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.
By the time the villagers knew Facebook was coming to town, it was already too late. Three weeks later their local councilors in the idyllic Dutch hamlet of Zeewolde voted 11–8 to rezone a swath of fertile farming land half the size of Central Park and hand it to Facebook to build its “hyperscale” data center — the largest in Holland.
The local councilors, including those who voted in favor of the data center, engaged with the company for almost two years prior to the vote — but without knowing that “Tulip,” the mysterious entity they’d been negotiating with, was Facebook. In fact, the councilors were among the last to know, finding out only after Facebook issued a press release revealing Tulip’s true identity ahead of the vote.
Facebook’s demand for secrecy around its data center in the Netherlands is the latest example of Big Tech’s aggressive but covert strategy to squeeze concessions from local governments. The veil of secrecy minimizes public scrutiny and backlash, often until it is too late.
“It is very strange. Everything is normally very transparent — but with data centers, it is like a big black mystic box,” said Lars Ruiter, a former municipal councilor from Hollands Kroon, who told BuzzFeed News that his village found itself in a nearly identical situation in 2017 with a secret Microsoft data center project.
“It is very strange. Everything is normally very transparent — but with data centers, it is like a big black mystic box.”
Since the Zeewolde vote, a firestorm of public criticism has compelled the Dutch national Senate to pass a parliamentary motion asking the government to halt the project pending a national policy on data centers. But such motions are usually not legally binding, and opponents of the data center are leaning on the commitment of the Netherlands’ newly formed government to present such a policy.
Data centers are the cornerstone of cloud computing. They allow you to access your Google drive from any device anywhere in the world, upload photographs to your Instagram account, and stream Netflix. The business is extraordinarily profitable: Last year, Amazon’s cloud service, for example, had earned over $40 billion in revenue as of October. But data centers like the one Facebook proposed suck up enough energy to power a small town, use millions of gallons of water a day to cool their servers, and typically provide few jobs. This has raised questions about their sustainability, their impact on communities around them, and Big Tech’s insistence on building them in secret.
In 2019, officials in Texas approved $10 million in tax breaks for a data center operated by a developer named Sharka LLC — later revealed to be Google. In Iowa, Microsoft has built at least three data centers while shielding its name from the public, according to the Des Moines Register. Facebook was believed to be using a shell company in Utah to push through bills favorable to data centers as far back as 2016.
In the Netherlands, Facebook encountered a national and local bureaucracy eager to attract a major US tech giant but wary of the environmental costs and public resistance. So in late 2019, when Facebook first began exploring the possibility of building in Zeewolde, its identity was known only to a few senior officials in the national government. The mayor of Zeewolde found out a year into negotiations in early 2021, the King’s commissioner of the region a short time later. The people of Zeewolde were the last to know.
Meanwhile, the company embarked on a bare-knuckle offensive to secure the land, despite Dutch bureaucrats noting that the project in Zeewolde violated the National Strategy on Spatial Planning and the Environment and suggesting a different site.
But Facebook was adamant about its chosen location. It even asked the government to designate its data center a project of “national importance,” a Dutch national policy normally intended to expedite land acquisition and project clearances for vital infrastructure like the national electricity grid.
“The designation of a data center of national importance has never been done, so this would be difficult to explain and create a precedent for the establishment of (more) other data centers,” a Dutch bureaucrat tersely noted in an internal memo obtained by De Telegraaf. “It also seems undesirable to us to state that the location in Zeewolde is of national importance.”
“The designation of a data center of national importance has never been done.”
Sandra Beckerman, a member of Dutch Parliament from the Socialist Party, said the laws around projects of national importance were drafted during the 2008 financial crisis and had been misused in the past. “The idea was to speed up projects in order to create jobs,” she said, which meant “far less democratic control by either local, regional governments or the public.” Large companies, she said, had “profited hugely from this law while local communities are deprived of rights they used to have.”
Facebook also pushed the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy to lean on the state-owned electricity utility to prioritize the company’s demands for its electricity substation, warning that it would consider establishing the data center in another country if its demands weren’t met. “Tulip offers us little or no time to continue working on this: they are already asking for a clear signal from EZK this or next week,” another memo said, noting that Facebook was actively lobbying the Dutch government to take urgent action. EZK is the Dutch acronym for the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy.
