What to expect from tomorrow’s antitrust hearing featuring big tech

Tomorrow, representatives from Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple will testify before Congress in the second hearing organized as part of the House Judiciary Committee’s antitrust investigation into the world’s largest technology companies.

While the first hearing focused on the ways technology companies busted the traditional news business, this one promises to look at the “impact of market power of online platforms on innovation and entrepreneurship,” according to the committee.

Unlike the previous hearing, which featured representatives from media outlets and industry trade organizations attacking or defending the ways in which online advertising had gutted the news business, this latest outing led by Rhode Island Democratic Rep. David Cicilline will have actual tech company execs on hand to answer congressional queries.

One section of the testimony will feature Google’s economic policy head, Adam Cohen; Amazon’s associate general counsel, Nate Sutton; Facebook’s global head of policy, Matt Perault; and Kyle Andeer, Apple’s chief compliance officer.

Others expected to appear include Tim Wu, the Columbia Law professor who’s been an outspoken critic of technology consolidation and an advocate for more stringent antitrust oversight of tech companies, and Maureen Ohlhausen, a partner at Baker Botts and the former acting chairman of the Federal Trade Commission in charge of its antitrust actions.

Wu and his views sort of encapsulate much of the thinking from critics of these companies’ current dominance in the market.

“I would love, in fact, if a serious Facebook challenger took down Facebook, and I would stop calling for any antitrust action. It’s just when you become suspicious that the barriers have gotten strong enough that a company could survive, then maybe we need to have antitrust law loosened up, get things moving, and provide for the market cycle to take its place. Now eventually it will happen, but we can’t wait for 50 years,” Wu told the American Enterprise Institute in an interview earlier this year.

“It’s also possible that history would suggest that a company like Facebook, and perhaps Amazon, will soon try to get government on their side to defend themselves against competition. I don’t know what it will look like, but maybe Facebook agrees to some kind of privacy law, which for some reason is very hard for new entrants to adhere to. Amazon may try and instantiate itself as basically the national e-commerce monopolist, kind of like a Bell-regulated monopoly. That’s a next natural step, especially as a big star, to become less competitive. And so before that happens, I think we give the antitrust law its turn.”

Policy watchers can expect market criticisms of the big technology platforms to come from a few different angles (each company has different, slightly overlapping, issues that policymakers find worrisome).

For Alphabet, criticism stems primarily from the company’s dominance in online search and the ad networks it controls through its ownership of DoubleClick and AdMob (along with its ownership of YouTube’s wildly popular video platform). At Amazon, it’s the ways in which Jeff Bezos’e-commerce behemoth hoovers up sales information  and uses it to inform pricing and potentially anticompetitive practices that stymie the development of new e-commerce players by promoting its own brands and products.

For Facebook, it’s the dominance of the company’s social media platforms (including Instagram and the messaging service WhatsApp) that are a cause for concern — as is its unwillingness to open its social graph for other startups. The company also elicits howls from consumer advocates for its abysmal ability to protect user privacy and data.

Finally, Apple’s control over the entire ecosystem it pitches to consumers — and the pricing policies it enforces that some critics have called extortive are cause for concern among the political class.

These competitive concerns also play out against the outsized ambitions that these technology companies have in other areas. Facebook is trying to make an end run around the existing global financial system through the launch of its Libra cryptocurrency; Alphabet, Amazon and Facebook all have designs to dominate the development of artificial intelligence in open markets; and then there’s the work these companies are conducting in areas as diverse as healthcare, mobility technologies and even space travel and high-speed networking.

With so many interests in so many areas and core businesses generating so much money, it’s easy to conflate a broader unease with these companies’ ambitions and the core anti-competitive arguments that are worthy of discussion.

For this hearing — and indeed the Congressional investigation to be successful — the focus should be less on the global ambitions of these technology companies and more on the practices they’ve enacted to stifle competition.

UK-based women’s networking and private club, Allbright, raises $18.8 million as it expands into the U.S.

AllBright, the London-based women’s membership club backed by private real estate investment firm Cain International, has raised $18.8 million to expand into the U.S.

The company’s new round was led by Cain International and was designed to take AllBright into three U.S. locations — Los Angeles, New York, and Washington.

The company said that the new facilities would be opening in the coming months.

Coupled with the launch of a new networking application called AllBright Connect and the company’s AllBright Magazine, the women’s networking organization is on a full-on media blitz.

