Donald Trump has, whether knowingly or not, tapped into some deep-seated bigotry still lurking just beneath the surface of this country. I do not know if Trump agrees with the openly racist people he retweets or if he’s merely aping the language and memes of the alt-right for political gain. As many have discovered, though, Trump’s most vocal supporters on Twitter are often unabashedly anti-Semitic, homophobic, sexist and racist. The question for me as I prepared for the 2016 Republican National Convention was, would these newly invigorated hate groups suddenly feel as safe expressing themselves face-to-face as they do online?
I’m happy to report the answer is no — mostly, anyway. The 2016 RNC certainly wasn’t without incident or ugliness, but by and large the crowds were peaceful and respectful, and the hate groups did not find the Republican Party waiting for them with open arms in Cleveland.
Using a tool called Hyp3r, Engadget collected every tweet and Instagram that was geotagged from the official convention venues. We scoured the data looking for slurs, overtly racist language and echoes (more on those below) and came up empty. Hyp3r pulls in tweets from only users with the location enabled on their devices, so it’s not a comprehensive collection of 140-character missives, but our data suggest that Trump’s white-supremacist contingent didn’t make it to the convention floor. Or, at the least were very discreet about their more radical beliefs.
On Twitter, white supremacists can hide behind the anonymity of their screen name and use an obscure marker called an echo — literally just a series of parenthesis ((()) — to target people for an army of trolls. Sometimes those attacks are just insults and memes, but they sometimes turn violent. Countless people have received death threats, especially Jewish journalists. I’m not even Jewish and even I have even been on the receiving end of threats and harassment after tweeting unflattering things about Donald Trump. Multiple times I’ve been told I would soon find myself in an oven.
Second time today someone has threatened to put me in an oven. @realDonaldTrump supporters are the best. pic.twitter.com/N8X6oSdkDF
— Terrence O’Brien (@TerrenceOBrien) March 25, 2016
In person, though, such overt racism is considered deeply taboo. Indeed, expressions of these sentiments at the convention, both in person and on social media, appeared to be few and far between. And they were often quickly snuffed out. Republican Congressman Steve King of Iowa found himself on the receiving end of criticism from both sides of the aisle after he suggested on MSNBC that nonwhites had contributed little to civilization. And Illinois delegate Lori Gayne had her credentials stripped after she posted a photo of a police sharpshooter with the caption “Our brave snipers just waiting for some N**** to try something. Love them” on Facebook.
Supporters watch Donald Trump speak on a giant screen outside the Quicken Loans Arena.
Some delegates I spoke to expressed concerns that this might violate Gayne’s right to free speech, but all of them condemned the language. That includes Illinois Republican Party Chairman Tim Schneider, who told the Chicago Sun-Times that the GOP, “has zero tolerance for racism of any kind and threats of violence against anyone.”
A group of Cruz delegates from Washington I interviewed also suggested the tone on the floor did not reflect that of Trump’s most virulent supporters online. While they did accuse Trump delegates of bullying and said they had heard at least one threaten violence against a delegate from another state, they had not overheard anything overtly racist or anti-Semitic on the floor. This came as a relief because many of the Washington delegates were part of the “Never Trump” movement. They were in part motivated by what delegate Selena Coppa called Trump’s sounding of a “dog whistle” for white supremacists.
So does that mean the bigots all stayed home?
Not quite. There was a small collection of openly hostile hate groups in Cleveland this week; they were confined to the streets outside the convention center. But even there they were merely a very vocal minority. A small group of protesters had set up in Public Square most of the week declaring that Allah was Satan and that “all true Muslims were jihadists.” One man paraded up and down 4th, right outside the convention center, with a sign declaring that “Jews DO run the media.” I witnessed a man offer a Hitler salute and chant “Sieg Heil!” though I suspect he was simply trolling, and there were several members of the anti-immigrant group Soldiers of Odin on the ground and well as a handful of high-profile white supremacists.
But I watched a Trump supporter talk down the man screaming “Sieg Heil.” And it’s not as if the Soldiers of Odin were greeted with cheers when they arrived at Public Square.
Could it simply be that everyone was on their best behavior because they were out in public and the eyes of the nation were focused on them? Perhaps. But I’m choosing to believe that tone at the convention truly reflected the beliefs and attitudes of the rank-and-file party members.
The rhetoric from the stage during the RNC was predictably ugly and chances are, next week’s Democratic National Convention won’t be much better. But that sort of partisan red meat is mostly for show. The people in the streets and on the convention floor were polite and friendly. The air was celebratory, not hostile.
