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Webb Telescope Prepares to Ascend, With an Eye Toward Our Origins



There are only a few times in the history of a species when it gains the know-how, the audacity and the tools to greatly advance the interrogation of its origins. Humanity is at such a moment, astronomers say.

According to the tale that they have been telling themselves (and the rest of us) for the last few decades, the first stars flickered on when the universe was about 100 million years old.

They burned hard and died fast in spectacular supernova explosions, dispelling the gloomy fog of gas left over from the primordial fireworks known as the Big Bang 13.8 billion years ago. From those sparks came all that we care about in the universe — the long, ongoing chain of cosmic evolution that has produced everything from galaxies and planets to microbes and us.

But is that story right?

The tools to address that question and more are at hand. Sitting in a spaceport in French Guiana, wrapped like a butterfly in a chrysalis of technology, ambition, metal and wires, is the biggest, most powerful and, at $10 billion, most expensive telescope ever to be launched into space: the James Webb Space Telescope. Its job is to look boldly back in time at the first stars and galaxies.

“We’re looking for the first things to come out of the Big Bang,” said John Mather of the Goddard Space Flight Center in Green Belt, Md., the chief scientist for the telescope. Or, as he likes to ask: “How did we get here from the Big Bang?”

If all goes well — always a dubious prospect in the space business — the telescope will be loaded onto an Ariane 5 rocket and, on the morning of Dec. 25, blast off on a million-mile journey to a spot beyond the moon where gravitational forces commingle to create a stable orbit around the sun.

Over the next 29 days on its way up, the chrysalis will unfold into a telescope in a series of movements more complicated than anything ever attempted in space, with 344 “single points of failure,” in NASA lingo, and far from the help of any astronaut or robot should things become snarled. “Six months of high anxiety,” engineers and astronomers call it.

First, antennas will pop out and aim at Earth, enabling communication. Then the scaffolding for a sunscreen the size of a tennis court will open, followed by the sunscreen itself, made of five thin sheets of a plastic called Kapton.

Finally, 18 gold-plated beryllium hexagons will snap into place to form a segmented mirror 6.5 meters, or 21 feet, across. By then, the telescope will have reached its destination, a point called L2, floating on its sun shield and aimed at eternity.

Astronomers will then spend six months tweaking, testing and calibrating their new eye on the cosmos.

The James Webb Space Telescope, named after the NASA administrator who led the agency through the Apollo years, is a collaboration between NASA, the Canadian Space Agency and the European Space Agency. Its official mission is to explore a realm of cosmic history that was inaccessible to Hubble and every telescope before it.

“We are all here because of these stars and galaxies,” said Alan Dressler of the Carnegie Observatories in Pasadena, Calif.

That mission requires the Webb to be tuned to a different kind of light than our eyes or the Hubble can see. Because of the expansion of the cosmos, those earliest stars and galaxies are rushing away from Earth so fast that their light is shifted to longer, redder wavelengths, much as the siren from an ambulance shifts to a lower register as it speeds by.

What began as blue light from an infant galaxy 13 billion years ago has been stretched to invisible infrared wavelengths — heat radiation — by the time it reaches us today.

To detect those faint emanations, the telescope must be very cold — less than 45 degrees Celsius above absolute zero — so that its own heat does not wash out the heat being detected. Hence the sun shield, which will shade the telescope in permanent, frigid darkness.

Even before the Hubble Space Telescope was launched, in 1990, astronomers were arguing about what should come next. Dr. Dressler was the head of a committee proposing a Next Generation Space Telescope powerful enough to see the first stars and galaxies in the universe. It would need to be at least 4 meters in diameter (Hubble’s mirror was only 2.4 meters across) and highly sensitive to infrared radiation, and it would cost $1 billion.

NASA was game, but Dan Goldin, the agency’s administrator, worried that a 4-meter telescope would not be keen-eyed enough to detect those first stars. In 1996, he marched into a meeting of the American Astronomical Society and scolded Dr. Dressler and his committee for being too cautious. The new telescope, he said, would be 8 meters wide, a drastic leap in power, cost and development time.

