Under Russian pressure to remove content, Instagram complies but YouTube holds off


Instagram has taken down content posted by Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny under pressure from a government agency, while YouTube has yet to do so. Navalny and others have criticized Instagram for complying to what they call a politically-motivated move to silence him.

The issue is around a video accusing a Russian official, deputy prime minister Sergei Prikhodko, of accepting a bribe from prominent businessman Oleg Deripaska — in the form of a trip on a yacht populated with upscale escorts. It uses footage posted (and later removed) by one of the alleged escorts to Instagram.

Deripaska sued in a local court, which turned around and ordered that the material be removed web-wide, recruiting the Russian communications regulator Roskomnadzor to enforce the order. The deadline was yesterday.

Among the sites and services complying with the order to remove the content in question is Instagram, which was the target of swift rebuke upon doing so, from Navalny and his supporters.

I’ve asked both YouTube and Instagram for comment on their actions (or future actions). Facebook confirmed to the BBC that it had complied with the regulator’s order, but did not offer any more than a blanket statement regarding how it handles government content takedown requests.

In addition to the Instagram and YouTube posts, the Russian court also ordered that Navalny’s own website be blocked, after he refused to take down the content in question. He and his supporters consider this a blatant attempt to silence him ahead of next month’s election, which Navalny was organizing a boycott of.

Instagram is testing screenshot alerts for stories


Instagram is testing a feature that will show users when someone else takes a screenshot of their story. Users included in the test are getting a warning that the next time they take a screenshot of a friend’s story the friend will be able to see it, as shown below:

And users who are participating in the test can see who took a screenshot of their story by going to the list of story viewers and seeing a new camera shutter logo next to anyone who took a screenshot of their photo. To be clear, creators won’t get a specific notification when someone takes a screenshot of their story, it will only show up in their list of story viewers.

In a statement provided to TechCrunch Instagram acknowledged the test, saying “we are always testing ways to improve the experience on Instagram and make it easier to share any moment with the people who matter to you.” 

Instagram is likely using this test to see if the feature has any noticeable impact on engagement, before deciding whether or not they’ll roll it out to all users. For example, there’s a chance that some users may end up watching less stories over time if they aren’t able to take screenshots without notifying the creator.

Prior to this test the only screenshot notifications on Instagram were when someone took a screenshot of a private direct message. Anyone could take a screenshot of someone’s photo or story without notifying the creator. Notably, users can rewatch stories as many times as they want within 24 hours, with the creator unable to see exactly how many times one person watched it.

If rolled out, this feature would essentially align Instagram with Snapchat in terms of how the platform deals with screenshots. Any screenshot of a direct message triggers a notification to the sender, but a screenshot of a story will just result in a notation being placed next to the offender’s name in the viewer analytics tab.

Instagram now allows businesses to schedule their posts


Instagram today made a long overdue change to its product that social media managers have wanted for some time – it will allow businesses on Instagram to schedule their posts. Before, there were unofficial means to aid with this – like tools that would send out a push notification to remind you to publish a post at a given time, for example. But no functionality was available in Instagram itself.

The closest Instagram got was the added support for Drafts, which allowed social media managers and other users to prep a post and save it for later publication.

Unfortunately, the official support for post scheduling doesn’t extend to ads, nor is it directly available with the product itself.

Instead, the support is being added to Instagram’s API – meaning that social media software applications like Hootsuite,  Sprout Social or SocialFlow now have access to the functionality, which they can then add to their own products. Instagram says the API is available to all of Facebook’s Marketing Partners and Instagram Partners. 

Hootsuite is one of the first partners to implement the API.

“The scheduling and publishing of Instagram content has been the number one request for our 16 million customers,” said Hootsuite CEO Ryan Holmes, in a statement. “Now, they can manage large volumes of content, multiple team members and multiple Instagram accounts with ease and security. Hootsuite is excited to partner with Instagram to make this happen.”

