Twitter discloses another 10,000 accounts suspended for fomenting political discord globally

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Twitter’s ongoing, and possibly Sisyphean, effort of policing and removing nefarious content disseminated on its platform is taking another step forward today. The company’s safety team has disclosed the removal of another 10,112 accounts across six countries that were found to be actively spreading misinformation and encouraging unrest in politically sensitive climates.

The accounts noted today follow the same fault lines of unrest that you will find in the news at the moment: they include more than 4,000 each in United Arab Emirates and China, over 1,000 in Equador, and 259 in Spain. The full trove is being posted for researchers and others to parse and you can find it, and the wider archive — now numbering in the millions of Tweets and with one terabyte of media — here.

Today’s removals mark nearly one year of Twitter’s efforts to identify and remove accounts that are spreading political misinformation for the purposes of changing public sentiment — something that has wide-ranging impact beyond simply being annoyed on social media, including not least democratic processes like voting in elections or referendums. Today’s list is on par with some of the other notable disclosures Twitter has made every few months in the last year, such as its first removals process last October covering some 4,500 accounts out of Russia; but they are a far cry from its biggest removal effort to date, identifying and suspending some 200,000 accounts in China aimed at sowing discord in Hong Kong this past August.

Given that, if anything, Twitter is trying to make it easier, not harder, to open accounts and start using the service,  one could argue that trying to police the bad guys is a never-ending, and possibly impossible effort, since like the universe itself, Twitter just keeps expanding.

But on the other hand, it’s a necessary process, one that can help us learn about how social media is being misused (Twitter says that ‘thousands’ of researchers have accessed the data to date).

Those who are able can try to figure out ways to fix it, and we the public become smarter about spotting and passing over the bad stuff. Plus, in a climate where social networks are now getting increasingly scrutinised by governments for their role in aiding and abetting the bad actors, it also helps Twitter (and others that also identify and remove accounts, like Facebook) demonstrate that it is self-policing, making an effort and producing results, before states step in and do the policing for them. (Related sidenote: Just yesterday, Colin Crowell, Twitter’s VP of public policy for the last eight years, who had a big role in interfacing with the powers that be by overseeing lobbying efforts, announced yesterday that he would be stepping down.)

More details on the list announced today:

United Arab Emirates & Egypt: Twitter said it removed 267 accounts originating in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Egypt. “These accounts were interconnected in their goals and tactics: a multi-faceted information operation primarily targeting Qatar, and other countries such as Iran. It also amplified messaging supportive of the Saudi government,” Twitter notes. Additionally, it identified that all these accounts came from one tech company called DotDev, which has also been permanently suspended (along with other accounts associated with it).

A separate group of 4,258 accounts operating from the UAE, mainly directed at Qatar and Yemen, were also removed. “These accounts were often employing false personae and tweeting about regional issues, such as the Yemeni Civil War and the Houthi Movement.”

Saudi Arabia: Just six accounts linked to Saudi Arabia’s state-run media apparatus were found to be “engaged in coordinated efforts to amplify messaging that was beneficial to the Saudi government.” The accounts presented themselves as journalists and media outlets.

Twitter also singled out the account of Saud al-Qahtani, a former media advisor to the King, for violations of its platform manipulation policies. (The account is not included in the archives disclosed today.)

Spain: Partido Popular — the Spanish political party founded by a former Franco minister that has been tied up in corruption scandals — was identified as operating some 259 accounts that were falsely boosting public sentiment online in Spain. The accounts were active for only a short time, Twitter notes.

Ecuador: There were 1,019 accounts removed this summer affiliated with the PAIS Alliance political party. The network of primarily fake accounts “was primarily engaged in spreading content about President Moreno’s administration, focusing on issues concerning Ecuadorian laws on freedom of speech, government censorship, and technology.”

China (PRC)/Hong Kong: It’s not 200,000 accounts as in August but still, another 4,302 accounts have been identified in helping to “sow discord about the protest movement in Hong Kong.”

