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Apps And Stuff We Tried And Loved In 2021

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2021 was a banner year for spending time on your phone, and here at BuzzFeed News we, uh, well, we were on our phones a lot. Which we’re choosing to look at as a good thing — there are actually some great apps, TikTok accounts, podcasts, newsletters, and other things that actually delighted us this year. The Criterion Channel subscription, Nike workout apps, Forkist cooking app, and watching endless TikToks of barbers were all things that got us through 2021. We promise: These are worth trying.

These items were independently selected by staff. Just so you know, BuzzFeed may collect a share of sales or other compensation from the links on this page if you decide to shop from them. Oh, and FYI — prices are accurate and items in stock as of the time of publication.

Nike Training Club app — free via Nike

After a year of being noncommittal to exercising, I got serious and downloaded the Nike Training Club app (Nike made it free during the pandemic). It has hundreds of workouts, from yoga to strength training to nauseatingly painful cardio sessions, and you can go as hard or not as you want on any given day. The app also gives you “trophies” to mark milestones — three times a week, eight months in a row, Beast Mode when you’ve done five strength workouts, all of which means nothing except it may satisfy the part of your brain that craves reward. Blessedly, even 12 minutes of very light stretching is considered a full exercise on this app; when I had COVID, getting through that one was a tiny triumph for me, one that the app also acknowledged.

Most importantly, Nike’s Training Club app has weekslong programs you can cycle through however many times you like, and you can feel how much stronger you’re getting the second, third time around. The app has self-care tips and healthy recipes, too, if you care about that kind of thing, but it’s best used as a workout app, not a lifestyle app.

You may outgrow it after a year, maybe even before that. But if you’re thinking of getting serious about exercising, if you can only bear getting very sweaty in the privacy of your own home, and if you want a workout app that is good and FREE!!!!, I don’t think you can do better than this. —Clarissa-Jan Lim

Weee — free at sayweee.com

I live a decent hike away from the closest Asian grocery store, and while my local supermarkets are beginning to stock more and more of the basics I need, sometimes you need to go the whole hog. Weee brings “Asian and Hispanic” groceries to you and claims to be operational all over North America. I can’t speak for that, but when the giant boxes of eel, scallop noodles, custard buns, and imitation crab arrived on my Brooklyn doorstep, I thought I would faint from happiness. The name is absolutely wild — founder and Larry Liu said it’s basically like the sound kids make when they’re excited. I hope to never make that sound as an adult, but the feeling is there. —Estelle Tang


NBC / Courtesy Everett Collection

From left: Jason Alexander, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Michael Richards, and Jerry Seinfeld in “The Subway,” Season 3, Episode 313, aired Jan. 8, 1992.

Peleton app — $12.99 per month (first two months free) at Peloton

I don’t have a Peloton bike. I don’t have one of their treadmills either. But I do have their app on my phone, which I use at a gym much bigger than my apartment where both of those machines are available.

The Peloton app is incredible. If you are someone like me who walks into a gym and just wants someone to hold their hand and tell them what to do, it’s a lifesaver.

The sheer volume and variety of on-demand (or live, if you time it right) workout content is extraordinary. There are workouts set to every genre of music invented and set around specific artists. There are workouts for beginners and advanced athletes. They have strength workouts (arms, chest, butt, core) and running or cycling workouts (endurance, high-intensity intervals, tabata, hills). They have yoga you can do in the morning and meditations you can do at night. There are audio workouts you can run to outside if you are someone who hasn’t gotten sick of parks yet in the pandemic. There’s even a set of truly cursed workouts you can take on Sept. 11 when you want to run on a treadmill but also Never Forget at the same time.

You won’t get the live stats or same metrics that the bougie bike owners do (although it can sync to your smartwatch), but you do get the same trainers and can thus participate in the increasingly prevalent conversations at parties where people gush about who their favorite is.

Of course, everybody and their mom knows about Cody Rigsby. But did you know that Jess Sims is an even badder bitch and (unbeknownst to her) my best friend and will lead you through a 60-minute high-intensity bootcamp that will make you see the face of God? Or that Olivia Amato will be there for you on the days you want a small woman with demonic core strength to make you regret — for the duration of a 10-minute class — that you were ever born? Or that Matty Maggiacomo will run on a treadmill with you for 30 minutes and somehow be endearingly charming the whole time with not a hair out of place and will one day be my husband? No, you didn’t. But now you do. And so does he. —David Mack

Criterion Channel — $10.99/month at Criterion

My buoy through the last year has been the Criterion Channel, which has let me dig into decades of international cinema and which pound for pound has the richest and most rabbit hole–y library of any streaming service. Every time I open this app, dizzying horizons open up before me. I’ve gotten lost in Soviet sci-fi movies and French/Japanese/Czech New Wave and let time pass by with slow cinema from Belgium, Sweden, Iran, and the US.