The ministry’s bureaucrats worried that prioritizing Facebook’s demands would distort the expansion of the Dutch national grid. But they had little leverage to negotiate. “They have a preferred position because they have a lot of money and they can pay for that,” said Ben Sonneveld, a councilor who voted against the project. “They were treated differently than others who do not have the money and have to wait.”
In the end, an accommodation for the substation was made, but demand to designate the project a data center of national importance was denied.
“They are willing to work with these tech companies because they are always in money troubles.”
Rob Smeets, a former Zeewolde councilor who opposed the project, resigned from his post weeks before the crucial vote, telling the Dutch press he had done so under pressure from his own party after flagging unspecified conflicts of interest in the negotiations. He was replaced by Hank Parisius, a party colleague who voted in the favor of the project. Had Smeets stayed, Facebook’s margin of victory would have been a much narrower 10–9.
Smeets told BuzzFeed News that he stood by his statement to the Dutch press but declined to elaborate on his allegations. Parisius did not respond to a request for comment.
Beckerman, the MP, said years of budgetary cuts had disempowered local governments by making them far too reliant on property taxes. Facebook’s new data center could contribute up to 2 million euros a year in taxes to Zeewolde’s municipal budget, according to the mayor’s office. “Local and regional governments don’t have the power to fight large companies,” she told BuzzFeed News. “They are willing to work with these tech companies because they are always in money troubles.”
Facebook’s data center project in Zeewolde and the company’s efforts to hide its involvement from the people who live there are particularly contentious because they touch on two emotive national issues: land and green energy, both of which are in short supply.
The Netherlands is one of Europe’s more densely populated major nations, much of the acreage lies below sea level and is protected from flooding by oceanfront dykes, and also among the most reliant on fossil fuels. But the country is also the landing point for a bundle of transatlantic undersea telecommunication cables and home to one of Europe’s biggest internet exchanges, making it a compelling destination for data centers like Facebook’s.
The Netherlands is also a tax haven. The Tax Justice Network ranks it fourth in the world behind the British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, and Bermuda for “global tax abuse,” and eighth for “financial secrecy.” Which is worth noting, because when the first tranche of land for Facebook’s data center in Zeewolde was acquired, the sale was made to a shell company called Polder Networks. Company documents obtained by BuzzFeed News show Polder’s sole shareholder is a company called Liberation Management, which advertises itself as a discreet consultancy with offices in the Netherlands and Luxembourg. Polder and Liberation did not respond to requests for comment, but Facebook spokesperson Kim van Bokhoven told BuzzFeed News, “Polder Networks B.V. is the legal representative of Meta in the Netherlands that builds and manages the data center.”
This combination of corporate secrecy, tax discretion, and telecom connectivity has meant Amsterdam is now home to one of Europe’s biggest concentrations of data centers — but much of the data in the Netherlands serves users around the world.
“Two-thirds of the data center capacity in the Netherlands is used for companies and residents not in the Netherlands,” said René Buck, founder of Buck Consultants International. Last year, a Buck Consultants International study commissioned by the Dutch government suggested that large-scale data centers offer little direct economic benefit to the communities that live around them.
“Two-thirds of the data center capacity in the Netherlands is used for companies and residents not in the Netherlands.”
“We often spread data needs throughout our data center infrastructure — in fact, we currently serve traffic quickly and reliably around the world,” van Bokhoven told BuzzFeed News. “So there is no guarantee that user traffic in the region will be served exclusively by this facility.
Data centers consume large amounts of energy, but with many big tech companies eager to burnish their green credentials, they are increasingly located near sources of renewable energy. Many data centers in the Netherlands are monopolizing scarce green energy supplies for their own use to the chagrin of local communities.
In 2017, for instance, Microsoft announced its massive data center in the Netherlands was buying up 100% of the electricity produced by a giant wind farm not far from Amsterdam. Microsoft touted this as an example of its commitment to sustainability, a perspective faithfully reproduced in sections of the press. Back in the Netherlands, commentators noted that the wind farm produced enough energy to power 370,000 homes — but all the energy was being sucked up by a single American company.