As with previous datasets that Twitter has disclosed, the company notes that this is an ongoing effort that will see further announcements in the months ahead as more accounts are identified. But the question you have to ask is whether the company has been trying to figure out if there is a way of preventing these accounts from coming on to the platform in the first place.

Let me do the worrying about 2020, and the politics behind DeGette’s union endorsement

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It’s never too early to start panicking about 2020. I made the impromptu decision to do so earlier this week after looking at the Colorado secretary of state’s election calendar.

Presidential primary candidates who want to get on the Colorado ballot can start circulating petitions Nov. 4. That’s just 46 days away. Primary ballots — for the presidential race only — will begin going out to voters here in just over four months, culminating with our March 3 primary. Taking part in Super Tuesday, while causing stress for Colorado politics editors, will give the state’s voters a more prominent role in selecting the Democratic nominee.

Are you ready to vote, Colorado? If not, no need for you to panic. We’ll have lots of coverage coming your way, primarily from reporters Jon Murray and Justin Wingerter. We’ve got ideas and some stories already in the works, but we also want to hear what will help you make your decision. What do you want to know that you aren’t getting from national media? Email ideas@denverpost.com, putting “presidential race” in the subject line.

The Post’s politics team is also covering candidate visits as they happen, of course. Two of the three highest-polling candidates — Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren — have stumped here, as has Kamala Harris. And Beto O’Rourke is in Aurora today. Joe Biden is coming to Denver at the end of the month to collect some money, but there has been no mention of a public appearance on that trip. Other candidates who are at least occasionally polling above 2% but haven’t been here: Pete Buttigieg, Andrew Yang and Cory Booker.

I’ll have more to say, and ask, about Colorado’s U.S. Senate race another week, but there was a little bit of news there today: Businesswoman Denise Burgess, who announced Monday — three and a half days ago — that she was running for the Democratic nomination to take on U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, ended that effort Thursday afternoon. Her departure drops the size of the primary field back into the single digits, for those trying to keep track.

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You can send tips, comments and questions to me at candrews@denverpost.com or to The the Post’s reporters below.


Top Line

Former United States Rep. Gabby Giffords ...
AAron Ontiveroz, The Denver Post

Former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords (center) listens as she is flanked by executive assistant Kelsey Rivera (left) and Rep. Jason Crow during a public forum on gun violence solutions last month in Aurora. Giffords became a gun control advocate after surviving an assassination attempt in 2011.

Seven years after a gunman walked into a theater in Aurora and killed a dozen people, the city has become a hub for gun control advocacy. It sent Jason Crow and his gun safety platform to Congress, and compelled state Rep. Tom Sullivan, whose son was killed in the shooting, into politics. It has brought former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords here twice in a month and Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke here Thursday.

Capitol Diary • By Anna Staver

QR codes are on their way out

Colorado is the first state in the country to say it’s giving the boot to those strange, pixelated squares that voting machines spit out after people cast a ballot.

QR, or quick response, codes are printed on the paper receipts people get from electronic from electronic voting machines. The code contains a record of how that person voted, but those black and white squares can only be read by computers — not humans.

“Voters should have the utmost confidence that their vote will count,” Secretary of State Jena Griswold said. “Removing QR codes from ballots will enable voters to see for themselves that their ballots are correct and helps guard against cyber meddling.”

She cited Russian attempts to influence the 2016 election as one of her reasons for making the change, while emphasizing that there’s no evidence Colorado’s election system has been targeted.

The QR codes are scheduled to be replaced after the 2020 election.

Email Anna at astaver@denverpost.com.

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Elections 2020 • By Justin Wingerter

DeGette’s enticing endorsement

Late last week, Democratic U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette nabbed the endorsement of the local United Food and Commercial Workers union, Colorado’s largest labor union. Kim Cordova, president of UFCW Local 7, called DeGette “a proven workers champion.”

The endorsement is noteworthy not only because of the union’s prominence – think King Soopers, Safeway and Mission Foods – but because DeGette’s primary opponent, Crisanta Duran, was a UFCW Local 7 attorney and Duran’s father, Ernest, was its longtime president.

