Spotify’s voice platform problems

In addition to the struggle of finding a path to profitability, Spotify, the pioneer of music streaming (and a company which I have been following since its closed beta launch in Sweden in 2007), has two new problems, one right now and the other in the mid to long term.

The near-term problem is Apple’s smart speaker HomePod which will go on sale in the US, UK and Australia this Friday, with additional markets to follow in the upcoming months.

HomePod will only play well with Apple’s own music streaming service, Apple Music. Other streaming apps can be used via AirPlay, but HomePod owners won’t be able to control playback through their voice.

In the US, Apple Music is already said to be gaining subscribers at a higher rate than Spotify. For every new owner of an HomePod, Spotify will be a worse choice than Apple Music. Existing Spotify subscribers in the US who decide to purchase an HomePod will have a big incentive to switch, and Apple makes it easy by offering a free trial for Apple Music. Continue Reading

Humans have handed over their minds to the AI

Who decides which information and knowledge people have access to?
Increasingly, algorithms.

  • People get information and news from feeds, search engines and recommendation systems which heavily rely on algorithmic personalization.
  • Publishers and media companies produce content based on expected and past performance within the algorithmic distribution system.
  • Journalists, opinion leaders and book authors produce and share information that has been gathered under the influence of algorithms.
  • All this happens within an environment of self-reinforcing feedback loops that particularly rewards sensationalism, outrage, hatred and other negative emotions. And many people are unable to stop exposing themselves to these negative emotions on a near-constant basis, as they cleverly trigger the brain’s primal, primitive urges.

Continue Reading

Weekly Links & Thoughts #156

Here is this week’s issue of meshedsociety.com weekly, loaded with interesting analyses and essays, significant yet under-reported information bits as well as thoughtful opinion pieces from the digital and technology world. Published every Wednesday/Thursday (CET), just in time so you have something good to read over the weekend.

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Reading time indicator: 1 = up to 3 minutes, 2 = 4 to 9 minutes, 3 = 10 to 29 minutes , 3+ = 30 minutes or more
Note: Some of the publications may use “soft” paywalls. If you are denied access, open the URL in your browser’s incognito/private mode.

  • What I learned from three months of Content Moderation for Facebook in Berlin (sz-magazin.sueddeutsche.de, 3)
    An open letter by a former content moderator for Facebook. Is there a worse job than having to deal with a constant stream of pictures and videos showing the cruelest and most despicable sides of human nature? Are business models that require human tasks which no one voluntary would want to do if better job options existed, in any way morally defensible? These were the thoughts that occupied my mind after reading.
  • Growing apart and losing touch is human and healthy (m.signalvnoise.com, 1)
    A truly interesting perspective: Growing apart from people is a normal and healthy process in order to grow and prosper, according to David Heinemeier Hansson. Facebook is built on the exact opposite principle: stay connected with everyone you’ve ever friended forever.
  • Open Letter to the Airbnb Community About Building a 21st Century Company (press.atairbnb.com, 2)
    This open letter by Airbnb founder Brian Chesky is worth a read. Some goods things in here, but also the stated goal of wanting to turn “every city into a village”. If that means that everybody knows each other and has their hands in everybody else’s business, then no thank you.
  • Engineered for Dystopia (thebaffler.com, 3)
    Do engineers have a natural tendency to favor and participate in the creation of dystopias and authoritarian systems? I don’t necessarily agree with everything in here, but it’s certainly food for thought.
  • Will Everything Stay in New Orleans If Cameras Capture It All? (nytimes.com, 2)
    Speaking about dystopia: This article discusses whether large-scale video surveillance will lead to inhibitions among people seeking to partake in New Orleans’ famous vibrant and expressive public life. In general terms, this is a question which is relevant for all modern societies that are subject to mass surveillance, regardless of whether we are talking about government-run surveillance or “little brother” surveillance (people recording and sharing everything that happens around them).
  • Why publishers should consider the “Smart Curation” market (mondaynote.com, 2)
    Curation is still underestimated by many journalists and media companies. Hopefully this will eventually change.
  • Why there is so much bullshit: an analysis (withoutbullshit.com, 2)
    An apt comparison of who created the things we were reading in 1980 with the situation today.
  • Plateau Kindle Before Peak Kindle (500ish.com, 2)
    M.G. Siegler on the Kindle’s plateau, why this is not a bad thing, and what the holy grail-like next step should be.
  • With teen mental health deteriorating over five years, there’s a likely culprit (theconversation.com, 2)
    The smartphone and social media-fueled obsession with perfection.
  • A therapy chatbot and app for depression and anxiety (businessinsider.com, 2)
    But of course, it is not the smartphone per say that leads to worsening of mental health among teens, but how the device is being used. The solution to the dilemma might as well be Smartphone-based. And apart from learning to use smartphones moderately (airplane mode helps!), something like Woebot could be part of a solution: a new chatbot app for iOS that promises to provide a basic form of cognitive-behavioral therapy.
  • Online Communities Are the Best Thing About the Internet (biznology.com, 2)
    And of course, there is the other side of the coin: the awesomeness of some online communities.
  • Why Trump Tweets (And Why We Listen) (politico.com, 3)
    Brilliant analysis of the unfortunate symbiosis of Donald Trump and Twitter. These two really go hand in hand.
  • Up close with Apple’s HomePod (techcrunch.com, 2)
    It’s hard to predict whether the HomePod will sell well or not. Which also makes it exciting.
  • Want to code? You better start teaching yourself (technologyreview.com, 1)
    About 74 percent of software developers are at least partially self-taught, says a survey of 39,000 developers.
  • Giving Ourselves Permission Not To Crush It All The Time In Tech (sarahbrownmarketing.com, 2)
    A reflective post on the challenge of dealing with the pressure to “crush it” all the time because of the illusion that everyone else is crushing it all the time as well. From the text: “But I frequently don’t know others’ private struggles, pains, illnesses, and challenges. And they don’t know of mine unless I share.”
  • The Mind Meld of Bill Gates and Steven Pinker (nytimes.com, 3)
    A chat over lunch with Bill Gates and the cognitive psychologist and book author Steven Pinker (most known for “The Better Angels of Our Nature”) about the state of the world.

