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Is Netflix Good For The Jews?

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Paul Blow for BuzzFeed News

For years, Roselyn Feinsod has told colleagues she is available “24/6.” The seventh day is the Jewish Sabbath, when the Ernst and Young executive, along with the other members of her community in Monsey, New York, is commanded by religious law to rest, eat, and pray.

Feinsod’s life, as she sees it, is a happy balance between the demands of the secular world in which she works and those of the devout world in which she lives. On her LinkedIn page — her social media of choice — Feinsod shares photos of her Orthodox women’s cycling group, insights from the world of human resources consulting, and proud posts about her son, a rabbi and first year at Yale Law School.

Over the summer, Feinsod did something for the first time: She posted in anger. An old friend of hers, whom Feinsod knew as Talia Hendler but whose name is now Julia Haart, had become the CEO of Elite World Group and the star of a hit reality show on Netflix. My Unorthodox Life is about Haart’s break with her community and her professional success. It uses Monsey as a foil to celebrate Haart’s various liberations: geographical, material, emotional, sexual. Since its July release, My Unorthodox Life had been the talk of Haart’s old community — where many residents do not watch television, for religious reasons. When she streamed the show, Feinsod hardly recognized what she saw. She felt that the show’s depiction of Monsey as a monolith of backwardness and repression bore no resemblance to either her life or the life she had seen Haart live for three decades.


Netflix / Everett Collection

Julia Haart in My Unorthodox Life

On her LinkedIn page, Feinsod denied that all of Monsey was a “fundamentalist community,” and accused Haart of sensationalizing her experience in order to fit a neat media narrative about benighted Haredi women. “Shame on Netflix for continuing to attack Orthodox Jews in show after show,” she wrote.

“Shame on Netflix for continuing to attack Orthodox Jews in show after show.”

In a statement to BuzzFeed News, Haart vigorously denied the claims. “It’s sad that rather than advocate from within to change a repressive society that denies women the same rights and education as men, there are members of the community who continue trying to suppress the truth,” she wrote. “The fact that I am now forced to defend my own life story is a perfect example of how repressive this society is.”

These are boom times for stories about ultra-Orthodox, or Haredi, Jews. Before My Unorthodox Life, which has already received a renewal for a second season, there was the early-pandemic hit Unorthodox, a Netflix drama inspired by Deborah Feldman’s bestselling memoir about a young woman fleeing the Satmar community in Brooklyn. And before Unorthodox, there was Shtisel, the 2013 Israeli soap opera that became such a sensation after it arrived on Netflix in 2018 that its creators made a third season. An American show inspired by Shtisel and directed by Kenneth Lonergan is in the works. So too is Diamonds, ordered by Netflix for a 2022 premiere and set among the Haredi Jews of Antwerp, Belgium. (The Get, a feature film written by Taffy Brodesser-Akner based on a GQ feature about an ultra-Orthodox rabbi who became famous for his extreme methods in obtaining religious divorces from intransigent husbands, was also announced last fall.)


Netflix / Everett Collection, Vered Adir / Courtesy yes Studios

Left: Shira Haas in Unorthodox; right: Michael Aloni in Shtisel


The shows range widely in tone and perspective. Shtisel, for example, is a gentle drama about the relationship between a hidebound but loving Haredi father in Jerusalem and his son, a young rabbi who yearns to be a painter. It strenuously avoids judging its subject matter. Meanwhile, critics have applauded Unorthodox for its “intensity, cultural specificity and psychological acuity” in telling the story of Esty, a stifled Haredi wife who escapes to Berlin to pursue her musical dreams.

But many of the shows have received criticism from Orthodox Jews for focusing on unflattering aspects of Haredi life, and in particular on people who leave their communities. This has led some in the Orthodox world to grapple with the thoroughly modern issue of representation in popular entertainment. It’s a question that other minority groups in the United States have struggled with, painfully, for decades. But in the case of ultra-Orthodox communities, many of which define themselves by their distance from or rejection of the secular world, it becomes even more complicated. What does it mean to accurately represent a group that barely participates in its own representation?

Netflix has famously built itself into a 214-million subscriber, $300 billion entertainment behemoth on the strength of its algorithm, which studies the content we watch and directs us to content it predicts will keep us watching. This content exists in an enormous matrix of categories — tens of thousands of microgenres like “Imaginative children & family movies from the 1980s” and “Romantic social issue dramas.” The sociologist David Beer has referred to the way the consumption of microtargeted entertainment shapes the way we see the world as “the classificatory imagination.” (Netflix declined to provide comment for this story.)