I wish it didn’t take a global pandemic for me to discover Nights of Cabiria (which woulda been great Halloween costume inspo had I thought of it before this moment) or The Seventh Seal (which whoops did not realize was gonna be a plague movie) or In the Mood for Love, but the last few months have just been lousy with new, beautiful discoveries.

Beyond the app’s curated playlists, it’s just neat to see Barry Jenkins, Sofia Coppola, the Safdie brothers, Patton Oswalt, and others talk about their muses and favorite movies in the “Adventures in Moviegoing” series. —Emerson Malone

Laundry TikTok — free at @jeeves_ny

I fell hard down a TikTok hole of videos of a professional dryer cleaner showing how to get stains out of various fabrics. Zachary Pozniak is the charismatic face of Jeeves, a high-end dry cleaner in New York, and in these videos he shows you in dulcet tones how to get chocolate, red wine, or tomato sauce out of anything, and offers other tips like how much detergent to use or how to make your own stain spray. Have I used these techniques? No, I’m still too lazy to do a pretreat soak for my stains. But I did buy some wool dryer balls that he recommends using instead of dryer sheets. —Katie Notopoulos

Barber TikTok — free on TikTok

I don’t cut hair, nor do I have any real desire to learn. But lately I’ve been obsessed with barber videos on TikTok. It’s oddly soothing to watch someone who’s skilled with clippers create a flawless skin fade — buzzing off the back and sides of the head then meticulously blending it with the top to form a perfect gradient. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s because I like process videos. One TikTok creator, @12pell, is a New York City–based barber who specializes in Asian hair (particularly of interest to me because I’m a Filipino dude who’s been getting fades since he was a kid). Allow yourself to go down this rabbit hole. These folks are artists. —Richard Nieva

Audm — $4.99/month at Audm

I listen to a lot of podcasts when I run. I love podcasts! But sometimes, they feel blathery and meandering and redundant, in a way that good writing never does. Sometimes, I want to listen to good writing instead of mediocre talking. And for that, there is Audm.

I have run for hours through redwoods, happily distracted from my physical efforts by journalism from ProPublica and the New York Review of Books and the New Yorker and, yes, BuzzFeed News. Long car rides fly by when you’re listening to the Atavist. A Times Magazine feature is usually just the right length to fill the Saturday morning kitchen cleaning.

This feels self-serving, because we are journalists — of course we think people should consume more journalism. But it’s an option that I think a lot of people don’t know they have! Remember, next time your favorite commentators start bloviating, you could be listening to their exquisitely edited words instead. —Emily Baker-White


BuzzFeed News; Getty Images

Smartless podcast — free on Spotify

A friend had recommended this podcast to me a while ago but I refused to listen to it because I thought it would be another podcast of celebrities talking to their privileged friends. After all, the podcast is essentially Will Arnett, Sean Hayes, and Jason Bateman interviewing a mystery guest who is later revealed to be someone like Melissa McCarthy or Tiffany Haddish. But I finally gave it a try earlier this year and I laughed nonstop listening to Arnett make fun of his friend Justin Theroux’s sleeveless T-shirts habit. Smartless makes you feel like you’re joining a group of friends joking around with each other. It’s easygoing and fun and now I love Sean Hayes. —Eva Lee


Rinee Shah for BuzzFeed News

The Libby app — free with a library card

This free app lets you access ebooks and audiobooks through your local public library, making it effortless to accumulate more titles for your already mammoth TBR pile. BuzzFeed has plugged the Libby app a number of times already, but it is truly fantastic, so here we are writing about it again.

While the Goodreads app will perpetually tell me that I’m five books behind my annual goal, the Libby app helps accelerate the reading process. The audiobooks download to your phone when you borrow them, so you don’t need to use data or a Wi-Fi connection to access the titles. In the last month, I’ve listened to My Year of Rest and Relaxation while on a long train ride, Annihilation on a bike ride in the wilderness, My Dark Vanessa walking around the city, The Underground Railroad on the subway, and Eating Animals reclined at the dentist’s office. —Emerson Malone


