TIME Companies

Twitter Pushing DOJ, FBI To Let It Disclose More Info on National Security Requests

Twitter Transparency Report 2014
A sign is posted outside of the Twitter headquarters on July 29, 2014 in San Francisco, California. Justin Sullivan—Getty Images

Twitter has grown increasingly frustrated with U.S. government restrictions barring fuller disclosures in its biannual transparency report, which shows a steady rise in global requests for user information, content removal and copyright takedown.

The report, released Thursday, indicates a 46 percent increase in the number of government requests for user information between the first half of 2014 and the second half of 2013. The requests are usually associated with criminal investigations, according to Twitter, and have more than doubled since Twitter released its first transparency report in 2012. While the report is now in its fifth edition, Twitter is still eyeing one area for improvement.

“One section in particular has been notably absent from our all of our previous reports, including today’s: our disclosures on national security requests,” said Jeremy Kessel, Twitter’s manager of global legal policy. “Specifically, if the government will not allow us to publish the actual number of requests, we want the freedom to provide that information in much smaller ranges that will be more meaningful to Twitter’s users.”

Twitter isn’t satisfied with the extent of information it’s been legally authorized to release, and the company has met with the U.S. Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation to improve transparency on the number of national security requests. The DOJ’s restrictions, announced in January, allow companies to disclose the number of National Security Letters (NSLs) and Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) orders only “in bands of 1,000″ under a six month embargo — or even longer depending on the situation. (Verizon also releases transparency reports, and it reports national security requests in these wide ranges.)

Twitter had submitted a draft to the DOJ of its most recent transparency report in April, requesting information about which information could not lawfully be published, but has not yet received a reply.

“We think the government’s restriction on our speech not only unfairly impacts our users’ privacy, but also violates our First Amendment right to free expression and open discussion of government affairs,” said Jeremy Kessel, Twitter’s manager of global legal policy, earlier this year. “We are also considering legal options we may have to seek to defend our First Amendment rights.”

Still, what is available in Twitter’s transparency report illuminates a consistent rise across three types of requests.

The total number of global government requests for user information—including national security requests—has grown since 2012 by nearly 250 percent. By country, the U.S. government filed 1,257 of these requests between Jan. 1 and Jun. 30—the most of any country—specifying 1,918 users. And in 72% of these requests, at least some information was produced. On a state level, California filed 163 information requests, the most of any state.

In content removal requests, though, Turkey led with 186 requests with 30 percent resulting in some content being withheld. The total number of these requests has increased dramatically since 2012, but only 14 percent since the previous report. The biggest rise occurred between the first and second halves of 2013, largely due to the 306 requests made by France.

With 9,199 notices, the number of DMCA copyright takedown requests saw an 80 percent increase from the last report. Anti-piracy and Internet companies were the top copyright violation reporters. Each month between January and June, between 70 percent and 84 percent of notices resulted in material being removed, with a total of 30,870 tweets affected. Only 18 counter copyright notices were filed, all of which resulted in material being restored.

Twitter’s transparency report is released in January and July each year, and also includes information on Twitter accessibility across the world.

MONEY online shopping

WATCH: Startup Delivers Marijuana to San Francisco Doorsteps

A startup is trying to brand itself as the Uber of medical marijuana delivery.

MONEY tech stocks

Twitter Jumps on Strong Earnings. Trouble Is, It’s Still Not Profitable.

Person using Twitter on iPhone
James Davies—Alamy

The social media company blew past expectations—using an unofficial measure of profits. Based on generally accepted accounting principles, Twitter is still in the red.

When you get used to receiving complicated messages in a short amount of space — in, say, 140 characters — you grow accustomed to overlooking key details.

That was evident late Tuesday, when investors reacted to Twitter’s earnings announcement by sending shares of the social media company soaring more than 30% in after-hours trading.

TWTR Price Chart

TWTR Price data by YCharts

Investors pounced on some better-than-expected results found high up in Twitter’s earnings release. This included the fact that revenues in the second quarter jumped 124% to $312 million, and that the company earned $0.02 a share, slightly stronger than what analysts had been expecting.

Nevermind that those profits were based on an adjusted, alternative method of measuring earnings that critics have come to criticize. Using generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP), Twitter actually lost $145 million in the quarter, or $0.24 a share.

What’s more, Wall Street analysts tallied by Zacks.com still expect Twitter — based on GAAP standards — to lose $0.98 a share in 2014 and another $0.87 a share in 2015. So it’s probably premature to regard the second-quarter results as a breakthrough for the profitless company.