Ernest Duran lost re-election as Local 7 president to Cordova a decade ago and there has been some bad blood since. The Durans alleged the election was unfair. As Westword cheekily wrote at the time, Crisanta Duran decided to rise above the union ugliness – by getting into politics.

DeGette and Duran have both courted labor support as of late – making clear they back SEIU as it threatens a strike at Kaiser, for example. DeGette’s endorsement from UFCW Local 7, while unsurprising, feels like a shot across the bow at her Democratic primary opponent.

Email Justin at jwingerter@denverpost.com.

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Mile High Politics • By Andy Kenney

New council, old question

The new Denver City Council took on a classic development question Monday: What do you do when a neighborhood hates a development proposal?

This time, the rezoning was for the residential block of Sheridan Boulevard south of 17th Avenue in West Denver, where property owners wanted to allow the construction of two- and three-story multifamily buildings that could include roughly 100 units.

Council resoundingly rejected the proposal in an 11-2 vote, ceding to strong neighborhood objections, including from the longstanding Jewish community. The central argument was familiar: Would density add needed housing or would it encourage land speculation and automobile traffic?

Council members Jamie Torres and Kendra Black were the only supporters. Councilwoman Amanda Sandoval said northwest Denver needs more housing, but she didn’t see it as a “Swiss bank account” to justify improper rezonings. Members Paul Kashmann and Kevin Flynn both cited concerns about neighborhood character. Councilwoman At-large Robin Kniech said the “main street” zoning couldn’t work with sloped lots on busy Sheridan.

It’s not the first time that council has rejected a controversial neighborhood rezoning — see the “Leave It To Beaver” vote in East Denver. But this one came by a much stronger margin. Now, it’s back to the drawing board. West Denver will soon enter a new area planning initiative. And we’ll see if this council is signaling a harder line against development and density.

Email Andy at akenney@denverpost.com.

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Colorado commission OKs incentives for 800 jobs from a California fintech company

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Colorado’s Front Range continues to see a steady stream of California transplants — not just people, but entire corporations and satellite offices.

One of them could be a Bay Area financial technology (fintech) startup that is looking at the metro area and could bring in nearly 800 jobs over eight years.

Project Feline, a codename used to protect the company’s identity, is considering locations in Denver, Douglas or Arapahoe counties, as well as in Arizona and Florida.

To help sway the decision, the Colorado Economic Development Commission on Thursday approved $9 million in job growth incentive tax credits for the privately held company if it follows through.

“Colorado is not one of those states that leads with incentives. We are not as competitive as other states are,” said Michelle Hadwiger, the deputy director of Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade.

But when the state does put an incentive offer on the table, it wins about eight out of 10 times, she added.

The new positions are to staff the expansion of the young company’s “customer experience” team and come with an average annual wage of $81,722.

While that is 119 percent of the average annual wage in Denver County, it is low compared to what other tech companies looking at Colorado have offered to pay.

“The average annual wage seems to be lower than what we have been approving,” noted commissioner Denise Brown.

Hadwiger responded that the customer service team will include licensed investment professionals eligible for additional bonuses. A company representative said those typically represent a 5 percent to 10 percent bump in pay.

The commission approved only one incentive request at its monthly meeting, a lighter-than-usual load. Hadwiger told commissioners they could see eight projects at the October meeting.

Besides California, Colorado has found success recruiting companies in Australia and New Zealand. Hadwiger said about a half dozen companies there have expressed interest in relocating to Colorado.

A view of the Denver skyline ...
Helen H. Richardson, The Denver Post

A view of the Denver skyline is seen from the Denver Museum of Nature and Science and City Park on March 12, 2018 in Denver.

Next week, Lt. Gov. Dianne Primavera and representatives from COEDIT, the Metro Denver Economic Development Corp., Denver and Colorado Springs are headed to Down Under on a trade mission.

“Colorado’s strengths have great appeal to Australian and New Zealand markets and our message continues to advance diplomatic and business relations,” Primavera said in a statement.

