Photos by Michael Starghill
On the afternoon of June 1, Kaitlyn Siragusa received a notification from Instagram: One of her posts had been taken down for violating the platform’s content policies. If she were to break the rules again, the alert warned, her 1.6 million-follower account could be disabled. Siragusa, a 25-year-old Twitch streamer known to fans as “Amouranth,” was puzzled. She was confident that the photo, which showed her standing poolside in a striped bikini, fully complied with Instagram’s policies.
It was the latest of nearly a dozen posts that Instagram had recently deleted, including some that she had uploaded long before their removals. In one case, she got a notification alerting her to the deletion of an “Instagram Story” that had publicly expired from her profile 10 days earlier. (Stories automatically disappear after 24 hours, though they may be saved to the poster’s private archives.) The streamer’s content had been disappearing so frequently over the previous several weeks, Siragusa told HuffPost, that she’d started a spreadsheet to keep track.
Four days later, on June 5, Siragusa received a mysterious email from someone claiming to work for Cognizant, an American tech firm hired to do content moderation for Facebook and Instagram.
“I’m sure you’ve noticed recently than [sic] many of your posts and stories have been removed,” said the email, one of several that Siragusa shared with HuffPost. “Perhaps we can reach an agreement privately.”
For monthly payments of 0.25 bitcoin (about $2,600), the emailer proposed, Siragusa could rest assured that her content would stay up. The emailer signed off as “Tampa” — the location of a Cognizant facility where content moderators have described being severely overworked and underpaid.
At first, Siragusa ignored the email. She’d never heard of Cognizant, and she assumed she was just being targeted by a scammer who was reporting her posts as violating Instagram’s rules over and over again until they disappeared and then posing as a content moderator to try to extort her. But there was something odd about the next messages that “Tampa” sent her in July, following more photo takedowns.
“I am sure by now you have noticed that two additional posts have been struck and removed. Your posts made on April 3 at 10:18 AM, and July 2 at 11:54 AM,” said one of the emails. Another simply stated: “July 12 at 10:34 AM.”
When a photo or video is posted to Instagram, it doesn’t feature a publicly visible timestamp, just a date. There are little-known ways to manually extract timestamps from existing posts — but not for those that have already come down. And yet, somehow, “Tampa” had correctly listed the exact upload times of Siragusa’s recently deleted Instagram photos, including one that she’d posted more than three months earlier.
Siragusa was able to confirm the times by checking the removal notifications she’d received from Instagram, such as the one shown above on the left. (After taking down a user’s content, Instagram sends them a private notification including a blurred copy of the post, the reason for its deletion, the date and time it was posted, and a link that can be used to appeal the removal.)
“When I saw the timestamps, that’s when I got concerned,” said Siragusa, who earns a living by video-streaming and online modeling, and relies on Instagram to promote herself. “I realized this was probably an actual person with Instagram.”
Siragusa had her agent get in contact with Facebook, which owns Instagram, to discuss the matter last month. The agent was able to arrange and record a phone call with a Facebook representative ― a rare line of communication that’s normally unavailable to the vast majority of Facebook users. Audio of the recording was shared with HuffPost.
During the 20-minute call, Siragusa’s agent explained three times that a self-proclaimed Instagram content moderator was trying to extort Siragusa for content protection.
“I can’t answer for the emails that you’re receiving,” responded the representative, who adamantly repeated that Siragusa’s posts had been “rightfully removed” for being “sexually suggestive.” The poolside photo was deemed inappropriate for Instagram in part because Siragusa had “her hand near her chest, and things like that,” according to the representative. A photo of her in a Hooters jersey, which was flagged as “nudity or pornography,” was removed because “she’s, uh, pouring water on herself.”
In the spring of this year, Instagram quietly started shadow-banning users’ borderline content that does not actually violate the company’s community guidelines, including vaguely “inappropriate” and “sexually suggestive” posts. Such content is subject to algorithmic demotion but, per Instagram’s own public policies, not deletion. When Siragusa’s agent reminded the Facebook representative that “sexually suggestive” content does not meet Instagram’s criteria for removal, the representative doubled down, stating: “We can’t allow that kind of content on our platform.”