Other investors in the round include Allan Leighton, who serves as the company’s non-executive chairman; Gail Mandel, who acquired Love Home Swap (a company founded by AllBright’s co-founder Debbie Wosskow); Stephanie Daily Smith, a former finance director to Hillary Clinton; and Darren Throop the founder, president and chief executive of Entertainment One.

A spokesperson for the company said that the new financing would value the company at roughly $100 million.

The club’s current members include actors, members of the House of Lords, and other fancy pants, high-falutin folks from the worlds of politics, business, and entertainment.

The club’s first American location will be in West Hollywood, and is slated to open in September 2019. The largest club, in Mayfair has five floors boasts over 12,000 square feet and features rooftop terraces, a dedicated space for coaching and mentoring a small restaurant and bar.

Personality of things

Humans are starting to get better acquainted with personal assistants such as Google Assistant, Siri, Cortana, and Bixby. But how would people feel about personalities translating to automobiles, laptops and other household items? Would we want a single seamless personality across all devices, or would we prefer to build new relationships with each of these things? Would we want these things to understand and empathize with us? Do we really need these things to “feel” what we feel or do we just need the experience that they “get” us.

Humans have an innate habit of anthropomorphizing objects around them, especially those that move, grow, or talk to them. As technological advances enable robotics and IoT devices with greater intelligence, humans are likely to assign personality to more devices that they interact with in their daily life.

The vacuum cleaner, which was once a simple tool, is now a Roomba with a cheerfully clueless personality as it makes happy chimes and bumps its way through the living room. And while replacing a standard vacuum cleaner is no big deal, many Roomba users demand that they get their exact same robot back from repairs and that it not be “killed” and scrapped for parts. They view it almost as a part of the family.

Tools on the other hand, are replaceable. And the more an intelligent system or piece of hardware feels like a tool, the more replaceable it becomes. In Star Trek, the crew doesn’t spare a second thought about replacing and upgrading the ship computer, which speaks to them in a monotonous disembodied voice because they view it as a tool. However upgrades or maintenance of Commander Data, an android crewmember, bring substantial concern because his human shape and personality make him feel alive and relatable. Further, studies have shown that humans are more likely to forgive mistakes if they are coming from a device that they view as “alive” whereas they have no such leniency for things they view as tools.

How does this apply to our future? Logically, a company concerned about improving retention and engagement, assigning a device a strong personality seems like an obvious way to capitalize on human anthropomorphization, and grant you leeway on bugs, while boosting retention and engagement. However, the real challenge is choosing how much personality to inject.

Personality Risk?

Going back to the cultural differences, having too much personality in a device can be a potential risk factor: some people may enjoy a new digital friend, but others may find the idea of a tool trying to be personable with them annoying.

An extreme example of this can be found in the book (and movie) The HitchHiker’s Guide to the Galaxy where doors with “real people personalities” that sigh happily as people walk through them, which can get extremely annoying over time. However, designers today are already thinking about when to “tone down” the personality of their devices.

Digital assistant designers today are cautious about how they use the assistant’s voice. For example, they are careful not to use the assistant’s voice for anything that could interrupt or otherwise irritate the end user, including alarms, timers, and even intercom broadcasts. Google Home lets users make outgoing phone calls, but not receive calls in (thus avoiding the assistant bothering you by ringing), and Amazon has been hesitant in its adoption of prompts or push notifications on Alexa. Major voice assistants have even started reducing how talkative they are. Google and Amazon have recently reduced the number of confirmation remarks for simple commands like “turn off the lights” to avoid users getting annoyed by hearing “okay, turning off the lights” when they just want to sleep.

Personality of Robotics

Robotics are an obvious place to inject artificial personalities, as humans already personify most robots. Researchers at Stanford are experimenting with methods of navigating human occupied spaces such as doorways and hallways with their Jackrabbot project. They use tones and gestures to display appeasement and frustration as it navigates in crowds of people. Other projects are even more direct in evoking emotion. Tombot robotics, for example, builds a golden retriever robot that acts as a support animal. Other companies are taking a horizontal approach: Embodied builds software designed to run on various robots to enable more lifelike and meaningful interactions.

Implications

Attaching personality to consumer products can create a greater sense of connection to the devices that we use. This attachment can make the use of these devices more “sticky,” increasing engagement over the long term, and potentially boosting the attach rate of services. However, this may be a delicate line to navigate: products that have too much personality can irk users and cause them to abandon the product entirely. Tamagotchi is a notable example of this phenomenon. Best practice may be to simply have a slider that allows users to adjust how much personality they want in their devices: from utilitarian tool to best friend. That way, humans have control over their things.