Subscription email app Tempo hits the right minimalist notes

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Email will likely never die, but if new apps can change how we think about using it, maybe it will feel like the worst parts have croaked.

In the wake of popular apps like Inbox and Mailbox being sunsetted, like many I’ve been left rudderless trying to find an email client that fills the void. I’ve been experimenting with so-called premium email clients for a while and a tiny team in Copenhagen has built what has become my favorite as of late.

5b913d408065b633fe9ab88d focus mode

Tempo is an email app — currently in free beta — that tries to minimize distractions while helping you be more deliberate and less obsessive about email.

“We believe that we can provide something better for email, but you can’t be everything for everybody,” co-founder Sebastian Stockmarr told TechCrunch in an interview. “I think we’re ready for this fragmentation of the market where we can actually have these niche products, but then they’re still for the most widely used technology for communication.”

It’s Mac-only for Gmail users at the moment, though Android, iOS and Windows platform-support are all on the docket.

Tempo’s niche has grown a bit since development began and the co-founders have eased up on some of their originally spartan design choices that included a desktop app where you couldn’t access your full inbox and a beta mobile app that didn’t allow you to reply to emails at all.

The radical design decisions were originally made to organize around the idea that being a slave to notifications was bad for productivity and that email was never meant to be an ever-present life blood. The app had “hard-coded in good habits,” Stockmarr told me. Over time, the app has become more appealing to a general user, but as the company prepares to launch their mobile app, they are trying to ensure that they can stop their users from defaulting to bad habits with the proper interface.

“Mobile is a pretty important piece,” Stockmarr says. “If we want to allow people to focus more and be less disturbed by things, I think the biggest killer of that is in our pockets.”

The app has just emerged from its invite-only days in recent weeks and after relying on it for the past couple months, I’ve really begun to enjoy some of its intricacies. My most recent email service I spent time with was Superhuman, so expect a few comparisons.

Tempo is an email app that’s about directing your focus. Workplace toolsets are so often about sending you mixed signals that drag you out of deep work. Tempo is a design-focused desktop email app that encourages you to give your all to it while it’s fullscreen on your computer, and then to led your more trivial emails fade while you get to your other work.

The fundamental difference between the two apps is that Superhuman has optimized for users to get in and out of the app quickly so they can stay current, but Tempo is more focused on you settling into the app but using it less per day. True to the sell, I’ve ended up checking my email less with Tempo, but I spend more time in the app sending more emails when I do.

The most useful feature of Superhuman is present here partially, which was splitting the inbox into messages that were sent only to you and ones that are more likely to be spam or low-priority. You aren’t currently able to designate new inbox buckets or set your own rules, which is something that may hold back power users from adopting it.

“Focus” is a dedicated mode inside the app that just tosses your most recent email in fullscreen glory right in front of you, and gives you the option to archive it, delete it, send it to the workspace or pound out a quick reply. The quick replies are kind of fun, they somewhat arbitrarily give you a 140 character “limit” that you of course can blow through, but Tempo finds places to encourage you to just get done what you need to rather than rattling on.

5d0a3aa41792e12476695415 workspace 1

Tempo’s workspace (image via Tempo)

The workspace is probably the main distinguishing feature of the app — it’s a to-do list that you stock with emails that probably warranted more than a quick reply and may necessitate a few messages before they’re safely out of mind. Combining a getting-things-done interface with your inbox makes a lot of sense given how parallel the mantras of GTD and inbox-zero are. One feature that I don’t use, because I can’t really afford to as a reporter (or so I tell myself), is scheduled notifications, where you are only sent a desktop notification or two per day letting you know that you have emails to check. You can schedule when these arrive and it encourages you to not be afraid to let a few emails build in your inbox rather than obsessively checking them.

There are still some design quirks I don’t love, especially regarding how search works, some of the reply/forward mechanics and the occasional beta bugginess, but it seems to help me be healthier about email without feeling too preachy. While competing apps like Superhuman are putting the emphasis on speed, Tempo’s founders say that shaving milliseconds from open times isn’t where much of their focus lies.

