November 29, 2021

Decoder Newsletter: Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey steps down

Margaret Sessa-Hawkins

The big news this morning is Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey’s resignation. On top of that, there has been some very public infighting in QAnon — and a concerning “cult-like” QAnon faction gathered in Dallas. We’re also examining what’s going on with disinformation and climate change, as well as the latest disinformation research. The Decoder is a weekly roundup of news about digital deception. Know someone who might be interested? Ask them to sign up!

  • Dorsey stepping down: Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey has resigned from the company. The board of directors unanimously appointed Parag Agrawal to be the new CEO, effective immediately. In his resignation e-mail, Dorsey expressed his faith in the new leadership, and said that he does not think companies should be “founder-led.”
  • QAnon Infighting: Well, if you wanted your week to start with some QAnon infighting, you got it! The fighting began when Kyle Rittenhouse (a teen recently acquitted of murdering two people at a racial justice protest) said in interviews that conspiracy theory acolyte attorney Lin Wood (who briefly represented Rittenhouse) was “insane”. Wood has since gone on a scorched earth campaign, releasing audio in which someone he claims is Michael Flynn describes QAnon as “a disinformation campaign that the CIA created.” Wood also posted that the StopTheSteal conspiracy theory is actually a product of the Deep State (the Deep State is also a conspiracy theory). For those looking for a deeper dive, Jared Holt of the Atlantic Council has a good analysis of why QAnon infights break out, and what they mean for the conspiracy theory’s reach.
  • QAnon Rally: In other QAnon news, a faction of the conspiracy theory camped out in Dallas awaiting the arrival of (the dead) John F. Kennedy has been causing extremism researchers renewed concern. In Vice, David Gilbert has a piece on examining the escalating extremist rhetoric of the group. In the piece, Gilbert notes that several extremism researchers following the group’s Telegram channel have sent information to the FBI, which told Vice it “cannot open an investigation based solely on protected First Amendment activity.” Gilbert also has a background piece on the faction and its leader.
  • Climate Change Disinformation: For Nieman Lab, Jill Hopke reports on the changing face of climate disinformation on Twitter, looking at how the narrative is becoming more subtle, with companies engaging in what researchers have called “fossil fuel solutionism.” For the BBC, Marco Silva reports on the climate conspiracy theories that are appearing on foreign-language Wikipedia pages.
  • Testimonies: The New York Times reports that Adam Mosseri, head of Instagram, has agreed to testify before Congress on mental health issues facing teens who use the platform. Senator Richard Blumenthal, who will lead the hearing, has said he will be asking Mr. Mosseri about Instagram’s algorithms sending children “into dangerous rabbit holes.” Timnit Gebru, who was fired from Google’s ethical AI team will also be testifying before the European Parliament tomorrow, to discuss how bias impacts AI development.
  • Privacy I: There have been several interesting developments on the tech/privacy front recently. First, Apple announced that it will be suing the Israeli NSO Group for the alleged state-sponsored targeting of iPhone users with its Pegasus hacking software. NSO Group says it only provides its software to countries with good human-rights records, but that has been disputed. In Protocol’s Sourcecode, David Pierce explains why this is a Rorsarch test for privacy: Is it more important to keep users and their data private, or to give governments and law enforcement tools to stop bad guys in an increasingly digital, increasingly encrypted world?
  • Privacy II: Italy’s Competition and Market Authority will be fining Apple and Google €10 million each for not providing users with clear enough information on how their data would be used commercially (the Italian press release for those who want to read it is here). Both companies have said they will appeal the decision. Meanwhile, for Protocol, Issie Lapowsky looks at how Apple and Facebook’s privacy wars are affecting voter turnout efforts.
  • Social Media moderation?: As Politico’s Morning Tech reports, tech industry groups NetChoice and the Computer and Communications Industry Association will be arguing before a judge today that Texas’ social media law — which prohibits platforms from moderating content based on viewpoint — is unconstitutional. As the law is being debated, the idea of “friction” as a form of content moderation is also being resurfaced. In May, Jordan Wildon wrote a piece for Logically.ai examining why friction might be a good alternative to the leave up/take down model of content moderation. In the Financial Times, Madhumita Murgia examines ways social media could be made less viral.
  • Research: For Nieman Lab, Shraddha Chakradhar reports on a new study that finds addressing health misinformation and debunking it is more effective than ignoring it. For Tech Policy Press, Justin Hendrix examines research showing that suspension warnings can reduce hate speech on Twitter.

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