A Trump supporter and Black Lives Matter protester jam outside the Quicken Loans Arena.
I’m not going to pretend to agree with the politics of Donald Trump or the Republican party, but months of watching the campaign play out mostly through the lens of social media had left me despondent. A week in Cleveland has me feeling a little more hopeful. Most of the vitriol online didn’t spill over into the streets at the RNC. Face-to-face it seems we’re able to still realize that, even if we disagree about how to get there, we all share common goals as Americans.
Twitter is adding new video streaming deals almost daily, and today it announced an agreement that pads its college sports lineup. Following last week’s Pac-12 deal, the social network is teaming up with Campus Insiders to stream over 300 “live college events” from Mountain West Conference, Patriot League and West Coast Conference. Yes, that includes live games and competitions spanning football, basketball, lacrosse, soccer, baseball, volleyball, field hockey, water polo and swimming. If you’re not familiar, Campus Insiders is like an all digital version of ESPN for college sports, offering news and live coverage for 3,000 live events thanks to partnerships with five conferences.
What’s more, Campus Insiders puts on the Nova Home Loans Arizona Bowl which is “the first and only digitally-focused college football bowl game broadcast.” Campus Insiders will provide updates and highlights in addition to its live events. Twitter will also get news and highlights from the ACC Digital Network. While that content won’t include live games, it will give fans of Atlantic Coast Conference schools a way to catch up on any action they might have missed and keep track of all the latest developments. The ACC recently announced its own network in partnership with ESPN for 2019, so that’s where most of its live action will be available. Part of that option includes a digital (streaming) channel that will show 600 live events launching this fall.
In a press release announcing the deals, Twitter’s CFO Anthony Noto noted that the agreements would allow users who are already chatting about the sporting events on the social network a chance to stream live videos in the same place. “Twitter is the fastest way to see what’s happening in sports,” he said. Campus Insiders’ digital foundation makes it more suited to tackle streaming on Twitter than a traditional network. Since it’s already doing so on its own, the pieces are in place to easily make the leap. Speaking of which, there’s no word on when you can expect the live events, news and highlights to make their debut, but we’d surmise it will start up when students head back to school this fall.
Source: Twitter (PR Newswire)
One key thing was missing from Periscope’s live video option: the ability to embed the video streams and archived footage in other places rather than sharing a link. Twitter’s livestreaming option is doing something about that today as Periscope videos can now be posted in a tweet. This means that so long as you’re willing to embed the tweet than contains the live video, you’ll be able to post them wherever you like. The app also got a Highlights feature, but it’s different from what Facebook’s live videos offer.
Rather than displaying a timeline of reactions, Periscope creates a short trailer-like compilation of the broadcast. The app uses “a variety of signals” to determine which parts make the cut, a process that the company says will continue to improve over time. There’s also a new Autoplay feature that will automatically start playback when you swipe over to the Watch tab and Global Feed. If you’re familiar with the Instagram video feed, you have an idea of how this works. Autoplay is only available on Android for now, but it’s coming to iOS “soon.” Those Highlights will be available in both versions of the app over the next few days though, so you won’t have to wait long to try it out.
LIVE on #Periscope: On the range with Jason Day https://t.co/0NhfLaEeNA
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) July 21, 2016
Source: Periscope (Medium)
If you haven’t checked in on Vine recently, you might find the six-second video network looks a little less vibrant than it used to. The service has seen most of its high-profile creators move over to other platforms, while executives are quitting en masse. Vine now exists in a state of unmanaged decline, its enormous potential withering away in the sunlight. Twitter may have shown extraordinary prescience in acquiring Vine, but it’s clear that nobody has a clue how it should work.
The central issue is that Vine’s leadership doesn’t know what it is, and as a consequence, don’t know how to manage it. There’s a similar malaise at Twitter itself, which is defined not by its leaders, but through the prism of the people who use it regularly. For some, it’s a social network, while others describe it as more of a broadcasting platform. Either way, both of those very distinct concepts require drastically different management styles. But since nobody’s clear on what Vine and Twitter are, both leadership teams are desperately clinging to the status quo in the hope that things will improve.
Orson Welles is believed to have said that “the enemy of art is the absence of limitation,” but the web offers almost unlimited space onto which we can pour our thoughts. Vine, like Twitter, exists as a rejection of that principle, forcing people to be briefer and more creative. Six seconds was a concession to the technical realities with the processing and uploading of video on mobile networks. But it managed to spawn a phenomenon that has launched more than a few tweens into minor stardom, almost overnight.
