Elon's casual commitment to free speech
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Among the bigger stories this week is that Sam Bankman-Fried, the founder of failed crypto exchange, FTX, was arrested in the Bahamas on Monday. Elon Musk was doing Elon things at Twitter, most recently by banning an account he promised never to ban in a show of his commitment to free speech or something. Also, Apple released updated versions of iOS, iPadOS, and MacOS and there are a few interesting things you should know.
Elon is banning accounts he doesn't like
The thing about Elon Musk's time as Chief Twit (his choice, not mine), is that you can write an entire story about something that happened, and before you publish it, it just gets even worse. What is time, anyway?
That's what happened here. Yesterday, I wrote this newsletter about how Musk banned an account he didn't like, and then last night, he banned a bunch more accounts--this time a handful of tech reporters.
Let's start by making something clear--if you spend $44 billion on a toy, you're mostly entitled to do with it as you wish. There are limits, of course. You can't use it to do illegal things, but if what you really want to do with your new toy is ruin it so that no one else will want to use it, that's your call.
Obviously, if your toy is a messy social media company that you want to make money, you normally wouldn't want to make the experience worse since people will be less likely to want to use it. You probably already know that nothing about Elon Musk's management of Twitter has been "normal."
Of course, just because you can do anything you want with it, doesn't mean you should. If you made certain promises, no one can make you keep them, but still, you should. It's the right thing to do. It also has the benefit of being good for business since people are more likely to want to be a part of your social media company if they know what to expect.
Elon, however, just doesn't care. For example, Musk decided to ban @elonjet, an account that used a bot to post publicly available information about his private jet. Elon has long been irritated by the account, and even offered its creator, Jack Sweeney, $5,000 to take it down. Sweeney countered that he would do it for $50,000. Musk declined.
Then, Musk used the account as an example of his commitment to free speech, saying he would not ban it despite his belief that it was a "direct personal safety risk."
On Wednesday, Twitter permanently banned not only @elonjet, but also Sweeney's personal account, and a handful of other automated accounts he created. Twitter also retroactively changed its rules to account for @elonjet's sins, but it's pretty clear the whole thing is out of spite(?).
I'm not good at math, but wouldn't it have been easier to pay the $50,000 Sweeney was asking for him to take it down instead of the $44 billion Musk ended up spending to buy Twitter and permanently ban the account?
Then, last night (Thursday), Twitter banned more accounts, this time belonging to journalists who had been reporting on Musk and the @elonjet situation. It's not entirely clear (at the time I'm writing this) why the accounts were suspended, but it appears Musk is cracking down on accounts that post things he doesn't like.
When Sweeney's accounts were banned, Musk used the fact that his young son was apparently subject to a "stalker" who followed the car he was in while driving in LA as justification for the new Twitter policy and the permanent suspension. (By the way, Musk has previously said he doesn't think permanent suspensions are a good idea).
Some of the accounts that were banned shared reporting that the LAPD had reached out to Musk's security team, but that no police reports had been filed in the incident. Other accounts had tweeted about Twitter-rival Mastodon's account being suspended after posting a link to @elonjet on its own platform.
How does Musk define free speech, exactly? Interestingly, we do have an answer. "Is someone you don't like allowed to say something you don't like?" Musk told Chris Anderson at the Ted Conference in April. "If that is the case, then we have free speech. It's damn annoying, but that is the sign of a healthy, functioning free speech situation."
Free speech is, apparently, one of those things that sound better as a principle, but can be "damn annoying" in practice.
After a month spent mostly giving media interviews, Sam Bankman-Fried (I'll just refer to him as SBF), the founder and former CEO of FTX, was arrested in his penthouse in the Bahamas. The U.S. Department of Justice filed federal criminal charges against SBF while the SEC, and the Commodities Futures Trading Commission separately filed civil cases alleging that he had defrauded investors.
I've watched or read most of the interviews SBF has given over the last few weeks, including a Twitter Spaces panel on Monday when he responded to a question by saying that he didn't think he'd be arrested. I also read the prepared testimony he planned to give before a House Committee on Tuesday (for obvious reasons, that didn't happen).
