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A room with a view: the Twitter account that spent a year staring into people’s homes

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With its stately lamp and verdant window view, Hillary Clinton’s “Zoom room” is nicer than most. So when Room Rater – a Twitter account which scores the video conference backgrounds of high-profile figures – gave it nine out of 10 last spring, Clinton took her disappointment to social media: “I’ll keep striving for that highest, hardest glass ceiling, the elusive 10/10,” she tweeted at the account.

Judging the backgrounds on video calls has been the armchair sport of the past year. As we doomscrolled through bleak statistics online, it was cheering to see shots of Meryl Streep’s sterile empty shelves or the copies of Fahrenheit 451 and The Twits awkwardly propped up behind Boris Johnson at a school in Leicestershire. Room Rater just happened to screengrab these moments. Scrolling through the posts a year after it launched in April 2020, these images are emblematic of just how quickly coronavirus forced all of us inside and online.

A year on, Room Rater is still going strong and now has almost 400k followers. It has slowed its output from about 40 rooms a day to four or five, but is now writing a guidebook of how to cultivate Zoom backgrounds for this “new reality”, says one of its co-founders, Claude Taylor. Some aspects of life are opening up, but many – particularly video conferencing – are here to stay. “People ask if we are going to shut down the account when everyone is vaccinated and the answer is no, because this is the new normal,” Taylor says.

Taylor created the account with his partner, Jessie Bahrey, in the early days of the pandemic. Taylor lives in Washington DC, Bahrey near Vancouver, and so, separated in lockdown, they would watch the news and judge the rooms of senators, some UK politicians, celebrities and “the punditry class” over the phone.

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“The idea was to entertain at a time when we all needed that sort of diversion,” says Taylor. It quickly took off. Today, it’s standard practice for subjects, such as Clinton, to respond or even improve their backdrops at Room Rater’s behest. One very high-profile Republican senator was so miffed at getting a poor rating, their head of communications contacted the account to try to “re-pitch” the room to them.

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Room Rater’s grading system is particular and partisan – if you’re an Obama or a liberal pundit, you’ll often score well. If you’re a Cruz or a Trump, you won’t. One Bernie Sanders appearance got a three, but the Vermont senator picked up a 10/10 for his much-memed inauguration look. There are points for good lighting, staircases and depth. Paintings are a big plus, as are books. Plants can bump a six to a nine, but too many can be seen as affectations.

Elsewhere, points are docked for bad lighting, bad angles and minor cord violations – headphones, chargers, anything that gives the game away. “You also need your camera at the right height. It just needs to be eye level. That’s the single most common mistake people make – no one wants the nostril view,” he says. The main issue with Hillary Clinton’s room was “her depth”, says Taylor. “You need to be the right distance from the background wall.” Clinton, it seems, was too close.

If Trump automatically gets zero, other celebrities are fair game. Lady Gaga’s ultra-minimalist backdrop scored her 2/10, while John Legend got 10/10 despite being largely blocked by a piano. Like Clinton, everyone seems to want to be rated. US pundits such as Steve Schmidt and John Heilemann are known for placing pineapple ornaments in shot to show they know they’re being watched by the account. (“I call the pineapples, ‘Room Rater calling cards’,” says Taylor).

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Taylor runs the account on a six-year-old iPhone, doesn’t have a laptop and is today speaking via his partner’s tablet, which is propped up on a cat perch. Lined up behind him is a photoseries of the Italian towns of Portofino, Rome and Venice. He’s too close to the wall and the lighting is terrible. “We are not interior decorators,” says Taylor. “We just pretend to be on Twitter.”

The optics are key, but there’s a warm cattiness in the commentary. Occasionally, posts read like haikus. “Love the port wine posters. Sunflowers. Depth. Add pillow to left. 9/10,” says one. Sometimes, they’re more pragmatic: “Cozy room, warm colours, animal art, but could use an updated paint job on the green wall. 6/10”. Spiky entries loaded with expletives are reserved for Jordan Peterson’s clutter-laden den.

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My own backdrop is disappointing. Peering into the screen, Taylor points out the earphones behind my head as a major cord violation. Having just moved flats, I have no art on the wall yet, but I remove the earphones and immediately go from a six to a seven. My daffodils get me an eight. With a framed piece, and “something of whimsy such as kid’s art”, I could be a nine. I prop up a postcard from my niece. “What most people are lacking to score well is a piece of art. If you’re on CNN for four minutes, just move the piece from the hallway”.

Bookcases have, of course, become the background of choice for anyone cultivating their self-image. Taylor says he sees a copy of Robert Caro’s The Power Broker on every fifth backdrop in Washington DC. And if you’re under 35 and a journalist, he says, you almost always own the book Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents.