User Growth Rebounds

To be fair, there were promising developments in the second quarter. Twitter reported that so-called timeline views, which are the company’s equivalent of page views, hit a record 173 billion in the quarter.

This was an important point, as timeline views in the prior quarter fell short of the company’s peak performance in 2013, despite the fact that there are more Twitter users than ever.

In the second quarter, the Twitter’s so-called average monthly active users (MAUs) rose an impressive 24%. Active users who use mobile surged even more, by 29% in the past year to 211 million.

By comparison, timeline views grew a relatively modest 15%, which means the company still needs to work on converting Twitter account holders into truly active users.

This morning, three research firms changed their rating on Twitter stock in the wake of the company’s earnings results. Bank of America upgraded its recommendation on the stock to a “buy”. UBS upgraded its rating to a “neutral”. And Pivotal Research downgraded the shares to a “sell” as Thursday evening’s surge pushed the stock above analysts’ target price.

That pretty much sums up the still-cloudy picture at Twitter.

TIME movies

Paramount Apologizes for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 9/11 Snafu

Paramount Pictures

The film studio’s tweet stirred controversy online

The film studio Paramount has issued an apology after deleting a controversial tweet aimed at advertising the September 11 Australian release of the latest Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film.

From Twitter handle @ParamountAU, the studio tweeted on Tuesday a picture of the movie poster, which features the turtles falling from an exploding building, The Hollywood Reporter reports.

The accompanying text read: “Check out the official poster for #TMNT in cinemas September 11!”

Though apparently unintentional, the combination of imagery and release date predictably elicited outrage online, for evoking the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, during which desperate victims were seen on camera leaping from the burning World Trade Center.

The tweet was quickly deleted but preserved online.

“We are deeply sorry to have used that artwork for the marketing materials promoting the September 11 opening in Australia,” Paramount Australia said in a statement. “Combining that image and date was a mistake. We intended no offense and have taken immediate action to discontinue its use.”

TIME Earnings

Twitter Shocks Wall Street With Big Growth in Revenue, Users

Twitter Goes Public On The New York Stock Exchange
(L-R) Twitter CEO Dick Costolo, Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey, Twitter co-founder Evan Williams and Twitter co-founder Biz Stone applaud as Twitter rings the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) while also celebrating the company's IPO on November 7, 2013 in New York City. Andrew Burton—Getty Images

Stock shoots up 25% in after-hours trading

Updated July 29 at 6:18 p.m.

Twitter shares leapt more than 25 percent in after-hours trading Tuesday following stellar results in the company’s latest quarterly earnings report.

The social network posted greater-than-expected growth in both revenue and monthly active users during the second quarter. Twitter added 16 million monthly active users to bring its total to 271 million, the biggest period of user growth since the first quarter of 2013. Revenue for the quarter was $312 million, blowing past analysts’ estimates of $283 million. Adjusted earnings for the company were 2 cents per share, beating expectations of a 1 cent per share loss. Overall, the company posted a net loss of $145 million for the quarter when including stock-based compensation expenses and other line items.

Pundits have been writing Twitter’s eulogy for months as its user growth slowed in the last year and the company has regularly posted losses. But the latest report shows that Twitter’s plan to make its platform more user-friendly may be paying off. Features such as a more Facebook-like profile pages and a mute button that lets users remove certain users’ tweets from their timelines are aimed at making Twitter novices feel less overwhelmed by the deluge of messages.

The World Cup, which became the most tweeted-about sporting event in Twitter history, was also likely a big boost for the social network during the quarter. Twitter organized conversations around individual matches, featured real-time score updates and attached countries’ flags to hashtags representing each team. “We made progress on multiple fronts across the business and our financial performance was truly exceptional,” CEO Dick Costolo said in a conference call with investors.

A negative point for the quarter were timeline views. At 640 per monthly active user, they were down 7% year-over-year. In the U.S., views are also down from the first quarter. Twitter regularly attributes these drops to changes in its interface that make it easier for users to see interesting tweets without scrolling through a deluge of messages. Also, some of the content on Twitter’s specially curated World Cup pages didn’t count toward the metric.

As Twitter works to differentiate itself from Facebook in the eyes of investors, Costolo spent a lot of time discussing the audiences Twitter serves outside of its monthly users. He said the total number of people who visit Twitter each month is two to three times its official user base when including those who don’t log in. He also touted what we called syndicated viewers, people who see tweets while reading news sites or watching television broadcasts.