Facebook reportedly gets a $5 billion slap on the wrist from the FTC

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission has reportedly agreed to end its latest probe into Facebook‘s privacy problems with a $5 billion payout.

According to The Wall Street Journal, the 3-2, party-line vote by FTC commissioners was carried by the Republican majority and will be moved to the Justice Department’s civil division to be finalized.

A $5 billion payout seems like a significant sum, but Facebook had already set aside $3 billion to cover the cost of the settlement and the company could likely make up the figure in less than a quarter of revenue (the company’s revenue for the last fiscal quarter was roughly $15 billion). Indeed, Facebook said in April that it expected to pay up to $5 billion to end the government’s probe.

The settlement will also include government restrictions on how Facebook treats user privacy, according to the Journal.

We have reached out to the FTC and Facebook for comment and will update this story when we hear back.

Ultimately, the partisan divide which held up the settlement broke down with Republican members of the commission overriding Democratic concerns for greater oversight of the social media giant.

Lawmakers have been calling consistently for greater regulatory oversight of Facebook — and even a legislative push to break up the company — since the revelation of the company’s mishandling of the private data of millions of Facebook users during the run up to the 2016 presidential election, which wound up being collected improperly by Cambridge Analytica.

Specifically the FTC was examining whether the data breach violated a 2012 consent decree which saw Facebook committing to engage in better privacy protection of user data.

Facebook’s woes didn’t end with Cambridge Analytica . The company has since been on the receiving end of a number of exposes around the use and abuse of its customers’ information and comes as calls to break up the big tech companies have only grown louder.

The settlement could also be a way for the company to buy its way out of more strict oversight as it faces investigations into its potentially anti-competitive business practices and inquiries into its launch of a new cryptocurrency — Libra — which is being touted as an electronic currency for Facebook users largely divorced from governmental monetary policy.

Potential sanctions proposed by lawmakers for the FTC were reported to include the possibility of elevating privacy oversight to the company’s board of directors and potentially the deletion of tracking data; restricting certain information collection; limiting ad targeting and restricting the flow of user data among different Facebook business units.

Three great opportunities for startups in the entertainment space

With over-the-top (OTT) changing the way we consume entertainment across devices, most of the media attention is going to the big players trying to elbow their way into the streaming space with big new subscription services and original programming. Less discussed is the suite of technologies that pave the way for those services to connect to their audience and monetize the content.

Okay, it’s true video compression, identity management, analytics, front-end personalization and device-specific experience optimization are not the sexiest topics in the media world. But without those core features and functions, the OTT revolution would be dead in its tracks. And with the big providers focused on content development, user acquisition and business model optimization, development of those technologies is wide open for innovative startups.

As always, entrepreneurs should look for cracks and gaps in the existing processes to find better solutions. Right now, the biggest systemic pains in the emerging OTT ecosystem are around the complexity of the fragmented user experience – having to sign in and out of multiple systems to get to the content we want to watch – and around adapting old mass-audience advertising models to the new era of multi-device, multi-platform, personalized viewing.

Here are three areas where small, nimble startups could make a real contribution to the industry.

Enabling the Evolving Advertising Model

Currently the streaming market is divided between ad-supported services and premium-fee subscription models, but that hard division is unlikely to survive the next wave of market disruption. Premium services like Netflix will need to introduce a lower-fee ad-based tier to expand their audience and compete with lower-priced offerings like Disney+. More fundamentally, streamers will need additional sources of revenue once they have harvested all the low-hanging fruit in terms of subscriber base growth. And because streamers have access to so much user-specific data, the potential for personalized advertising is vast.

Online ad-tech platforms are already scrambling to retool their marketplaces to serve streamers. Is that the right way to look at the new OTT ecosystem, or does the way we sell, serve and measure ads for streaming services need to evolve to address audiences binge-watching longform content rather than snacking on short-form listicles, GIFs and short videos?

There’s also a blue sky opportunity to monitor and measure the performance of interactive ads that provide click-through transactions for viewers watching on tablets or handheld devices. Early data shows these ads can be extremely effective… or they can be so annoying and intrusive that they risk alienating viewers entirely. Do we trust the big companies to get this balance right? Sounds to me like this is a job for small, focused, innovative startups with a single-minded devotion to solving one facet of this problem for the industry.