In every case, SBF seems to be completely out of touch with what is actually happening. He repeatedly said variations of "this was my fault," but really, what he means is "oops, I goofed up, but please don't hold me accountable." His answers about what happened at FTX paint the collapse as the result of a series of "mistakes" resulting from not paying enough attention to what was going on.
I imagine that, sitting in a jail in the Bahamas, awaiting extradition to the US, he's paying attention now.
Apple's Freeform app
With the release of iOS 16.2 and iPadOS 16.2, the iPhone and iPad are getting some significant updates. I've written already about one of them--Advanced Data Protection, which allows users to opt in to end-to-end encryption for their Photos and iCloud backups.
The other big feature worth talking about is Freeform, an app that Apple first rolled out back at its Worldwide Developers Conference in June. Freeform is sort of a virtual whiteboard, if that whiteboard were infinite in size and could be shared digitally with others.
I suppose you could think of it as a brainstorming tool, but I'm not sure that does it justice. Really, it's an app for getting ideas out of your head, putting them together with other ideas, and into something you can use to collaborate with others. That last part turns out to be one of its most useful features, and it's one of three reasons I think Freeform might be a productivity super-app.
Use It the Way You Think
Most of the tools we use on a regular basis are perfectly fine for creating things like documents or spreadsheets. There are even useful creative tools for editing photos or creating video projects. The thing is, those are finished products.
If you're writing a report, Google Docs, Word, or Pages is just fine. If you're making a slide deck, Keynote is as good as it gets. The problem is, those apps are not at all great at helping you with the process of thinking about ideas.
That's what I love about Freeform--it gives you just enough structure so you can organize your thoughts, but it mostly gets out of the way. It's a literal infinite blank canvas that you can use to add text or drawings or links to websites, photos, or audio files.
In using Freeform over the past few weeks, I find myself better able to put ideas down without worrying about the format or structure. The app itself is flexible enough to let you work however you think, without forcing you into a structure based on a fixed metaphor--like a page of paper. Maybe the most important reason Freeform is such a powerful tool is that it's just a blank expanse that you can do almost anything with.
Share Ideas and Collaborate
Apple talks about Freeform as allowing "real-time" collaboration. It's not quite real-time the way Google Docs updates things as you make changes--even when there are multiple people making changes--but Freeform is pretty good. Apple even handles the sequencing to make sure that if you're making changes, those apply to the latest version of whatever your collaborators are doing.
Freeform also makes it easy to share with your team simply by sending a message. When your recipient opens the link, it opens the Freeform app on whatever device they're using, and they'll be able to view, edit, or interact with whatever you've sent. You can also allow anyone with the link to access your board.
There are, to be fair, a few things lacking. Sure, you can start a FaceTime call from within Freeform, but let's be honest, that's not a thing very many people do for work. It would be great if Apple allowed third-party apps to integrate Freeform boards in the future.
Also, you have to have the Freeform app in order to collaborate. That means using the latest version of iPadOS or iOS. If your teammates are on older or out-of-date devices, you're out of luck. The same is true if they are on windows. There's no way to view or interact with a Freeform board in a browser, which seems like an oversight. Perhaps that's simply because Freeform is a brand-new app.
Not Just on the iPad
On the other hand, the fact that Freeform isn't just on the iPad is actually a bigger decision than you might think. Freeform is a great iPad app, mostly because it's optimized for using an Apple Pencil. The thing is, not everything I do is on the iPad. Also, not everyone I might want to share a Freeform board with uses--or even has--an iPad.
So, Apple made sure the app works on the iPad, iPhone, and Mac. It works pretty much the same way on all three platforms, with the exception of the Apple Pencil. As a result, you can't draw on your boards when open on a Mac. If you're working on a Mac, and you have your iPad handy, you can "import a sketch," but honestly, if you're going to do that, you might as well just open Freeform on your iPad.
That said, I think it's a good thing when a useful tool is available in multiple places in a way that feels like it belongs. There are plenty of iPhone apps that are great on a small screen but don't translate well for the iPad. The same is true with iPad apps on the Mac, and vice versa. Freeform works the way you expect on all of them, which is exactly what a tool designed to help you be productive should do.
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