Beckerman told BuzzFeed News outrage was building among citizens irked to see their tax dollars funneled into renewable energy investments that largely benefited foreign companies. “People can’t pay their energy bill, and 50% of the energy bill is made up of taxes,” she said.
The municipality of Zeewolde estimates Facebook’s data center would use twice the energy used by the whole town. Ben Sonneveld, a Zeewolde councilor who voted against the project, said the company had not been upfront about how this green energy would be sourced.
The wind farm produced enough energy to power 370,000 homes — but all the energy was being sucked up by a single American company.
Most of Zeewolde’s energy comes from about 400 windmills on the outskirts of the town. Project opponents like Sonneveld fear that, much like Microsoft’s data center in neighboring Holland Kroons, Facebook’s arrival in Zeewolde would mean more common lands lost to windmills. While the company has made no specific references to investing in wind farms in Zeewolde, the secrecy around the project thus far has meant residents fear they will only find out about any potential wind farms when it is too late.
“I calculate that we need another 140 windmills,” Sonneveld said. “So where do we put them? Nobody knows.”
Zeewolde Mayor Gerrit Jan Gorter, a strong proponent of the project, told BuzzFeed News that Facebook had not received any financial incentives or tax breaks to invest in Zeewolde and that a data center in the town did not violate planning guidelines. He argued that the data center will bring jobs and investment to the region. The town council is looking to build more windmills in Zeewolde, he said, but the windmill project predates and would not be directly connected to the data center project. Gorter said Facebook’s data center intends to use “100% green power” by purchasing green certificates (known as “guarantees of origin,” or GVO) across the European electricity network. A GVO is essentially like a carbon credit, but for renewable energy.
Gorter said the secrecy around Facebook’s data center was standard operating procedure when attracting new investment to the region to ensure that the local government did not discriminate between companies.
“The actual name of the company should not make a difference as they only have to decide whether a company meets the requirements for establishment in Zeewolde,” said Gorter, referring to the recently concluded council vote on the project, “and that does not depend on the name of the company.”
And Facebook argued that despite the secrecy around the project, it only has the best of intentions. “We understand and respect that any major project and change can lead to questions and concerns. It is therefore good to emphasize that we do everything we can to be a good neighbor for everyone in the area, such as the farmers and residents of the municipality of Zeewolde,” van Bokhoven told BuzzFeed News.
As late as 1972, the entire province of Flevoland, where Zeewolde is situated, was a shallow brackish marsh. Every acre in Zeewolde, residents said, was painstakingly claimed by damming an inlet of the North Sea — the culmination of a decadeslong process that began in 1924 and ended sometime in 1984.
“It’s a very young village, it’s the youngest village in our country. The land is very fertile. So to give 166 hectares of fertile land to metal boxes is beyond our imagination,” said Susan Schaap, who said she moved here 23 years ago. “Zeewolde is a beautiful village. There’s a lot of woods, there’s a beach, there’s sun, there’s a lot of sand, there’s a lot to do for children.”
Schaap is the administrator of Stichting DataTruc Zeewolde, a Facebook group of residents opposed to the data center in their village.
“To give 166 hectares of fertile land to metal boxes is beyond our imagination.”
“It’s not like it’s a data center where they store all this data for maybe payments, hospital applications, or, you know, medical things,” Schaap said. “They have all this information stored from people, which they sell to advertisers.”
For now, the public backlash against the deal has slowed the sale of the land. A spokesperson for the Netherlands’ Central Government Real Estate Agency said the land would be transferred to Facebook only if a set of mandatory sustainability requirements were met.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy is slowly walking back its public support for the data center despite doing everything in its power to help Facebook. When BuzzFeed News asked the ministry for its formal position on Facebook’s data center, its spokesperson deferred to Zeewolde’s municipality.
Beckerman, the opposition MP, said the various accommodations offered to Facebook stood in stark contrast to the experiences of the ordinary Dutch citizen when interacting with their local government.
“I guess people are really fed up with the government always acting in the best interest of these large companies,” Beckerman said, adding this was “another example of a government putting too much energy and time and money in these kinds of companies.” ●
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.
Why Twitter’s top lawyer has come under fire from Elon Musk
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.
“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.
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.)
“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.”
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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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