However, this API update means that – for now, at least – post scheduling is something only larger organizations will be able to take advantage of, as many smaller businesses don’t necessarily use a third-party software program for working with Instagram.

The change was introduced today as part of a larger revamp of Instagram’s API platform that also included a plan to deprecate the older Instagram API Platform over the next two years beginning on July 31, 2018. The old API is being replaced by the newer Instagram Graph API, which also includes the ability to analyze metrics and insights about the business’s performance on Instagram, moderate comments, and now, access the business’s mentions and add responses to those.

Another new feature involves business discovery, which offers the ability to view other business profile information and media.

These features won’t be limited to businesses in the future, the company notes.

Instagram says that support for non-business profiles is in the works for an early 2019 release.

Facebook, Twitter, YouTube praised for “steady progress” quashing illegal hate speech in Europe


Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are likely to be breathing a little easier in Europe after getting a pat on the back from regional lawmakers for making “steady progress” on removing illegal hate speech.

Last week the European Commission warned it could still draw up legislation to try to ensure illegal content is removed from online platforms if tech firms do not step up their efforts.

Germany has already done so for, implementing a regime of fines of up to €50M for social media firms that fail to promptly remove illegal hate speech, though the EC is generally eyeing a wider mix of illegal content when it talks tough on this topic — including terrorist propaganda and even copyrighted material.

Today, on the specific issue of illegal hate speech on social media, it was sounding happy with the current voluntary approach. It also announced that two more social media platforms — Instagram and Google+ — have joined the program.

In 2016 Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Microsoft signed up to a regional Code of Conduct on illegal hate speech, committing to review the majority of reported hate speech within 24 hours and — for valid reports — remove posts within that timeframe too.

The Commission has been monitoring the trio’s progress on social media hate speech, specifically to see whether they are living up to what they agreed in the Code of Conduct.

Today it gave the findings from its third review — reporting that the companies are removing 70 per cent of notified illegal hate speech on average, up from 59 per cent in the second evaluation, and 28 per cent when their performance was first assessed in 2016.

Last year, Facebook and YouTube announced big boosts to the number of staff dealing with safety and content moderation issues on their platforms, following a series of content scandals and a cranking up of political pressure.

Also under fire over hate speech on its platform, Twitter broadened its policies around hateful conduct and abusive behavior — enforcing the more expansive policies from December.

Asked during a press conference whether the EC would now be less likely to propose hate speech legislation for social media platforms, Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality commissioner Věra Jourová replied in the affirmative.

“Yes,” she said. “Now I see this as more probably that we will propose — also to the ministers of justice and all the stakeholders and within the Commission — that we want to continue this [voluntary] approach.”

Though the commissioner also emphasized she was not talking about other types of censured online content, such as terrorist propaganda and fake news. (On the latter, for instance, France’s president said last month he will introduce an anti-fake news election law aimed at combating malicious disinformation campaigns.)

“With the wider aspects of platforms… we are looking at coming forward with more specific steps which could be taken to tighten up the response to all types of illegal content before the Commission reaches a decision on whether legislation will be required,” Jourová added.

She noted that some Member States’ justice ministers are open to a new EU-level law on social media and hate speech, in the event they judge the voluntary approach to have failed, but said other ministers take a ‘hands off’ view on the issue.

“Having these quite positive results of this third assessment I will be stronger in promoting my view that we should continue the way of doing this through the Code of Conduct,” she added.

While she said she was pleased with progress made by the tech firms, Jourová also flagged up feedback as an area that still needs work.

“I want to congratulate the four companies for fulfilling their main commitments. On the other hand I urge them to keep improving their feedback to users on how they handle illegal content,” she said, calling again for “more transparency” on that.

“My main idea was to make these platforms more responsible,” she added. “The experience with the big Internet players was that they were very aware of their powers but did not necessarily grasp their responsibilities.

“The Code of Conduct is a tool to enforce the existing law in Europe against racism and xenophobia. In their everyday business, companies, citizens, everyone has to make sure they respect the law — they do not need a court order to do so.

