How to 'debirdify': Are Post, Mastodon and other Twitter alternatives fit for purpose? | Global Journalism Seminar with Dave Lee of the Financial Times
12:30PM Jan 25, 2023
Welcome to the Global journalism seminars. This is the briefing on October 27. Last year, Elon Musk acquired Twitter for 44 billion US dollars. Since acquisition Musk has made three moves that substantively change the nature of the platform for journalists. He began trolling a paid vacation scheme. He laid off 75% of staff including those responsible for online safety and content moderation. And he suspended the accounts of half a dozen prominent journalists and the false allegations of Daxing. What does this mean for journalists who make up about 25% of all verified users and who frequently cite Twitter as an incredibly important tool for those sharing and gathering information? We surveyed 13 of our journalists fellows and found 54% say they are using Twitter less 15% have left Twitter and 31% are using it the same amount asked what they thought might be viable alternatives. 58% mentioned LinkedIn 16.7%, Macedon, 8%, tic toc and 16% said other that's the briefing. Let's begin.
Hello, and welcome to the global journalism seminars. I'm Caitlin Mercer and today we're talking about that bird site and the aftermath of Elmos purchase. Don't ask me if you're irked by what said today, I'm personally not on Twitter anymore. Consider that my disclosure statement, but Dave Lee is and he joins us from San Francisco today to talk about the fallout for journalists. Dave is a former BBC tech journalist and current San Francisco correspondent for The Financial Times primarily covering e Commerce and the gig economy. He also writes about the societal impacts of new technologies for ft magazine, and was an early adopter of the Macedon experience. Welcome, Dave.
Hello, thanks for having me.
For 40 5am, your dedicated man for joining us. So really, thank you. My pleasure. I thought we might as well kick off with a bit of a Newsline ellos. Elon, sorry Elon Musk is in court at the moment with Tesla's shareholders and you've been covering that story what's what's the mood like in court? What's going on with that case?
was really interesting. I was I was there for the start of his testimony, the end of last week and, and one thing that struck me was was quite how nervous Musk seemed. He was being very, very careful with his words. Which is you know, it's a contrast to how we kind of imagined him Don't miss this kind of shooting from the hip figure. But there's a great deal at stake. I mean, investors say that Musk's Twitter habit when he said, you know, funding secured to take Tesla private when he didn't have funding secured, yet costing me a huge, huge amount of money, certainly the most risky lawsuit he's perhaps face. And so yeah, I'd be interested to see how it pans out. It shouldn't take long cup a couple more weeks, maybe. And then we'll we'll hear from what what the jury makes a bit but yeah, it's it's yet another interesting court case for musk. I feel like I've been to several now. But yeah, we'll see. We'll see how that one pans out.
Yeah, well, you live tweeting your coverage.
live tweeting. I was more live master dawning for the first time although it's it's quite quite the adjustment as I still don't have quite the audience on Macedon that I that I've been lucky enough to have on Twitter. So you know, it's an interesting trial run for that, I suppose.
What was the what was the reaction like what what was different about Twitter? Versus mastodon? Well, sort of.
I mean, for this case, in particular, I mean, the most the most obvious difference as I'm sure will come, that's most no surprise is that when I when I refer to Elon Musk on Masterton, I don't get this kind of flood of of people saying horrible things to me which you know, that's become something of a mainstay of Twitter now any anytime you do much reporting on musk, you do get the small army of of people telling you very clearly what they what they think of your reporting and and also you as a person, which is always enjoyable. So so that's the main difference specifically when it comes to masks I think I think what's what's quite interesting about Mastodon at the moment is that it's it's quite a small user base still, but it's pretty pretty engaged in a lot of people. It says, especially on subjects like Elon Musk, you know, sort of ready to have decent conversations. A lot of people, particularly a lot of journalists that are on Macedon are there because they've decided not to use Twitter because he loves Elon Musk. And so, you know, there is there is an element of additional interest there. But I mean, for all intents and purposes, the act of reporting is the same, which I guess is somewhat encouraging. I think it just be interesting to see how that changes, as Macedon presumably gets bigger or or perhaps
perhaps doesn't. How viable Do you think it is as an alternative? What are the pros and cons?
I mean, the big thing I hear from from immediate colleagues is a good sort of place to start. I mean, I think people people think it's perhaps overly complicated compared to Twitter. I'm not sure I buy that. Really, I think it's certainly takes a few moments to kind of get your head around. But I don't think it's much more than a few moments, frankly. And I'm sort of I'm reminded of those early days of Twitter, where I think a lot of us spent a good year or so sort of thinking what do I What do I do with this thing? And I remember at the time there was, you know, people like Jonathan Ross would be on TV back home saying to people are you on Twitter? What are you doing on Twitter? And so it was the idea of how does the new platform work is isn't something that's just related to Macedon? I think, you know, it's, it's almost as if the analogy I keep coming back to is that, you know, Twitter has turned into a sort of rough pub of the Internet where, you know, for years it's been somewhere where people have hung out under new management, it's a bit of a different crowd. Now, some of us aren't too sure how to deal with that. Some of us still want to sort of nip in now and then and see our sort of friends. Macedon is yes it's it's it's less less explored. I think people are less, less and less comfortable there. But it's been an interesting reset, isn't it? Because there are people coming from Twitter who have been used to, you know, 1000s upon 1000s of followers, all of a sudden, they're almost starting from scratch. And so that's, I think that's quite daunting for journalists as well. So So it's certainly Yeah, it's it's, I think there's a hesitation to join us because it's new. It's lots of efforts. And some of it is you know, just slightly different but I think all those things could probably be overcome.