Pia Peterson-Haggarty / BuzzFeed News

Department of Salad substack newsletter — free on Substack

The Department of Salad is a newsletter by food writer Emily Nunn. It’s one of the rare, refreshing food newsletters that focuses on the love of the food instead of the personality of the food writer, and I love it. She interviews chefs and salad aficionados to get recipes from all different places — from a French salad from a New Yorker Magazine cartoonist to peach caprese, steak salad, to how to make that carrot ginger dressing you get on salad at the sushi place down the street. If you, like me, really only ever eat out so that you can steal the recipes of the place where you’re eating to make at home, then this newsletter is a voyeur’s dream into how to make the best salad of your life. —Pia Peterson-Haggarty

The Smoke Free app — free or $0.99 per week for premium at Smoke Free

As of this writing, I can tell you that I haven’t had a cigarette in 8 months, 24 days, and 14 hours. And I feel fucking great about that. It was really hard. I quit cold turkey, but I did it with a plan that this app helped me come up with and execute. It can be a little cheesy at times, but if you too are motivated by earning little digital badges and completing challenges and logging things Smoke Free helped me a lot. And it’s kept track not only of how long I’ve gone without smoking, but how much money I’ve saved.

As its name suggests, Smoke Free is free but you can also pay $0.99 per week for premium, and I really recommend doing so. The missions I got through premium every day in that first month really forced me to think through what I would do when I had bad cravings or faced a big trigger, like drinking outside with my friends. That’s what made the quit stick. —Sarah Mimms


Ben Kothe / BuzzFeed News

Tribute.co group video card — $29 at Tribute.co

When I got an email from a friend’s sister that she was asking friends to do a short video message wishing my friend a happy birthday, I was like, ugh this is going to be a pain. But you know what? It wasn’t. The sister was using Tribute.co, which is an app that makes it easy to collect a bunch of friends’ video messages and combine them into one nice longer video for the birthday girl (or whatever occasion).

Sure, you could just email everyone and ask them to send you a video and edit it yourself together for free in iMovie. But you know what? That’s actually a huge pain in the ass. It requires nagging people who don’t understand deadlines and often getting people to understand things like Google Drive, which can be a total headache. Tribute.co manages all of this with an intuitive service that manages everyone’s uploads and lets you drag and drop them into a final video. It’s simple and great for a very lazy person comfortable with doing the bare minimum to celebrate a friend’s birthday. —Katie Notopoulos

Steezy app — $149.99/year subscription at Steezy

I got bored of yoga apps during the pandemic but still wanted to move my body around. I love to dance, and am terrible at it — I have no coordination, left and right are a mystery, etc. The internet told me about Steezy, which has classes you can take from home, where you won’t crash into other participants and might actually learn something. The programming starts out basic — and I mean BASIC, like shift-left-and-right, these-are-your-feet, this-is-a-beat basic, which is perfect for me, a grown adult. It’s pricey, but there are a LOT of classes on it for all kinds of dance activities so you can find what you like. —Kate Bubacz

Overcast.fm — free with ads or $9.99/year at Overcast

Apple’s podcast app has inexplicably sucked for years now. It is a nonintuitive asspain that almost seems intentionally bad by design. Overcast is the best replacement I’ve found for it. With a clean design and solid podcast management features, it’s easy to use and more importantly easy to set up and forget about. A premium subscription ($9.99/year in-app purchase) removes adds and unlocks additional features like the ability to upload audio files to your Overcast account. —John Paczkowski


Ben Kothe / BuzzFeed News; Sonos

Voice Intercom for Sonos — $1.99 at App Store or Google Play

Within seconds of downloading this app, I was able to scare the shit out of my daughter by

saying “GET OUT” in my best Amityville Horror voice through a Sonos speaker in our living room. That alone makes this thing worth the purchase price, though I am sure there are many other uses for an app that lets you broadcast your voice through a Sonos system by speaking into your iPhone’s microphone. —John Paczkowski

Headspace — $70/year via Headspace

I had been meditating for over three years without any guidance before I got this app. It was fine, I don’t believe there is any right or wrong way of sitting and breathing. However, after my 20 minutes of meditating, I frequently caught myself reflecting on how much of that time was spent thinking and not focusing on my breath. A friend told me about Headspace’s “Headspace 365” which has a new meditation for every day of the year. It had been working for him, so I thought I’d give it a shot! I’ve found that sometimes it’s quite lovely to have a guiding voice that helps me stay centered with my breathing and set good intentions for my day and life in general. —Derek Gardner

Forkist app — free via Forkist

I struggle a lot with deciding where to eat. If I’m home, I can live off of rice, beans, and chicken, but whenever I have to make the choice outside, I take forever. I heard some college friends talk about Forkist and I downloaded it. It’s basically a food Instagram — literally just food suggestions and pretty food pictures. There are suggestions all over the country and the ratings are really easy to digest. I don’t post that much but I definitely enjoy seeing other people’s quick reviews on food nearby. —Nicole Collazo Santana

