Twitter Employees Say They Struggle With Misinformation After Mass Layoffs
Twitter is struggling to respond to political misinformation and other dangerous posts on the social media platform after Elon Musk fired nearly half of his staff just days before the US midterm elections, according to workers who survived the layoffs and an outside voting rights group.
The recent mass layoffs have saved many people whose job it is to keep hate and misinformation on social media. Musk has cut only 15 percent of those front-line employees who measure content, compared to 50 percent of job cuts across the company, an executive said last week.
But in preparation for the layoffs, employees say the company is also significantly reducing the number of employees who can look at the history and behavior of a particular account — a practice needed to investigate abuse and take action to stop it. The company said it has suspended access to those tools to reduce “internal risk” during the transition.
The incidents are causing concern as the US midterm elections reach a climax on Tuesday. While millions of Americans have already voted early and are absent, millions more are expected to go to the polls and vote in person. Election observers fear that the platform may not be equipped to handle hate speech, misinformation that may affect voter safety and security, and actors seeking to cast doubt on the legitimate winners of elections across the country.
Disinformation researchers alerted Twitter on Friday about three posts from prominent far-right figures that fueled counterclaims about election fraud. Seedlings remain after three days. When Common Cause asked Twitter for a review on Monday, the platform said the post was “under review.”
Before Musk took over, Twitter responded very quickly, said Jesse Littlewood, Common Cause’s vice president of campaigns. The group said it had been in regular contact with Twitter employees before Musk took over. Now, they get a reply from a regular email address.
“We’ve been getting quick decisions from them, sometimes within hours,” Littlewood said. Now, he said, “It’s like pressing the go sign button at a stop sign, and nothing happens.”
Musk has outsourced teams working on marketing, communications and programming to curate what people see on Twitter. But his decision to retain most of Twitter’s content moderation team came as a welcome surprise to some inside and outside the company. Musk, after all, has promised to let free speech flourish by loosening Twitter’s content restrictions and reinstating banned accounts for violating those rules. He also promised to end the current user verification process in favor of a $7.99 (roughly Rs. 600) registration fee.
But the fact that the content overview team survived would mean that important functions of misinformation such as preventing political violence would continue, and some of the worst cases regarding electoral misinformation would not occur. Some of Musk’s tweets have been explained in a fact-checked context in recent days.
The two employees who survived the job credit the previously anonymous executive Yoel Roth, Twitter’s head of security and integrity, for leveraging his team’s importance on Musk’s Twitter policies while avoiding moves that might anger the Tesla CEO.
“Yoel Roth single-handedly saved the company,” said a Twitter employee who spoke on condition of anonymity because of job security concerns. “On the public side, he engaged appropriately and thoughtfully with Elon Musk in a way that was not condescending, but deferential, because Elon is the king.”
Roth has become the public face of Twitter’s content moderation since Musk took over and has been defending Twitter’s ongoing efforts to combat harmful misinformation. Musk, a tweeter with more than 110 million followers, has often pointed to Roth’s Twitter feed as a reliable account of the company’s adherence to integrity standards. And the billionaire, who embraced the idea that Twitter’s past leadership suppressed right-wing views, defended Roth when Musk’s ardent supporters called for him to be fired for past comments they thought showed Roth’s bias.
Roth, who once worked at an Apple store repairing Mac computers, joined Twitter in 2015 after spending a year studying online hate speech at Harvard University’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society, according to his Twitter profile. LinkedIn. In May, he took on a major role “responsible for all user, content, and security policies, which includes more than 120 policymakers, threat investigators, data analysts, and operations experts.”
Roth did not respond to requests for comment.
A legal expert who sits on Twitter’s Trust and Safety Council, an advisory board established in 2016, said he has long been impressed by Roth’s talk about the challenges of content moderation and the nuances of free speech — such as the importance of curbing offensive content. empowering free speech for women and others who may be victimized online.
“If Musk had been able to cut everybody in terms of content and just put in his ‘yes’ men, he would have been,” said Mary Anne Franks, a law professor at the University of Miami and president of Cyber Civil. “The reason you don’t do that is because you realize that would make Twitter ineffective.”
One Twitter employee said Monday that job survivors were looking for new jobs in part because of Musk’s lack of commitment to keeping the platform free of hate speech and misinformation. Speaking on condition of anonymity because of job security concerns, the employee said the job cuts would make Twitter staff less effective at tracking and responding to complaints about election-related disinformation, because they include people who lead public integrity groups.
Franks said there is always a tension in Twitter and other social media companies between making money and protecting democracy and freedom of speech. He said that would be difficult under Musk, who has shown Twitter that it can act quickly in blocking a comedian who made fun of him by impersonating his account, but who has expressed hostility to Twitter’s anti-harassment standards.
“I would imagine that someone in a position like Roth’s at Twitter would have to play a very delicate game of not holding any strings, so that he doesn’t have to back down from Musk because he has incredibly thin skin,” Franks said.