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Reducing Platform Friction

One byproduct of the fragmentation of the old bundled cable viewing experience is the demise of the relatively simply program grid. What we found in the 00’s is that, even with 500+ channels available through some cable systems, you can make that simple and consumable for viewers if you present it intuitively and augment it with a little bit of intelligence.

Now that we’re entering a world which each content provider requires membership in its private OTT service to access original content plus its archive of movies and shows, it’s no longer so simple. In fact, there’s a lot of friction and overhead between the user and their shows.

We see a huge opportunity for startups to address this by creating a meta-layer on top of the fragmented streaming environment that abstracts away the complexity for viewers while preserving the underlying integrity of the individual services. This layer would act like a web browser, passing user access credentials seamlessly to each site to simplify sign in, standardizing the presentation of content and ads, and securely passing user data to each back end system.

The big players have invested specifically in making these platforms closed and proprietary to maximize their own competitive advantage. You can’t count on them to fix a situation that they perceive as being in their individual interests, even if it ends up hurting the industry and the ecosystem as a whole. But there’s a great opportunity for an outside innovator to come in and disrupt this model before it ossifies into a near-monopoly situation for a few carriers.

Telephone switchboard operators circa 1914. Photo courtesy Flickr and reynermedia.

Personalizing Content

The third big opportunity also addresses this big consumer pain point of complexity, specifically around having too many content choices and no road map for finding the programs we want to see. Once again, this is a problem we were able to solve in the old bunded cable era with smart collaborative filtering technologies, recommendations, and automation that allowed people to essentially build their own personalized content channels featuring stuff they already liked and might possibly like.

Fragmentation of content across closed services makes that more challenging. Luckily, AI capabilities have evolved as well, to the point that we don’t need to think only in terms of personalizing viewing options, but personalizing the entire viewing experience.

Again, business incentives dictate that each OTT service develop its own UX to differentiate itself from competitors, but those incentives work against the desires of viewers to have a simple way to find and view content that’s standard across whatever services they use. There’s a great opportunity for startups to bring forward all that we’ve learned about UX design, customization and personalization, plus a layer of AI to simplify search and discovery of content users prefer, to make the whole streaming world much simpler.

Open Innovation Starts with IP

These are just a few examples of areas where disruptive innovators can fix problems that the industry leaders can’t or won’t. We believe that an open model for innovation needs to be part of the conversation around the future of entertainment, and that conversation must include small insurgent companies as well as the giant incumbents. But for that model to work, we need to ensure that the IP rights of those companies are protected and respected.

If we can stick by those principles, we can create a more stable foundation for the post-cable world of TV entertainment, bring new solutions to market more quickly and more efficiently, and continue to delight audiences with great content rather than frustrating them with complexity and impossible choices.

Cannabis processing startups hope to unlock new chemicals and treatments

Jeff Ubersax knows yeast.

The chief executive officer of Demetrix studied yeast genetics and biochemistry in school and was an early employee at Amyris Biotechnologies, a technology company that was using fermentation to make biofuels back in the early days of the first clean technology boom back in 2008. 

Now, the same technology that Ubersax and Jay Keasling, the celebrated professor from the University of California at Berkeley who co-founded Amyris and Demetrix, used to make biofuels is being applied to the production of cannabis.

The company launched with an $11 million seed round led by Horizons Ventures, a Hong Kong-based investment fund backed by the multi-billionaire real estate mogul Li Ka-shing, to begin commercializing the technology that Keasling had been researching in his lab.

The goal was to refine a process that would enable yeasts to make a range of cannabinoids that are found in the marijuana plant which could be used to develop new pharmaceuticals, additives and supplements for use in clinical and consumer applications. The technology works much the same way as brewing beer. Except instead of fermenting to produce alcohol, the fermentation process produces cannabinoids from genetically modified yeast cells.

While the technology holds promise, it’s still got a long way to go before it becomes competitive with extracts from the marijuana plant, but given new capital infusions the tide is turning.

Demetrix, for instance, has raised another $50 million from Horizons Ventures and Tuatara Capital, an investment firm focused on the legal cannabis industry, to significantly expand its production while simultaneously pursuing initial tests on the efficacy of rare strains of cannabinoids as treatments for certain illnesses.

“Natural cannabinoids have been used for a really long time,” says Ubersax. And last June the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the first pharmaceutical derived from cannabis, Epidiolex, as a treatment for patients with epilepsy.

Demetrix raises $50 million to brew cannabis

With skyrocketing demand for consumer products and renewed research into its medicinal value, cannabis is having a moment.

The quasi-legalization of marijuana created a gold rush for into the industry and startups like Demetrix are reaping the benefits.