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They’re biased towards anything mid-century modern, and tolerate Ikea. “The only thing we avoid is colour-coded bookshelves as an aesthetic choice. We just don’t rate the room, so it’s become a way of avoiding us.”

Taylor’s political leanings bleed into his day-job running Mad Dog, a liberal political-action committee, and he is widely known for his anti-Trump output on social media and billboards. He used to be a “low level” White House staffer. “I did the political merchandising on Bill Clinton’s campaign. I was the chief of stuff,” he says. Bahrey, who is at work when we talk, manages a large-scale commercial greenhouse; big, meandering plants jump in and out of shot on the day we talk.

A self-appointed “luddite”, Taylor still understands the power of social media. A few months into the pandemic, Taylor and Bahrey used the account to raise funds from followers to buy surgical gloves and masks for hospitals in Bronx and Queens. Later, they did the same for Native American communities, who were among the hardest hit. They have produced Room Rater merch, the proceeds of which now go towards getting art supplies for kids not back at school.

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“Twitter following allows you to do stuff, it just depends how you use it,” says Taylor. “But it’s also, you know, public and entertaining. What people exclude in their backdrops is as important as what they include. It’s a deliberate choice, what you show the world.” At a time when our homes must function as a place to live but also be presentable to the outside world, it’s heartening to see the rich and famous struggling under their laundry, too.

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Elon Musk Says He’ll Pay $11 Billion in Taxes in 2021 But Twitter Wants ‘Proof’

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Elon Musk took to Twitter to clarify once and for all that he will be paying a whopping $11 billion as taxes this year.

If the number of times Elon Musk could count when someone has asked him to pay the full taxes, he would be a very rich..wait, never mind. The Tesla boss is rich beyond any private individual has been in history, reports said.

Musk has increasingly been facing criticism from many politicians and many others who insist he has not been paying taxes as compared to the profits his companies have been making. On Sunday, the SpaceX CEO took to Twitter to share that he will be paying a whopping $11 billion as taxes.

For those wondering, I will pay over $11 billion in taxes this year— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) December 20, 2021

But some of the questions did not stop. One person tweeted how they needed to see Musk’s tax returns while yet another asked how much percentage was that of his total income.

A few were, however scathing of the government who thought they will add that amount to their pockets rather than using it for some proper development.

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Wow that’s enough to give each person in the world almost $2 million but instead the government will just stick it in their pockets— greg (@greg16676935420) December 20, 2021

Why not $200 billion? Asking for a Senator— litquidity (@litcapital) December 20, 2021

Earlier this week, Democratic US Senator Elizabeth Warren has tweeted to say that Musk should pay taxes and stop “freeloading off everyone else” after Time magazine named him its “person of the year”.

In response, Musk shot four tweets in which he said that the senator reminded him of a friend’s angry mom who yelled at everybody. He tweeted, ““And if you opened your eyes for 2 seconds, you would realize I will pay more taxes than any American in history this year.” “Don’t spend it all at once … oh wait you did already.”

He added further, “You remind me of when I was a kid and my friend’s angry Mom would just randomly yell at everyone for no reason.”

Musk responded by saying that he “will pay more taxes than any American in history this year”. This Twitter exchange left netizens divided as even though many supported Warren and agreed that Musk should pay more taxes, others felt that he was already doing enough.

Musk’s Tesla is worth about $1 trillion. Over the last few weeks, he has sold nearly $14 billion worth of Tesla shares.

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The Tesla boss has been pushing for his colonize Mars agenda for years now, and has made it very clear in some occasions that he would rather spend the money on putting humanity on the red planet, than pay his taxes. “My plan,” the SpaceX founder tweeted about his fortune, “is to use the money to get humanity to Mars and preserve the light of consciousness.”

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Twitter Admits Policy ‘Errors’ After Far-Right Abuse Its New Rules of Posting Pictures

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Twitter’s new picture permission policy was aimed at combating online abuse, but US activists and researchers said Friday that far-right backers have employed it to protect themselves from scrutiny and to harass opponents.

Even the social network admitted the rollout of the rules, which say anyone can ask Twitter to take down images of themselves posted without their consent, was marred by malicious reports and its teams’ own errors.

It was just the kind of trouble anti-racism advocates worried was coming after the policy was announced this week.

Their concerns were quickly validated, with anti-extremism researcher Kristofer Goldsmith tweeting a screenshot of a far-right call-to-action circulating on Telegram: “Due to the new privacy policy at Twitter, things now unexpectedly work more in our favor.”

“Anyone with a Twitter account should be reporting doxxing posts from the following accounts,” the message said, with a list of dozens of Twitter handles.