Shtisel, Unorthodox, and My Unorthodox Life became Netflix hits in vastly different ways: Shtisel was a foreign rights acquisition, Unorthodox was a Netflix Original four-part limited drama series inspired by a bestselling memoir, and My Unorthodox Life is a polished reality show from the producers of Bling Empire. But together they have brought Haredi Jews — like many other minority groups before them — firmly into the contemporary classificatory imagination. And the algorithm seems to be saying that the secular world wants to know more and more about them.

“Maybe it’s a wake-up call,” Feinsod said. “Maybe if we don’t manage our message, our message will be managed for us.”


Buena Vista Pictures / Everett Collection

Eric Thal (far left) and Melanie Griffith in A Stranger Among Us

Popular entertainment about Haredi Jews isn’t new, and it’s often made by secular Jews. According to Shaina Hammerman, the associate director of Stanford’s Taube Center for Jewish Studies and the author of Silver Screen, Hasidic Jews: The Story of an Image, these depictions date back at least to the early days of secular Yiddish theater in 19th-century Eastern Europe.

What is new, however, is the desire to tell and the appetite to consume hyperspecific stories about actual Haredi communities. So too is the level of cultural particularity 21st-century audiences demand. Today’s depictions are a far cry from an extravagantly bearded Gene Wilder teaching frontier Native Americans how to dance the horah in The Frisco Kid, or Melanie Griffith seducing a hunky yeshiva student (described in a 1992 Entertainment Weekly review as “the Rob Lowe of Jewish learning”) in Sidney Lumet’s A Stranger Among Us. They feature accurate dress, a close eye to plausible behavior, and a strong ear for Yiddish as it’s actually spoken.

Shtisel and Unorthodox took it upon themselves to claim authenticity,” said Alexa Karolinski, the co-creator and cowriter of Unorthodox. “That’s what has changed. That’s a larger trend in content generally. Millennials and Gen Z expect authenticity more than boomers. It is expected today that stories are told more from the inside out.”

Though the entertainment industry is still led by mostly white, male executives, an ever-greater proportion of its content is made by, and stars, members of traditionally underrepresented groups. Here, the streaming companies — and Netflix in particular — have been ahead of the rest of the industry. But for shows about Haredi Jews, this level of authenticity can’t be achieved with Haredi showrunners and Haredi actors — because outside of entertainment made within and specifically for those communities, they largely don’t exist.

Instead, these shows rely on a small network of ex-Haredi actors and consultants. Eli Rosen, who grew up in a Haredi community in Borough Park, Brooklyn, worked on Unorthodox. As a child, Rosen would sneak down to the basement at night so they could watch the television their parents kept locked down there.

“I would consume all this content that portrayed other minorities,” they said. “That was my entrée into other cultures. I had no access to diverse friends or life experiences. I took everything at face value.”

One night, Rosen saw a TV cut of A Stranger Among Us and was mortified by its clunkiness: the mishmash of Yiddish and Hebrew, the stiffness of the characterizations, and the implausible plot, in which the rebbe invites a female NYPD detective to live with him in order to solve a murder.

“I saw this and it made me question everything,” Rosen said. “That’s when I first realized that representation really fucking matters. I filed that away.”

Advisers like Rosen answer questions — would an ultra-Orthodox man kiss his wife on the front stoop after coming home from work, for example? Of course not — and help fill out casts with extras who live on the fringes of Haredi life, some of whom are in bad financial circumstances and need the work. Like many ex-Haredi Jews, these consultants maintain some contact with their families; they take the high-wire act of cultural translation seriously.

“I feel an obligation to my old community to get these things right,” said Malky Goldman, an ex-Haredi actress who has consulted on dozens of film and television projects, including Unorthodox, in which she also plays a supporting role. Her rate starts at $250 to read a script, but Netflix and HBO are known to pay significantly more for more in-depth consulting. Goldman said her work as an adviser is as much about fleshing out the inner lives of Haredi characters as it is about getting details right. (Though these are important, too. Goldman, for example, insisted on shirts for the Haredi men on the show with buttons on the left, as opposed to secular men’s shirts, which have buttons on the right.) That includes, she said, depicting the positive aspects of her old community as well as the negative ones.

“I want to see the beautiful Shabbos dinner, but also the choking of freedom and individuality,” Goldman said. “It’s so much harder to show a community that people stay rather than people leave.”

Netflix is streaming to over 200 million people. Most people have never met and will never meet a Jew let alone an Orthodox Jew.