The company, founded by the famed U.C. Berkeley researcher Jay Keasling and helmed by former Amyris executive Jeff Ubersax, just raised $50 million in a new round of financing to continue its pursuit of isolating and brewing cannabinoids, the active chemical ingredients in the marijuana plant.

The money came from previous investor Horizons Ventures, the Hong Kong-based firm backed by real estate billionaire Li Kashing, and Tuatara Capital, a fund which invests in the legal cannabis industry.

The idea of using yeast to brew cannabinoids isn’t a new one and there are several companies active in the space. Since the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved a drug based on one of the cannabinoids that’s found in the marijuana interest in the potential to identify and manufacture other pharmaceutically beneficial chemicals from the plant has grown.

Demetrix’s competitive advantage, according to Ubersax, is the company’s access to an exclusive license on Keasling’s research from Berkeley. The technology Keasling developed gives the company a unique ability to isolate and develop new cannabinoids and start screening them for utility.

“We’re providing high quality low cost access to these molecules that have traditionally come from plants,” says Ubersax. 

Demetrix expects the global market for cannabinoids to reach $100 billion by 2029, citing 2016 research from Ackrell Capital.

While it’s currently cheaper to just extract cannabinoids used in existing products from the plant itself, as the body of research grows around applications for the more rare cannabinoids found in smaller percentages in the plant itself, brewing the active chemicals will start to look more and more appealing.

Demetrix says it will use the money from the new financing to scale its operations and commercialize the first of the over 100 unique cannabinoids it believes can be applied to consumer and medical products.

“Demetrix’s mission is to help the world benefit from nature’s rarest ingredients, and we’re excited to partner with world-class investors like Tuatara Capital and Horizons Ventures to help global pharmaceutical, supplement, and consumer product companies deliver innovative products using cannabinoids,” said Demetrix CEO Jeff Ubersax, in a statement. “We’ve assembled a team of industry veterans, built a scalable technology platform, and are working with global regulatory organizations to quickly commercialize.”

The company has raised $61 million to date.

Fintech in Latin America continues to draw big dollars as Softbank invests $231 million in Creditas

As investors continue to move more aggressively into Latin America’s startup scene, there’s one industry that seems to be drawing more attention than any others — financial services.

As wealth across the region continues to rise, access to adequate financial services — specifically debt — has become a pain-point for an upwardly mobile middle class that wants to be more entrepreneurial and have more financial tools than straight cash at their disposal.

That’s what’s driven companies like Nubank, the Brazilian consumer credit card behemoth, to valuations of roughly $4 billion; and it’s also what contributed to Creditas, a provider of secured loans, raking in $231 million in new financing from the SoftBank Vision Fund and SoftBank Group. Previous investors Vostok Emerging Finance, Santander InnoVentures and Amadeus Capital also participated in the round. 

Founded by Sergio Furio in 2012, the company started as an originator of loans to Brazilian customers who were willing to offer up collateral in exchange for lower interest rates on their debt. Back in 2017, the company became more of a fully integrated lender for the entire process.

Thanks to investments from local and international investment firms including Kaszek Ventures, Quona’s Accion Frontier Fund, Redpoint eVentures, QED Investors, Naspers Fintech, International Finance Corporation and Endeavor’s Catalyst fund, the company became one of Brazil’s largest new financial services startups.

Expect the company to use the new cash to expand its product portfolio and try to offer new lines of credit that it would issue itself — perhaps by trying to enter new businesses like unsecured consumer lending and credit cards.

If it does make its way into unsecured side of the lending market, that would put the company squarely in competition with Nubank (which was reportedly in discussions with Creditas’ lead investor, SoftBank, about an investment earlier this year).

“At Creditas we relentlessly focus on creating an amazing experience that provides efficiency and lower prices to democratize the access to low-cost lending in Brazil. With these investments, we plan to accelerate this process and expand our business model in order to improve the lives of the Brazilian population,” said Sergio Furio, Founder and CEO of Creditas, in a statement.

As a result of the investment, representatives from the SoftBank Vision Fund and SoftBank Latin America Fund will join Creditas’ Board of Directors.

Doctours offers packaged medical tourism for U.S. customers

Doctours, a Los Angeles-based online platform for booking trips and treatments for medical and dental care around the world, is expanding its services to 35 countries.

Founded by serial travel entrepreneur Katelyn O’Shaughnessy, whose last company TripScope was acquired by Travefy, Doctours aims to connect patients with doctors to receive access to quality, affordable healthcare around the world.