Recently on meshedsociety.com:

Quotation of the week:

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Great times ahead for everyone in the business of audio content

Here is a German version of this post.

The rise of smart speakers and wireless headphones leads to a likely increase of time available for audio consumption. Who benefits from this? Among others of course those offering music streaming, podcasts and audiobooks.

Especially for podcasts, the potential is huge. Last year, 24 percent of Americans age 12 or older have listened to at least one podcast every month. In Germany in 2015, 1.3 million people out of about 80 million (total population) consumed podcasts every day. The room for growth is obvious.

And the conditions could not be better. Apple just released an analytics service for its podcast platform, which still is said to be the market leader (but its dominance is shrinking). Finally, podcast creators can get data on listening behavior on a per-episode basis. And while some feared that this would lead to very uncomfortable insights, such as large numbers abandoning podcast episodes prematurely, the concerns appear to have been unfounded. As Wired just titled after talking to a bunch of podcasts producers about their numbers: “Podcast listeners really are the holy grail advertisers hoped they’d be”.

Beyond a predictable growth of the podcast sector, another trend of 2018 is poised to be a blurring of the lines between the different types of audio formats. The Amazon-owned audiobook platform Audible is expanding its podcast portfolio. In Germany, it even plans to launch journalistic live shows, which would basically pit it against radio. Meanwhile, music streaming giant Spotify is also doubling down on podcasts.

Distinguishing between music streaming, podcasts, audiobooks and traditional radio might soon become much harder. That’s a natural process. For listeners, the labels don’t matter. What matters is to have access to the right type of audio content at a given moment. Whether they want their favourite songs, background noise, world news, a thought-provoking talk about philosophy, something to laugh, tunes to fall asleep to or the audio version of a bestselling book, depends a lot on their context, environment and what they are doing while listening. If a player in the market manages to offer every type of audio content with good usability and a competitive price under one roof, it’ll likely be a big hit.

Although it cannot be ruled out that audiobooks, due to the particular economics, will remain separate from other audio content. Google just started selling audiobooks on its Play Store.

The upcoming audio boom leads to interesting questions, such as what role traditional radio will play. So far it has fared quite well against digital competitors. But will millions of AirPod users end up walking around listening to their local radio station all day? That’s not impossible but rather unlikely.