Nike Run Club app — free via Nike

Years ago, I downloaded the Nike Run Club app at the recommendation of a best friend from college who was on a thirtysomething *healing journey* that included therapy, yoga, and lots of YouTube natural hair care tutorials. I don’t remember what she said in her pitch for the app, but I do remember her talking about getting more in touch with her breathing, which sounded both mystical and a little corny. But I am easily influenced, so why not? I did my requisite handful of runs to my self-curated playlists loaded with high-energy, fast-octane hip-hop and dance music, bought a couple outfits to look cute as I did it, and then promptly quit.

Fitness in general, and running in particular, always felt like a gesture toward another life rather than a commitment. And commitments were daunting. It took a pandemic for me to rethink commitment. Not as a goal unto itself, but a practice that can be as rugged and imperfect as the person who’s trying to do it.

Pandemic life had forced a stillness on me that I found deeply unsettling. I was used to constant, aimless movement. Stillness forced me to reckon with everything I’d moved away from, and reconsider everything I thought I was trying to move toward. On a very basic level, I’d always wanted to become a runner, but was intimidated by the idea of running. I played sports in high school, but running was always the thing you did to condition your body for the thing you really wanted to do.

As adulthood unfolded, though, I noticed that there was running and then there were runners. Runners had this magical way of moving and staying still at the same time. There they were, passing me by on Brooklyn’s Eastern Parkway, chins slightly leading their chests, thumbs resting on their middle fingers, eyes focused on a spot just ahead of them. They didn’t fight what their bodies were doing. They settled into it. They were patient. They looked calm and steady. They were, in a sense, still.

June marked a turning point in America’s fight against COVID-19. Vaccines had arrived. Hope was on the horizon. For more than a year, my movement had been restricted by airborne pathogens and government mandates and my own endless anxiety. What would it mean for me to run toward stillness, instead of away from it?

In June, I signed up to run a half-marathon the following November. I had no idea how to run a half-marathon. But there was my helpful Nike Run Club app, with a 14-week training course that included audio-guided runs from some of the world’s top runners. I’d expected the hard-charging, take-no-prisoners tone of other fitness apps I’d tried, but that’s not what I found. Instead, I virtually met coaches who preached patience.

It also helped that the runs themselves were varied. There were days when my runs were 15 minutes. There were interval runs at different paces. There were bad runs and good runs and runs that I felt no particular way about at all and runs I quit halfway through. But I was running.

I became a runner one afternoon in August, about two months into my program. I’d built up a tiny bit of confidence by then, managing to run once without stopping around Prospect Park, and I was at the point in my program where I was supposed to run three laps around in total.

I was terrified, and expected to quit midway through. But something happened on the second lap. My brain quieted down and my body took over. The Nike coaches call this the moment when your training kicks in. I wasn’t thinking about running anymore.

That’s when I realized that nobody runs a mile, or 10, or 26.2. They run a series of smaller races, one single step at a time. —Jamilah King


BuzzFeed News; Goswin Schwendinger

The Do!! You!!! Breakfast Show w/ Charlie Bones $4/month at doyou.world

I always start my mornings off with music, but I can also be terribly indecisive when it comes to what I want to listen to. I explored various internet radio shows during the last year, and haven’t looked back after discovering Do!! You!!!.

Every weekday morning, host Charlie Bones streams an eclectic mix of feel-good tunes from his London apartment, mixing in plenty of ’80s favorites like Sade and Prince alongside more modern underground fare. There are recurring listener-supported segments like “Jukebox,” where Bones cues up YouTube music links from the chatroom, and “Reader’s .wavs,” where he features unreleased music submitted by listeners.

Since I live in Brooklyn, I’m asleep when the show airs at 9 a.m. GMT, but by 8 a.m. I get a ping that the new episode is available in the archive via the Mixcloud app, so it feels like I’m listening in real-time. If you’re still stuck cycling through the same old playlist every morning, you can’t go wrong handing over the aux to Charlie Bones. —Ben Kothe


Ben Kothe / BuzzFeed News

The New York Times Crossword Mini via the designated NYT Crossword app

The Mini crossword is a tiny puzzle that can be done in just a few minutes (or a few seconds, if you’re having a “good Mini day”). It’s a fun, quick daily distraction, but the option to add others to a shared leaderboard is what brings me back every day. Facing off against a dozen or so friends for the fastest times has been a fun way to feel connected to people I don’t see often, and has led to plenty of heated group chat banter and bragging rights over the past year. —Ben Kothe

Opening illustration by Raymond Biesinger for BuzzFeed News

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Rivian shares down more than 17% following report of Ford sell-off – TechCrunch

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Rivian’s stock price fell more than 17% Monday, a drop prompted by a CNBC report that Ford was selling 8 million shares of the EV automaker.