“Let me make one thing very clear, the time of fast moving, disturbing companies such as Google, Facebook or Amazon growing without any supervision or control comes to an end.”

In all, for its monitoring exercise, 2,982 notifications of illegal hate speech were submitted to the tech firms in 27 EU Member during a six week period in November and December last year, split between reporting channels that are available to general users and specific channels available only to trusted flaggers/reporters.

In 81.7% of the cases the exercise found that the social media firms assessed notifications in less than 24 hours; in 10% in less than 48 hours; in 4.8% in less than a week; and in 3.5% it took more than a week.

Performance varied across the companies with Facebook achieving the best results — assessing the notifications in less than 24 hours in 89.3% of the cases and 9.7% in less
than 48 hours — followed by Twitter (80.2% and 10.4% respectively), and lastly YouTube (62.7% and 10.6%).

Twitter was found to have made the biggest improvement on notification review, having only achieved 39% of cases reviewed within a day as of May 2017.

In terms of removals, Facebook removed 79.8% of the content, YouTube 75% and Twitter 45.7%. Facebook also received the largest amount of notifications (1 408), followed by Twitter (794) and YouTube (780). Microsoft did not receive any.

According to the EC’s assessment, the most frequently reported grounds for hate speech are ethnic origin, anti-Muslim hatred and xenophobia.

Acknowledging the challenges that are inherent in judging whether something constitutes illegal hate speech or not, Jourová said the Commission does not therefore have a target of 100% removals on illegal hate speech reports — given the “difficult work” that tech firms have to do in evaluating certain reports.

Illegal hate speech in Europe is defined as hate speech that has the potential to incite violence.

“They have to take into consideration the nature of the message and its potential impact on the behavior of the society,” she noted. “We do not have the goal of 100% because there are those edge cases. And… in case of doubt we should have the messages remain online because the basic position is that we protect the freedom of expression. That’s the baseline.”

Instagram tests letting users post Stories directly to WhatsApp


Last October, Facebook extended the usage (and flexibility) of Instagram Stories — the Snapchat-like feature that lets you patch together photos and videos into a slide show — by making it easy to directly post a Story to Facebook. Now Facebook is looking at how to bring WhatsApp into the fold.

TechCrunch has learned and confirmed that the company is now running a test to let users post their Instagram Stories directly to WhatsApp, as a WhatsApp Status, a corresponding Snapchat-like feature in the latter messaging app where decorated photos, videos and GIFs can be posted with encryption, disappearing after 24 hours. An Instagram Story posted as a WhatsApp Status also becomes encrypted like the rest of WhatsApp.

“We are always testing ways to improve the experience on Instagram and make it easier to share any moment with the people who matter to you,” a spokesperson said.

From what we understand, the feature is currently being tested with a small number of users.

It’s based on publicly available code that WhatsApp makes available to integrate WhatsApp messaging with third-party apps. Users get an option to tap to share to WhatsApp from the Instagram sharing screen, but they still have to press “send” in WhatsApp to post the story.

The reader who tipped us off on it is based in Brazil, where a local blog has also been reporting several sightings in the wild, one of which is pictured here, with the Instagram Story on the left, and the WhatsApp Status cross-posted on the right (note the Instagram icon in the corner).

(Coincidentally, the Instagram-Stories-posted-to-Facebook feature was originally tested in Portugal, another Portuguese-speaking country.)

There are a few reasons why Facebook may be interested in making Instagram Stories more shareable, and specifically on WhatsApp.

The first of these seems simple enough: it’s to give one more bit of functionality and therefore usage to Instagram Stories, which are already very popular and as of last June were outstripping usage of the Snapchat product that they were designed to clone.

Facebook tells me that as of last November there were over 300 million daily active users of Instagram Stories. Adding the ability to share to WhatsApp will give those Stories even more ways of generating traffic, especially in countries where WhatsApp is already hugely popular and outstripping usage of Facebook or its Messenger app.