Eventually, the company hopes to monetize these less dedicated users somehow, though Costolo said for now the company is just focused on improving the user experience of Twitter’s many casual visitors. He also wouldn’t rule out the idea of a version of the timeline that selected tweets based on an algorithm, like Facebook’s News Feed, rather than showing them in chronological order. “We’re not ruling any any kinds of changes that we might deliver in the product in service to bridging that gap to signing up for Twitter and receiving that value,” he said.

Challenges still remain for Twitter, which won’t have another World Cup to goose its metrics for another four years. But the company reversed some ominous trends this quarter and proved it can take advantage of global events tailor-made for the Web’s water cooler.

TIME celebrities

The Lessons of the One Direction #FreePalestine Tweet

Zayn Malik
Zayn Malik of One Direction performs at on May 24, 2014 in Glasgow, Scotland. Dave J Hogan—Getty Images

One Direction's Zayn Malik has learned — as have others before him — the dangers of mixing celebrity and conflict

Usually when One Direction and the phrase “death threats” are in the same sentence, it’s a case of overenthusiastic fans defending their favorite pop stars — but the group’s Zayn Malik has learned that the backlash can go in the other direction too.

On Sunday, the singer tweeted the phrase “#FreePalestine” — a tweet that’s been both retweeted and favorited over 200,000 times, while it’s also led some of his own fans to lash out at him, death threats and all. He’s not the first to experience blow-back over the topic:

  • Earlier this month, a similar message from Rihanna led her to delete the tweet within minutes of posting it. The singer claimed to have tweeted in error, having clicked a tweet link on a website.
  • Basketball player Dwight Howard followed a similar script the same week, adding that he’s never commented on international politics.
  • Cricket player Moeen Ali has been banned by the International Cricket Council from wearing “Save Gaza” and “Free Palestine” wristbands.
  • Scarlett Johansson‘s dual roles as Oxfam ambassador and SodaStream spokesperson caused controversy that led her to tell the New Yorker felt like she was “put into a position that was way larger than anything I could possibly—I mean, this is an issue that is much bigger than something I could just be dropped into the middle of.”
  • Back in 2012, Kim Kardashian tweeted that she was “praying for everyone in Israel” and subsequently that her prayers were also for Palestine, and then later deleted both tweets, explaining on her blog that she was sorry to have offended anyone on either side.

So one possible takeaway from Malik’s experience, and those before it, is that celebrities should just keep their mouths shut when it comes to Israel and Palestine — especially when even Secretary of State John Kerry has trouble being diplomatic about the issue.

No matter what one thinks about Israel, it’s hard to deny that (a) the subject is controversial, and (b) Twitter (or a symbolic accessory, or a product endorsement deal) isn’t exactly a great place to express a nuanced thought about a complicated topic. Case in point: celebrities aren’t the only ones who’ve found that to be true. Even the Associated Press has experienced the pitfalls of tweeting about Gaza, having decided to revise a tweet that seemed to express negative judgment about U.S. lawmakers who support Israel. In a time when people like Malik and Rihanna have a direct line to their legions of fans, they’re all one click away from saying something they don’t really mean, or saying something they think they mean but haven’t really thought through. Safer, then, not to say anything. If the point of being a celebrity is to please fans, it’s pretty clear that Tweeting about Israel is not the way to do it.

On the other hand, Malik’s #FreePalestine tweet was followed by silence. He hasn’t responded to any fans, he hasn’t apologized and he hasn’t deleted what he said. So maybe “#FreePalestine” was really what he meant, with all its possible connotations and consequences. There’s no evidence to suggest otherwise.

Which means that the other possible takeaway is that maybe pleasing fans isn’t actually what celebrities care about most, and that asking them to be quiet about their opinions is an unrealistic expectation. In that scenario, they’re not different from any other Twitter users in that they can say whatever they want — and in that, when other users disagree, they’ll hear about it.

TIME Social Media

These Are Twitter’s Biggest Secrets

Twitter Releases Diversity Report
The exterior of the Twitter headquarters on February 5, 2014 in San Francisco, California. Justin Sullivan—Getty Images

What makes us follow, fave, share and—most importantly—keep coming back

When I choose someone new to follow, when I compose a new tweet, when I share and favorite an update, I seldom think about the why. My following sessions would probably seem haphazard to an outsider, and my favoriting technique comes and goes from one strategy to another.

Even so, the way I use Twitter is far less random than I thought. There is science and psychology behind the way we all tweet.

Researchers have discovered trends in the way that we perform every major action on Twitter—favoriting, updating, sharing, and following. And there’s even an interesting bit of psychology behind what makes Twitter so attractive in the first place. Here’s a look at the psychology of Twitter: what makes us follow, favorite, share and keep coming back for more.