Ford held a 12% stake, or about 102 million shares, of Rivian.

Over the weekend, David Faber of CNBC reported that Ford would sell 8 million of its Rivian shares through Goldman Sachs. Faber followed up on Monday, describing the sale as “done.” The sell-off came as an insider lockup for the stock expired Sunday.

TechCrunch will update the article if Ford responds to a request for comment.

The news has further accelerated the decline of Rivian’s share price since its IPO last year. Rivian debuted as a publicly traded company in November with an opening share price of $106.75, a price that made it one of the largest IPOs in U.S. history and put its market cap above GM as well as Ford. (At the time, GM’s market cap was $86.31 billion; Ford’s was $78.2 billion.)

Rivian’s share price reached as high as $179.47 a week later, before coming back down to earth. Rivian shares have fallen more than 75% since its public market opener.

That freefall has also affected its largest shareholders, Ford and Amazon. Last month, Ford reported it lost $3.1 billion in GAAP terms in Q1, largely due to a write-off of the value of its stake in Rivian. 

Amazon reported a $7.6 billion loss on its investment in Rivian.

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Why Twitter’s top lawyer has come under fire from Elon Musk

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Vijaya Gadde came reluctantly to the decision that cemented her reputation on the right as Twitter’s “chief censor.” For years, the company’s top lawyer had resisted calls to boot then-President Donald Trump from his favorite social media platform.

Even after a violent pro-Trump mob stormed the U.S. Capitol, Gadde explained during an emotional virtual company town hall on Jan. 8 that Trump hadn’t broken enough of Twitter’s rules against glorification of violence to merit a permanent ban of his account.

Three hours later, after her team produced evidence that Trump’s latest tweets had sparked calls to violence on other sites, Gadde relented, according to two people familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe internal discussions. She reached then-CEO Jack Dorsey in French Polynesia, and they agreed to lower the boom.

Elon Musk wants ‘free speech’ on Twitter. But for whom?

“After close review of recent Tweets from the @realDonaldTrump account,” the company announced in a blog post, “… we have permanently suspended the account due to the risk of further incitement of violence.”

The ban on Trump, which continues to this day, is the most prominent example of the deeply polarizing decisions that have led conservatives to accuse Twitter of political censorship. As billionaire Elon Musk, a self-declared free-speech absolutist, seeks to acquire the social network, these decisions — and Gadde herself — are coming under fresh scrutiny.

Critics have derided her as Twitter’s “top censorship advocate,” a barb amplified by Musk, who tweeted a meme with a photo of Gadde that cast her as an icon of “Twitter’s left wing bias.” Musk’s legions of followers have tweeted calls for her firing, some of them racist. (Gadde, 47, is Indian American.)

Twitter colleagues describe Gadde’s work as difficult but necessary and unmotivated by political ideology. Defenders say her team, known as the trust and safety organization, has worked painstakingly to rein in coronavirus misinformation, bullying and other harmful speech on the site, moves that necessarily limit some forms of expression. They have also disproportionately affected right-leaning accounts.

But Gadde also has tried to balance the desire to protect users with the values of a company built on the principle of radical free speech, they say. She pioneered strategies for flagging harmful content without removing it, adopting warning labels and “interstitials,” which cover up tweets that break Twitter’s rules and give people control over what content they see — strategies copied by Twitter’s much larger rival, Facebook.

Many researchers and experts in online harassment say Gadde’s policies have made Twitter safer for its roughly 229 million daily users and say they fear Musk will dismantle them if the sale goes through.

“If Musk takes things in the direction he has been signaling — which is a rather simplistic view that more or less anything goes in the name of free speech — we will certainly see the platform go back to square one,” said Rebekah Tromble, director of the Institute for Data, Democracy and Politics at George Washington University.

Twitter workers face a reality they’ve long feared: Elon Musk as owner

Whatever happens to her policies, Gadde signaled at a staff meeting late last month that her days at Twitter may be numbered, telling employees that she would work to protect their jobs as long as she is around, according to a person who attended the meeting.

She did not respond to requests for comment. Twitter declined to comment. Musk did not respond to a request for comment.