I was discussing this with a colleague earlier. Kind of saying, I, I would like Mastodon to be a viable alternative, but the one thing that does seem to be missing for me is it's that element of discoverability. On Twitter, the serendipity side of things, doesn't seem to be there as much as a bit boring. There's not as much drama. Is that a good thing or a bad thing?
You know, I think this is the really interesting aspect because one of the things I've noticed using Macedon is that I will check in and I'll sort of see what replies they've been. I'll look over the feed for a moment and then I feel like I've almost feel like I've done it, you know, I've done that session, and it's it's almost complete. You know, Twitter certainly has that feeling of each time you look at it, there's something new. But I also think that's maybe that's maybe a sort of a thing worth worth. Almost investigating because what to me that suggests is that Twitter has been so good at just kind of grabbing your attention and holding it very, very tightly. Primarily in the in the, you know, the cause of trying to, you know, keep engagement high, which is obviously one of their key metrics when they when they use to report to investors, and also serve you advertising and all these things and, and Twitter's algorithm has been both the thing that people have hated, but also it's the thing that makes Twitter feel more alive. I mean, I'm sure we've all sort of noticed those of us still using Twitter. The algorithm seems to be going into overdrive right now. And in fact, you know, one of the things Elon has put in place is this new for you. Kind of view which is a lot more out algorithm algorithmically, say that at 5am generated and there's people now appearing in my feed that I don't follow and have no intention of following but all it does is serve to give you that sort of dopamine II kind of stuff, which is, you know, something that's that's kind of Twitter's built on really, isn't it? The dopamine feeling, Macedon doesn't have that now that could be seen as a benefit for just our state of mind certainly feels that way for me. But it does actually limit its chances of capturing as big an audience as perhaps it might have done before. So yeah, it's a bit of both there, I think.
Yeah. And that is the key thing isn't it is who's who's going to actually capture the attention of the biggest audience if we're looking for a viable alternative as a town square?
Yes, I think so. And also, sorry, no, please write I think, I think the there's a there's a group on Macedon that if you ask them, they said this is just as good as Twitter. Everyone's here. Now we're all discussing. And I found that's true for perhaps people who work in cybersecurity or people who work in, you know, kind of extremely online type type work. What we haven't seen yet in any meaningful way on any platform beyond Twitter, is, you know, your footballers go there, or, you know, the NBA stars here or singers or any kind of and, you know, while Twitter was built on, techies on journalists on all that kind of stuff. It's worth saying that the platform didn't become the influential thing it was until normal people if I can say that, started to join and started to understand it. And indeed, you know, the politicians, there's a few politicians on Mastodon, but nothing like what we see on Twitter. We're just about every, you know, congressman or whoever is on there. And we're also yet to see in any large number, some of the kind of groupings on Twitter, move over to Macedon you know, sort of the cultural elements and you have, you know, what people have read for is Black Twitter, which is very sort of vibrant. Part of Twitter hasn't really migrated to Macedon. And so until that happens, I don't think we can call it anything an alternative, whether viable alternative, we can grow into that potentially, but there's a huge way to go until until that happens and you know, looking at Macedon stats I think they said that a couple of days ago, around 1.4 million active users of Macedon, you know, Twitter's in excess of almost almost 300 million of like all their monetizable use. So you know, it's clearly still just a drop in the ocean, but I mean, it's grown. It's grown quickly.
Yeah. And that there's maybe a little bit of hubris among journalists thinking or we're all on Mastodon now. So, everyone's going to come here, when, in fact, Chrissy Teigen is not there, so no one's coming.
I think you're right. I mean, Chris is yes. You know, until LeBron James is signing off. I'm not sure I'm so impressed that it's it is interesting, isn't it? Because journalists and I say this with a degree of self awareness. I haven't have a sense of self importance when it comes to these things, thinking that we are the quality information on this platform. That's true to it to a certain point. But in the same way that you know often people used to buy newspapers not for the news, but for the TV Guide. In the people are people are signing out signing up to these platforms, not to say journalist jabbering away or to sort of follow the things they're really interested in. And that's that's is and should be sort of humbling thing. And also, I think I think it speaks back to this issue of this great reset. If, if a journalist I mean I can include myself in this as well, you know, my my BBC job, because it was on TV and radio, My followers are much easier to come by than then working for a newspaper. And so, my Twitter audience is almost, you know, more than half of people have came from my BBC days. So when you go to Macedon, you don't have that initial. Yeah, it makes you think, Well, what am I bringing to this platform? What is what is going to be my way to build an audience on Macedon? I've got quite used to having one. Thank you very much. So that's that's that's, that's as big a part of the transition question for journalists as any other factor. I think.