Vine quickly became a vehicle for weird art, stop-motion videos, hand-drawn animation and news clips that boiled a breaking event down to its defining moment. But six seconds was perfect for comedy, which is one of the reasons I’ve been such an avid fan of the service. Six seconds, as it turns out, is the perfect length to establish a premise and execute a punchline. Take this clip from Danny Gonzalez, which has to be the pinnacle of the art:
Producing a successful Vine clip isn’t as simple as mugging into a camera for six seconds. Believe it or not, there are artistic and commercial pressures that come with pushing clips out on the service. Jessica Vazquez generated a following of more than three million users before quitting Vine in March of this year. In a YouTube video explaining her decision, she said that “you can say that it’s six seconds, but six seconds — putting it out there in front of millions of people to tell you what they think about it is hard.”
From obscurity, figures like Vazquez were suddenly being pressured by their audiences, for no direct compensation, to keep pumping out hits. Advertisers were quick to fill the gap, using “influencers” to become the face of their brands in exchange for piles of cash. But that money has dried up, with a report from Digiday back in May revealing that businesses have fallen sharply out of love with Vine. Talent agencies that sprang up to represent these new stars have begun pushing them to ditch Vine for platforms that supply better ad analytics, such as Snapchat, Facebook and Instagram.
It doesn’t help that while Vine is happy to compromise on video length, it’s been woefully slow in iterating its service. Snapchat is eating its lunch because it offers far more features, such as live video filtering, special effects and those aforementioned ad analytics. It’s also managed to present itself as far less formal than Vine, reducing the need for overly structured or heavily edited clips that for many seem like too much effort. This laid-back attitude means that Snapchat is less intimidating for new users who don’t feel capable of matching Vine’s more talented stars.
On the subject of stars, Vine describes itself as “the entertainment network where videos and personalities get really big, really fast.” But there’s a disconnect between what it says and how it behaves, especially when it comes to the treatment of that talent. Viners have only recently been allowed to make money from their clips, no matter how much effort or time goes into them, or how popular they become. Buzzfeed revealed that late last year Vine held a crisis summit with a clutch of top Viners, ostensibly to discuss remuneration for their work. But, given the subsequent brain drain that has taken place through 2016, those talks clearly foundered.
Which means that Vine is going to continue to spiral downward, unless it can make some big changes, quickly. An example worth examining would be YouTube Red, which dealt with a similar issue of talent retention, although it was backed with Google’s billions. The site was evolving from a collection of clips into its own entertainment destination, and executives knew it had to maintain its stable of stars. So, it created a subscription service and signed deals with some of its biggest names, letting them earn money from the subscription pot.
YouTube’s natural development into the TV of the future was enabled because the people in charge took a risk. Rather than sit with the status quo, and risk those names being drawn away to other websites, it made changes. Vine, on the other hand, has not, and has suffered as a consequence. But all is not lost, at least not yet. Rather than simply altering the duration of videos and hoping that everything will be okay, Vine needs to realize that it’s an entertainment service, not a social network. And then it needs to start acting like one.
Twitter has finally done it. After years of provocative actions, repeated suspensions and even an unchecking, Twitter has permanently banned conservative writer and Breitbart Tech Editor Milo Yiannopoulos, from its service. Twitter’s decision appears to come in response to Yiannopoulos leading an online trolling campaign against Ghostbusters star Leslie Jones. Jones has vowed to leave Twitter over her treatment, prompting a major online outcry.
Twitter has been busy over the past few days, scrambling to get ahead of fallout from Jones’ digital assault. The company announced earlier on Tuesday that it will open the verification process to the general public, along with the anti-spam and anti-harassment protections the Blue Checkmark enables.
This isn’t the first time that Twitter has had to show a prominent alt-right celebrity the door. Last March, Chuck Johnson, who once argued that homosexuality caused a horrendous Amtrak train crash and doxxed two NY Times journalists, was permanently barred from the site. Reddit too has recently cracked down on bad behavior in recent months. The site caused an uproar last August when it shut down and disbanded a number of its most virulent and bigoted groups.
We’ve reached out to Twitter for comment and will update when we hear back from the company.
Earlier this month, a Recode report indicated that Twitter was in talks with the NBA and Turner to bring more sports video to the social platform. Today, the league announced the deal what will bring two “live original programs,” or TV-style shows, to Twitter, video content that will be exclusive to the social network. Details are scarce for now, but the first will be a weekly pre-game show while all the NBA is saying about the second “to-be-determined show” is that you’ll only be able to watch it on Twitter. If you were hoping for live game action, you’ll certainly be disappointed… for now.
