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The most insane Twitter story ever? [The Interface]

November 3 · Issue #20 · View online
The Interface
At press time yesterday, the only thing I knew about Donald Trump’s Twitter account was that it had briefly disappeared. Within a couple of hours, though, it turned out something far more insane had happened: by Twitter’s own account, a rogue employee on their last day had disabled @RealDonaldTrump. Twitter was able to reverse the move just 11 minutes later. But that it happened at all raises all sorts of questions.
I explored some of these today in a piece for The Verge. Talking to more than a half-dozen current and former employees, I learned that this isn’t the first time someone on the way out had — to use the words of one ex-employee — “dropped the mic.” 
In the wake of Trump’s account deactivation shortly before 10PM ET on Thursday, former employees gathered in a private Slack that they use to discuss the company’s travails. The rogue employee, who has not been identified, was an immediate source of fascination. “We’re now referring to this individual as ‘the legend,’” one former employee told The Verge. At the same time, the former employee was not surprised by the incident. “People have ‘dropped the mic’ in the past and deleted accounts, verified users, and otherwise abused their power on the last day,” the employee said. In each case, the employee said, the abuse was caught quickly and did not become public. 
These “mic drops” were possible because of the broad availability of customer support tools inside Twitter. The company won’t say how many people have access to the tools necessary to deactivate an account like Trump’s — and after today, the number is likely much lower. But up until now, as many as hundreds of people have had access to the tools, which let employees see a broad range of information about the account. The access does not allow employees to send tweets from other users’ accounts, or to read a user’s direct messages.
Twitter says it has implemented new safeguards to prevent something like this from happening again — but it won’t say what. 
In the meantime, there was lots of good writing on the subject. In the Times, Mike Isaac confirmed the employee was a contractor. In the Post, Amy Wang has the definitive account of the 11 minutes, including an interview with me:
Newton starts writing a story outlining two possible reasons Trump’s Twitter account might have been shut down. Within five minutes, he has a draft.
“This is a new media company, okay? We work very fast over here.”
Motherboard has a detailed account of how customer service reps’ control panels work:
A platform of modules, called the “user admin panel,” could’ve allowed the contractor to tinker with Trump’s account. This panel is comprised of various features, like the ability to suspend and delete accounts, and is used not only by customer service staff, but by other Twitter teams as well.
“Support definitely would [have access to these overrides], as it’s their job,” the former Twitter employee said. “If you notice that Trump’s account has been hacked, the customer support team probably wants to be able to suspend it ASAP.”
In the Outline, Adrianne Jeffries writes about other companies where low-level employees had crazy access to data:
Furthermore, building systems to simply and quickly access granular level data on hordes of people is the core competency of these user-facing Silicon Valley companies. At Uber, employees regularly abused its “God View” mode to spy on the movements of celebrities, politicians, and even ex-spouses. In 2015, the Finnish music producer and record label owner Paavo Siljamäki visited Facebook’s L.A. campus as part of the company’s efforts to teach celebrities and organizations how to use Facebook better. He watched as an engineer accessed his Facebook account without a password. 
Meaghan O'Connell, a former tech company employee, credibly imagines the state of mind of a support worker who might just hit the big red button and suspend Trump:
I don’t want to publicly implicate myself or my former employers in anything but the vaguest terms, but: Imagine it. You make $40,000-$60,000 a year and you spend 10 hours a day fielding messages from the angry, the frustrated, the clueless. People who are thwarted, being harassed, or want to interview your boss for their undergraduate thesis. Your so-called “teammates” on the technical side make five times as much as you and are respected accordingly. They’re highly skilled, highly employable. They noodle around. Go to meetings. Argue about “the grid.” You spend your days dealing with the fallout: trying not to be defensive, trying to practice empathy and compassion and keeping a list of bugs and user complaints to bring up at the next meeting, where no one will listen to you because you are “a random support person.”
So yes, you make your own fun. You joke about deleting the president’s account because even though it feels like you have no power at this company full of people drunk on their own power, you always have God Mode. You could do anything. 
On to the links!

Former Twitter Employee Says Fake Russian Accounts Were Not Taken Seriously
Congress Assigned a Lot of Homework to Facebook, Twitter, Google
Does Big Tech Need an Antitrust Exemption to Fight Russian Meddling?
The Washington Post, Miami Herald, InfoWars and other U.S. sites spread Russian propaganda from Twitter
These Students Built The Anti-Bot Algorithm Twitter Desperately Needs
Zimbabwe Police Arrested An American Journalist For Allegedly Sending A Mean Tweet
Jenna Abrams, Russia’s Clown Troll Princess, Duped the Mainstream Media and the World
Twitter Told Congress This Random American Is a Russian Propaganda Troll
Twitter rewrote its user guidelines so it’s easier to tell what will get you banned
Facebook's New Mission: Video Will Bring Us Together
How Facebook’s Oracular Algorithm Determines the Fates of Start-Ups
Sources: Snap has acquired Metamarkets for less than $100M to step up its ad tech play
Facebook rolls out GIF-supported polls feature to web and mobile apps
Why Facebook and Twitter Can’t Be Trusted to Police Themselves
And finally ..
Inside The Troll Wars On Facebook Mushroom Groups
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