Protocol Source Code
What matters in tech, in your inbox every morning.
Image: Protocol

The internet is just too big

Twitter stop signs

Good morning! This Friday, Twitter investigates its role in the election, Amazon fights back against scammers, nothing happened to TikTok, everybody's mad at Google and the ad biz is set for a big 2021.

(Was this email forwarded to you? Sign up here to get Source Code every day.)

The Big Story

How social's scale warps everything

Twitter said it labeled 300,000 tweets around the election, either adding context or stating that the information in the tweet was not correct. Which seems like a big number! But also a very small one, given that there were apparently 150 million election-related tweets sent in those two weeks, and several billion tweets overall.

The numbers come from a new report on Twitter's election-season operations, which shows the platform did fairly well but has clear room to improve. It also shows how much the internet warps our sense of scale, and how good enough isn't good enough:

  • 456 tweets were hidden by Twitter, and thus prevented from being retweeted or liked. That's a small number! But when you consider that a number of those tweets came from President Trump, tweeting to more than 88 million followers — many of whom copied the text of his tweets and blasted them from their own accounts — it's obvious that not all tweets are created equal.
  • 74% of Twitter users who saw the tweets Twitter deemed problematic saw them after the platform had taken action. Big number! Except that still means many millions of people saw them before that.

It's not just Twitter, either:YouTube said that when people search for election-related content, 88% of the top results are high-authority sources. (Let's leave aside the question of what "high-authority" means.) Big number! That still means that 12% of what appeared on the internet's second-largest search engine was problematic in some way. That is an awful lot of stuff.

  • It's like when Facebook releases its Transparency Reports and says, "Look, we took down 98% of the bad stuff before anyone saw it!" And people respond, "Whoop-de-do, that still means hundreds of millions of bad things made it through." Both sides are right and nobody's happy.

The election post-mortems are only beginning for social platforms, but it seems like they're going to have to reckon not just with their specific actions, but also with their hugeness, which makes them effectively impossible to control.


The Amazon con is on

Amazon's suing two influencers and 11 sellers for engaging in what I can only describe as the 2020 version of that street seller who says "You want the real stuff?" and then takes you behind a curtain to find the really good Koach bags and Praba belts.

  • The alleged scheme went like this: The sellers would set up legit product listings for, say, a generic, plain-Jane bag. Then, the two influencers, Kelly Fitzpatrick and Sabrina Kelly-Krejci, allegedly used posts on Instagram and TikTok to tell people that if they ordered one of those generic bags, they'd actually receive a designer bag instead.
  • Fitzpatrick had been part of Amazon's official influencer program, which lets people with big followings curate their own store on the platform. She got booted off for counterfeiting, but Amazon says she kept running the scheme elsewhere.

Amazon's always going to have troubles like this because the platform is set up to run almost entirely without involvement. Amazon says that "99.9% of all products viewed by customers on Amazon have not received a valid counterfeit complaint," but even that number means a lot of things slip through the cracks. It also speaks to the size and breadth of Amazon's platform that it has to keep an eye on TikTok just to keep up. Securing your own real estate isn't always enough.

Every company of sufficient size has one of these, I suspect: the problem you feel you've mostly solved, until you realize mostly doesn't solve it at all.

People Are Talking

Mark Zuckerberg hasn't said much about the election, but he doesn't believe the conspiracy theories:

  • "I believe the outcome of the election is now clear and Joe Biden is going to be our next president. It's important that people have confidence that the election was fundamentally fair, and that goes for the tens of millions of people that voted for Trump."

A group of 165 organizations and companies asked the EU to do more against Google, and do it fast:

  • "Many of us may not have the strength and resources to wait until such regulation really takes effect."

And Amy Klobuchar isn't against breaking Google up:

  • "In a serious monopolization action like this one, it's important that a breakup remedy be on the table."

Instagram launched a big redesign, and Adam Mosseri acknowledged how much it was influenced by TikTok:

  • "I think currently we're in the catch-up phase, trying to build some of the basics and the fundamental creative tools …establishing that Instagram is a place for short-form fun video."

Gary Marcus offered a fun example to explain the limitations of AI:

  • "I had examples like, what's the name of your favorite band? Avenged Sevenfold. Then they asked the same system, [what's] the name of your least favorite band? And again it says Avenged Sevenfold. Any human would realize your favorite band and your least favorite band can't be the same thing, unless you're lying or trying to be funny. These systems don't understand that."



Mastercard expanded its City Possible™ network and capabilities, whose unique solutions now reach over 500 communities in over 50 countries worldwide. The partnership framework focuses on building more inclusive and sustainable cities by increasing access to city services, expanding urban mobility solutions, and informing an inclusive recovery through data driven insights.

Mastercard Expands Efforts to Help Over 500 Cities Build More Inclusive and Sustainable Communities

Making Moves

Guido van Rossum is joining Microsoft. The Python creator said he doesn't know exactly what he'll be doing in the company's Developer Division, but his title probably won't be as cool as his last: Python's Benevolent Dictator for Life.

Christopher Krebs may be on the outs at Homeland Security. He's been telling people close to him that the White House will fire him soon.

Mauricio Peña is Waymo's new chief safety officer. He joins from Virgin Orbit.

Anna Barber is now a partner at M13. The former Techstars exec will also run the firm's internal venture studio, called Launchpad.

In Other News

  • Surprise! TikTok didn't get banned after all. The Commerce Department said it wouldn't take action "pending further legal developments." I'm assuming everyone at TikTok is currently cheers-ing with Ocean Spray and listening to Fleetwood Mac.
  • Apple's Big Sur Mac update is out. (Here's a good overview of what it includes.) As always, the safest thing to do is wait a little while before you take the plunge, since first-version software doesn't tend to be Apple's strong suit. And in this case, it even seems to be slowing down older machines.
  • Don't miss this WSJ story about how Jack Ma crossed Xi Jinping ahead of the Ant IPO, and how China's president personally shut the offering down.
  • On Protocol: Disney+ now has 73.7 million subscribers. That puts it well ahead of its original goal of 60 million to 90 million by 2024. And it turns out people are sticking around even after watching "Hamilton" 20 or 30 times!
  • The ad biz is coming back in a big way. Morgan Stanley analysts said they think the online ad market can grow up to 20% in 2021 and picked Facebook, Google and Pinterest as the three biggest beneficiaries.
  • Headline of the week: "No, Ticketmaster won't force you to have a Covid vaccine."

One More Thing

Be careful who you one-star

"A man writes a Tripadvisor review" is hardly how you'd start a crime novel, and yet here we are: with a man in jail in Thailand for criticizing a local resort, and Tripadvisor stuck figuring out how to both help the guy and keep the platform honest. I can't imagine booking a stay at a place with this warning on the page, but I can definitely imagine the Sea View Resort quickly becoming a TikTok challenge.



Find out how cities will reimagine what growth means for everyone in today's digital economy. Mastercard's experts weigh in on the future of cities.

Read now.

Today's Source Code was written by David Pierce. Thoughts, questions, tips? Send them to, or our tips line, Enjoy your weekend; see you Sunday.

Recent Issues

The best of Protocol

The confessions of SBF

Your holiday book list

A tale of two FTXs