Frustrated and confused, having received no real answers from Facebook despite her rare direct access, Siragusa reached out to HuffPost.
“I feel like it is almost impossible for individuals — even those with millions of followers — to face down Facebook,” she said.
Contacted by HuffPost, Cognizant declined to comment for this story, instead deferring to its client. In a statement, a Facebook spokesperson said that the representative with whom Siragusa’s agent had spoken is part of a team that “isn’t versed in the details of the Community Guidelines nor is it their responsibility to communicate them.”
Regarding the emails Siragusa received from “Tampa,” Facebook told HuffPost: “We take accusations like this very seriously. We investigated this matter and did not find any evidence of abuse.”
According to the Facebook spokesperson, Instagram also determined that all three of the deleted posts for which “Tampa” provided timestamps had been flagged to content moderators by Instagram’s proactive artificial intelligence technology — not from user reports — as spam, nudity and sexual solicitation.
The fact that Siragusa’s posts were flagged by AI doesn’t wholly eliminate the possibility that “Tampa” is just an opportunistic scammer out in the world, with no relation to Cognizant or Instagram. But it does make that possibility rather unlikely. With AI flagging the content, “Tampa” would have had to diligently track each of Siragusa’s Instagram pictures, manually collect the timestamps for all of them, wait for them to go down on their own, and then contact her with the posts’ details.
This extremely patient outside scammer — who apparently never bothered to speed things up by reporting Siragusa’s posts — must have also known about Cognizant’s Tampa facility at the time of the initial email to Siragusa, which was sent weeks before the first press mention about Cognizant’s content moderation operations in the city.
“Tampa” also exhibited precise knowledge of non-public Instagram policy. In that initial email, while trying to entice Siragusa to pay for protection, “Tampa” told her that content rules can be “strictly or loosely enforced” and that once Instagram removes a user’s post, the user’s account is restricted for exactly 14 days, during which impressions generated by the account are limited.
Instagram confirmed to HuffPost that the information about the 14-day restriction period is accurate and that the company had not shared it publicly.
“Tampa” did not respond to HuffPost when contacted by email. It is unclear if he or she has also solicited bribes from other Instagram users.
Over the past several days, three more of Siragusa’s Instagram photos have come down, right at the end of her most recent 14-day restriction period — meaning her account’s engagement will be limited for another two weeks at least. This time, the accompanying Instagram notifications didn’t give specific reasons for the removals — stating only that each post “goes against Community Guidelines” — and offered no option to appeal.
It’s disconcerting that Instagram seems to “pick winners and losers by fiat,” said Siragusa. “There is something extremely suspect in the way this whole ordeal has played out.”
REAL LIFE. REAL NEWS. REAL VOICES.
Help us tell more of the stories that matter from voices that too often remain unheard.
These ten enterprise M&A deals totaled over $40B in 2019
It would be hard to top the 2018 enterprise M&A total of a whopping $87 billion, and predictably this year didn’t come close. In fact, the top 10 enterprise M&A deals in 2019 were less than half last year’s, totaling $40.6 billion. This year’s biggest purchase was Salesforce buying Tableau for $15.7 billion, which would…
It would be hard to top the 2018 enterprise M&A total of a whopping $87 billion, and predictably this year didn’t come close. In fact, the top 10 enterprise M&A deals in 2019 were less than half last year’s, totaling $40.6 billion.
This year’s biggest purchase was Salesforce buying Tableau for $15.7 billion, which would have been good for third place last year behind IBM’s mega deal plucking Red Hat for $34 billion and Broadcom grabbing CA Technologies for $18.8 billion.
Contributing to this year’s quieter activity was the fact that several typically acquisitive companies — Adobe, Oracle and IBM — stayed mostly on the sidelines after big investments last year. It’s not unusual for companies to take a go-slow approach after a big expenditure year. Adobe and Oracle bought just two companies each with neither revealing the prices. IBM didn’t buy any.
