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Diversity Training Company Uses White Actors In VR Sims



Erik Carter for BuzzFeed News

A tech company that provides human resources training to some of the world’s largest corporations has been using white actors to portray people of color in virtual reality simulations about diversity, equity, and inclusion.

The simulations, created by corporate education company Mursion, are hypothetical scenarios between a participant and animated humanoid avatars. The avatars are played live by human actors, who follow detailed scenario plans and sometimes improvise. Mursion’s actors, called “simulation specialists,” work alone, playing all the roles in each simulation by using a voice modulator and remote controller to switch between characters. As a result, they often play characters of a race and gender different from their own.

In simulations viewed by and described to BuzzFeed News, Black avatars called out other characters’ acts of discrimination, asked participants to rally their companies to support Black Lives Matter, and practiced “supporting a traumatized employee through incidents of racial injustice.” One involved a scenario in which Child Protective Services removed a child from a Black family. In each case, white actors played the roles of the Black characters. In other Mursion simulations, white actors played characters of Asian descent, and neurotypical adults played autistic children.

“You can’t separate this from the history of blackface, yellowface, and redface in this country.”

Mursion, which does employ some actors of color, told BuzzFeed News that such “open casting” is necessary to scale its business and to protect employees of color from having to just endlessly replay “the same cultural biases, microaggressions, and outright discrimination in our society that too many Americans suffer today.” It defended the practice by saying that its avatars are merely “hypothetical characters” that are not meant to stand in for “the entirety” of any culture, race, sexual orientation, or gender identity.

But scholars of race, theater, and digital media told BuzzFeed News that white actors playing characters of color in DEI simulations like Mursion’s could bring their own unconscious bias into scenarios intended to mitigate bias. Moreover, seven current and former Mursion employees, speaking confidentially with BuzzFeed News, expressed concerns about the company’s own diversity and inclusion practices.

One employee described the use of white actors in Black roles as “a really tough thing for a lot of us to stomach.” Two raised concerns about white actors mimicking Black dialect while acting as Black characters. Three independently described an incident in which a white simulation specialist used the n-word while acting as an avatar of color. That actor now trains other simulation specialists. Employees also raised concerns about the visual creation of Mursion’s avatars, citing lack of variation in the skin tone, hair, and facial features of their characters of color, and about the company’s failure to promote and support women employees of color.

Via LinkedIn

Mursion CEO Mark Atkinson

Mursion CEO Mark Atkinson told BuzzFeed News that the company is working hard to improve its diversity and inclusion practices, and detailed multiple steps it has taken to address the lack of avatar diversity and support for employees of color. “We recognize that, as humans, we make mistakes,” he said about incidents of stereotyping. He denied any knowledge of an incident in which a simulation specialist used the racial slur. The specialist did not respond to a request for comment.

Mursion is one of many corporate training companies that quickly expanded its diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) offerings after the murder of George Floyd. But attempts to rapidly scale up DEI training programs have led to wide variability in their quality and depth, said Y-Vonne Hutchinson, CEO of diversity and inclusion consultancy ReadySet. “We have seen some positive indications” that virtual reality could be useful for DEI learning, Hutchinson said. But “when providers don’t have a deep area of expertise or lived experience,” she said, “problematic dynamics” can arise.

Two employees raised concerns about white actors mimicking Black dialect while acting as Black characters.

Some say those dynamics are more than just problematic. To University of Michigan professor Apryl Williams, an affiliate researcher at NYU’s Center for Critical Race and Digital Studies, Mursion’s practice of using white actors to voice characters of color is “just blackface,” analogous to the historically popular, but now widely condemned, use of white actors in makeup to caricature Black people in minstrel shows. Hutchinson agreed: “You can’t separate this from the history of blackface, yellowface, and redface in this country, even if you have the most sensitive actors in the world playing these characters.”

Mursion is well aware of such criticism, but the company says the practice is a key to its mission. “It’s necessary for our business that one person plays all the characters in a simulation — otherwise it doesn’t scale,” CEO Mark Atkinson said.

This raises key questions about the ethics of representation in virtual reality. Last month, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced “the metaverse” as “the successor to the mobile internet.” He envisioned a world where users have multiple avatars: “a photorealistic avatar for work, a stylized one for hanging out, and maybe even a fantasy one for gaming.” But what standards should govern how people buy and sell virtual bodies to inhabit in a world where we can be anyone we want?