Also: Will audio content be complementary or substituting to display-based digital media? Considering the current backlash against social media and the consequential emergence of movements such as “Time well spent”, replacing  display-time with audio content might be an effective way to break with a bad habit (such as mindlessly scrolling through social media feeds) by creating a better one.

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Weekly Links & Thoughts #155

Here is this week’s issue of meshedsociety.com weekly, loaded with interesting analyses and essays, significant yet under-reported information bits as well as thoughtful opinion pieces from the digital and technology world. Published every Wednesday/Thursday (CET), just in time so you have something good to read over the weekend.f

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Reading time indicator: 1 = up to 3 minutes, 2 = 4 to 9 minutes, 3 = 10 to 29 minutes , 3+ = 30 minutes or more
Note: Some of the publications may use “soft” paywalls. If you are denied access, open the URL in your browser’s incognito/private mode.

  • Is Social Media Good or Bad for Democracy? (newsroom.fb.com, 2)
    Facebook is currently building a case against itself with blog posts investigating how social media might be bad for people and democracy. It’s probably unprecedented for a company to do such a thing. But of course Facebook is also an unprecedented type of company, and its leadership knows that people probably won’t just quit using Facebook in large numbers (and even if so, there’s Instagram and WhatsApp). We’ll see about where all this leads. In any case, this post by Harvard professor Cass R. Sunstein on the phenomenon of group polarization is well worth a read. I see this dynamic play out on both sides of the political spectrum: Positions become increasingly extreme and dogmatic. The theory of group polarization offers a possible explanation for why this happens.
  • “Mobs” vs “Crowds” (jjbeshara.com, 2)
    On the difference between mobs and crowds, and why everyone is constantly exposed to attempts for mob-recruitment, where power is given to volume, and wisdom gets run over.
  • The Dangers of Elite Projection (humantransit.org, 1)
    This is a widespread phenomenon among tech pundits: “Elite projection is the belief, among relatively fortunate and influential people, that what those people find convenient or attractive is good for the society as a whole.”
  • Are Driverless Cars the Future of Transport or the Last Gasp of the Automobile? (medium.com, 2)
    Some call the common assumption that self-driving cars will fundamentally transform urban transport an “elite projection”.
  • The end of the conference era (marco.org, 1)
    YouTube has possibly killed the conference era.
  • Smart Speakers and Clocks (naofumi.castle104.com, 1)
    Why do people put clocks into the rooms of their apartments and houses? Could smart speaker adoption be driven by the same underlying desire to easily be able to retrieve critical information? Intriguing line of thought.
  • Amazon Go Has the Potential to Change How Customers Think About Automation (adweek.com, 1)
    Amazon’s newly opened cashier-less store in Seattle “has the potential to change shopper expectations on how fast a transaction can go”. Also, read Ben Thompson’s analysis of Amazon’s strategy with this store concept.
  • The radical re-writing of European tech ecosystems (medium.com, 2)
    Within a comparatively short amount of time, Paris has positioned itself as one of Europe’s most promising tech hubs. Mattias Ljungman of European VC firm Atomico uses this example to explain the important role of vibrant tech ecosystems for any economy that wants to be a global leader – and for Europe as a whole.
  • Geoblocked Europe fails to clear hurdle on video streaming legislation (tech.eu, 2)
    Then again, it’s depressing how challenging it is to “defragment” Europe’s digital industry.
  • Forging a Swiss Lens: How Zurich’s tech scene changed my view of Silicon Valley (nextrends.swissnexsanfrancisco.org, 2)
    Comparing the living and work conditions in Switzerland and California (or the U.S. in general) is probably unfair. But that alone says something.
  • Tinder’s Lack of Encryption Lets Strangers Spy on Your Swipes (wired.com, 2)
    It is actually quite embarrassing that Tinder still isn’t fully encrypted. On a more general note, this is really a problem with native apps compared to web apps. With web apps in general, you see whether you are on a secure connection, indicated in the URL bar. When it comes to native apps, there is no obvious way (that I know of) to check if they transfer data through a secure connection (at least for a security layman like me). And yeah, I know that this blog is not using https either. But at least you don’t do dating here :)
  • Here are some obvious questions about the HomePod (theverge.com, 2)
    Considering that Siri is being offered in dozens of languages, I was expecting Apple to immediately launch its smart speaker HomePod also in markets where neither the Amazon Echo nor Google Home are being sold with local interfaces (like, for example, in the Nordics). But so that won’t happen. Could be a supply-related issue. Or that Apple does not consider the higher priced, music focused HomePod as a competitor to Amazon’s and Google’s smart speakers, and therefore doesn’t feel the need to quickly capture markets so far neglected by those two companies. Or, another possible reason: Apple focuses on markets where its music streaming service Apple Music has a sufficiently large user base already, because HomePod will only support Apple Music natively. The Nordics are a Spotify stronghold, for example. Personally, I would like to buy a HomePod – but only once it works with Spotify. If that should ever happen.
  • In the age of algorithms, would you hire a personal shopper to do your music discovery for you? (theverge.com, 2)
    Paid personal curators. I can see that happening more often.
  • “Tweetdecking” Is Taking Over Twitter. Here’s Everything You Need To Know (buzzfeed.com, 2)
    One more addition to the list of “jobs” of the future that are already here: Selling retweets on Twitter.
  • The Rise of the Autonomous Organization (stories.lemonade.com, 2)
    Soon we all might have a lot of “colleagues” who are bots.
  • The Rise of German Board Games (theatlantic.com, 2)
    Awesome trend.