I'm going to move on from Macedon shortly but before I do, tell us a little bit about your project to chronicle how many journalists are on this
project is right, it's so I, so Macedon has this this this feature where if you if you have a website and you link to your profile with a special particular bit of code, your Macedon profile will have this like a sort of bad just like kind of highlighted that it says verified or verified link basically. And obviously, verification on Twitter has become a big talking point, a big controversy. I think it's probably the largest single mistake Musk has made and changing that, that protocol and process. But of course, Macedon isn't a centralized service and so there isn't some team somewhere saying like, this person is real this person isn't. And so I I made a website essentially, it's a database of journalists, verified journalists. And each page in this database generates one of those links. So if you're if you're added to the database, you get this box on your on your profile saying you've been verified by press check.org and that's been that's been useful, incredibly overwhelming when we had so many responses that were, you know, we've verified maybe a third and every one that's come in so it's certainly given me a greater appreciation of the blue tick and how much of a ordeal that must have been for Twitter to, to administer. But I think as as we kind of move into these new spaces, I think, ways to verify certain kinds of professions on these places. I think that becomes pretty pretty important because I do feel like the we've got quite complacent about identity online, particularly with regards to Twitter. And we're seeing right now, you know, when the blue tick is an $8 a month thing anywhere from ads that does that does change the usefulness of it. So anything that kind of counters that I think it's is a worthwhile endeavor, even if it means my inbox is bursting with people complaining about the stock game, not verifying people quickly enough that we can we'll get to it eventually.
Yeah. Moving on from Mastodon are there other viable alternatives we should be watching
so it's there's there's a list. There's we have post.news is very, I mean, it's basically very similar to Twitter, in terms of its you know, it's owned by one company. This had a lot of kind of chatter when it first launched, it was given a bit of hype by Kara Swisher very prominent tech journalists out here so that they had some early momentum. Last night as I was waiting for a plane I looked back into all these things that I've used and Post, to me doesn't feel as anywhere near as alive as it needs to be for people to sort of log in and stay there. So I don't have high hopes for Post.news although, who knows. What is interesting is some of the splinter efforts from people who were at Twitter so you have spill which is under development. And that is being built by a team from an ex team from Twitter. They've described themselves as a diverse team from across Twitter. So there's there's sort of speaking to that saying about Black Twitter, like they're kind of thinking of those communities as a way to, to perhaps have a revival of that in a different place. There's also another project, which has the working title T two, which reminds me of Terminator more than anything, but that's another group of former Twitter engineers and also some Google engineers. And that looks pretty pretty interesting. They're building that trying to raise money. And one thing that struck me as interesting and I was tweeting about some of these things yesterday, then someone got in touch to remind me that Zoom was a creation of disgruntled Cisco employees that left after a takeover. So just got through WebEx employees that left after Cisco took over that, that that video platform and they said well said To hell with this we'll make our own and ended up being zoom and so you know, that if anything should really remind people how possible it is. For for talented skilled, nimble engineers to create to create a viable alternative. So whether any of the ones out there right now other other zoom off of Twitter, I don't know. But there's certainly there's certainly some very talented people looking at it.
Yeah. What would it take for one of those alternatives to be successful? And what is the role of journalism in in creating that tipping point? I mean, you've covered a little bit about you know, bringing the Christie's and the LeBrons. But do journalists have a role in deciding whether a platform will or won't be successful in terms of content creation?
I think I think we, I think we do. I think we do. I think a lot of it hinges on whether journalists behave sort of appropriately for that space. So for instance, on your the poll you showed at the beginning there, I think there's something 88% said tick tock might be a sort of place for journalists to go to Twitter, obviously tic TOCs a very different place, right. It's not like Twitter. And but that's not to say it can't be a platform from journalism, but what I think is really challenging for journalists on Tik Tok, particularly ones like me feel very old now on a social network, which is something, something else entirely, but it's, you know, what, what is journalism's role in these places that don't really have much journalism, and indeed, they do the users of Tiktok want journalists there? I'm not really entirely convinced they do. If journalists are just going to act as normal, and you know, I, since moving to the US, I've always been quite obsessed with the way that local news anchors here all seem to sort of talk the same in the same tone and i Coming up tonight, I noticed that okay, well, good. And I've seen some of them go with tick tock in that with that same presentational style. I'm thinking what are you doing but this isn't like, this isn't what Tik Tok users want this is they want sincerity, they want authenticity. They they they also they're also smarter than we give young news. Consumers credit for I think they know some of the sort of tricks of TV news. I don't mean tricks in a bad sense, but just sort of how stories are put together can sometimes, you know, seem quite twitchy and old hat and what they really want. This is raw stuff. And so, journalists need to learn from that. And actually, you know, we can take encouragement from the rise of Twitter in the first place. This, you know, these are all conversations that when Twitter was coming up, it was like, Okay, what should journalists do and should journalists be on there? And the thing that won out on Twitter, which was incredibly popular for journalists, was, people seem to get a lot from journalists sort of describing the process more as sort of giving commentary. I know, I'm going to do this interview or, Oh, we've just lost such and such from our program because they can't make it because they're stuck on a train or these kinds of little bits of making the news that kind of the sausage as they say, I mean, that actually, I think enhanced trust and so I wonder if some of these new platforms also needs to reflect some of that and tick tock in particular, I think the few things that does work that has worked for journalists organizations is, is that sort of behind the scenes, elements of news gathering. And as long as we sort of meet users where they are as opposed to just tell them where where journalists say you should listen, I think that's that's that can, it can be can be useful.