But because narratives of Haredi Jews who have left their communities are the easiest to find, their stories are inevitably overrepresented. That’s a complaint common among Orthodox Jews who engage with the secular world, and who worry perhaps more than their most closed-off coreligionists about their depiction. The new shows capturing the public’s attention may feature accurate details and stories based in reality, but they only represent a sliver of Haredi life. In turn, this sliver comes to represent the whole of Haredi Judaism in the algorithmically driven classificatory imagination.

“We do the worst job at PR,” said Allison Josephs, the founder and executive director of Jew in the City, a nonprofit dedicated to fighting stereotypes about Orthodox Jews. “No one sees all the normal.”

Indeed, what even sophisticated secular audiences know about the ultra-Orthodox comes largely from alarming news stories. There are the scandals — child molestation, voter fraud, school district fiascos, and civil disobedience — which underscore the way insularity can create the conditions for abuse. And then there are reports of escalating antisemitic attacks, mostly in New York, which underscore the way these communities are made vulnerable by their visibility. This connection, between being seen and being exposed or harmed, contributes to the unease in some Orthodox communities about how they’re being depicted in popular culture. So, too, does the idea that the negative portrayal of even an unrepresentative sect of a small minority is bad for all the members of that minority.

“There are 8 billion people in the world,” Roselyn Feinsod said. “There are 15 million Jews, 2 million of whom are Orthodox. Netflix is streaming to over 200 million people. Most people have never met and will never meet a Jew let alone an Orthodox Jew. That’s a problem when you make the whole narrative negative.”


IFC Films / Everett Collection

There are recent counterexamples, including 2017’s Menashe, a quiet and touching film about a Haredi widower in Brooklyn who doesn’t want to remarry, and 2019’s The Vigil, a horror film about a malevolent spirit that haunts the body of a dead Haredi man. But these films — which embed their conflict within ultra-Orthodox communities instead of against them — have gained hardly a fraction of the attention of the recent streaming hits.

“My problem isn’t the existence of these shows,” said Raphael Margules, who coproduced The Vigil through his company BoulderLight Pictures and is himself modern Orthodox. “It would just be nice if there were other types of representation that weren’t completely venomous. You walk away from these shows thinking religious people are completely fanatical.”

Even some ex-Haredim share these concerns. Rebecca Blum grew up in New Square, New York, home to perhaps the most restrictive and cloistered Jewish community in the country. She left New Square, where men and women walk on different sides of the street, four years ago.

“You walk away from these shows thinking religious people are completely fanatical.”

“It was misogynistic, and I’m a feminist,” Blum said. “I didn’t feel respected or recognized by the men in my community.”

Blum is now a college student in New York, pursuing fulfillment in the secular world. Yet she worries that the vast majority of secular audiences can’t draw distinctions between different Jewish communities, let alone different Orthodox ones.

“When people watch Escaping Polygamy on TLC, they know it’s not every church, it’s not all Christianity,” Blum said. “There are so many denominations of Jews. They tend to lump everyone together. These shows affect the Jewish people as a whole. It’s not fair to the rest of the Jewish people for it to be just for entertainment.”


Netflix / Everett Collection

Julia Haart, Silvio Scaglia Haart, and Batsheva Weinstein in My Unorthodox Life

A show like My Unorthodox Life is a case in point. Modern audiences know that reality shows are nearly as contrived as fictional narrative ones. In that context, there’s nothing particularly strange about Julia Haart’s bombast in her quest, according to a former Elite employee who spoke to Page Six, to become a “Jewish Kardashian.” It’s the nature of reality TV. But the same audiences have little to no frame of reference for Haredi life — in their experience or in popular culture — against which to compare Haart’s story.

This past July, Haart spoke out about the criticism she’s received, asking critics to watch the show before judging her and saying, “If someone watches the show … it’s going to be really hard for someone to say I don’t mention anything positive.”

Even though representations of the ultra-Orthodox have become more sophisticated, these exaggerations exist on a spectrum with outright falsehoods. Recently, Jewish groups protested a February episode of the NBC show Nurses in which an Orthodox Jew angrily refuses a bone graft from an Arab or a female cadaver.

“Are there Orthodox Jews who look down on non-Jews and Arabs? You betcha,” Josephs wrote on the Jew in the City website at the time. “And are there Orthodox Jews who are misogynists? Unfortunately, yes for that one too. But the idea that such a surgery would be problematic in general or problematic because of where the bone came from not only is categorically false according to Jewish law, it is a vicious lie.”

“They’re touching a community they know so little about.”

In response to the outcry, NBC pulled the episode. Josephs said she thought such an offensive mistake could have been avoided if Orthodox Jews had the equivalent of the Muslim Public Affairs Council’s Hollywood Bureau, which was founded in 2007 to work with studios to help create “multi-dimensional portrayals of Islam and Muslims.” But, Josephs said, her community is a long way from achieving that, in part because of secular brethren who she believes hold the ultra-Orthodox in contempt.