This story is based on interviews with 10 current and former Twitter employees, as well as others familiar with decisions made by Gadde and her team, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe private company discussions.

“I do believe very strongly — and our rules are based on this framework — that free expression is a fundamental right, that everyone has a voice and they should be able to use it,” said Gadde in a 2019 interview with The Washington Post. There is a line between doing that and committing what we call abuse or harassment, and crossing over into a place where you’re preventing someone else from using their voice.”

Gadde is a previous donor to Kamala Harris and other Democrats, and in 2017 she helped lead Twitter’s $1.59 million donation to the ACLU to fight Trump’s executive order banning immigration from majority Muslim countries.

Among employees, Gadde is known for taking a legalistic yet pragmatic approach to content moderation. As with Trump after the Jan. 6 insurrection, she often has argued against limiting speech and has rejected colleagues who wanted to take a stronger approach to removing content, moving to do so only after careful consideration.

For years, she has been the animating force pushing Twitter to champion free expression abroad. In India and Turkey, for example, her team has resisted demands to remove content critical of repressive governments. In 2014, Gadde made Twitter the only Silicon Valley company to sue the U.S. government over gag orders on what tech companies could say publicly about federal requests for user data related to national security. (Five other companies settled.)

Elon Musk boosts criticism of Twitter executives, prompting online attacks

“She wasn’t a censorship warrior or a free expression warrior,” said a former colleague familiar with Gadde’s approach. “She is pragmatic, but not doctrinaire.”

A dedication to free speech has been part of Twitter’s DNA since its founding in San Francisco 16 years ago. Early executives were such believers that they famously referred to Twitter as “the free speech wing of the free speech party.” That approach made Twitter ripe for abuse in its early days, and the platform developed a reputation as unsafe — particularly for high-profile women, who endured threats of rape and other sexist attacks.

Back then, Twitter’s attitude was, “we don’t touch speech,” said University of Virginia law professor Danielle Citron, an expert on online harassment. In 2009, Citron prepared a three-page, single-spaced memo for the Twitter C-suite, explaining the legal definition of criminal harassment, true threats and stalking.

Gadde joined Twitter’s legal team two years later, leaving her post at the Silicon Valley firm Wilson, Sonsini, Goodrich and Rosati. People who worked with her said her move was inspired by the Arab Spring uprising, when pro-democracy activists used Twitter and other social platforms to organize protests across the Middle East. The Arab Spring solidified the belief among Twitter’s leaders that their job was to protect speech, not police it.

Twitter was soon engulfed in scandal, however. In 2014, online trolls launched a brutal campaign against women in the video game industry. The attacks — which came to be known as “GamerGate” — were carried out on multiple tech platforms. But they were most visible on Twitter, where women received highly graphic threats of violence, some including the woman’s address or an exact time of attack.

The incident was a wake-up call for the company, said software engineer Brianna Wu, one of the women targeted in GamerGate, who worked with Twitter to improve the site.

In an op-ed published in The Post, Gadde wrote that she was “seriously troubled by the plight of some of our users who are completely overwhelmed by those who are trying to silence healthy discourse in the name of free expression.”

Elon Musk wants a free speech utopia. Technologists clap back.

By then, Gadde had been promoted to general counsel, overseeing all legal and trust and safety matters facing the company.

In response to GamerGate, Twitter streamlined the company’s complicated nine-step process for reporting abuse and tripled the number of people on its trust and safety team, as well as other teams that protect users, according to the op-ed and other reports at the time.

But the moves to clamp down on harassment soon stirred fresh controversy. Internal emails obtained by BuzzFeed in 2017 showed Gadde and other executives engaged in messy, seemingly ad hoc deliberations over whether to shut down the accounts of alt-right provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos and right-wing flamethrower Chuck C. Johnson, who had tweeted that he was raising money in the hopes of “taking out” a leader of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Johnson, who says his comment was part of a “journalistic project,” has complained that Twitter never offered a clear reason for the ban. He sued the company over it and lost. He has since abandoned his alliance with Trump and declared his support for President Biden, he said, leading to attacks online. Because his Twitter account is still suspended, Johnson argues he is unable to defend himself.

About the same time, Twitter was confronted with another conundrum: the candidacy of Trump, who made Twitter central to his 2016 presidential campaign. With nearly 90 million followers at his peak, Trump routinely lobbed tweets at political opponents, journalists and even private citizens, triggering waves of online harassment.

After Trump’s election, Gadde and Dorsey convened a “free speech roundtable” at the company’s San Francisco headquarters, where top Twitter executives heard from Citron, former New York Times editor Bill Keller and Tom Goldstein, former dean of the graduate journalism school at University of California at Berkeley. During the meeting, which has not been previously reported, Citron expressed concerns about online harassment, especially directed at journalists.