Why we love Twitter so much: Rats, levers and psychology

I’ve hit more than my fair share of Twitter wormholes—minutes that turn to hours as I find more and more tweets to read and share. Does that sound familiar to you, too?

I figured there was a psychological reason behind the draw of Twitter. After digging around, sure enough, I came across a perfect explanation of this phenomenon, courtesy of Dr. Marion Underwood, a clinical psychologist at the University of Texas.

The type of reinforcement schedule that is the most reinforcing is what’s called an intermittent schedule.

So, you have a rat pushing a lever and he gets rewarded, but not in a predictable way. Many times, that animal pushes that lever and nothing comes, but every once in a while, it gets a great treat. So the rat keeps pressing and pressing and pressing even though there’s not much reinforcement coming because every once in a while, it’s just great.

This hit home for me. Twitter offers these intermittent rewards that keep us coming back. Maybe you’ll check Twitter once and have a notification that someone retweeted you. That’s enough to keep you coming back a handful more times, even if nothing new and rewarding has occurred. We keep pushing the lever, hoping for something great.

The concept makes complete sense for those who wind up checking Twitter multiple times each day (same goes for email, too).

And just as there is psychology behind why we love Twitter so much, there’s science and data behind the many different ways we interact with one another. Here are three of the most interesting studies I’ve come across.

Why we follow: The 15 factors that affect follower growth

What spurs us to follow someone on Twitter? Researchers at Georgia Tech and Michigan combined to study the factors involved in following.

Their study looked at more than 500 Twitter users and a half-million of their tweets and analyzed follower count over a 15-month period—one of the longest timeframes you’ll see in a Twitter study.

The research team worked from a basis of follower growth factors that were made up of variables from social science, linguistics, computer-mediated communication, and network theory. In other words, if there is any reason why someone would follow someone else on Twitter, this study accounted for it.

The factors they came up with boiled down to three categories: social behaviors, message content, and social network structure. Here are the individual factors for each, starting with social behaviors:

  • Tweet volume
  • Burstiness – tweets per hour
  • Interactions – replies, mentions, and favorites
  • Broadcast communication – the ratio of tweets with no @-mention
  • Trustworthiness of the profile – How well is the bio filled out? Is there a URL in the profile? Is there a location listed?

The individual factors for message content:

  • Positive/negative sentiment
  • Informational content – ratio of tweets containing either a URL, RT, MT, HT, or “via”
  • Meformer content – ratio of tweets containing self-referencing pronouns like “I,” “me,” “we,” and “us”
  • Topic focus
  • Retweets – how often your content gets retweeted
  • Hashtag usage
  • TReDIX – Tweet Reading Difficulty Index (based on the frequency of real English words longer than 6 letters)

The individual factors in social network structure:

  • Reciprocity – The number of people you follow who also follow you
  • Attention-status ratio – Total followers compared to total following
  • Network overlap – How similar are the people you follow to those a follower follows

Knowing what’s behind each of these factors, how would you rate them in terms of importance? Which factor helps gain the most followers?

The winner is network overlap.

 

Follower growth stats
Buffer

In the chart above, you’ll see that the effect on follower growth spills to both sides of the x-axis. So not only can you see that network overlap, retweetable content, and a good bio have positive effects on gaining followers, you might also notice that broadcast communication (e.g. tweets with no @-mention), negativity, and hashtags drive follower growth down.

Takeaway: The PsyBlog has a nice recap of the findings from this study, summarizing points of emphasis from the research data. If you want to grow your followers, try these tips:

  1. Avoid negative sentiments
  2. Inform, don’t meform
  3. Boost social proof
  4. Stay on topic
  5. Write well and avoid hashtag abuse
  6. Switch from broadcast to direct tweets

Why we share: A guide to penning the most shareable tweet

I’m sure we’d all love to know what makes for a perfect tweet. Cornell researchers were interested, too.

They conducted a study that examined more than 1.7 million tweet pairs, comparing the differences in language between the two tweets and assigning value based on which style of tweet gains more retweets. Their conclusion:

Helpful wording heuristics include adding more information, making one’slanguage aligned with both community norms and with one’s prior messages, and mimicking news headlines.

If you were looking for an exact formula of a perfect tweet, the researchers didn’t find one. They did, however, offer a large number of best practices to go along with their conclusion above.