Recently on meshedsociety.com:

Quotation of the week:

  • “Bitcoin’s mere existence is an insurance policy that will remind governments that the last object establishment could control, namely, the currency, is no longer their monopoly. This gives us, the crowd, an insurance policy against an Orwellian future.”
    Nassim Nicholas Taleb in “Bitcoin” (medium.com, 1)

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Zuckerberg’s promise about fixing Facebook does not extend to Instagram

Instagram has just turned on a so called “activity status” for (at least some) users. It allows accounts you follow and people you message with to see when you were last active in Instagram apps. The new setting has been activated by default, but without a notification informing the user about the new “feature”.

Some might consider this a typical and expected behavior for social media apps, and it is. The “activity status” functionality is well established in other messaging apps, and implementing changes to privacy-related aspects of a service via “opt-out” (activated by default, can be turned off) instead of “opt-in” (deactivated by default, can be turned on) has been a common practice ever since the early days of the social web.

But times are different now. Mark Zuckerberg, CEO and founder of Facebook (which owns Instagram), has just declared 2018 the year in which he wants to “fix Facebook”. He and his company have been unusually self-critical lately in regards to how the social network might have contributed to certain problematic (online) trends and how spending time on social media can can be bad for people. “We feel a responsibility to make sure our services aren’t just fun to use, but also good for people’s well-being”, Zuckerberg wrote.

In short, Zuckerberg wants to regain people’s trust in that his company can be a net gain for society, not a net loss, and he’s vocal about it. But in the end, what matters are people’s actions, not what they say. Instagram taking itself the right to force a privacy intrusion onto its users without asking or at least informing suggests that not a lot will change. This practice is right from the “ask for forgiveness, not for permission” playbook which Facebook and other consumer tech companies have been following religiously over the past 10 years to grow their user base and engagement. In other words, to capture as much of people’s attention and share of mind as possible, regardless of collateral damage.

But these practices must not be tolerated anymore. They represent the same unethical values and culture which caused Facebook to become a burden for societies. They show a lack of respect for the user and an obsession with relentlessly increasing user engagement, putting the users’ actual well-being not first, not second, but at the bottom of the list of priorities.

As someone who so far has considered Instagram a more pleasant and less destructive type of social app than Facebook or Twitter, I’m really disappointed. And if Zuckerberg wants his pledge to be seen as sincere, this definitely doesn’t help.

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Weekly Links & Thoughts #154

Here is this week’s issue of meshedsociety.com weekly, loaded with interesting analyses and essays, significant yet under-reported information bits as well as thoughtful opinion pieces from the digital and technology world. Published every Wednesday/Thursday (CET), just in time so you have something good to read over the weekend.

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If you want to make sure not to miss this link selection, sign up for free for the weekly email. It is being sent out to more than 500 people (January 2018). Here is an archive of previous issues.
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Reading time indicator: 1 = up to 3 minutes, 2 = 4 to 9 minutes, 3 = 10 to 29 minutes , 3+ = 30 minutes or more
Note: Some of the publications may use “soft” paywalls. If you are denied access, open the URL in your browser’s incognito/private mode.