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Gwen Snyder, an organizer and researcher in Philadelphia, said her account was blocked this week after a report to Twitter about a series of 2019 photos she said showed a local political candidate at a march organized by extreme-right group Proud Boys.

Rather than go through an appeal with Twitter she opted to delete the images and alert others to what was happening.

“Twitter moving to eliminate (my) work from their platform is incredibly dangerous and is going to enable and embolden fascists,” she told AFP.

In announcing the privacy policy on Tuesday, Twitter noted that “sharing personal media, such as images or videos, can potentially violate a person’s privacy, and may lead to emotional or physical harm.”

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But the rules don’t apply to “public figures or individuals when media and accompanying Tweets are shared in the public interest or add value to public discourse.”

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By Friday, Twitter noted the roll out had been rough: “We became aware of a significant amount of coordinated and malicious reports, and unfortunately, our enforcement teams made several errors.”

“We’ve corrected those errors and are undergoing an internal review to make certain that this policy is used as intended,” the firm added.

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Jack Dorsey Post Twitter Is Chasing His Crypto, Fintech Dream

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At a packed Miami conference in June, Jack Dorsey, mused in front of thousands of attendees about where his real passion lay: “If I weren’t at Square or Twitter, I’d be working on Bitcoin.”

On Monday, Dorsey made good on one part of that, announcing he would leave Twitter for the second time, handing the CEO position to a 10-year veteran at the firm. The 45-year-old entrepreneur, who is often described as an enigma with varied interests from meditation to yoga to fashion design, plans to pursue his passion which include focusing on running Square and doing more philanthropic work, according to a source familiar with his plan.

Well before the surprise news, Dorsey had laid the groundwork for his next chapter, seeding both companies with cryptocurrency-related projects.

Underlying Dorsey’s broader vision is the principle of “decentralisation,” or the idea that technology and finance should not be concentrated among a handful of gatekeepers, as it is now, but should, instead, be steered by the hands of the many, either people or entities.

The concept has played out at Square, which has built a division devoted to working on projects and awarding grants with the aim of growing Bitcoin’s popularity globally. Bitcoin price in India stood at Rs. 44.52 lakh as of 12:50pm IST on December 1.

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Dorsey has been a longtime proponent of Bitcoin, and the appeal is that the cryptocurrency will allow for private and secure transactions with the value of Bitcoin unrelated to any government.

The idea has also underpinned new projects at Twitter, where Dorsey tapped a top lieutenant – and now the company’s new CEO Parag Agrawal – to oversee a team that is attempting to construct a decentralised social media protocol, which will allow different social platforms to connect with one another, similar to the way email providers operate.

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The project called Bluesky will aim to allow users control over the types of content they see online, removing the “burden” on companies like Twitter to enforce a global policy to fight abuse or misleading information, Dorsey said in 2019 when he announced Bluesky.

Bitcoin has also figured prominently at both of his companies. Square became one of the first public companies to own Bitcoin assets on its balance sheet, having invested $220 million (roughly Rs. 1,650 crore) in the cryptocurrency.

In August, Square created a new business unit called TBD to focus on Bitcoin. The company is also planning to build a hardware wallet for Bitcoin, a Bitcoin mining system, as well as a decentralised Bitcoin exchange.

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Twitter allows users to tip their favourite content creators with Bitcoin and has been testing integrations with non-fungible tokens (NFTs), a type of digital asset that allows people to collect unique digital art.

Analysts see the transition as a positive signal for Square, the fintech platform he co-founded in 2009. Square’s core Cash App, after a bull run in its share in 2020, has experienced slower growth in the most recent quarter. It is also trying to digest the $29 billion (roughly Rs. 2,17,240 crore) acquisition of Buy Now Pay Later provider Afterpay, its largest acquisition ever.

But these ambitions will not pay off until years from now, analysts cautioned.

“The blockchain platform they’re trying to develop is great but also fraught with technical challenges and difficult to scale for consumers. I think he’ll focus more on Square and crypto will be part of that,” said Christopher Brendler, an analyst at DA Davidson.

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© Thomson Reuters 2021

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Interested in cryptocurrency? We discuss all things crypto with WazirX CEO Nischal Shetty and WeekendInvesting founder Alok Jain on Orbital, the Gadgets 360 podcast. Orbital is available on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Amazon Music and wherever you get your podcasts.

Cryptocurrency is an unregulated digital currency, not a legal tender and subject to market risks. The information provided in the article is not intended to be and does not constitute financial advice, trading advice or any other advice or recommendation of any sort offered or endorsed by NDTV. NDTV shall not be responsible for any loss arising from any investment based on any perceived recommendation, forecast or any other information contained in the article.

(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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