Gadde “understood how speech could silence speech,” Citron recalled, “and could be incredibly damaging to people’s lives.”

Goldstein declined to comment on the meeting. Keller said the group discussed how new standards could bring order to the “wild west” of social media.

Elon Musk acquires Twitter for roughly $44 billion

Internally, some employees faulted Gadde for ineffectiveness, as rules were unevenly applied across the massive platform. Three former workers said her trust and safety unit did not coordinate well with other teams that also policed the site.

Even as the company took action to limit hate speech and harassment, Gadde resisted calls to police mere misinformation and falsehoods — including by the new president.

“As much as we and many of the individuals might have deeply held beliefs about what is true and what is factual and what’s appropriate, we felt that we should not as a company be in the position of verifying truth,” Gadde said on a 2018 Slate podcast, responding to a question about right-wing media host Alex Jones, who had promoted the falsehood on his show, Infowars, that the Sandy Hook school shooting was staged.

A year later, nearly every other major platform banned Jones. Twitter initially declined to do so, saying Jones hadn’t broken any of its rules. Within a month, however, Gadde reversed course, banishing Jones for “abusive behavior.” In a 2019 appearance on the “Joe Rogan Experience” podcast, Gadde explained that Jones had earned “three strikes” by posting videos that did violate Twitter’s rules, including one she deemed an incitement to violence against the news media.

Jones did not respond to a request for comment. At the time, he called Infowars “a rallying cry for free speech in America,” adding that he was “very honored to be under attack.”

Gadde and her team later escalated the company’s efforts to fight disinformation — along with spam and fake accounts — after news broke that Twitter, Facebook and other platforms had been exploited by Russian operatives during the 2016 campaign. The company began removing a million accounts a day in a broad effort to crack down on abuse.

In a move described as signature Gadde, Twitter also launched an initiative called “Healthy Conversations” that sought feedback from hundreds of experts about how to foster more civil dialogue. That effort led to updated hate speech policies that banned “dehumanizing speech” — such as racial slurs and negative stereotypes based on religion, caste or sexual orientation — because it could have the effect of “normalizing serious violence,” according to a company blog post.

In subsequent years, Dorsey became increasingly absent and would effectively outsource a growing number of decisions to Gadde, including those around content moderation, three of the people said.

Gadde also was key to a 2019 decision to ban political advertising on the platform, according to four people familiar with the decision, arguing that politicians should reach broad audiences on the merits of their statements rather than by paying for them. Other companies copied the move, enacting temporary pauses during the 2020 election.

Throughout Trump’s presidency, at the company’s monthly town halls, Twitter employees regularly called on Gadde to ban Trump, accusing him of bullying and promoting misinformation. Gadde argued that the public had a right to hear what public figures such as Trump have to say — especially when they say horrible things, the people said.

How Twitter decided to ban Trump

Meanwhile, Gadde and her team were quietly working with engineers to develop a warning label to cover up tweets — even from world leaders such as Trump — if they broke the company’s rules. Users would see the tweet only if they chose to click on it. They saw it as a middle ground between banning accounts and removing content and leaving it up.

In May 2020, as Trump’s reelection campaign got underway, Twitter decided to slap a fact-checking label on a Trump tweet that falsely claimed that mail-in ballots are fraudulent — the first action by a technology company to punish Trump for spreading misinformation. Days later, the company acted again, covering up a Trump tweet about protests over the death of George Floyd that warned “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.” More such actions followed.

Later that year, Gadde was involved in a decision that drew widespread criticism. In October 2020, the New York Post published an exclusive story based on material found on a laptop allegedly belonging to Biden’s son Hunter. Gadde and other trust and safety executives suspected the story was based on material obtained through hacking and therefore violated the company’s rules against publishing such material.

Anxious to avoid a repeat of Russia leaking hacked material during the 2016 election,Twitter executives took the unusual step of temporarily locking the newspaper’s Twitter account and blocking Twitter users from sharing a link to the story.

Even within liberal Twitter, the decision was controversial, two of the people said. It was not entirely clear the materials had been hacked, nor that the New York Post had participated in any hacking. A Post investigation later confirmed that thousands of emails taken from the laptop were authentic.

Amid mounting outrage among conservatives, Gadde conferred with Dorsey and announced an 11th-hour change to the hacked-materials policy: The company would remove only content posted by the hackers themselves or others acting in concert with them. It also would label more questionable tweets.