  • Digital Tribalism – The Real Story About Fake News (ctrl-verlust.net, 3)
    An insightful data analysis exploring one of the most concerning phenomena of our times: digital tribalism. The results presented suggest that the root of the problem aren’t filter bubbles (which turn out to be not as airtight to contrary opinions or facts as often assumed) or algorithms, but rather the way the human brain works, causing people to gather into groups they identify themselves with, and to separate themselves from others as a group. Through online networks and viral dynamics, the evolutionary behavioral patterns are simply supercharged (and often malfunctioning). Related book recommendation from me: “Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst” by Robert M. Sapolsky. Already one of the top 3 best books I have ever read. And I am only at 30 %. It’s 800 pages thick.
  • Your likes, hearts, and flattering comments are bad for my brain (medium.com, 1)
    Many dream of getting a lot of likes and shares on the stuff they post online. But positive engagement can be pretty addictive, and not in a good way.
  • What It’s Like to Be the Parent of a Social-Media Star (theatlantic.com, 3)
    What times to be alive, when this is an actual question that thousands of parents have to ask themselves: “How do you enforce rules and boundaries on children who frequently have more money than grown-ups, and thus, unusual levels of autonomy?”
  • CES 2018: Real Advances, Real Progress, Real Questions (medium.learningbyshipping.com, 3+)
    Former Windows President and now VC Steven Sinofsky went to the CES in Las Vegas, made a lot of notes about what he saw, and then used his observations to pen down an in-depth piece about the state of several of today’s most hyped fields of technology. And the result is really excellent, even for those not too interested in gadgets or the CES.
  • Alexa v. Google Assistant makes consumers the big winners (staceyoniot.com, 1)
    Let’s see if we remain the big winners in the long run. But in the short term, agreed.
  • The Network Uber Drivers Built (fastcompany.com, 3)
    Uber drivers may not have unions or worker protections, but they do organize themselves in online networks which give them at least a certain type of power over their algorithmic provider of work.
  • When It Comes to Gorillas, Google Photos Remains Blind (wired.com, 2)
    Google found a rather primitive workaround for fixing its discriminating image identification algorithm.
  • Your New Newsfeed: Why Facebook Made Its Latest Changes (wired.com, 3)
    Adam Mosseri, Facebook’s vice-president in charge of newsfeed, talks about the recently announced change to focus on friend and family interactions over page and news content. Ben Thompson wonders what the real motives are.
  • Everyone hates us, and it’s not because of our sex parties (techcrunch.com, 2)
    Historically, power corrupts. And now, that Silicon Valley is arguably the most powerful force on Earth, people are naturally looking for evidence of misconduct.
  • On building a meritocracy in our startup ecosystem (blog.elizabethyin.com, 2)
    The lack of a meritocracy in the startup ecosystem is hampering world progress, writes investor Elizabeth Yin. But she continues: “I’ve never had so much hope for our startup ecosystem as now.”
  • Beyond the Bitcoin bubble (nytimes.com, 3+)
    A beautiful feature explaining why blockchain technology is another (and right now probably the only) chance to revitalize the open principles that were so crucial for the rise of the web and its most important technological components.
  • Miners Aren’t Your Friends (blog.keep.network, 3)
    The major cryptocurrencies depend on that miners follow the rules. But the more money is in a system, the more likely it is that miners will mess with it.
  • To Understand Bitcoin, I Studied Karl Marx (coindesk.com, 1)
    An interesting analogy of how both Karl Marx and Bitcoin inventor “Satoshi Nakamoto” created unconventional ideas inspired by their environment, but (presumably) lacked the power to predict how their inventions would influence others or be implemented.
  • A World of Evolving Ideas (medium.com, 1)
    This might be me drinking the kool aid, but the idea of a global network of ideas stored in the form of blockchain sounds somehow intriguing.
  • Let the robots speak to one another (theverge.com, 1)
    This is a bad and smart idea at the same time. Spoken language is increasingly proving to be a bad way to communicate thoughts between people. Context is always missing, accidental or deliberate misunderstandings are the rule, attention spans are short… one can witness the messy result every day in online debates. Therefore, letting machines talk to each other through this flawed method seems backward. On the other hand, smart devices are not expected to talk politics or philosophy with each other. For simple commands and instructions, this actually might work.
  • Turning Design Mockups Into Code With Deep Learning (blog.floydhub.com, 3)
    Looks like web designers might get competition from neural networks soon.
  • Impatience: The Pitfall Of Every Ambitious Person (dariusforoux.com, 1)
    Both obvious and often ignored: Good things may take a while.