Microsoft didn’t show up on this year’s list either, but still managed to pick up eight new companies. It was just that none was large enough to make the list (or even for them to publicly reveal the prices). When a publicly traded company doesn’t reveal the price, it usually means that it didn’t reach the threshold of being material to the company’s results.
As always, just because you buy it doesn’t mean it’s always going to integrate smoothly or well, and we won’t know about the success or failure of these transactions for some years to come. For now, we can only look at the deals themselves.
Jumia, DHL, and Alibaba will face off in African ecommerce 2.0
The business of selling consumer goods and services online is a relatively young endeavor across Africa, but ecommerce is set to boom. Over the last eight years, the sector has seen its first phase of big VC fundings, startup duels and attrition. To date, scaling e-commerce in Africa has straddled the line of challenge and…
The business of selling consumer goods and services online is a relatively young endeavor across Africa, but ecommerce is set to boom.
Over the last eight years, the sector has seen its first phase of big VC fundings, startup duels and attrition.
To date, scaling e-commerce in Africa has straddled the line of challenge and opportunity, perhaps more than any other market in the world. Across major African economies, many of the requisites for online retail — internet access, digital payment adoption, and 3PL delivery options — have been severely lacking.
Still, startups jumped into this market for the chance to digitize a share of Africa’s fast growing consumer spending, expected to top $2 billion by 2025.
African e-commerce 2.0 will include some old and new players, play out across more countries, place more priority on internet services, and see the entry of China.
But before highlighting several things to look out for in the future of digital-retail on the continent, a look back is beneficial.
Jumia vs. Konga
The early years for development of African online shopping largely played out in Nigeria (and to some extent South Africa). Anyone who visited Nigeria from 2012 to 2016 likely saw evidence of one of the continent’s early e-commerce showdowns. Nigeria had its own Coke vs. Pepsi-like duel — a race between ventures Konga and Jumia to out-advertise and out-discount each other in a quest to scale online shopping in Africa’s largest economy and most populous nation.
Traveling in Lagos traffic, large billboards for each startup faced off across the skyline, as their delivery motorcycles buzzed between stopped cars.
Covering each company early on, it appeared a battle of VC attrition. The challenge: who could continue to raise enough capital to absorb the losses of simultaneously capturing and creating an e-commerce market in notoriously difficult conditions.
In addition to the aforementioned challenges, Nigeria also had (and continues to have) shoddy electricity.
Both Konga — founded by Nigerian Sim Shagaya — and Jumia — originally founded by two Nigerians and two Frenchman — were forced to burn capital building fulfillment operations most e-commerce startups source to third parties.
That included their own delivery and payment services (KongaPay and JumiaPay). In addition to sales of goods from mobile-phones to diapers, both startups also began experimenting with verticals for internet based services, such as food-delivery and classifieds.
While Jumia and Konga were competing in Nigeria, there was another VC driven race for e-commerce playing out in South Africa — the continent’s second largest and most advanced economy.
E-tailers Takealot and Kalahari had been jockeying for market share since 2011 after raising capital in the hundreds of millions of dollars from investors Naspers and U.S. fund Tiger Global Management.
So how did things turn out in West and Southern Africa? In 2014, the lead investor of a flailing Kalahari — Naspers — facilitated a merger with Takealot (that was more of an acquisition). They nixed the Kalahari brand in 2016 and bought out Takelot’s largest investor, Tiger Global, in 2018. Takealot is now South Africa’s leading e-commerce site by market share, but only operates in one country.
In Nigeria, by 2016 Jumia had outpaced its rival Konga in Alexa ratings (6 vs 14), while out-raising Konga (with backing of Goldman Sachs) to become Africa’s first VC backed, startup unicorn. By early 2018, Konga was purchased in a distressed acquisition and faded away as a competitor to Jumia.