Yeah. You said it earlier, the self importance of thinking that your old way of doing things on your old format is completely different platforms must accept you as you come. Interesting. And you also mentioned the kind of chatter around the BBC newsroom when Twitter came out. Let's talk a little bit about the stereotype that journalists are a little anti new tech. How How fair Do you think that is? As a tech journalist and do we need to do things differently?
I think so. I mean, yeah, it's a stereotype. Like all stereotypes kind of built somewhere on true for them. I think journalists are skeptical, skeptical by nature, which is necessary. I also think we're often told something's the next big thing in various degrees. And so sort of a healthy dose of well I'll just wait and see. It's quite useful. I do think it's mildly frustrating to see journalists, particularly those who cover technology sort of saying it services like Macedon are too complicated because I think that suggests an element of laziness there. I mean, we, you know, we wouldn't have seen if someone said, Well, I think my iPhone is too complicated because I need to download some new apps. I mean, that's just doesn't make any sense. Sometimes I think you know, there'll be a certain number of early journalistic adopters, and we've seen that already. Sometimes it needs more kind of upon high encouragement. There was a time when I, one of my early jobs, the BBC World Service, you know, the radio network and and I imagine almost more than any other newsroom in the world that BBC World Service had its fair few let's just say sort of lifers and old timers who would have hidden behind a big box of books and worked on you know, a science program somewhere you know, that kind of stuff and doing incredible radio output but was very much happy for the for the digital stuff that to pass them by which, you know, I do, I now subsequently admire that but at the time I judged it heavily. But you know, there was a time when when Peter Horrocks who was running the world service at the time, he wasn't said in a meeting that you know, he expects all of his journalists to be on Twitter and gosh, that set off this Panic of, of people, and particularly at the time when I was there, and I was maybe 2526 People come up to me and say, Well, how do I use it? What do I do with it? So maybe, maybe there'll be that moment for Macedon. But frankly, I don't think the boss is quite understand that at all. So, you know that that feels like quite a long way off. But I you know, I'm a big believer that journalists eventually will see where the audience is, and go after it. I mean, that's no different to wanting to be on the front. Page or wanting to get on air. You know, it's Twitter has has been very important for reporters in the in a way of, you know, being able to sort of stick your finger in the air and see what the mood is or be in the mood of the people who are on Twitter, which is not everybody, obviously. And I think if we had to lose that, which feels like a real risk at the moment, but if we were to lose that, then I think the need for an alternative will be enough to get journalists out of that mode. of just feeling. They don't really want to try the new the new thing.
Sure. I've got about 1000 more questions for you. But I also have questions coming in from downstairs. And if you're watching us on Zoom, and you have a question, please feel free to use the q&a function. In the meantime, let's go downstairs to the seminar and speak to Tanmoy from India. There are just a guarantee horridly clicking to get the camera to turn on. Sorry. I'm gonna work on that. But maybe I'll tell you what's going on there. If my producer could make them a co host, please because cameras seem to be disabled. So if you can make them a co host that would really help. And while they get that sorted out, I'm going to ask you, Dave, to comment on something that horrifies me. And that is the suggestion that LinkedIn might be the alternative. What the Blazers
I mean, LinkedIn. I mean, LinkedIn is tremendously useful, not least, you know, in my current job, where every other day is a layoff day with one of the tech companies and you see people on LinkedIn sharing things and you can sort of slide into their LinkedIn DMS and say, I know this is one of the worst days of your career, but you fancy a chat. So that's it's very useful for that. I'd hate to think LinkedIn is the next it's just because I think what's been really fun about Twitter, and I've perhaps, maybe use this too much in my in my career, but it's the fact that I can talk about work but also make a crappy joke or talk about football or whatever, you know, you can be more more of your I hate to use the phrase they love him more of your whole self on Twitter. Yes, I feel awful for saying that it's true. Stay up, I can see it.
I am not sure that LinkedIn can overcome its Microsoft baggage to be cool enough to be real. But that's my opinion, and where nobody's here for my opinion or here for Dave's and Tannoy. Go ahead and ask your question. Yeah.
Hi there. Thank you. I am one of those give you at my work on LinkedIn. Increasingly, so sorry about the nightmares to ask you specifically about, you know, when when platforms will roll. There is this tendency to go into moral panic among a sense of users is happening with Facebook long before Twitter. And I'm wondering whether you've experienced that sense of moral panic too. And has that role in your decision to engage with obviously engage with Twitter and will that be a long term, sustainable feeling? Because there are some initial studies that show that a very small percentage of people who said that they will use Twitter for righteous reasons or actually follow through so that they will have more time? Thank you.
