused and could be reconsidered.

Investors do not seem worried.

The company’s stock jumped 10 percent after its last earnings report, even as it announced it was setting aside up to $5 billion for what could be the largest civil penalty ever paid to the Federal Trade Commission, which has been investigating Facebook over alleged privacy violations.

One of Facebook’s largest fund investors, William Danoff of the $123 billion Fidelity Contrafund, did not mention any of Facebook’s privacy issues in his most in his most recent quarterly commentary to investors.

He wrote only that, as his portfolio’s second-largest holding, Facebook “appeals to us based on growth in its various apps and revenue from advertisers that want to reach the firm’s enormous base of daily active users.”

Danoff has been a long-time backer of Facebook and previously indicated he was satisfied with the company’s reform efforts to date.

Among other top Facebook investors, last year Vanguard Group Inc withheld support from Zuckerberg and Sandberg, and backed a measure to reform Facebook’s voting structure.

© Thomson Reuters 2019

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Pinterest tests online events with dedicated ‘class communities’ – TechCrunch

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Pinterest is getting into online events. The company has been spotted testing a new feature that allows users to sign up for Zoom classes through Pinterest, while creators use Pinterest’s class boards to organize class materials, notes and other resources, or even connect with attendees through a group chat option. The company confirmed the test of online classes is an experiment now in development, but wouldn’t offer further details about its plans.

The feature itself was discovered on Tuesday by reverse engineer Jane Manchun Wong, who found details about the online classes by looking into the app’s code.

Currently, you can visit some of these “demo” profiles directly — like “@pinsmeditation” or “@pinzoom123,” for example — and view their listed Class Communities. However, these communities are empty when you click through. That’s because the feature is still unreleased, Wong says.

When and if the feature is later launched to the public, the communities would include dedicated sections where creators will be able to organize their class materials — like lists of what to bring to class, notes, photos and more. They could also use these communities to offer a class overview and description, connect users to a related shop, group chat feature and more.

Creators are also able to use the communities — which are basically enhanced Pinterest boards — to respond to questions from attendees, share photos from the class and otherwise interact with the participants.

When a user wants to join a class, they can click a “book” button to sign up, and are then emailed a confirmation with the meeting details. Other buttons direct attendees to download Zoom or copy the link to join the class.

It’s not surprising that Pinterest would expand into the online events space, given its platform has become a popular tool for organizing remote learning resources during the coronavirus pandemic. Teachers have turned to Pinterest to keep track of lesson plans, get inspiration, share educational activities and more. In the early days of the pandemic, Pinterest reported record usage when the company saw more searches and saves globally in a single March weekend than ever before in its history, as a result of its usefulness as a online organizational tool.

This growth has continued throughout the year. In October, Pinterest’s stock jumped on strong earnings after the company beat on revenue and user growth metrics. The company brought in $443 million in revenue, versus $383.5 million expected, and grew its monthly active users to 442 million, versus the 436.4 million expected. Outside of the coronavirus impacts, much of this growth was due to strong international adoption, increased ad spend from advertisers boycotting Facebook and a surge of interest from users looking for iOS 14 home screen personalization ideas.

Given that the U.S. has failed to get the COVID-19 pandemic under control, many classes, events and other activities will remain virtual even as we head into 2021. The online events market may continue to grow in the years that follow, too, thanks to the kickstart the pandemic provided the industry as a whole.

“We are experimenting with ways to help creators interact more closely with their audience,” a Pinterest spokesperson said, when asked for more information.

Pinterest wouldn’t confirm additional details about its plans for online events, but did say the feature was in development and the test would help to inform the product’s direction.

Pinterest often tries out new features before launching them to a wider audience. Earlier this summer, TechCrunch reported on a Story Pins feature the company had in the works. Pinterest then launched the feature in September. If the same time frame holds up for online events, we could potentially see the feature become more widely available sometime early next year.

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Twitter will bring back verification – TechCrunch

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Twitter prepares to hand out more blue checkmarks, YouTube suspends OANN and Discord is raising a big funding round. This is your Daily Crunch for November 24, 2020.

The big story: Twitter will bring back verification

Twitter paused its blue checkmark verification system in 2017 as it faced controversy over who gets verified — specifically over the decision to verify the organizer of the infamous and deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville.

Since then, Twitter has done occasional verifications for medical experts tweeting about COVID-19 and candidates running for public office, but it hasn’t brought back the program in a systematic way.

Now Twitter says it will relaunch verification in 2021, and that it’s currently soliciting feedback on the policy. Initially, verification will focus on six types of accounts: government officials, companies/brands/nonprofits, news, entertainment, sports and activists/organizers/other influential individuals.

The tech giants

YouTube suspends and demonetizes One America News Network over COVID-19 video — YouTube said, “After careful review, we removed a video from OANN and issued a strike on the channel for violating our COVID-19 misinformation policy.”

Instagram businesses and creators may be getting a Messenger-like ‘FAQ’ feature — This new feature will allow people to start conversations with businesses or creators’ accounts by tapping on a commonly asked question within a chat.

Fortnite adds a $12 monthly subscription bundle — The $11.99 monthly Fortnite Crew fee entitles players to a full season battle pass, 1,000 monthly bucks and a Crew Pack featuring an exclusive outfit bundle.

Startups, funding and venture capital

Discord is close to closing a round that would value the company at up to $7B — The new funding comes just months after a $100 million investment that gave the company a $3.5 billion valuation.

Dija, a new delivery startup from former Deliveroo employees, is closing in on a $20M round led by Blossom — Few details are public about Dija, except that it will offer convenience and fresh food delivery using a “dark” convenience store mode.