The second reason could be to help spur more usage of WhatsApp Status. This was ostensibly the reason for why Facebook enabled Instagram Story sharing to Facebook, whose own Stories feature I personally never see get used that much and has been described by my colleague Josh as a ghost town. The same isn’t the case for Status, though, which Facebook tells me is seeing similar levels of usage to Instagram Stories, also with over 300 million DAUs as of November.

(The relative popularity of all these apps and features is also one drawback to the cross-posting freature: inevitably, there will be people who use them all, which might lead to people getting bored and annoyed at seeing the same content everywhere they look. Ideally Facebook is also working on a way of calibrating Stories, so that if you’ve already seen one in one app, like Instagram, the same exact thing won’t be popping up for you again in a Facebook Story and then a WhatsApp Status.)

The third (and maybe most interesting) reason for testing this feature is that Facebook has been steadily working on ways of not only extending the time spent in specific apps, but also how to better usher people from one Facebook-owned app to another, encouraging usage even when the apps are not open.

This has taken some different forms so far. Last May, the company started testing cross-app notifications between Facebook, Messenger and Instagram to alert people to when they had mentions or messages in any of them. And last month, Facebook launched a click-to-WhatsApp messaging button in Facebook ads, monetising WhatsApp but not on WhatsApp itself.

Encouraging Story posting between Instagram and WhatsApp Status is notable because it gives a little more social media spin to WhatsApp, which Facebook acquired in 2014 for $19 billion with the explicit promise that it would stay independent of Facebook. As it happens, the new feature that’s being tested does bypass Facebook’s flagship apps completely.

Together, this could all help Facebook grow its overall engagement and traffic footprint. Conversely, it could also spell one more way to destabilise Snapchat and potentially any other app that has any lesser infrastructure to keep your content getting seen by the people you know, whatever app they happen to be using.

We’ll update this post as we learn more.

Instagram tests letting users post Stories directly to WhatsApp


Last October, Facebook extended the usage (and flexibility) of Instagram Stories — the Snapchat-like feature that lets you patch together photos and videos into a slide show — by making it easy to directly post a Story to Facebook. Now Facebook is looking at how to bring WhatsApp into the fold.

TechCrunch has learned and confirmed that the company is now running a test to let users post their Instagram Stories directly to WhatsApp, as a WhatsApp Status, a corresponding Snapchat-like feature in the latter messaging app where decorated photos, videos and GIFs can be posted with encryption, disappearing after 24 hours. An Instagram Story posted as a WhatsApp Status also becomes encrypted like the rest of WhatsApp.

“We are always testing ways to improve the experience on Instagram and make it easier to share any moment with the people who matter to you,” a spokesperson said.

From what we understand, the feature is currently being tested with a small number of users.

It’s based on publicly available code that WhatsApp makes available to integrate WhatsApp messaging with third-party apps. Users get an option to tap to share to WhatsApp from the Instagram sharing screen, but they still have to press “send” in WhatsApp to post the story.

The reader who tipped us off on it is based in Brazil, where a local blog has also been reporting several sightings in the wild, one of which is pictured here, with the Instagram Story on the left, and the WhatsApp Status cross-posted on the right (note the Instagram icon in the corner).

(Coincidentally, the Instagram-Stories-posted-to-Facebook feature was originally tested in Portugal, another Portuguese-speaking country.)

There are a few reasons why Facebook may be interested in making Instagram Stories more shareable, and specifically on WhatsApp.

The first of these seems simple enough: it’s to give one more bit of functionality and therefore usage to Instagram Stories, which are already very popular and as of last June were outstripping usage of the Snapchat product that they were designed to clone.

Facebook tells me that as of last November there were over 300 million daily active users of Instagram Stories. Adding the ability to share to WhatsApp will give those Stories even more ways of generating traffic, especially in countries where WhatsApp is already hugely popular and outstripping usage of Facebook or its Messenger app.