Yeah, I think it's a really interesting question as far as one with we've discussed a lot in the in the newsroom here. The sense of the the roof caving in at Twitter, for about five days, it felt like everything was falling apart, right? You had Elon taken over. He did that, you know, ludicrous thing with the sink on the way into the office. And if you saw that and it seemed like a big joke to him as he was taking over that concern people then you had the layoffs, which was some of the most remarkably brutal, you know, sequence of events I've I've come across and, and there was in that ludicrous situation where you had some people have been laid off being told oh, actually, we need you to come back again. I mean, that was just pandemonium, not the sort of thing you'd expect from from a big tech company like Twitter. So that within the users Yeah, you're right. This created this kind of this sort of panic, not without some level of justification. I don't think you know, I think I think when several journalists were banned that evening, I think that should have been a big warning sign, too. Lots of people that you know, this isn't our Twitter there isn't this at least lip service to this idea of of of press freedom, that was an act against press freedom, and, and even though some of those journalists were or the gents have been reinstated there are still restrictions, I believe on some of their accounts, which I mean, that is that is anti anti freedom, the press and I think that there isn't, you know, that shouldn't be underestimated. That said, you know, there is I think over time, if Twitter continues to remain stable as a platform, ie it's not, you know, failing and things breaking then that's fine. Engagement doesn't seem to have suffered greatly although I do wonder, to what degree that's quality engagement anymore, I think the some of the tweets aren't being served by the algorithm team, like fast food rather than information. And then also this, the can't speak into the subject today. The lack of somewhere else to go might also be Twitter's strongest protection right now. So yeah, I think you're right there has been this, this this sort of this this this panic, not without justification, but I'd be I think that we might be entering a phase here where the initial shock and it was shocked that Elon took over this website and some of the only things that did I think there might be subsiding slightly. Just like almost any story in the news agenda might kind of shut out after a little while. I think the proof in the pudding will be I mean, you mentioned you mentioned Facebook, and it's a really interesting example Facebook, because unlike Twitter, nobody on Facebook declares they're leaving, or some people do but not. People don't say, right, I'm leaving Facebook, delete everything, that they just stop using it. And I don't know how you guys feel about Facebook, but at no point did I say right. I'm stopping using Facebook today. But I can go weeks now without logging into the main app. Sure. I'm still using WhatsApp also uses Instagram, etc. But the way that a social network dies, isn't people quitting? It's just people not returning, you know, in that sort of muscle memory kind of way. And I think Twitter could risk that happening, but that takes a lot longer to see arguably, that's been Facebook for the last three, maybe five years. It's taken that long for the for the graph to this Facebook, which is why they stopped sharing the graph and so so yeah, it's it's it takes time, I think for us, for us to really understand whether people are not going to leave and somewhere else.
Yeah, there's a reason Marissa used to harp on us about daily habits and trying to create daily habits among users. I'm going to stay on this moral panic question with a similar vein question from Nina claesson. On in the Zoom audience, who says many journalists I've spoken to are talking about the decision to leave Twitter in ethical terms like questioning whether or not to join a boycott of company they don't support, but there are also practical difficulties after Musk's takeover, most dramatic being censorship suspended accounts. For You is the discussion on whether or not to stay on Twitter more of an ethical one or more of a pragmatic decision. Where's your red line?
That's enough of a red line. Maybe I should I can't picture what that red line would. I mean, myself being banned would be a red line, but that's more than more than you're forced to pretend that's a principle but I wouldn't do about it. I mean, I think there's that I don't think needs to be necessarily black and white. I think I've consciously I mean, I'm not gonna sit here and say, I can just abandon Twitter. Because I mean, I could but like I don't want to write it's still a very important outline for my work. When I publish a story. I still want to go on there and share it. But there are degrees of stepping back. I don't think I tweet as much or at least I don't tweet as much about things that have any sort of substance I wouldn't I wouldn't for example, what the Elon Musk trial the other day could example I was doing more commentary on Macedon than it was on Twitter. Not so much a boycott but just because just you know, Macedon seemed like a friendlier, more useful outlet for that. But then another thing I mean, here's the thing, I mean, I said, Sorry, that got me a mild bit of hot water a little while ago, but the the idea that I would start paying $8 a month for Twitter Forget it, that this is a company that is CEO regularly sort of shows contempt for the industry that I'm in. And so while that might seem hollow, given I'm still using Twitter, I think I still use Twitter and take some comfort in not supporting that that new business model necessarily so so yeah, I the boycotting thing. I think it's a different question. I think it's a very individual question. I think there's people whose professional lives are very dependent on being on Twitter whether they want it to be or not, and so I think I don't think it's not like a moral boycott of some company where you can just cut them out of your life. It's a bit more complicated now. And we should I think we should have said that I think we should be quite lenient with people in our sort of network in how they each. Decide how to move forward. With with using Twitter.