“Speed, in itself, is not a goal for us,” Stockmarr tells TechCrunch.

That seems pretty in-line with the product’s design ethos but it also might have something to do with the fact that Tempo just has 5 people on its team and isn’t looking to raise any big venture rounds soon, saying that they believe that they’re within sight of profitability with the current funding from the design studio Founders that Tempo sits inside.

Tempo’s Mac desktop app is currently free but once the startup launches their mobile app, they’re planning to charge $15 per month for the service. The service might cost half of Superhuman’s $30/mo, but the test for the startup will be forcing users to compare how the app makes them feel about their relationship with email versus how it makes their credit card feel.

The emergence of super apps in Latin America

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The super apps WeChat and Alipay became an integral part of the Chinese mobile ecosystem, growing to more than 1 billion monthly active users (MAU) and 1 billion annual active users (AAU), respectively. They both offer services from food delivery and bike sharing to a full suite of financial services such as payment, insurance and investments.

Now, companies from around the world are trying to replicate the successful Chinese model in their region. And Latin America is an especially compelling region for the emergence of super apps, due to its vast population, almost 650 million, distributed in more or less similar countries regarding language, culture and religion. It also has a mobile-first population with 62% of smartphone penetration, according to GSMA data.

The expansion of the super apps model

After the incredible success of WeChat and Alipay, many companies around the world decided to replicate their model in different regions. Due to the proximity to China and its influence and money, Southeast Asia was one of the first regions in which super apps started to appear. The Singaporean ride-hailing Grab and the Indonesian Go-Jek both raised billions of dollars to not only successfully block the expansion of Uber in the region but also to expand their portfolio of services provided beyond ride-hailing to food delivery, payments and other services.

Note that not all super apps are the same.

In India, payTM is expanding beyond its core service and positioning itself to be the leading player in the country, especially after Tapzo was acquired by Amazon last year and closed.

It is interesting to note that not all super apps are the same. Alipay came from the e-commerce Alibaba and is more focused on financial services, while WeChat started as a messenger app, expanding not only to financial services but also to daily services such as e-commerce, gaming, travel and many others. In Southeast Asia, Go-Jek and Grab started as ride-hailing, expanding to delivery before going to financial services, and payTM started as a prepaid recharge mobile platform and then moved to offer a range of financial and daily services.

So, what to expect in Latin America?

Latin American super apps should develop themselves in their own particular way, as the environment in the region is quite different from the one in China.

The internet ecosystem in the region is highly influenced by European and American tech companies that dominate segments such as communication, music, search and many others. It is quite hard for a local startup to compete in those markets. However, there are a few battlegrounds that are not as easy to dominate from abroad, such as ride-hailing, food delivery and finance. Those are on-the-ground or highly regulated industries that are very hard to scale, especially across different countries. Those are precisely the industries in which we have seen the emergence of some super apps candidates, fueled by an unprecedented amount of venture capital investment in the region.

The most prominent candidate to super app in the region is the Colombian on-demand delivery Rappi. It is one of the most funded startups in Latin America, backed by titans such as Sequoia, Andreessen Horowitz and SoftBank, which have poured US$ 1.4 billion in investments so far. Although it started offering just food delivery, it now provides services such as e-scooter, payments, P2P transfer, movie theater tickets and a debit card. It also operates in the most relevant countries in the region: Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, Argentina, Chile, Uruguay and Peru.

Another strong candidate is the financial side of the e-commerce behemoth Mercado Libre (MELI), Mercado Pago. It started as a way to enable payment between users in the marketplace; however, it grew to offer a diverse portfolio of financial services such as online and offline payment, bill payments and, more recently, investment (through its Mercado Fondo). Thanks to its parent company, it’s pretty much all over Latin America, and processes around 400 million transactions annually.

The Brazilian Movile is also positioning itself as a strong competitor. The company already has a diverse portfolio of services, from delivery food to event tickets, courier and even a kids Netflix, operating in Brazil, Mexico, Colombia and Argentina. Not only did it raise a total of US$395 million investment, but also one of its companies, iFood, raised a total of US$592 million.