  • It helps to ask people to share
  • Informativeness helps
  • Sound like your community
  • Imitate headlines
  • Refer to other people but not to your audience (“he” and “she” rather than “you”)
  • Generality helps (“a” and “an” rather than “the”)
  • The easier to read, the better

Perhaps best of all, the research team put together a tool based on their findings that can help you perfect your posts. Enter two similar tweets into the Retweeted More tool, and you’ll get an algorithmic answer about which is better.

(Ready for some practice? See how you fare against the algorithm by taking this25-question test–see if you can pick the tweets that got shared more.)

Takeaway: Take inspiration from headlines and from your past successful tweets (your Buffer analytics can help with this) to write a tweet that is optimized for sharing. Try out the Retweeted More tool to test different versions.

(If you’re curious what we’ve found works best for retweets, check out the recap from our Twitter webinar.)

Why we favorite: Reaction & function

A study published by the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence sought to put our myriad favoriting methods into categories. They quizzed a group of more than 600 Twitter users by asking two questions:

  1. Explain why you tend to favorite tweets.
  2. Explain the reasons for your most recent favorited tweet.

They received more than 331 answers to these questions and placed each answer into one or more categories. Here’s the full taxonomy of categories they used to classify favorites.

AAAI
AAAI

 

 

What’s interesting about the way these 331 answers fell is that there came about two distinct use cases for favorites. The research found that people favorite a tweet for one of two reasons:

  • Reaction/response
  • Function/purpose

The psychology here is quite interesting. Reactions and responses occur directly due to the content of the tweet or the author of the tweet. We favorite what we like. We favorite our friends and family (and, if I’m being honest, celebrities). When we favorite for utility, we’re seeking to fulfill a goal or a purpose. We favorite to bookmark. We favorite to communicate.

(If you’ve ever favorited something you agree with, your favorite would fall into the function/purpose category. According to the study’s authors, favoriting as agreeing is intended for the author; liking for the person doing the favoriting.)

Takeaway: Classifying favorites is nothing new; we all seem to have a method of favoriting tweets. The research shows, at least, that our method isn’t necessarily unique to us. For every user who favorites their friends, there’s a user who’s favoriting for bookmarks.

Do these insights ring true to you?

Psychology shows us how Twitter can be so addicting: We crave a great experience each time we pull the Twitter lever, and it keeps us coming back for more.

Research and data reveal a bit into the way that we use Twitter. We follow based on our network, we retweet based on tried-and-true formulas, and we favorite for reaction or function.

Kevan is a content crafter at Buffer, the super simple social media management tool. His social media and productivity tips have appeared in Fast Company and Lifehacker, and he’s always on the lookout for a good headline pun. Connect with him on Twitter .

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: July 28

1. Hamas doesn’t want to beat Israel in the current battle of Gaza, they want to beat Fatah for the hearts of the Palestinian people.

By Hicham Mourad in Al-Ahram

2. The State Department is fighting a losing social media war with terrorists.

By Jacob Silverman in Politico

3. We shouldn’t need a guide: When to use ethnic slurs.

By Eric Liu in the Atlantic

4. Beyond producing more scientists, STEM education gives us creative problem-solvers who thrive in business and leadership.

By Jonathan Wei in Quartz

5. Giving while living: Americans should engage in philanthropy when they’re young.

By Christopher Oechsli in the Chronicle of Philanthropy

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

MONEY

Mark Cuban to Investors: Get Out Of U.S. Companies That Run Overseas

Mark Cuban
Hey, you! Get back here! Mpu Dinani—Getty Images

Companies are merging with foreign competitors to get tax breaks. Here's what the notorious Mavs owner thinks of that.

Dallas Mavericks owner and investor Mark Cuban has taken to Twitter this morning with some big thoughts about the U.S. companies changing to foreign addresses to get tax breaks.

Such corporate relocations, known as inversions, have become a hot-button issue in recent days after several major corporations pulled the tax maneuver and President Obama began calling for Congress to block this virtual corporate exodus.

Cuban starts with what sounds like your basic economic patriotism argument:

 

And then things get more interesting.

 

By PE, Cuban means price-earnings ratio, the standard way investors value a stock. He means that if companies take the tax break, investors ultimately benefit because it raises earnings. (We recently discussed who really benefits here. Short answer: That’s true mostly for wealthy investors like Cuban.) And he says he’s wiling to live with lower earnings. But what does “risk doesn’t leave the system” mean?

This:

 

Of course, he adds, if you sell to punish a company for cutting its taxes, make sure it doesn’t mean you pay a bunch of taxes.

 

Activism has its limits, amirite?

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