In addition to the original programming, the deal also includes more video on the whole for Twitter, Vine and Periscope from the NBA. What it doesn’t offer is the key piece that most basketball fans want: live games. Recode reports that Twitter was interested in streaming game action, but it looks like it couldn’t get a deal done with the league and Turner (who owns the rights to NBA games) that included the activity on the hardwood. Another interesting tidbit is that you won’t have to be logged in to watch the streams when they make their debut. We’d surmise the premiere of both will coincide with the new season that begins in October.
It’s also unclear who will produce the new shows, but as Recode points out, Turner lends a hand with the league’s digital content, including apps and the web. The outlet also reports that Twitter isn’t paying the NBA for the shows, and instead the two will share ad revenue from the videos. This isn’t the first time the two sides have worked together though, as Twitter debuted 360-degree video during the NBA Finals. The social network also has an agreement with the NFL what will allow it to stream Thursday Night Football games this fall.
Both the Washington Post and Buzzfeed have sent robots to cover the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. Call it forward thinking, call it a gimmick, inventive, desperate… doesn’t matter. But it’s happening, and both outlets couldn’t be prouder of their efforts to modify their news gathering process and bring additional interactivity to their reporting.
The Post’s experiment involves a telepresence robot from Double Robotics and a partnership with Twitter. Basically, the machine is an iPad mounted on a Segway-style base. All week it’ll be roaming the floor of the convention, streaming live on Periscope. Viewers will be able to tune in and ask questions of delegates, politicians and anyone else who happens upon the bot. It will give those watching at home a much more candid look at the RNC than normal, but might also provide some excellent opportunities for the public to pepper officials with tough questions.
LIVE on #Periscope: Robot reporter rolls around the convention hall | Come 👀 #RNCinCLE https://t.co/t7RsZXLlh9
— Ryan Y. Kellett (@rkellett) July 18, 2016
BuzzBot is a little more elaborate. Rather than a physical robot, it’s a Facebook chat bot that both collects and delivers news from the ground in Cleveland. If you add the channel to your Messenger app it will, of course, deliver news updates from BuzzFeed reporters. But, more importantly, it’ll collect reports from delegates, protesters and anyone else who happens to be in Cleveland. You can choose to simply send pictures and other info to BuzzBot, but it will also occasionally ask you questions or request you submit details about your experience. What the bot asks will differ depending on why you’re in Cleveland. Not in town for the RNC? Well, do you live in the city? If so, BuzzBot is going to want to know what kind of impact the RNC is having on your daily life.
It’s also not hard to image that information pouring into BuzzBot could help shape the outlet’s coverage. Notices of protests, overheard conversations and the like could all be reported through Facebook Messenger and fed to reporters on the ground, who could then go digging for a story.
But journalists shouldn’t worry just yet. Neither the Washington Post’s nor BuzzFeeds bots are advanced enough to cover a convention on their own. In fact, without humans guiding them or feeding them information they’re pretty useless.
Source: BuzzFeed, The Washington Post
Twitter’s response to online extremism has changed a lot in the past few years. Observers at observer groups like the Counter Extremism Project report that the social network was exceptionally speedy in removing pro-extremist accounts and tweets in the hours following the truck attack in Nice, France on July 14th. It moved with “swiftness we have not seen before,” CEP says. Twitter hasn’t commented on the specific actions, but it’s apparent that the company is serious about its ban on terrorism.
The rapid takedowns are a sharp contrast with Twitter’s former hard line on free speech. While it still tends to value freedom of expression as a rule (particularly in countries where Twitter restrictions are mainly used to stifle dissent), it’s now eager to scrub tweets instead of waiting until officials step in. Twitter isn’t the only tech company taking a more active approach — talks with the US government have led to a broader anti-extremism push that includes Facebook and Google. However, its breakneck pace this time suggests that it may be one of the first (if not the first) to purge extremist material from now on.
This was a big week for diversions. Nintendo is sitting pretty thanks to its overnight smash hit, Pokémon Go — not to mention the excitement surrounding its upcoming NES Classic Edition mini-console. Additionally, MoviePass rolled out its revised film subscription rates. ESPN is finally giving eSports the attention it deserves. And Twitter tripled the size limit for displaying animated gifs to a whopping 15MB. Numbers, because how else will you know who holds the high score?