Yeah. That's a really good way to look at it and a perfect segue to a comment from Zachary Rathman in Malaysia. And I'll be honest, this is a thorn in my side. So reverses I've been hearing a lot about the exodus of journalists from Twitter, but here in Malaysia, there's little sign of things slowing down aside from complaints about the algorithm and the for you tab on the app. Do you think this so called Exodus or or panic is more prominent in the Western world? Because Twitter has been valuable for journalists in the developing world and in their opinion, its demise would be unfathomable. And are we perhaps having this conversation from a very northern perspective?
Yeah, that's a really, really, really valid point. Um, and, you know, we talk, particularly in the US, we talked about the importance to journalists here in the UK or wherever, as a way to for our stories to get out there to people. But if you're a journalist internationally, that's magnified even more right I mean, there's there's a way for journalists and really important working in a country's perhaps less on the western media's radar, or at least the American and British media radar, and switches an incredibly good way of finding you know, that network without you know, having said I had no pay for advertising or distributed newspaper in London or whatever. So yeah, I think it's, I think it's, you know, when we talk about it in those terms, I think it's actually really sad, isn't it? I mean, this is this is something that is as built up as an incredibly useful tool for reporters and one that's important for the democratic process in many places has been harmful too, as well. Let's not forget so there's there's two sides to that. One concern I would have for I'm gonna say international users, of course, we're all international from somewhere, but you know, you take my point is that I've yet to see a long show any indication other than layoffs, the realize is that Twitter's an international used App, as far as to SR is every conversation on censorship as far as every conversation on moderation. It's all been through the lens of US politics. Elon Musk's own world features, these features he's putting in place are ones that are solving problems he himself just had on Twitter, which is kind of a strange I quite like a CEO doing that, but at the same time, it's quite it's quite narrow. One thing I'd be very worried about, for people in countries outside the main markets that Twitter is just neglect. Switzer had good moderators that were dealing not perfectly but at least attempting to deal with these markets with you know, content that the moderation team in the US just simply wouldn't understand whether just from a language barrier or just context barrier as a neglect I think it's a real issue because I think Twitter become could become quite sort of dangerous for study more off off the radar markets. And so yeah, I think so. I think so. So I forget the name of the hoots and the question, but I think it's a very, very, very good point.
Very good point. And when you and I were chatting ahead of this seminar, you said what was my red line? Why, why did I leave the platform and I couldn't remember but zero reminds me it was within the detail of the Verification Scheme was the fact that it was being rolled out to iPhone users in the US, Canada, New Zealand, the UK and Australia. And that just triggered the global south immigrant in me like oh, okay, I see. I see. We're playing that game again. 100 200 years later.
It's mean it's certainly I mean, there's there's there's two trains of thought on that. I think there's one that says that I think there's another people actually don't like musk, who actually quite liked the fact that he's managed to, to speed up Product Development at Twitter, dramatic dramatically when the Jack Dorsey says he doesn't say much, frankly, but it still says there's more new things happening on Twitter. And one of the ways he's done that is to kind of ignore these competence complications of different markets. And I think I think frankly, I think a lot of that the markets that they went with, is as much about payment technology and availability than it is about any sort of discussion about what countries should have it and which which isn't I think it's more about whether stripe, the payment providers will actually sort of take payments in certain ways. But I wouldn't, I would, yeah, I mean, I would, I would hazard a guess that the old Twitter words, have a little more to what you're talking of the sort of the historical importance of making sure everyone's on an equal footing as far as possible. So that's, these things are important. And if you're if you're if you're in the business of building communities, then, you know, treating those communities fairly as there's got to be right up there and that's perhaps not something that the new administration thinks about quite often.
Let's go to USC downstairs from Finland.
So thank you very much for talking to us today. I mentioned earlier that one thing that worked for journalists on Twitter was opening up the journalistic behind the scenes stuff. This is what is happening while I'm creating the story. And and maybe that's something that we should do more on other platforms as well. I was wondering what kind of thoughts do you have on which odds of our behind the scenes work we should be more transparent about and what should be looking at private and how do you see the possible increase in transparency could lead to perhaps more trust from the audience?
Interesting question, what should and should not be leveraged?