Recently on meshedsociety.com:

Quote of the week:

  • “The internet has become a mirror of our global societies. Fifty-one per cent of the world’s population is estimated to have access to it, many of them by way of smartphones. Some people are not happy with what they see in this mirror, but make the mistake of thinking that correcting the mirror will fix the problems reflected therein.”
    Vint Cerf in “In 2018, we will tackle the internet’s dark side” (wired.com, 1)

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AirPods and competitors: The big impact of small wireless headphones

A German version of this text can be found here.

2018 is only a few days old, but my digital life has already significantly improved: A few weeks ago I finally purchased wireless earphones. Not Apple’s AirPods but a similar product, since I prefer real in-ear headphones. And wow, what a difference the cable-free lifestyle makes.

Ever since I got my first Walkman in the mid 90s, I, like many others, had to struggle with the cables that carried the sound to the ears. There was no alternative. Tangled cables were the norm. No day went by without at least one short moment of frustration caused by cables that somehow were in the way or that accidentally got stuck and subsequently violently pulled out of the ears. While this certainly is a first world problem, it’s one that was eagerly waiting for a solution. Now it is here. Continue Reading

Weekly Links & Thoughts #153

Here is this week’s issue of meshedsociety.com weekly, loaded with interesting analyses and essays, significant yet under-reported information bits as well as thoughtful opinion pieces from the digital and technology world. Published every Wednesday/Thursday (CET), just in time so you have something good to read over the weekend.

======
If you want to make sure not to miss this link selection, sign up for free for the weekly email. It is being sent out to more than 500 people (January 2018). Here is an archive of previous issues.
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Reading time indicator: 1 = up to 3 minutes, 2 = 4 to 9 minutes, 3 = 10 to 29 minutes , 3+ = 30 minutes or more
Note: Some of the publications may use “soft” paywalls. If you are denied access, open the URL in your browser’s incognito/private mode.

Recently on meshedsociety.com:

Podcast episode of the week:

Quote of the week:

  • “Most of history is made by those who mastered the art of doing nothing when nothing needed to be done.”
    Morgan Housel in Making History By Doing Nothing (collaborativefund.com, 1)

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The lost blog post about “World Leaders on Twitter”


Twitter just published a blog post justifying why the company isn’t banning Donald Trump for breaking the messaging service’s rules with his inflammatory tweets.

However, it seems as if the wrong draft made it through the internal approval process. I am sure that the actual post should have looked like this:

There’s been a lot of discussion about political figures and world leaders on Twitter, and we want to share our stance.

Twitter is here to serve and help advance the global, public conversation.
Twitter has significantly contributed to the current polarized state of the global, public conversation. We might even have been complicit in “creating” Donald Trump as U.S. President.

Elected world leaders play a critical role in that conversation because of their outsized impact on our society. Blocking a world leader from Twitter or removing their controversial Tweets would hide important information people should be able to see and debate. It would also not silence that leader, but it would certainly hamper necessary discussion around their words and actions.
Elected world leaders play a critical role in that conversation because of their outsized impact on our society. The trivial nature of Twitter, the character limit as well as our need to earn money with people’s attention at all costs means that the service is not suitable as a tool nor environment for world leaders to communicate with the public and to carry out their work responsibly.

We review Tweets by leaders within the political context that defines them, and enforce our rules accordingly. No one person’s account drives Twitter’s growth, or influences these decisions. We work hard to remain unbiased with the public interest in mind.
However, the truth is that we need Donald Trump. He is driving our current growth. Without Donald Trump’s tweets, we’d face severe business risks, as fewer and fewer people would pay attention to us. Also the media wouldn’t constantly mention us anymore.

We are working to make Twitter the best place to see and freely discuss everything that matters. We believe that’s the best way to help our society make progress.
We have no other choice than to pretend that Twitter is highly important for the the world and to achieve progress, even if we are well aware of that we are part of the problem, not the solution.

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