“The crowd went wild,” Dr. Dressler recalled recently. “But many of us knew from that day on that this was big trouble. Webb became the perfect storm: The more expensive it got, the more critical it was that it not fail, and that made it even more expensive.”

Doubled in size, the telescope could no longer fit aboard any existing rocket. That meant the telescope’s mirror would have to be foldable and would have to assemble itself in space. NASA eventually settled on a mirror 6.5 meters wide — almost three times the size of Hubble’s and with seven times the light-gathering power. But all the challenges of developing and building it remained.

If the foldable mirror operates as planned, the mission could augur a new way to launch giant telescopes too big to fit on rockets. Only last month, a National Academy of Sciences panel recommended that NASA develop a giant space telescope 8 meters or more across to look for habitable planets. But if Webb’s origami fails, NASA and the astronomical community will have to take a long walk back to the drawing board.

“NASA committed too early to a particular design,” Dr. Dressler said. “I think this discouraged creative solutions that might have delayed the start of construction but made the telescope better and more affordable and, in the end, faster to launch.”

The setbacks mounted. At one point, the telescope was projected to cost about $5 billion and be ready in 2011; in the end, it took almost $10 billion and 25 years. Cost overruns and mistakes threatened to suck money from other projects in NASA’s science budget. The journal Nature called it “the telescope that ate astronomy.” Ten years ago, Congress considered canceling it outright.

Naming the telescope was its own challenge. In 2002, Sean O’Keefe, the NASA administrator at the time, announced that the instrument would be named for Mr. Webb, who had been a champion of space science and the agency’s leader during the crucial days of the Apollo program. Some astronomers were disappointed that it did not honor a scientist, like the Hubble Telescope or the Einstein X-ray Observatory do. Some of them were critical of Mr. Webb, questioning his role in a purge of gay men and lesbians from the State Department during the Truman administration.

Others in the astronomy community joked that the telescope’s initials stood for the “Just Wait Space Telescope.” The delays were par for the course, Dr. Mather said: “We had to invent 10 new technologies to build this telescope, and that’s always harder than people think it will be.”

Designing the foldable mirror and the sunscreen was particularly difficult. In early 2018, the sunscreen was torn during a rehearsal of the unfolding process, and the project was set back again.

Finally, last October, the telescope arrived by ship in French Guiana, where it would be launched aboard an Ariane 5 rocket. But the telescope’s troubles were not over. As technicians prepared to attach it to the spacecraft, a clamp let loose unexpectedly and the whole instrument quivered.

The launch date was pushed back four days, from Dec. 18 to Dec. 22, while NASA confirmed that the telescope had not been damaged. A few days later, a broken data cable set the adventure back another couple of days.

Almost 14 billion years ago, when the universe was less than one-trillionth of a second old, quantum fluctuations in the density of matter and energy gave rise to lumps that would become the first stars.

These stars were different from those we now see in the night sky, scientists believe, because they were composed of only hydrogen and helium created in the thermonuclear furnace of the Big Bang. Such stars might have quickly grown to be hundreds of times more massive than the sun and then just as quickly exploded as supernovas. They do not exist in the present-day universe, it seems.

For all their brilliance, these early stars might still be too faint to be seen individually with the Webb, Dr. Mather said. But, he added, “they come in herds,” clumps that might be the seeds for the earliest protogalaxies, and they explode: “We can see them when they explode.”

Those supernova explosions are surmised to have began the process, continuing today, of seeding the galaxy with heavier and more diverse elements like oxygen and iron, the things necessary for planets and life.

A top item on the agenda will be to hunt for those first galaxies, Marcia Rieke of the University of Arizona said. Dr. Rieke has spent the last 20 years leading the development of a special camera, the Near Infrared Red Camera, or NIRcam, one of four instruments that take the light gathered by the telescope mirror and convert it into a meaningful image or a spectrum.

So far, the earliest and most distant known galaxy, discovered by the Hubble, dates to a time only 400 million years after the Big Bang. The Webb telescope will be able to see back farther, to a mere 100 million years after the Big Bang.