Dorsey later tweeted that the decision to block mention of the New York Post story was a mistake. Recently, Musk tweeted that “suspending the Twitter account of a major news organization for publishing a truthful story was obviously incredibly inappropriate.”

Here’s how The Post analyzed Hunter Biden’s laptop

Now employees are worried that Musk will undo much of the trust and safety team’s work. Many people silenced by policies adopted under Gadde are clamoring for Musk to avenge them. Johnson, for example, said he has appealed via text to Jared Birchall, head of Musk’s family office, asking when his account might be restored.

Birchall did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Though Johnson does not plan to tweet, he said, he wants his account back on principle. According to text messages first reported by the Wall Street Journal and subsequently viewed by The Post, Birchall replied: “Hopefully soon.”

Birchall also shed light on one of the biggest questions looming over the Musk takeover: Will Musk undo Gadde’s decision to ban Trump? At a recent TED conference, Musk said he supports temporary bans over permanent ones.

Musk “vehemently disagrees with censoring,” Birchall texted to Johnson. “Especially for a sitting president. Insane.”

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Gradient Ventures backs Mentum’s goal to democratize investment services in LatAm – TechCrunch

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Investment in stocks or retirement accounts can seem like a complicated process if you are not sure where to begin.

Mentum is out to change that in Latin America, and is working on customizable investment APIs and widgets so businesses in Latin America can build and offer fully digital investment products, like local mutual funds, ETFs and stocks, to their customers. The products are also compliant with local regulations.

Co-founder and CEO Gustavo Trigos started the San Francisco-based company in 2021 with Simon Avila and Daniel Osvath. The trio, who participated in Y Combinator’s summer 2021 cohort, come from a mixture of backgrounds in payments, technology, APIs and investment services.

All of them came to the U.S. from Latin America to study and work, and in the course of using some of the investment apps offered in the U.S., they struggled to find similar products in Latin America that provided a way to fully invest. And, in Latin America, just 2% of the population in each country have access to investment products, and that’s mainly because they are high-net-worth individuals, Trigos said.

He noted in talking to folks at Chile-based Fintual, which is operating in the retail investing space, why there was not more competition, and what they discussed was a huge gap in the infrastructure and understanding the regulations in each country.

“You have to start from scratch in each country,” Trigos told TechCrunch. “We saw no one was building it, so we did.”

Mentum is not alone in working to provide an easier way for Latin Americans to learn about investing and try it out. In the past year or so, some significant venture capital dollars have been infused into companies, like Vest, Flink and Grupo Bursátil Mexicano, that have also developed investment products as a way to boost financial inclusion within the region.

Trigos considers Mentum a technology company operating in the fintech space versus a fintech company. It started in Colombia and acts as a middle layer, developing technology that companies can build on top of.

One of the early approaches the company took was to reach out to 10 of the top broker-dealers in each country to understand the regulations and build relationships to get the greenlight to do business. While Trigos called that process “burdensome,” once Mentum did that, it was able to more easily repeat the process in Chile and now is eyeing Peru and Argentina for expansion.

Initially, Mentum targeted fintech companies because they already knew how to work with APIs, but then demand started coming in from traditional banks and even supermarkets, insurance companies, credit unions and super apps that deliver food.

Mentum’s widgets. Image Credits: Mentum

Having so many different kinds of companies eager to offer investment products is a big reason why the company wanted to make its products easier to use, Trigos said.

“We analyzed hundreds of apps to see what the general experience should look like, then we created widgets that do require some code, but we also have a desktop simulator in beta that will require no code to set up the experience,” he added.

Mentum’s products are still in beta, but plans to launch them this year were accelerated by $4.2 million in funding, led by Google’s Gradient Ventures, with participation from Global Founders Capital, Soma Capital Y Combinator and co-founders of Plaid and Jeeves.

Trigos intends to use the new capital to increase its headcount from the seven employees it has now, including setting up its founding team. One of his goals for the year is to grow in Colombia and Chile by integrating five clients in each country. The company will work on product development and features that will enhance the experience, like more payments and adding DeFi and crypto.

Mentum already has two strategic partnerships with broker-dealers and is currently in the integration process with two of its fellow YC-backed fintech companies in Colombia and another 25 companies interested in launching its products.

“The financial services industry is undergoing a massive transformation in Latin America. APIs have created new opportunities for the way we bank,” said Wen-Wen Lam, partner at Gradient Ventures, in a written statement. “With its innovative technology, Mentum has opened up a wide range of possibilities for Latin America fintech apps. We’re excited to back Gus and his team as they usher in the next generation of banking.”

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