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Cheugiest tech moments of 2021 – TechCrunch

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Technology has come a long way in 2021. There’s widespread mRNA vaccines! An asteroid-deflecting space mission! A very powerful laptop with a very controversial notch! But it’s unfortunately easier to think about the cringiest moments of the year than it is to remember times when we marveled at indoor farming robots

So hop aboard the choo-choo-cheugy train. We promise, this isn’t just a list of things Elon Musk tweeted in 2021.


Facebook is so Meta

The biggest and most eye-wateringly silly rebrand of the year is uncontested: Facebook, one of the most recognizable names in the world, changed its name to Meta in order to distract from unflaggingly awful decisions and the irreparable harm it has caused countless people focus on the “metaverse,” something no one asked for and certainly no one wanted Facebook of all companies to take the lead on.

Block this out

Meta’s not the only rebrand that went teeth-grindingly meta this year. Readers, we present… Block, FKA Square, originally a small business champion known for square-shaped card swiping dongles (quant!). Now, it’s taking a bite out of blockchain for its new name and identity, although apparently Block is not just about that. The company says it’s also a reference to block parties, building code, obstacles to overcome, “and of course, tungsten cubes.” (click for more cringe) Well, not so fast, Jack! H&R Block is already suing Block for trademark infringement, with the name, a block in its logo, and a green color scheme that all come a little too close to home, since H&R Block, best known for tax filing prep, also happens to sell accounting services to SMBs, mobile banking to consumers and other fintech services just like Square’s… I mean, Block’s. Hard to guess which blockhead will back down first/move to settle here.

Saturday Night Musk

Image Credits: Bloomberg (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Mr. Musk perhaps said it best when he played a doctor in the Gen Z Hospital skit: “You all might want to sit down, what I have to say might be a little cringe.” Elon may have hoodwinked a substantial part of the population of global fanboys hoping to get rich on his coattails, but at the end of the day this couldn’t hold any water on Saturday Night Live. He’s not an actor, and he’s not that funny, so even with the wattage of being one of the world’s richest men and a major celeb on social media, his SNL hosting was… a smug, wooden, boring, awkward dud. You’re left wondering how/why he was anointed to be in the limelight in the first place (but then again, I wonder that about him most of the time).

How do you do, fellow NFT owners

The gold rush over NFTs caused some otherwise smart people to attempt to implement them in regrettable ways. Numerous companies announced NFT-adjacent projects, like using them to tokenize fanfic, in-game items, Discord things(?), and so on. After failing to read the internet in general’s skepticism of this interesting but at present highly dubious tech, the companies backpedaled madly, sometimes within hours of announcements or rumors. Literally anyone would have said it was a bad idea, try asking next time!

Bezos thanks everyone for their money, which he shot into space

Image Credits: Joe Raedle / Getty Images

The relentless self-congratulatory fanfare around Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic’s first “real” trips to space was extremely tiring. While there was some relief in Branson’s company getting grounded for shady maneuvers, and in Bezos eliciting scorn for his tamales and his giant hat, the chef’s-kiss moment was the latter’s tone-deaf thanks offered to the world that financed his ego trip by shopping at his ethically bankrupt mega-corporation. “I want to thank every Amazon employee, and every Amazon customer, because you guys paid for all this.” I’m sure he meant every word, which is why it’s so bad. (Also pity the poor cowboy hat, which Bezos has definitely also ruined for me.)

Blue Origin whining postpones the next Moon landing

After losing big time on the Human Landing System contract to arch-rival SpaceX, Blue Origin sued NASA, alleging impropriety. Its claims were dismissed in a highly embarrassing manner (NASA basically pantsed the company in front of the entire industry) but the necessary rigmarole resulted in the planned 2024 crewed lunar landing being pushed out to 2025. To be fair, we all suspected this would be the case anyway, but Blue presented itself as a perfect scapegoat. The blunder may have permanently tainted relations with NASA, which isn’t great when they’re pretty much Blue Origin’s only source of real money… other than “every Amazon employee, and every Amazon customer,” of course.

OnlyFans bans itself

We all know what OnlyFans is for, and it’s been great seeing a platform where sex workers, among others, can monetize themselves. Until that platform abruptly announced that the people who’d made it rich in the first place were henceforth banned. Bye, good luck! The backlash was so severe that the decision, unconvincingly blamed on prudish bankers, was reversed within a week. Don’t bite the hand that feeds you, people. (Unless the hand consents as part of a healthy fantasy.)

From the desk of Donald J. Trump

Trump’s tempestuous relationship with social media is perhaps too serious a matter to treat of here, but one aspect of it deserves a palm to the face, and that’s his short-lived “social” platform, From The Desk of Donald J. Trump. This barebones microblog appeared after his ouster from every major social media network, but it was so minimally functional and got so little traffic that it only lasted a month or so before being mothballed. No doubt so his media team could focus on borrowing Mastodon’s code for the follow-up, Truth Social. But even that was all just preliminary to the desperate-looking pitch deck and SPAC we would receive later in the year. As they say, if at first you fail badly, fail, fail again.

Senator Blumenthal asks Facebook rep to “commit to ending finsta”

Now known as the Facebook whistleblower, Frances Haugen leaked thousands of internal documents from her former employer, including some showing that Instagram is aware of its adverse effect on teenage girls. Soon after, Facebook Global Head of Security Antigone Davis was summoned to testify before the Senate about children’s internet safety.

Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), a 75-year-old, was worried about young people using secret accounts that they hid from their parents.

“Will you commit to ending finsta?” he asked.

“Senator, let me explain. We don’t actually do finsta. What finsta refers to is young people setting up accounts where they may want to have more privacy,” Davis patiently replied.

