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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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TikTok’s new Q&A feature lets creators respond to fan questions using text or video – TechCrunch

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TikTok is testing a new video Q&A feature that allows creators to more directly respond to their audience’s questions with either text or video answers, the company confirmed to TechCrunch. The feature works across both video and livestreams (TikTok LIVE), but is currently only available to select creators who have opted into the test, we understand.

Q&A’s have become a top way creators engage fans on social media, and have proven to be particularly popular in places like Instagram Stories and in other social apps like Snapchat-integrated YOLO, or even in smaller startups.

On TikTok, however, Q&A’s are now a big part of the commenting experience, as many creators respond to individual comments by publishing a new video that explains their answer in more detail than a short, text comment could. Sometimes these answers are meant to clarify or add context, while other times creators will take on their bullies and trolls with their video responses. As a result, the TikTok comment section has grown to play a larger role in shaping TikTok trends and culture.

Q&A’s are also a key means for creators to engage with fans when live streaming. But it can be difficult for creators to keep up with a flood of questions and comments through the current live chat interface.

Seeing how creators were already using Q&A’s with their fans is how the idea for the new feature came about. Much like the existing “reply to comments with video” feature, the Q&A option lets creators directly respond to their audience questions. Where available, users will be able to designate their comments as questions by tapping the Q&A button in a video’s comment field, or they can submit questions directly through the Q&A link on the creator’s profile page.

For creators, the feature simplifies the process of responding to questions, as it lets them view all their fans’ questions in one place.

There’s no limit to the number of questions that a creator can receive, though they don’t have to reply to each one.

The feature was first spotted by social media consultant Matt Navarra, who posted screenshots of what the feature looks like in action, including how it appears on users’ profiles.

During the test, the new Q&A feature is only being made available to creators with public Creator Accounts that have over 10,000 followers and who have opted into the feature within their Settings, TikTok confirmed to TechCrunch. Participants in the test today include some safelisted creators from TikTok’s Creative Learning Fund program, announced last year, among others.

TikTok says the Q&A feature is currently in testing globally, and it aims to roll out it to more users with Creator Accounts in the weeks ahead.

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Facebook and Instagram’s AI-generated image captions now offer far more details – TechCrunch

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Every picture posted to Facebook and Instagram gets a caption generated by an image analysis AI, and that AI just got a lot smarter. The improved system should be a treat for visually impaired users, and may help you find your photos faster in the future.

Alt text is a field in an image’s metadata that describes its contents: “A person standing in a field with a horse,” or “a dog on a boat.” This lets the image be understood by people who can’t see it.

These descriptions are often added manually by a photographer or publication, but people uploading photos to social media generally don’t bother, if they even have the option. So the relatively recent ability to automatically generate one — the technology has only just gotten good enough in the last couple years — has been extremely helpful in making social media more accessible in general.

Facebook created its Automatic Alt Text system in 2016, which is eons ago in the field of machine learning. The team has since cooked up many improvements to it, making it faster and more detailed, and the latest update adds an option to generate a more detailed description on demand.

The improved system recognizes 10 times more items and concepts than it did at the start, now around 1,200. And the descriptions include more detail. What was once “Two people by a building” may now be “A selfie of two people by the Eiffel Tower.” (The actual descriptions hedge with “may be…” and will avoid including wild guesses.)

But there’s more detail than that, even if it’s not always relevant. For instance, in this image the AI notes the relative positions of the people and objects:

Image Credits: Facebook

Obviously the people are above the drums, and the hats are above the people, none of which really needs to be said for someone to get the gist. But consider an image described as “A house and some trees and a mountain.” Is the house on the mountain or in front of it? Are the trees in front of or behind the house, or maybe on the mountain in the distance?

In order to adequately describe the image, these details should be filled in, even if the general idea can be gotten across with fewer words. If a sighted person wants more detail they can look closer or click the image for a bigger version — someone who can’t do that now has a similar option with this “generate detailed image description” command. (Activate it with a long press in the Android app or a custom action in iOS.)

Perhaps the new description would be something like “A house and some trees in front of a mountain with snow on it.” That paints a better picture, right? (To be clear, these examples are made up, but it’s the sort of improvement that’s expected.)

The new detailed description feature will come to Facebook first for testing, though the improved vocabulary will appear on Instagram soon. The descriptions are also kept simple so they can be easily translated to other languages already supported by the apps, though the feature may not roll out in other countries simultaneously.

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India asks WhatsApp to withdraw new privacy policy, expresses ‘grave concerns’ – TechCrunch

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India has asked WhatsApp to withdraw the planned change to its privacy policy, posing a new headache to Facebook-owned service that identifies the South Asian nation as its biggest market by users.

In an email to WhatsApp head Will Cathcart, the nation’s IT ministry said WhatsApp’s planned update to its data-sharing policy raised “grave concerns regarding the implications for the choice and autonomy of Indian citizens… Therefore, you are called upon to withdraw the proposed changes.”

The ministry also sought clarification from WhatsApp on its data-sharing agreement with Facebook and other commercial firms and has asked why users in the EU are exempt from the new privacy policy but their counterpoint in India have no choice but to comply.

“Such a differential treatment is prejudicial to the interests of Indian users and is viewed with serious concern by the government,” the ministry wrote in the email, a copy of which was obtained by TechCrunch. “The government of India owes a sovereign responsibility to its citizens to ensure that their interests are not compromised and therefore it calls upon WhatsApp to respond to concerns raised in this letter.”

Through an in-app alert earlier this month, WhatsApp had asked users to agree to new terms of conditions that granted the app the consent to share with Facebook some personal data about them, such as their phone number and location. Users were initially provided until February 8 to comply with the new policy if they wished to continue using the service.

“This ‘all-or-nothing’ approach takes away any meaninful choice from Indian users. This approach leverages the social significance of WhatsApp to force users into a bargain, which may infringe on their interests in relation to informational privacy and information security,” the ministry said in the email.

The notification from WhatsApp prompted a lot of confusion — and in some cases, anger and frustration — among its users, many of which have explored alternative messaging apps such as Telegram and Signal in recent weeks. WhatsApp, which Facebook bought for $19 billion in 2014, has been sharing some limited information about its users with the social giant since 2016 — and for a period allowed users to opt-out of this. Last week the Facebook-owned app, which serves more than 2 billion users worldwide, said it was deferring the enforcement of the planned policy to May 15.

An advertisement from WhatsApp is seen in a newspaper at a stall in New Delhi on January 13, 2021. (Photo by Sajjad HUSSAIN / AFP) (Photo by SAJJAD HUSSAIN/AFP via Getty Images)

WhatsApp also ran front-page ads on several newspapers in India, where it has amassed over 450 million users, last week to explain the changes and debunk some rumors.

New Delhi also said that it was reviewing the Personal Data Protection Bill, a monumental privacy bill that is meant to oversee how data of users are shared with the world. “Since the Parliament is seized of the issue, making such a momentous change for Indian users at this time puts the cart before the horse. Since the Personal Data Protection Bill strongly follows the principle of ‘purpose limitation,’ these changes may lead to significant implementational challenges for WhatsApp should the Bill become an Act,” the letter said.

On Tuesday, India’s IT and Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said, “Be it WhatsApp, be it Facebook, be it any digital platform. You are free to do business in India but do it in a manner without impinging upon the rights of Indians who operate there.”

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