Christine Wilson via YouTube / Via

Screenshots from a video created by Mursion and partner ECU

Mursion was not created to provide diversity and inclusion training. It began as a K–12 teacher training tool, enabling teachers to practice lesson plans on avatar children before going into a live classroom. In 2015, Mursion first began expanding into corporate education, offering companies an opportunity to “improve their employees’ interpersonal skills with customers.” In early 2019, it began advertising simulations about diversity and inclusion, according to an archive of its website.

But Mursion’s diversity business expanded after the groundswell of support for racial justice initiatives that followed the murder of George Floyd. As corporations pledged billions in donations to racial equity causes, and the Nasdaq began requiring companies to publicly disclose diversity metrics, Mursion was quick to capitalize on the trend. In November 2020, it closed a $20 million Series B fundraising round with a press release stating that “many recent collaborations are centered on the implementation of immersive Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) training.” Weeks later, the company won 20 medals in the annual Brandon Hall Group Technology Excellence Awards, including the organization’s top prize for “diversity and inclusion innovation.”

“It’s like having a white person play a Black person.”

By late 2020, Mursion was providing simulations about sales, customer service, and other interpersonal skills for some of the most famous brands in the world — Coca-Cola, Starbucks, LinkedIn, and Johnson & Johnson. Meanwhile, it had expanded its offerings to include training for teachers of neurodivergent pupils, such as those with autism. The company enlisted neurotypical actors to play neurodivergent children in simulations with scenario plans, but no scripts.

Three employees who spoke with BuzzFeed News said a set of simulations for teachers that involved acting as an autistic child made them uncomfortable. Documents shared with BuzzFeed News include instructions for actors to imitate self-stimulating actions like “rocking” and “hand flapping” to portray the character. One employee who underwent initial training to perform the scenarios declined to finish because they felt they lacked a sufficient understanding of autism to authentically portray the character. Mursion developed these scenarios with help from an advisory group led by Stanford professor Lynn Koegel, who told BuzzFeed News that avatar characteristics were based in part on standard psychiatric criteria and included input from autism experts and neurodiverse people.

But other scholars in the field question whether that’s enough. Catherine Lord, professor of psychiatry at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and a practicing clinical psychologist focused on autism, told BuzzFeed News that having non-autistic people play autistic people, when there are autistic actors available, was “unfortunate both in terms of respect for autism but also to the education of the audience.” Dr. Marilyn Augustyn, director of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at Boston Medical Center, agreed: “It’s like having a white person play a Black person.”

To address questions from BuzzFeed News, Mursion arranged a roundtable discussion with several of its simulation specialists, some of whom were people of color. Atkinson put the question to his employees outright: “Why is it OK for a white actor to play a Black avatar?” Their answers touched on both of the company’s main arguments: that consistently role-playing as Black avatars in scenarios about discrimination could be traumatic for actors of color, and that avatars are not meant to comprehensively represent any one race or ethnicity. One former specialist, a man of color, said “the work is not about playing a Black avatar, or getting into character,” it’s instead about helping learners navigate tense situations in real life.

“The work is not about playing a Black avatar, or getting into character.”

Mursion says its actors can opt out of any simulation that makes them uncomfortable. But most are not salaried employees; they are “variable part-time” workers, paid hourly, so declining to perform certain roles could mean less income. Nonetheless, multiple employees described Mursion’s actors as the leaders of an internal push to improve the company’s DEI practices, in which they have raised concerns about participating in “digital blackface” and requested comprehensive, companywide diversity training.

Atkinson, in an email to BuzzFeed News, portrayed the company’s actors as supportive of its casting practices. He wrote that Mursion’s white actors “have agreed to step up” and act in scenarios about diversity, equity, and inclusion. “I am proud of them for taking on this risk,” he added. “I am proud of our non-binary and BIPOC colleagues for urging their white colleagues to do so.”

Employees who spoke confidentially with BuzzFeed News took issue with Atkinson’s statements. “That’s some magic — it’s beautifully written, and it’s beautifully bullshit,” said one. Another called the nonbinary and BIPOC colleagues referenced “a figment of Mursion’s imagination.” A third referred to the explanation as “white-savioring.”

Brentt Brown via YouTube / Via

A screenshot from a video created by Mursion for the Digital Now conference

Debates about racial equity and caricature in casting have shaped the last century of American theater, from the NAACP’s 1954 condemnation of blackface in the long-running radio and television show Amos ‘n’ Andy as a “gross caricature of the Negro,” to the Actors’ Equity Association’s 1990 decision to boycott, and then not boycott, the use of yellowface in a production of Miss Saigon. And while new forms of digital media — video games, for example — have stretched our understanding of what it means to depict a digital character, experts were quick to distinguish the debate around representation in theatrical acting from Mursion’s corporate education product.