Josephs said one of the main issues is the number of people who share a religion with Haredi Jews, and who might therefore feel that they have some insight into those communities, despite actually knowing very little about their traditions and practices. Or, as she put it — invoking a stereotype that is, ironically, also common in antisemitic rhetoric — “The problem is we’re facing so many Jews in Hollywood.” She added, “They’re touching a community they know so little about.”

According to Shaina Hammerman, Josephs may be on to something. Portrayals of Haredi Jews by secular Jews have long revealed just as much about the cultural anxieties of the latter as the day-to-day lives of the former. “It affirms their choice to not be religious while allowing them to lay claim to religious Jews as their history,” Hammerman said. “We don’t want to be these people, but we want to preserve them.” This dynamic gives secular Jews a serious amount of power to define how Haredi Jews will be preserved in the broader, algorithmically driven classificatory imagination.


Courtesy yes Studios

Michael Aloni, Dovale Glickman, and Sasson Gabay in Shtisel

Much of the American popularity of Shtisel, as the journalist Peter Beinart wrote in the Atlantic in 2019, was driven by the “rapturous” response of secular Jews. And it’s true that many American Jews may have found in these shows a safer way to engage with their cultural past than through the contested forms of political Judaism that have captured parts of the digital zeitgeist (though Orthodox Jews are quick to detect a note of condescension in this stance).

Still, you don’t climb the Netflix charts, as Unorthodox and My Unorthodox Life did, by only appealing to American Jews, who are 2% of the population. American audiences are hungry for compelling content from foreign cultures — just look at the success of the Netflix show Squid Game. In the fear that worldwide audiences can’t make fine distinctions between different Jewish communities, critics of the recent crop of shows may have lost sight of how universal some of their experiences are. Shtisel, for all of its trappings, is a soap opera with themes as old as storytelling: star-crossed love, frustrated ambition, intergenerational conflict. So, too, does Unorthodox tell the story of a young person finding herself by leaving the values of her childhood behind.

“We underestimate how much of this earth feels oppressed by their religious community, or for any other kind of reason,” said Karolinski, Unorthodox’s co-creator. “The fact that so many people have loved it from so many religions goes to show this is not just about Jews and not just about this specific community.”


Vered Adir / Courtesy yes Studios

From left: Yoav Rotman, Hanna Laslo, Neta Riskin, and Zohar Strauss in Shtisel

At the same time, because the conflict in all of these stories — even Shtisel’s — comes from the clash of strong-willed individuals against their inflexible communities, they unavoidably present Haredi communities as unchanging. Here, a fetish for the accuracy of cultural details may miss a broader reality: Haredi communities are evolving. They are growing in the United States faster than other forms of Judaism. And while they may hold technological modernity at arm’s length, they are nevertheless shaped by it. Some Haredi communities use digital technology for entertainment, some use it for political organizing, some use it for religious outreach, some use it for business, and others simply use it in secret.

After the premiere of My Unorthodox Life, hundreds of Orthodox women posted stories of their personal and professional accomplishments to Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter under the hashtag #MyUnorthodoxLife. Though these women may have been defending their communities, the fact that such a digital campaign existed at all was remarkable, according to Jessica Roda, an anthropologist and ethnomusicologist at Georgetown.

“By revealing their faces and voices to the general public, these women contradict their invisibility in ultra-Orthodox media, implicitly defying religious authority,” Roda wrote in September in the Conversation. The campaign, Roda said, reflected a broader “crisis of authority” in these communities.

Even in places like New Square, where secular culture is well beyond the pale, the powers that be can’t fully exclude digital media.

“There is a small percentage of people who secretly have internet and secretly watch movies,” Rebecca Blum said. “Out of a community of 1,500 families, it’s maybe 100 families who do it.”

Malky Goldman has 13 siblings. Eight of them don’t use the internet at all. Three of them secretly watched Unorthodox and didn’t talk to her about it. The other two did watch Unorthodox and complained about how negative the representations of the Haredi were. A few years before, though, Goldman’s mother was recovering from knee surgery and needed something to do to pass the time. Goldman assured her that a rabbi would give his blessing for her to watch Shtisel. She binged the first two seasons.

Recently, Goldman and her mother were on the phone, and the older woman did something unexpected: She brought up Shtisel.

“Remember that show that made us look so good?” she asked her daughter, the actor. “Did they ever make any more?” ●

UPDATE

This story has been updated with a comment from Julia Haart.

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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.

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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.)

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“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.”

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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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