Jumia went on to expand online goods and services verticals into 14 Africa countries (though it recently exited a few) and in April 2019 raised over $200 million in an NYSE IPO — the first on a major exchange for a VC-backed startup operating in Africa.
Jumia’s had bumpy road since going public — losing significant share-value after a short-sell attack earlier in 2019 — but the continent’s leading e-commerce company still has heap of capital and generates $100 million in revenues (even with losses).
Airbnb’s New Year’s Eve guest volume shows its falling growth rate
Hello and welcome back to our regular morning look at private companies, public markets and the gray space in between. It’s finally 2020, the year that should bring us a direct listing from home-sharing giant Airbnb, a technology company valued at tens of billions of dollars. The company’s flotation will be a key event in…
Hello and welcome back to our regular morning look at private companies, public markets and the gray space in between.
It’s finally 2020, the year that should bring us a direct listing from home-sharing giant Airbnb, a technology company valued at tens of billions of dollars. The company’s flotation will be a key event in this coming year’s technology exit market. Expect the NYSE and Nasdaq to compete for the listing, bankers to queue to take part, and endless media coverage.
Given that that’s ahead, we’re going to take periodic looks at Airbnb as we tick closer to its eventual public market debut. And that means that this morning we’re looking back through time to see how fast the company has grown by using a quirky data point.
Airbnb releases a regular tally of its expected “guest stays” for New Year’s Eve each year, including 2019. We can therefore look back in time, tracking how quickly (or not) Airbnb’s New Year Eve guest tally has risen. This exercise will provide a loose, but fun proxy for the company’s growth as a whole.
Before we look into the figures themselves, keep in mind that we are looking at a guest figure which is at best a proxy for revenue. We don’t know the revenue mix of the guest stays, for example, meaning that Airbnb could have seen a 10% drop in per-guest revenue this New Year’s Eve — even with more guest stays — and we’d have no idea.
So, the cliche about grains of salt and taking, please.
But as more guests tends to mean more rentals which points towards more revenue, the New Year’s Eve figures are useful as we work to understand how quickly Airbnb is growing now compared to how fast it grew in the past. The faster the company is expanding today, the more it’s worth. And given recent news that the company has ditched profitability in favor of boosting its sales and marketing spend (leading to sharp, regular deficits in its quarterly results), how fast Airbnb can grow through higher spend is a key question for the highly-backed, San Francisco-based private company.
- 2009: 1,400
- 2010: 6,000 (+329%)
- 2011: 3,1000 (+417%)
- 2012: 108,000 (248%)
- 2013: 250,000 (+131%)
- 2014: 540,000 (+116%)
- 2015: 1,100,000 (+104%)
- 2016: 2,000,000 (+82%)
- 2017: 3,000,000 (+50%)
- 2018: 3,700,000 (+23%)
- 2019: 4,500,000 (+22%)
In chart form, that looks like this:
Let’s talk about a few things that stand out. First is that the company’s growth rate managed to stay over 100% for as long as it did. In case you’re a SaaS fan, what Airbnb pulled off in its early years (again, using this fun proxy for revenue growth) was far better than a triple-triple-double-double-double.
Next, the company’s growth rate in percentage terms has slowed dramatically, including in 2019. At the same time the firm managed to re-accelerate its gross guest growth in 2019. In numerical terms, Airbnb added 1,000,000 New Year’s Eve guest stays in 2017, 700,000 in 2018, and 800,000 in 2019. So 2019’s gross adds was not a record, but it was a better result than its year-ago tally.
- Bose to shut all retail stores in Australia in move towards online shopping – 9News
- บลจ.วี บริหารกอง “WE-GTECH8M” ให้ผลตอบแทน 8% เร็วกว่าเป้า – ข่าวหุ้นธุรกิจออนไลน์
- Güncel altın fiyatları 16 Ocak: Gram ve çeyrek altın kaç lira oldu? – Sözcü
- 去年12月建材家居卖场销售额超九百亿，全年累计超万亿 – 新京报
- Perfect Chocolate Cheesecake with Oreo Crust