Facebook’s leaked benefits enrollment video

It must be hard to work at Facebook – or, as it’s called now, Meta – on days when the company is getting loads of bad press for, you know, not doing enough to stop the January 6 insurrection. But it’s also probably hard to work at Facebook when you have to enroll in your benefits.

There’s some pretty awful stuff detailed in the files that Haugen leaked, but if you want to experience some lower-stakes incredulity at our Metaverse overlords, check out this video. I’m sure Facebook has good benefits – they’re a huge, trillion-dollar tech company, after all – but is the subsidized care even worth it when there’s choreographed dancing involved?

NFTs aren’t even good at gatekeeping

Bored Apes Yacht Club is like a fraternity for people who love Coinbase. Instead of paying dues to join an exclusive Greek society of bros, you can buy a 52 ETH (~$210,000 at time of publication) NFT of an ape to be part of a cool club. Yes, Jimmy Fallon, Steph Curry and Post Malone are Yacht Club members – just like how some B-list actor was in your college’s fraternity twenty years before you were born. But it’s not just about the ape – the value of the NFT is that you get access to fancy events and stuff. So, nightlife journalist Adlan Jackson concocted a clever plan to sneak into a Bored Apes party.

As it turned out, a friend’s boss owned an Ape and sent Jackson a screenshot of a QR code that could get them into the party. The bouncers were checking for some wristband from a previous event, though, not the literal NFT, so he was turned away despite his Ape possession. Later in the night, Jackson tried to get in again, and… they simply let him in. No wristband, no NFT, no nothing. So much for exclusivity! Luckily, Jackson was just in time to see The Strokes frontman Julian Casablancas ask on stage, “This is kind of about art, right? NFTs? I don’t know, what the hell. All I know is… a lot of dudes here tonight.”

Please make it stop

If NFTs are now blowing up in the speculation bubble that is financial social media (how does that not have a short name? FiSo?) they owe a lot to Gamestop, the memestock that could. The company could have headed into oblivion like so many other mediocre retailers crowded out by innovations in technology, consumer habits and changing tastes in entertainment. But instead, it was picked up and carried on the wings of a wave of hype that drove its price into the stratosphere, leading to so, so many questions about who gets to be the gatekeeper in the world of trading, who makes money, and who are the biggest losers. You hate to see people getting manipulated, but also understand why those who bought in hated to be treated like unempowered peons. No one gets covered in glory in this one. But amazing, there has yet to be a final chapter in this saga: the stock is lower compared to January’s stratospheric peak, but it’s not that far off.

Spotify Wrapped is cheugy

Yeah, yeah, we know that sharing your Spotify Wrapped round-up is basically just doing free PR for Spotify. But the copywriting on Wrapped read like it was penned by a forty-year-old communications staffer who asked his niece for some phrases that gen-Zers like.Spotify even hired an aura reader named Mystic Michaela to collaborate with them on generating audio auras. The result? Cheugy.

“There was one podcast that lived in your head, rent-free, all year long,” it said.

“You always understood the assignment.”

“While everyone else was trying to figure out what NFTs were, you had one song on repeat.”

“You deserve a playlist as long as your skincare routine.”

Elizabeth Holmes has stans

Former Theranos founder and CEO Elizabeth Holmes was on trial for criminal fraud for over four months this year. But on the first day of the trial, some fans – yes, fans – showed up dressed as Elizabeth Holmes. If you’re blonde, it’s a pretty easy costume – just wear a black turtleneck and some red lipstick, put your hair in a low ponytail, and there you go! You’re ready for the Halloween party!

But these cosplayers were legit, as far as the reporters who talked to them could tell. They really admired Elizabeth Holmes, despite the fact that she may or may not be guilty of serious criminal fraud charges running a company that actively jeopardized people’s health by giving them false blood test results. But to each their own.

Even LinkedIn wants to be like TikTok

Basically every social or entertainment platform is finding a way to wedge in a vertically-oriented short form video feed. It makes sense for direct TikTok competitors like Instagram or Snapchat to do this, even though it feels very inorganic and derivative. But toward the end of the year, even companies like Netflix, Spotify, Reddit, Twitter and Pinterest were trying it out. In 2022, Linkedin plans to join them.

The professional networking platform tried doing stories this year, but it wasn’t as successful as Instagram at integrating that Snapchat copy-cat feature.

Fleets fly away

Then again, Twitter didn’t do so hot with Fleets either. I guess you could have seen the writing on the wall with this one: Twitter basically sealed Fleets’ fate with its very name. Its own attempt to throw a hat into the short, ephemeral videos never quite struck a note with Twitter users, who mainly love the format precisely for what it does differently from the rest of social media: fast-paced, short punctuations of words and pictures that flutter down from each other with biting humor, searing criticism, perfectly-timed factoids and occasional glimpses of greatness, regardless of your follow numbers. Who really needs another Story format? Especially one launching so late in the day, with no great twist or even easy way to be used?

Instagram forgot to turn on teen safety features on the web

In July, Instagram tried to cover its metaphorical ass when it comes to user safety by rolling out some new features. One feature made it so that any new account from a user under 16 would default to private. But Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) put tech journalists to shame by unearthing a scoop that was right in front of our eyes for months. If a teen made an Instagram account on the web, it defaulted to public.

To be fair, who even uses Instagram for the web? Still, this felt like a pretty big oversight. Head of Instagram Adam Mosseri had to admit under oath that his team messed up. It was pretty cringe, but at the same time, it’s an alarming, lackadaisical error for a company that’s been repeatedly defending its commitment to teen safety in the Senate this fall.

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It was Devin’s idea. Amanda enthusiastically approved. Still cheugy.

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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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