The Week in Tech: When to Tweet


Each week, technology reporters and columnists from The New York Times review the week’s news, offering analysis and maybe a joke or two about the most important developments in the tech industry. Want this newsletter in your inbox? Sign up here.

Hi everyone! I’m Sheera Frenkel, your friendly cybersecurity correspondent. To do my job, I have to spend a lot of time on Facebook and Twitter. And the more time I spend studying those sites, the less I find myself actually using them.

Which brings me the tech news for this past week — in which everyone seemed to be obsessed with who was, or wasn’t, allowed on Twitter.

We started the week with a lingering question: Why was Twitter allowing Alex Jones, notorious far-right conspiracy theorist, to tweet?

Mr. Jones and accounts associated with his media website Infowars were booted from Apple, Facebook, YouTube and other platforms last week for violating policies against hate speech. But Twitter did not ban Mr. Jones and Infowars, saying they had not violated its policies. Yet Twitter struggled to define its policies to my colleagues Cecilia Kang and Kate Conger when they visited the company last week.

After journalists turned up examples of Mr. Jones’s tweets that contravened Twitter’s rules, the company said on Tuesday that it would suspend him from the platform for seven days after he tweeted a video calling for his supporters to get their “battle rifles” ready against the media and others. But the move was a temporary fix, and we still don’t know what exactly Twitter will and won’t allow on its service.

That brings us to our next big Twitter question: Was Tesla chief executive Elon Musk on drugs when he tweeted on Aug. 7 that he was taking his company private?

I’m asking thanks to rapper Azealia Banks, who took to Instagram this past week to recount how she had spent the weekend at Mr. Musk’s house waiting to record an album with his girlfriend, the electronic musician Grimes. Grimes, Ms. Banks said, never showed up. Then Ms. Banks dropped this bombshell: “Lol I waited around all weekend while Grimes coddled her boyfriend for being too stupid to know not to go on Twitter while on acid.”

That immediately caught the attention of Tesla fans who were struggling to make sense of what was going on after Mr. Musk had announced on Twitter that he had secured funding to take the electric car maker off the public market at about $420 per share. The casual way in which Mr. Musk just tweeted the news out without regard to process raised a kerfuffle. And this week, the Securities and Exchange Commission served Tesla with a subpoena to learn more about the circumstances of the tweet.

On Thursday, in an interview with The New York Times, Mr. Musk was asked if drugs were involved in his market-moving tweet. “Absolutely not,” he said.

Andrew Ross Sorkin, our Dealbook columnist, wondered whether Twitter is the right forum for public company executives to be talking in the first place. And Kara Swisher, a contributing opinion columnist for The Times, asked on Thursday whether Mr. Musk was just plain crazy. She concluded that he wasn’t, but recommended that he delete the Twitter app from his phone.

It isn’t bad advice. And neither is the advice our editors regularly give us when we are tempted to weigh in on a Twitter brawl: When in doubt, never tweet.

In other tech news this past week:

■ Google employees signed an internal letter protesting the company’s decision to build a censored version of its search engine for China. The letter, first reported by my colleagues Kate Conger and Daisuke Wakabayashi, was the latest example of how Google employees have challenged the company’s leadership. It also complicates Google’s attempt to return to China, which it withdrew from eight years ago to object to Beijing’s restrictions on free speech and hacking.

■ File this under how the rich just keep getting richer. My colleague Erin Griffith wrote this week about how Silicon Valley start-ups are being showered with so much money — funding rounds of $100 million and up known as mega-rounds are booming — that they are struggling to figure out what to do with all of it.

■ Cuba is one of the few remaining parts of the world where people still struggle to get online. But for nine hours on Tuesday, Cubans suddenly had the internet. During the duration of a test being run by the Cuban government, which partnered with a wireless internet company, Cubans could get online for free using their cellphones.

■ The fake internet keeps getting more real. I wrote a story about a fake Facebook group that tricked Americans into showing up at protests. The group, Black Elevation, was one of dozens removed by Facebook for being part of an influence campaign trying to sway Americans ahead of the midterm elections.

■ And lastly, this long read by Reuters was an incredible documentation of the ways in which Facebook’s failings in Myanmar led to people being killed. A lot has been written about how Facebook was used to spread hate speech in Myanmar, which led to brutal attacks against the country’s Rohingya minority. Reuters revealed that Facebook initially had only two Burmese speakers reviewing content from Myanmar and that it later turned to contractors. After Reuters’s report, Facebook announced it was hiring policy advisors on Myanmar and more Burmese-language moderators.

Sheera Frenkel covers cybersecurity for The Times. She previously worked at Buzzfeed and spent years as a correspondent in the Middle East. Follow her on Twitter: @sheeraf.

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