Yeah, I mean, this should not be easier. Like I mean, obviously, you know, making sure you protect sort of sourcing and some of the, the elements of news that you know, you know, we've been your cover tech companies, for example, you do get a lot of, you know, the sort of background calls or that kind of stuff which drives me crazy, but sadly has become a necessary part of our reporting on the industry. So there's things that you can't necessarily be as open as, as you might like to be. But I think a lot of the process is feels quite unremarkable to journalists. But I think, you know, I think we might have all been in those situations where either you're at a dinner party or just talking with friends who are, you know, very successful in whatever they do. But when they ask you about the media, you just think, Gosh, you've got no idea how this works. Right? I mean, I, I get people say to me, What does you know? Do you just get told what stories to do? And I go, No, not really. It's, you know, it's a collaboration and if I just waited to be told what story I was doing, I'd soon be fired from the newspaper. And also, you know, I think people don't necessarily understand how it is that certain voices get in the story, how it is assemblages don't get in the story, you know, what are processes for anonymous sourcing? I think there's always one that you know, I spoke to someone recently who thought that when I say things like, according to an Amazon employee who preferred not who asked not to be named, they assumed that I didn't know who it was either. And I was like, No, of course, I know it is. I'm just not sharing it with the reader. And, and I think, I think dispelling some of these myths kind of gradually I think, is really, really useful. And the more the more people know about the process, I think, I think the better and Twitter was a revolution in that regard. And I think I think one of the one of the things that stood out from Twitter is that it still stands today is early on a lot of news organizations. said, Well, don't worry about putting each individual journalist on Twitter, let's just have an account for the publication let's have at BBC News or advice or whatever. And they soon realized that people weren't interested necessarily in following those accounts. They wanted the individual journalists, they wanted to be able to, you know, talk to the journalists and want to hear what they were thinking. What they were reading, and how that sort of building their their reporting and their view or just a perspective or however you want to put it. So I think I think it's just it's just about the process. I'm firmly of the belief that even the biggest skeptic about the mainstream, particularly the mainstream media and how it works, if they could just spend one day in a newsroom, right and just see the lengths that journalists have to go to to publish a story or to broadcast the story. I think it would change their entire view. Of the integrity of good nations. Right and, and obviously your newsrooms are different, but in the trustworthy publications and broadcasters it's it's remarkable how much effort goes into that one good example of it's actually I don't know if you guys have seen or read so she said the book written by Jodi Kantor and Megan Toohey, The New York Times reporters who did a story on Harvey Weinstein. Fantastic book one of the best books about the process of journalism I've ever read. And they know what Harvey Weinstein did within about 10 pages of that book. The rest of the book is the process of being able to put that in the New York Times. And I think anyone reading that just kind of gets it then they think, right, well, this is this is how difficult that is. And the act of journalism isn't knowing something. It's publishing something and then that's, that's where sharing some of these things is it along the way obviously, for one thing, it's different. You can't necessarily to on the way but you know, sharing more about how we do our jobs is a huge, huge reason, I think to be on any social media, whether it's Twitter, Mastodon or whatever.
gave us the act of journalism is not the act of knowing something but of publishing something is at what point does your social media account is publishing something? At what point is your social media content journalism and vice versa?
I made a lot of my social media I was talking about the merits of Toni Braxton's 90s singles show that counts as journalism. But I mean, I mean anything I mean that the I had a weird relationship with Twitter early on where I used to have two accounts. One was my like personal account and then by the daily BBC, which had a very strange the process at a time where I had an editor who wasn't able to pre read my official BBC tweets but would get a text each time I did with the tweet in it. And thankfully, only once did I get told off or something I tweeted on that account. And so everything that if you're, you know, if you're a journalist, then everything is should be something well, the rule of the BBC was, you know, don't tweet anything that you wouldn't say on air. And I thought that was always quite a good rule of thumb. And, yeah, I mean, I think you've got to be mindful that in on the one hand, we can't say, you know, it's important for journalists to be on social media, it's good for trust, it's good for quality and information, and not take that seriously at every turn ourselves because because every every single week, whenever we don't do that, we just undermine undermine our presence there. So yeah, I think it is journalism in that sense. It needs to be true and not bad.
Yeah, there are two more things I really want to cover. That are not necessarily about Twitter or Twitter alternatives. And the first is chat GPT. And the second is all the layoffs. So let's go in on the layoffs first what what's going on in San Francisco and Silicon Valley in Sunnyvale, what's with all the layoffs and what should we be watching?
I think we should be watching for this not being over. I think fundamentally, what happened is during the pandemic, these companies found that there's all these workers willing to move and change and they just hired like crazy absolutely crazy. Amazon went from 8000 800,000 employees and 1.6 million employees in just over a year. I mean, that's remarkable. You know, you had metta adding 1000s upon 1000s of engineers and all sorts, and they did so. Partly, I think because they were worried that if they didn't, other companies would get the talent and they wanted also they did it because they could great stock was going crazy optimism was high. But there seemed like there was money money to be to be spent. And they also the third thing, the crucial thing, which is the big mistake is they seem to think that some pandemic elements of how we were living, were going to hold in a way they haven't. In Amazon's case, ecommerce, went through the roof during the pandemic, obviously, and then came crashing back down to earth, you know, a year later a year and a half later. And so now, all these companies are seeing their stock price drop dramatically. And all of a sudden, investors who previously were saying okay, growth, is the thing we look for when you bring out your earnings, we say how many new users how much new revenue that used to be that used to be what investors looked at when they looked at tech stocks. Now what they look at is profitability. And when you're a company like Amazon, which sort of flip flops between profit and loss, quite liberally, famously didn't make a profit for years and years and years as a public company. That can be a problem because you know, the, the, it's almost as if you're a student going into a test, and we're up, we're gonna make we're gonna test you based on your skill of this, and then halfway through the test, so actually, now we care more about this. And the other thing is kind of opposed. Not all the time but often opposed to that to the first and that's what we're seeing now. You know, I, I hope that this is short lived, because I think a lot of the extra a lot of the layoffs. A lot of the people being laid off are in some of the areas that technology companies are experimenting and trying big ideas and you know, I know that Amazon gets a lot of a lot of stick for the quality of I don't want to say its name because it's gonna go off to the quality of its voice assistant. But I liked I liked the idea that Amazon would sort of invest in that kind of tech, I think can be very useful to a lot of people, privacy concerns aside, and it's teams like Alexa that have had that have had had their teams kind of gutted slightly by this by this this round of layoffs, so, so yeah, I do think it's important, though, just the final thing on that, you know, if you were to do a graph of all these companies and their employees, they've done this over the last few years and the layoffs are just this little nub at the end where they were they are making a few adjustments at the moment, but it might not be over.
