Texas surrounded by speech bubbles.
Illustration: Christopher T. Fong/Protocol

The great social media experiment

Source Code

Good morning! It's a big day for social: Elon Musk has paused his Twitter deal. And we're also taking a close look at what's happening over in Texas, where users can now sue social media companies if they feel their views are “censored." We're Sarah Roach and Ben Brody, and we redacted.

Also, we have an exclusive interview with Mark Zuckerberg, about the company’s investments in the metaverse, how it compares to Facebook’s transition to mobile a decade and a half ago, and why Meta’s social VR world Horizon is a walled garden for the time being. You can read it here.

Elon hits the brakes

Elon Musk paused his $44 billion Twitter takeover until he gets more information on the number of spam and fake accounts on the platform, he tweeted this morning.

  • In the tweet, Musk linked to a Reuters article that says Twitter estimates fewer than 5% of its monetizable daily active users are spam or fake accounts. It's unclear what additional details Musk wants on the topic. One of his biggest goals for Twitter is to remove spam bots entirely from the platform.
  • "Twitter deal temporarily on hold pending details supporting calculation that spam/fake accounts do indeed represent less than 5% of users," he tweeted.

Twitter's stock plunged almost 18% in pre-market trading on the news. The company didn't immediately return a request for comment.

If anything, the move is a sign of more turbulence in the lead-up to Musk's final purchase. The company had just fired two leaders, and it plans to implement a hiring freeze and scale back spending. Twitter has plenty more issues to take care of beside spam bots.

— Sarah Roach (email | twitter)

Texas takes on free speech

The Texas social media experiment — the one where Twitter and Facebook have to figure out how to live without the legal foundation they’ve relied on for 25 years — has begun. But one state allowing lawsuits over alleged anti-conservative bias in content moderation is only part of the story. From Austin to Elon (OK, maybe Elon), all kinds of experiments are about to see what we can leave up on, or put back onto, social media. Even a former president’s account is up for grabs. But however much these new rules are allegedly about free speech, inevitably we’ll have to figure out what will be taken down as a result sooner rather than later.

Can we talk like adults here for one second and admit this isn’t about free speech — and probably shouldn’t be? Musk certainly recognizes it too, or at least he’s slowly coming around to the idea.

  • Every time he talks, he seems to add more parentheticals: Free speech! (Except for illegal content of course.) (And bots and spam … ) (Well, and whatever Europe wants, duh.) (Plus the rest of the globe.) (And nothing that’s “otherwise just destructive to the world.”)
  • The Texas law that a federal court has allowed to proceed, known as HB 20, actually permits blocking malware, illegal obscenity and legal porn — while demanding social media services put up the kinds of platform policies they already fill with their hand-picked notions of what is forbidden.

That permission for takedowns sort of gives away the real goal. No one wants a game with no rules; they just want rules to help them win.

  • Musk’s worries about destructive content, after all, sound like the platform’s current and much-maligned fixation on the most harmful speech.
  • It’s just that he wants to be the one to decide what’s destructive, rather than content moderators who, Musk seems to think, don’t appreciate his dankest memes and interest in hearing from Donald Trump.
  • The same was true with Texas Governor Greg Abbott, who said when he signed HB 20 that it was a response to “a dangerous movement by some social media companies to silence conservative ideas and values.”
  • Note that his law’s allowance for flexible terms of service won’t stop an avalanche of litigation against social media sites for allegedly “censoring” users over their “viewpoints” — whatever that means.

No one’s really shocked that powerful people manipulate popular notions when they want to bend the rules for themselves. Yet plenty of people persist in describing Texas and Musk as having a free-speech approach that’s just going to balance out MSNBC with Trump and a few more QAnon believers. That’s a frame that might overestimate how much the conservative U.S. judiciary is willing to do about the Texas law even if the justices have to flip-flop a bit to look the other way.

As Texas and Musk claim the mantle of free speech to tell private companies what content to keep up, users also have a lot of reason to ask what they’ll ultimately want taken down.

— Ben Brody (email | twitter)


A version of this story also appeared in our Policy newsletter. Sign up here to get it in your inbox every day.

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People are talking

In an exclusive interview with Protocol, Mark Zuckerberg explained why he's all-in on the metaverse:

  • “I want to live in a world where big companies use their resources to take big shots."

He also said Meta’s Cambria headset could become an essential device for work:

  • “You'll be able to see your desk, snap your fingers, bring up your screens.”

Sundar Pichai said he’s nervous about the economy, but Google will be just fine:

  • “The good thing is we’ve been around as a company for a while.”

Two investor advisory firms don’t want shareholders to OK Andy Jassy’s pay package:

  • “The compensation program lacks any connection to objective, pre-set performance criteria.”

Making moves

David Marcus has a new startup, Lightspark. Marcus was Meta’s crypto chief until he left last fall.

Bill Simmons got a promotion at Spotify. The Ringer’s head will lead global sports content.

Niels Provos is leaving Stripe, where he led security for over three years.

Chad Kalmes is Socure’s new CISO. He was Twilio’s senior director of Tech and Applications.

Colleen DeCourcy joined Snap as chief creative officer. DeCourcy spent almost a decade at Wieden + Kennedy.

Airbnb created a trust and safety advisory group, which includes mental health and safety groups that will advise the company on its policies.

In other news

How are tech companies responding to Roe v. Wade? We compiled a list of the companies that are publicly responding to the issue and the ones that are not.

Almost every crypto token is crashing. This is what it looks like in a chart.

Speaking of the crypto crash, customers are not happy with Coinbase. Some are suing the crypto exchange for promoting the GYEN token, a stablecoin, when it was "anything but" stable.

SoftBank is cutting down on startup investments, joining a bunch of other VCs that have become increasingly hesitant to put money down on anything.

Celebrities don’t love Twitter anymore. The 10 most-followed accounts don’t even tweet very much, and people who represent and consult for celebs said they prefer to avoid the platform.

Your bonkers long read of the day: a story about the effects of YouTube brain, or the pressure to succumb to fans’ attention spans. It’s the reason YouTubers just can’t let go.

mmhmm

Video calls are often boring. But they don’t need to be. That’s where mmhmm comes into play.

The app launched at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic as a way for people to make more-fun video presentations and run more-engaging calls. What sets mmhmm apart from other platforms is the ability to easily switch between pre-recorded video and live video. And now it's launched a web-based version so that more people can make use of it!

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Businesses — whether Web2 or Web3-oriented businesses that don’t want to hold crypto but do want to be able to interact with crypto holders — want to be able to offer that as a payment mechanism to their communities. The other is hands-on, where merchants are comfortable accepting crypto.

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Thoughts, questions, tips? Send them to sourcecode@protocol.com, or our tips line, tips@protocol.com. Enjoy your day, see you Sunday.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the Twitter purchase price. This story was updated on May 13, 2022.

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