“This isn’t art,” said Hutchinson, who used to be an actor. “This is commerce. This is business. And that means the people who are telling these stories are making money off of these stories.”

Multiple professors of theater told BuzzFeed News that Mursion’s argument about scale — that cross-racial casting is necessary to facilitate its business model — is often used as an excuse in theater to not cast people of color. Those academics, along with several DEI experts, told BuzzFeed News that if Mursion was having difficulty casting Black actors to play Black avatars, it could at least cast actors who are members of some racial or ethnic minority.

“This isn’t art. This is commerce. This is business.”

This is already being done — just not by Mursion. Jason Chen, a psychologist and DEI specialist at the William & Mary School of Education, has used Mursion simulations in this way since 2017, working with his own team of scenario designers and actors, who are all people of color and experts in diversity and inclusion. His scenarios teach geoscientists to speak up for more diversity in their departments.

Chen believes his research shows that such simulations — when combined with attendance at in-person diversity workshops and reading discussion groups — can make scientists more comfortable advocating for diversity, at least in the months directly following the training. But that raises a more basic question about Mursion’s off-the-shelf offerings: Do they actually work?

The company provided research to show that math teachers who practice their lessons with Mursion get better results in the classroom than teachers who do not. But it did not provide similar supporting research for its diversity, equity, and inclusion training. Mursion told BuzzFeed News it would take years to build out such a research program, but that it is “slowly developing an ecosystem of research partners … to replicate these findings.” It also pointed to “proprietary client studies,” which it declined to share.

In an email, Mursion CEO Mark Atkinson said, “I have the utmost respect for our clients who understand and appreciate” the company’s casting choices. But it is not clear how much thought Mursion’s clients have given those choices — or whether they are even aware of them. Atkinson said the company tells customers that single actors play multiple characters. Asked if the company makes it explicit that sometimes the Black avatars in their simulations are being voiced by white actors, he replied, “Do we say those literal words? No. But we are fully transparent.”

BuzzFeed News reached out to more than a dozen of Mursion’s corporate clients about their use of Mursion simulations and asked specifically whether they knew actors were portraying characters of races different than their own. Some companies, including Coca-Cola, LinkedIn, and McKinsey, declined to comment, and others, including Johnson & Johnson, Blue Cross Blue Shield, and Starbucks, did not answer our inquiries. A 2021 civil rights assessment for Starbucks, prepared by the law firm Covington & Burling, recommended expanding an initial partnership with Mursion as part of the company’s DEI program. But Starbucks Workers United, a group of Buffalo-area Starbucks employees seeking to unionize, told BuzzFeed News that they “do not condone digital or other forms of blackface.”

“We do not condone digital or other forms of blackface.”

Other Mursion clients, including Google and Nationwide, a large insurance company, acknowledged partnering with Mursion, but said they did not use its simulations for diversity and inclusion education. Mursion’s website says that T-Mobile ran a simulation focused on “supporting a traumatized employee through incidents of racial injustice.” Mursion simulation specialists described this scenario, which involved an employee experiencing an incident of racial profiling, to BuzzFeed News. But a T-Mobile spokesperson told BuzzFeed News that though the company works with Mursion, Mursion “hasn’t supported” its DEI program.

Only one company, Indeed, commented on Mursion’s cross-racial casting practices. A spokesperson wrote that the company was “not aware and this is concerning to us. If true, this does not align with our company values and we would discontinue the vendor relationship.”

Minda Harts, author of Right Within: How to Heal From Racial Trauma in the Workplace and the keynote speaker for Mursion’s Actionable Empathy Symposium earlier this month, was also unaware of the company’s casting practices until contacted by BuzzFeed News. In her symposium address, Harts said, “Two things can be true at the same time. Someone may not intend harm, not intend racism — but they may nevertheless cause harm, and cause it through racism.”

Asked about Mursion’s casting practices, Harts replied: “Sometimes, DEI practices and solutions have every intention of helping their workplace be a more inclusive environment, but the impact might do more harm than good.” She continued, “I want more companies and organizations to be aware of that, and when they do make a misstep, be courageous enough to own it and commit to better equitable practices.” ●

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



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



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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