Marie Ekeland launches 2050, a new fund with radically ambitious, long-term goals —  Ekeland used to be an investor at French VC firm Elaia, where she backed adtech firm Criteo.

Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch

As edtech grows cash rich, some lessons for early stage — The valuation bumps for both Duolingo and Udemy underscore just how much investor confidence there is in edtech’s remote learning boom.

Working to understand C3.ai’s growth story — As its IPO looms, how quickly did C3.ai grow in its October quarter?

Decrypted: Apple and Facebook’s privacy feud, Twitter hires Mudge, mysterious zero-days — Zack Whittaker’s latest roundup of cybersecurity-related news.

(Extra Crunch is our membership program, which aims to democratize information about startups. And until November 30, you can get 25% off an annual membership.)

Everything else

Biden-Harris team finally get their transition .gov domain — This comes after the General Services Administration gave the green light for the Biden-Harris team to transition from political campaign to government administration.

India bans 43 more Chinese apps over cybersecurity concerns — India is not done banning Chinese apps.

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 3pm Pacific, you can subscribe here.

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Twitter to relaunch account verifications in early 2021, asks for feedback on policy – TechCrunch

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Twitter announced today it’s planning to relaunch its verification system in 2021, and will now begin the process of soliciting public feedback on the new policy ahead of its implementation. Under the policy, Twitter will initially verify six types of accounts, including those belonging to government officials; companies, brands and nonprofit organizations; news; entertainment; sports; and activists, organizers and other influential individuals. The number of categories could expand in time.

Twitter’s verification system, which provides a blue checkmark to designate accounts belonging to public figures, was paused in 2017 as the company tried to address confusion over what it meant to be verified.

The issue at the time was that Twitter had verified the account belonging to Jason Keller, the person who organized the deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. In response to the wave of criticism directed at Twitter as a result of this action, the company defended its decision by pointing to its policies around account verification, which explained its blue badges were awarded to accounts of “public interest.”

Critics argued that genuinely noteworthy figures were still struggling to get their own accounts verified, and that verifying a known white supremacist was not something that should ever be in the “public interest.” As a result, Twitter in November 2017 decided to pause all account verifications.

The following year, the company announced work on the verification system would be placed on a longer, more indefinite hold, so Twitter could direct its resources to focus on election integrity. That proved to be a significant undertaking, as it turned out.

Though the company this year verified medical experts tweeting about COVID-19 and labeled candidates running for public office, these efforts were managed in more of a one-off fashion.

Now, with the 2020 U.S. presidential election having wrapped, and with a transition underway, Twitter says work on its new verification system will finally resume.

The company today shared a draft of its new verification policy in order to gain public feedback. The policy details more specifically which accounts can be verified and introduces additional guidelines that could limit some accounts from receiving the blue badge.

For example, Twitter says the account must be “notable and active,” and the badge won’t be awarded to any accounts with incomplete profiles. Twitter will also deny or remove verification badges from otherwise qualified individuals if their accounts are found to be in repeated violation of the Twitter Rules.

The company additionally admitted it had verified accounts over the years which should not be, as based on these guidelines. To correct this, Twitter will begin to automatically remove badges from accounts that are inactive or have incomplete profiles, to help it streamline its work going forward.

The policy also lays out specifics about how it will determine whether an account in a supported category will qualify.

For example, news organizations will have to adhere to professional standards for journalism, and independent or freelance journalists will need to provide at least three bylines in qualifying organizations published in the last six months. Entertainers will need to be able to point to credits on their IMDb page or to references in verified news publications. Government officials will need to show a public reference on an official government website, party website or multiple references by news media. Sports figures will have to appear on team websites, rosters or in sports data services like Sportradar. There are a few other ways to be verified in these categories, too.

The guidelines for public figures are more detailed, as they must meet two different criteria for “notability” — one that quantifies their Twitter activity and another that highlights their off-Twitter notability, like a Wikipedia page, Google Trends profile, profile on an official advocacy site and more.

“We know we can’t solve verification with a new policy alone — and that this initial policy won’t cover every case for being verified — but it is a critical first step in helping us provide more transparency and fairer standards for verification on Twitter as we reprioritize this work,” a company announcement stated. “This version of the policy is a starting point, and we intend to expand the categories and criteria for verification significantly over the next year,” it noted.

Twitter users will be able to offer feedback on the new verification policy starting today, November 24, 2020, and continuing through December 8, 2020. The policy is being made available in English, Hindi, Arabic, Spanish, Portuguese and Japanese. Users can either respond to the survey Twitter has posted or they can choose to tweet their feedback publicly, using the hashtag #VerificationFeedback.

In addition, Twitter says it’s working with local non-governmental organizations and its Trust and Safety Council to gain a range of other perspectives.

After December 8, 2020, Twitter will train its team on the new policy and introduce the final version by Decemeber 17, 2020. The verification system itself, which will include a new public application process, will begin in early 2021.

Though Twitter is giving itself time to make policy changes based on public feedback, it had already begun to develop the underlying technology for the verification application process.

Twitter confirmed to TechCrunch this June it was in the process of building a new in-app system for requesting verification. The feature had been found buried in the app’s code by reverse engineer Jane Manchun Wong, who tweeted a screenshot of a new option, “Request Verification,” that appeared under Twitter’s account settings. At the time, Twitter wouldn’t confirm when the new system would go live.

Though not everyone will qualify for verification, Twitter says it’s working on other features that will help to better distinguish accounts on its platform. Also in 2021, the company will introduce new account types and labels that will help Twitter users identify themselves on their profiles. More details on these features will be announced in the weeks to come, Twitter says.

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