Latin America is an especially compelling region for the emergence of super apps.

The Spanish Cabify is another company trying to position itself as a super app. It recently started to offer e-scooters and bike service, as well as financial services through its own fintech company, Lana. Even though it raised US$477 million in funding, it will be hard for Cabify to become a super app, as the ride-hailing competition is getting quite intense in the region. Its competitors Uber and Didi are also adding more services and trying to position themselves.

An interesting potential competitor would be Nubank, the Brazilian decacorn (private companies with more than US$10 billion of valuation). It already has more than 8 million customers in Brazil and is starting to expand in the region to Mexico, Argentina and Colombia. Although Nubank still only offers traditional financial services, it has Tencent as a significant investor and has raised US$1.1 billion, so far. Therefore, it would be no surprise if it decides to follow a similar path as WeChat.

Also, in Brazil, Banco Inter (BIDI11) recently launched a marketplace to expand the offer to its customers beyond financial services to e-commerce, travel and more. The challenger bank is already a public company with around US$7 billion valuation, but it is now backed by SoftBank after its latest share offer.

Those are the most well-positioned candidates to be super apps in Latin America. Even so, other players could surprise, such as Magazine Luiza, leading retail and e-commerce in Brazil. Its CEO is transforming the company from a brick-and-mortar retail to a technology company and already showed its ambition to transform MagaLu (its app) into a super app offering many other services. Although it could compete in the Brazilian market, it would be doubtful that it becomes a regional player, as its primary business operates only in Brazil.

Super apps in Latin America will not be the same as in China

We are starting to see the rise of the super apps in Latin America, but they will not follow the Chinese path as the markets are very different. A better comparison could be with the Southeast Asian players as the markets are more similar; however, Latin American’s super apps will probably be the result of the unique environment in the region.

As more companies are looking into the Chinese success stories, we will probably see even more players competing to become the Latin American super app. The venture capitalists are already placing their bets on who will become the leading players in Latin America. One thing is certain: It will be exhilarating to see how the market unfolds in the region — the customers will be the true winners in this battle.

Aurora police arrest Smoky Hill High School student for investigation of having a gun on campus

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Aurora police arrested a Smoky Hill High School student on campus Thursday for investigation of having a gun at school, police and school officials said.

The name, age and grade of the suspect has not been released.

“This is a serious issue for a student to bring a gun to school,” Anthony Camacho, an Aurora police spokesman, said. “My understanding is that no one was threatened by the student with the gun.”

Cherry Creek Schools left messages with parents of Smoky Hill students on Thursday notifying them about the gun incident, according to a copy of the message provided by Abbe Smith, district spokeswoman.

A parent called the school Thursday to report that a student was potentially in possession of a gun, the message said.

“The student was located and the school immediately notified police, who responded to the scene. The student was searched and was found to be in possession of a gun,” the district message said.

Camacho said police arrested the boy, who will be taken to a juvenile detention facility.

Regardless of whether the student is 18, the legal age for possessing a gun, it is illegal for students to bring a gun to the school, he said.

“We want to thank Smoky Hill staff, district security and law enforcement for responding swiftly in this situation and keeping students safe,” the district message said. “We also want to thank the parent who alerted the school.”

The message urged parents to call Safe2Tell if they see or hear of potentially dangerous behavior.

Physicists race to develop room-temperature quantum chips

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A team of physicists from Stevens Institute of Technology recently unveiled the world’s most complex and accurate method for coaxing individual particles of light into interacting with one another. While bullying photons might not sound like a breakthrough, the team’s research is blazing a trail towards the Holy Grail of physics: room-temperature quantum computing chips. The Stevens team, led by associate professor of physics and director of the Center for Quantum Science and Engineering Yuping Huang, developed a method for forcing photons to interact by etching a quantum-sized micro-cavity in the shape of a racetrack into a lithium niobate crystal…

This story continues at The Next Web