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Ellen Pao calls out Twitter’s ‘public town square’ model as flawed

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Project Include CEO Ellen Pao, who has been working to foster diversity, inclusion and ethics in the tech industry, called out Twitter’s “public square” model as flawed — and a decision that indicates a lack of ethical consideration, on Twitter’s part.

The topic of Twitter came up on a panel at TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2019 this morning, when Pao was asked her opinion as to whether Twitter should make exceptions to its platform rules for public figures — like President Trump, for example.

She said doesn’t believe that it should. And not just because the decision in and of itself raises ethical questions, but because of how these decisions can ultimately shape the direction of Twitter’s platform as a whole.

“I think it’s a question of ethics to break these exceptions — because you want to drive this growth that you want to use to fuel your stock price and to fuel recruiting, and to fuel this capitalism — that’s driving all sorts of decisions without thinking about the long-term direction of where your platform is going,” Pao explained.

She also questioned whether Twitter has been successful in creating an online version of the public town square, which is how Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey has repeatedly described the social media platform.

“Jack talks about this public square, where you have this digital version of the public square. But people aren’t screaming at you on the public square, they’re not calling you racist things, they’re not throwing pictures of like horrible things…I don’t want to be in a public square like that,” Pao said. “And I don’t want to have a public square that’s digital create these horrible events in real life,” she added.

On Twitter (or really, on social media in general) the hateful words and sentiments can often spill over into real-world action.

“I don’t think that’s an ethical decision. I don’t think that’s a values-driven decision. I don’t think that’s creating a good public square, I don’t think that’s doing a service for your users who are from the groups that are being hated on,” Pao said. “I think you really have to think about your whole community. You have to think about the types of conversations you want to have.”

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She clarified that it’s not about censoring speech, but the challenges in creating a place where people can actually engage in conversations — even those in which they disagree, and even those where there may be conflict.

Twitter’s failure has been not understanding where free speech ends and moderation begins. And this is not a problem unique to its platform. All of social media is struggling with this same issue.

In Pao’s mind, it’s a question of where meaningful conversation ends and outright harassment begins.

“Using the F-word, and the C-word, and the N-word? That’s not a conversation, right? That’s not an exchange of ideas,” she said. “I don’t think people think enough about what they want their platforms to be, what they want the platforms to encourage.”

NEWS

Google December Product Reviews Update Affects More Than English Language Sites? via @sejournal, @martinibuster

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Google’s Product Reviews update was announced to be rolling out to the English language. No mention was made as to if or when it would roll out to other languages. Mueller answered a question as to whether it is rolling out to other languages.

Google December 2021 Product Reviews Update

On December 1, 2021, Google announced on Twitter that a Product Review update would be rolling out that would focus on English language web pages.

The focus of the update was for improving the quality of reviews shown in Google search, specifically targeting review sites.

A Googler tweeted a description of the kinds of sites that would be targeted for demotion in the search rankings:

“Mainly relevant to sites that post articles reviewing products.

Think of sites like “best TVs under $200″.com.

Goal is to improve the quality and usefulness of reviews we show users.”

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Google also published a blog post with more guidance on the product review update that introduced two new best practices that Google’s algorithm would be looking for.

The first best practice was a requirement of evidence that a product was actually handled and reviewed.

The second best practice was to provide links to more than one place that a user could purchase the product.

The Twitter announcement stated that it was rolling out to English language websites. The blog post did not mention what languages it was rolling out to nor did the blog post specify that the product review update was limited to the English language.

Google’s Mueller Thinking About Product Reviews Update

Screenshot of Google's John Mueller trying to recall if December Product Review Update affects more than the English language

Screenshot of Google's John Mueller trying to recall if December Product Review Update affects more than the English language

Product Review Update Targets More Languages?

The person asking the question was rightly under the impression that the product review update only affected English language search results.

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But he asserted that he was seeing search volatility in the German language that appears to be related to Google’s December 2021 Product Review Update.

This is his question:

“I was seeing some movements in German search as well.

So I was wondering if there could also be an effect on websites in other languages by this product reviews update… because we had lots of movement and volatility in the last weeks.

…My question is, is it possible that the product reviews update affects other sites as well?”

John Mueller answered:

“I don’t know… like other languages?

My assumption was this was global and and across all languages.

But I don’t know what we announced in the blog post specifically.

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But usually we try to push the engineering team to make a decision on that so that we can document it properly in the blog post.

I don’t know if that happened with the product reviews update. I don’t recall the complete blog post.

But it’s… from my point of view it seems like something that we could be doing in multiple languages and wouldn’t be tied to English.

And even if it were English initially, it feels like something that is relevant across the board, and we should try to find ways to roll that out to other languages over time as well.

So I’m not particularly surprised that you see changes in Germany.

But I also don’t know what we actually announced with regards to the locations and languages that are involved.”

Does Product Reviews Update Affect More Languages?

While the tweeted announcement specified that the product reviews update was limited to the English language the official blog post did not mention any such limitations.

Google’s John Mueller offered his opinion that the product reviews update is something that Google could do in multiple languages.

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One must wonder if the tweet was meant to communicate that the update was rolling out first in English and subsequently to other languages.

It’s unclear if the product reviews update was rolled out globally to more languages. Hopefully Google will clarify this soon.

Citations

Google Blog Post About Product Reviews Update

Product reviews update and your site

Google’s New Product Reviews Guidelines

Write high quality product reviews

John Mueller Discusses If Product Reviews Update Is Global

Watch Mueller answer the question at the 14:00 Minute Mark

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Searchenginejournal.com

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