The second reason could be to help spur more usage of WhatsApp Status. This was ostensibly the reason for why Facebook enabled Instagram Story sharing to Facebook, whose own Stories feature I personally never see get used that much and has been described by my colleague Josh as a ghost town. The same isn’t the case for Status, though, which Facebook tells me is seeing similar levels of usage to Instagram Stories, also with over 300 million DAUs as of November.

(The relative popularity of all these apps and features is also one drawback to the cross-posting freature: inevitably, there will be people who use them all, which might lead to people getting bored and annoyed at seeing the same content everywhere they look. Ideally Facebook is also working on a way of calibrating Stories, so that if you’ve already seen one in one app, like Instagram, the same exact thing won’t be popping up for you again in a Facebook Story and then a WhatsApp Status.)

The third (and maybe most interesting) reason for testing this feature is that Facebook has been steadily working on ways of not only extending the time spent in specific apps, but also how to better usher people from one Facebook-owned app to another, encouraging usage even when the apps are not open.

This has taken some different forms so far. Last May, the company started testing cross-app notifications between Facebook, Messenger and Instagram to alert people to when they had mentions or messages in any of them. And last month, Facebook launched a click-to-WhatsApp messaging button in Facebook ads, monetising WhatsApp but not on WhatsApp itself.

Encouraging Story posting between Instagram and WhatsApp Status is notable because it gives a little more social media spin to WhatsApp, which Facebook acquired in 2014 for $19 billion with the explicit promise that it would stay independent of Facebook. As it happens, the new feature that’s being tested does bypass Facebook’s flagship apps completely.

Together, this could all help Facebook grow its overall engagement and traffic footprint. Conversely, it could also spell one more way to destabilise Snapchat and potentially any other app that has any lesser infrastructure to keep your content getting seen by the people you know, whatever app they happen to be using.

We’ll update this post as we learn more.

Facebook, not Twitter, will live stream this year’s Golden Globes’ red carpet pre-show


Facebook has scored the exclusive rights to live stream this year’s Golden Globes’ red carpet pre-show – a deal that last year went to Twitter. On Tuesday, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA) and dick clark productions announced the two-hour event would be exclusively available on the Golden Globes Facebook page from 6 to 8 p.m. ET (3 to 5 p.m. PT) on Sunday, January 7, 2018.

This is not the main awards show, mind you, but rather the official red carpet where celebrities are photographed and asked softball questions about their wardrobes, plus-ones, and who they’re hoping will win. When Twitter live streamed the event, the company collaborated with the Hollywood Foreign Press to source questions from fans’ tweets.

This time around, the HFPA will leverage Facebook’s technologies and platforms to enhance the experience for viewers.

For starters, the Golden Globes Facebook Page will post exclusive live footage, including 360-degree videos captured at the event along with other backstage content. In addition, the @goldenglobes Instagram account will offer similar exclusive footage, and the main @Instagram Story will be hosted by one of the red carpet hosts, Laura Marano.

The other event hosts include AJ Gibson, Jeannie Mai, and Scott Mantz.

The ability to post to both Facebook and Instagram likely sweetened the deal for the HFPA. For example, the main Instagram account today has 230 million followers – or 230 million potential viewers for the red carpet Instagram story. Twitter, meanwhile, has 330 million monthly actives in total. The Golden Globe Awards Facebook Page is followed by 2.3 million users, though it may acquire more viewers for the red carpet event, as anyone can visit the page to watch – not just those who explicitly “liked” it.

Plus, as Variety notes, the Golden Globes’ other media partners will post to Facebook and use Instagram Live for sharing photos and videos from the event, as well, providing even more exposure.

“Facebook has had a long collaborative relationship with the entertainment community, and we’re thrilled to be able to extend that through our work with the Golden Globes,” Sibyl Goldman, head of Facebook’s Entertainment Partnerships in a statement. “We always aim to create unique experiences which bring communities together, and partaking in the kickoff of award season in conjunction with the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, is a demonstration of our commitment to bring fans together through entertainment they enjoy.”