The cost of care in the U.S. continues to climb, leading patients with few options but to travel to the best facilities offering the lowest cost care. Some companies that provide insurance benefits to their employees, like Walmart, are opting to pay for better care upfront by transporting their workers to facilities to receive appropriate care, rather than pay later for shoddy treatment.

Doctours sort of expands that thesis in an international context.

“When it comes to medical and dental treatment, there is no longer any reason to limit ourselves based on where we live,” said O’Shaughnessy, in a statement. “There is an increasingly advantageous global marketplace available with highly trained practitioners offering quality healthcare solutions at affordable prices and, although medical and dental tourism is a safe and cost-efficient solution, the current market is extremely fragmented and challenging to navigate. Doctours eliminates this fragmentation and allows anyone to easily and affordably access international medical and dental treatments and procedures.”

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Katelyn O’Shaughnessy, founder, Doctours

The company, which is backed by investors including investors in Doctours include the former CEO of Expedia, Erik Blachford, Texas billionaire and CEO of multi-strategy holding company, Cathexis, William Harrison, and Charles Cogliando of Mosaic Advisors, offers more than 330 different medical and dental procedures and has a global service area that includes Mexico, Colombia, the Caribbean, Thailand, Dubai, Brazil, Germany and Costa Rica. 

Currently working out of Quake Capital’s Austin incubator, the company helps patients search for and compare the cost of procedures, connect with doctors and book everything from in vitro fertilization to stem cell therapy, cosmetic and reparative plastic . surgery, weight loss surgery, dental work and Lasik. 

Once the procedure is booked, Doctours puts together itineraries that provide different options for flights and hotels based on the needs of the patient,  the company said.

The company also offers specialized medical tourism insurance to all of its customers, according to O’Shaughnessy. And the company vets its doctors by ensuring that they are Joint Commission International accredited physicians. Roughly 70% of the company’s doctors were trained at universities and medical schools in Europe or the U.S., O’Shaughnessy wrote in an email.

Doctours is certainly entering a lucrative market. Medical and dental tourism is a $439 billion global market growing at a rate of 25% per year, according to data provided by Doctours. In 2018 alone, 14 million patients traveled abroad to seek healthcare, according to the company.

Twitter updates hate speech rules to include dehumanizing speech around religion

Against a backdrop of rising violence against religious minorities around the world, Twitter today said that it would update its hateful conduct rules to include dehumanizing speech against religious groups.

“After months of conversations and feedback from the public, external experts and our own teams, we’re expanding our rules against hateful conduct to include language that dehumanizes others on the basis of religion,” the company wrote on its Twitter Safety blog.

The company said it will require tweets that target specific religious groups to be removed as violations of the company’s code of conduct.

The company said that any previous tweets containing the offending language would need to be removed, but would not cause the suspension of a user’s account, because they were made before Twitter implemented and communicated the policy.

Around the world, religious minorities have been attacked in hate crimes that some organizations believe to be inspired (at least in part) by hate speech on social media. Whether it’s white supremacists responsible for the murders of Jewish congregants in Pittsburgh or Islamic worshippers in Christchurch, New Zealand — or attacks by Islamic militants like ISIS, which left over 100 people dead in attacks on Easter Sunday, social media has played a key role in disseminating hate speech and radicalizing untold numbers of users.

In the U.S. alone, the Anti Defamation League found that 37 percent of Americans had experienced severe online hate and harassment in 2018. According to the recent survey, roughly 35% of Muslims and 16% of Jews experienced harassment online because of their religious affiliation. The ADL also reported that 28% of Twitter users had experienced harassment.

Twitter said it started with religious groups after receiving more than 8,000 responses from people located in more than 30 countries around the world. 

When modifying its rules, Twitter said it focused on narrowing down what’s considered in the category for religious organizations, restricting it to just religions rather than political groups, hate groups, or other non-marginalized with this type of language. Twitter also said it had developed a longer, more in-depth training process with teams to ensure they were informed when reviewing reports.

“It’s good that Twitter is seeking public comment as they’re developing their policy decisions and seeking input from external experts on hate, but hate and harassment on Twitter is a serious, longstanding problem,” wrote a spokesperson with the Anti Defamation League in an email. “The fact that language dehumanizing others on the basis of religion only now violates Twitter’s rules shows how far they have to go to truly combat hate. We have urged Twitter to track and release the results of this and other policy changes to be transparent about the efficacy of their efforts.”