So it's more of a contraction. Of an expansion that happened during the pandemic and not some some kind of fall there that they know something about an impending recession that we don't
honestly I think I think that the layoffs are as much about signaling to Wall Street that they're trying to rein in costs, I think there's also a number of activist investors that are approaching these companies. Google Salesforce the other day, gained a very powerful new activist investor. And they just want to say to those people, you know, we're not we're not overspending. I think actually the layoffs are more an indication they don't know what's coming then they do. I think if they, if they didn't know what's coming in, they could be a bit more calculated about it. And they are the fact that the fact that all these layoffs are happening within two three weeks of each other. It's no coincidence. It's every company that I'm well they're, they're doing it so that's the expectation. This is what Wall Street thinks that's a big driver of this, I think.
Okay, and then chat GBT the new kind of tech Darling What is what is your take on on? Are we all going to lose our jobs? How can we be incorporating chat GPT and our journalism? I mean, it's a very big, broad, crazy question to ask right at the end. But what are your kind of key takeaways on chat? GPT at the moment,
I think it's awesome. I mean, absolutely awesome. And I would urge everyone to sort of try chat DVT if you're not doing it already, but also just some of the sort of applications that have been built with chat. GPT unfortunately, they might. They've sort of introduced a paid plan through it in the last few days. It's a bit less accessible than it might have been, but I think it's fascinating, and I think we're going to need to learn how to use it in a responsible way. I do think there is a big application for journalists. I liked the idea that, you know, if you're rushing a story, and what you need at the bottom is just some context about something. You can just perhaps sort of put in a few key words and that context can be generated. Of course, the downside is that you might be wrong, right, the context might be wrong. But, you know, that's only gonna get better. And I think, you know, one of the criticisms of chat GPT is that it's, you know, it's built from so many sources, it's unreliable, but if you can apply the same technology, for instance, to just articles in the FT so that when I write a story for the FT I know that the information is solid, right, and, you know, can be can be trusted. So I think the applications there are absolutely huge. I don't think it's putting anyone out of a job. I think it's changing the nature of jobs. But I would, I would say to people, you know, if you're, and we've seen this happen begin to happen already. There'll be stories now about our chat. GPT has been able to do this. Oh my god. That means great. Like there was one the other day chat, GBT pastor Doctor exam some examination for doctors. Groups not entirely be true anyway, but the principle of oh, well, if the AI can be as clever as a doctor then fine. Well, it would no of course it can't. Right. I mean, and also we need to separate things that are difficult for humans to do from things that are difficult for machines to do. I think robotics is a good example of this robotics and do some of the most complex intricate bits of machinery or building that a human could never do. But think one thing robots can do is pick up a bottle like this and put it down with relative ease, right? So there's, there's different traits of our species and there's that are going to persist for decades and perhaps may never be solved. So you know, we're not under a huge amount of threat from these things. In fact, I think it's a massive productivity. tool. I talked to developers here who are using Microsoft's AI for coding and they say it's just transformed what they're doing. Because they're able to find mistakes more quickly. They're able to, you know, if anyone if anyone was ever done any kind of coding, like it's finding the comma that's gone somewhere. You know, that's, that's so much time in this process. So AI can can help with that. So I think we need to be cognizant of the risks and some of the drawbacks of this tech. I think we need to be quite mature about some of the promises take them in that it's going to, it's going to accidentally say offensive things. It's going to make big mistakes. It's going to plagiarize people's work, and we need to say, okay, that's bad. But let's, let's just keep calm about these things and see how we can improve because ultimately, ultimately, it's coming and so we just want it to be as good as possible. Yeah, I think I think it's of all the things in the past. Three or four years. I think it's it's one of the most most exciting innovations I've seen.
Brilliant. Thank you so so, so much for your time today. It's been a brilliant hour spent with you. irony of all ironies I now have to say that if anyone's interested in applying for the journalism fellowship program that has questions we'll be holding a Twitter space tomorrow at 1pm where you can come and ask all of your questions. So after all of that conversation, find us on Twitter, and next week, we're joined by Caleb Walker record from minority report to talk about how data journalism has empowered them to report on LGBTQ issues in Africa. Thank you very, very, very much. Once again, Dave. And my just parting thought for you is Alexa, please play Toni Braxton.
But I will ask it, I'll ask you on your behalf.
Oh, well and enjoy the rest of your Wednesday. Thanks, everyone. It