In that foggy realm, Dr. Rieke expects to find dozens more infant galaxies, she said. Astronomers believe these were the building blocks for the clusters of galaxies visible today, agglomerations of trillions of stars.

Along the way, these galaxies somehow acquire supermassive black holes at their centers, with masses millions or billions larger than the sun. But how and when does this happen, and which comes first: the galaxy or its black hole?

Priyamvada Natarajan, an astrophysicist at Yale, and her colleagues are among those hoping to use Webb to find an answer to the origins of these black holes.

Did they come from the collapses of those first stars? Or were the black holes already there, legacies of the Big Bang?

“A lot is on the line, intellectually in terms of our understanding of black-hole growth, and practically in terms of careers for the younger members of our team and that of others working on this important open question,” Dr. Natarajan said. “Assuming, of course, that all goes well, and JWST takes data as expected.”

In the years that Webb has been in development, the hunt for and study of exoplanets — worlds that orbit other stars — has become the fastest-growing area of astronomy. Scientists now know that there are as many planets in the galaxy as there are stars.

“Everything we have learned about exoplanets has been a surprise,” Dr. Mather said.

Seeking such a surprise, he said, the telescope will look at Alpha Centauri, a star only 4.5 light-years from Earth: “We don’t expect planets there, but who knows?”

As it turns out, infrared emissions are also ideal for studying exoplanets. As an exoplanet passes in front of its star, its atmosphere is backlit, enabling scientists on Earth to study the spectroscopic signatures of elements and molecules. Ozone is one such molecule of interest, as is water, said Sara Seager, a planetary expert at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The astronomers with viewing time on the Webb telescope have made a list of about 65 exoplanets to observe; all are relatively nearby, circling small stars known as red dwarfs. None is a true analog to our planet, an Earth 2.0 orbiting a sunlike star, Dr. Mather said. Finding one of those will require a bigger, next-generation space telescope. But they could be habitable nonetheless.

As a result, some of the most anticipated early observations with the Webb will be of the planets in the Trappist-1 system, just 40 light-years away. There, seven planets circle a dim red-dwarf star. Three are Earth-size rocks orbiting in the habitable zone, where water could exist on the surface.

Dr. Seager is part of a team that has first dibs on observing one of the most promising of these exoplanets, Trappist-1e. The researchers will begin by trying to determine whether the world has an atmosphere.

“Nothing is scheduled yet,” she said, and recounted the many steps needed before the telescope is operational. “I liken it to waking someone up from a coma. You don’t ask them to run a marathon right away. It’s step-by-step testing.”

Dr. Mather, when asked what he was looking forward to studying, mentioned primordial galaxies, dark energy and black holes. “What I really hope for is something we don’t expect,” he said.

Wendy Freedman could be excused for thinking she is living through a déjà vu moment.

Thirty years ago, before the Hubble Space Telescope was launched, eminent astronomers were arguing bitterly about how fast the universe was expanding. At issue was the correct value of the Hubble constant, which has been called the most important number in the universe. It measures the cosmic expansion rate, but astronomical measurements disagreed by a factor of two on its value. This meant astronomers could not reliably compute the age or fate of the cosmos or the distance to other galaxies.

The Hubble Telescope was to resolve this impasse, and Dr. Freedman, now at the University of Chicago, wound up running a “key project” that settled on an answer. But recent measurements have revealed a new disagreement about the cosmic expansion rate. And Dr. Freedman finds herself again in the middle, using a new space telescope to remeasure the Hubble constant.

“Today we have a chance to learn something about the early universe,” she said in an email. “As we have gotten increasingly higher accuracy, the issue has changed — we can now ask if there are cracks in our current standard cosmological model. Is there some new missing fundamental physics?”

“So yes, it is exciting,” she said. “Once again, a new fantastic space telescope that will allow us to resolve a controversy!”

And that, doubtless, will create new ones. As Klaus Pontoppidan, an astronomer with the Space Telescope Science Institute, said at a recent news conference: “The telescope was built to answer questions we didn’t know we had.”

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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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