Twitter dismissals ahead of US interim clauses stoke misinformation concerns

Twitter dismissals ahead of US interim clauses stoke misinformation concerns


Twitter’s new owner Elon Musk has promised the platform won’t turn into a “free-for-all hellscape,” but experts warn Friday’s mass layoffs could profoundly damage the social network’s ability to curb misinformation.

Twitter laid off about half of its 7,500 employees just days before next week’s midterm elections in the United States, when a surge in fake content on social media is expected.

The cuts, coming after Musk’s blockbuster $44 million acquisition of the company, will hit multiple departments, including trust and security teams that manage content moderation, engineering and machine learning, US reports said.

“I would be very careful on this platform in the coming days… what you retweet, who you follow, and even your own perception of what’s going on,” said Kate Starbird, a disinformation researcher and assistant professor at the University of Washington.

Starbird, in her own Twitter post, warned of an increased risk of “attempts at impersonation,” “coordinated disinformation by manipulators,” and “hoaxes trying to trick you into spreading untruths.”

Jessica Gonzalez, co-chief executive officer of the non-partisan group Free Press, said she was concerned that Twitter might relax its content moderation efforts ahead of the election “when we know social media is going haywire to… Misinforming voters, intimidating and damaging color.”

“Twitter was already a hellscape before Musk took over, and his actions… will only make it worse,” Gonzalez said.

– “Deeply disturbing” –

Free Press is part of a coalition of more than 60 civil society groups that on Friday called on advertisers to boycott the platform until it commits to being a “safe place”.

Coalition members met with Musk earlier this week after academic studies reported a dramatic rise in hate speech, Nazi memes and racial slurs following his takeover of the company.

A study by Montclair State University found that Musk’s purchase “created an impression among extremist users that content restrictions were being relaxed.”

“We met with Elon Musk earlier this week to express our deep concern about some of his plans and the surge in toxic content following his acquisition,” said the coalition, which uses the “Stop Toxic Twitter” hashtag.

“Since that time, hatred and disinformation have continued to mount, and Musk has taken actions that lead us to fear the worst is yet to come,” the group said in a statement.

But Musk dismissed that assessment, tweeting that “we did indeed see hate speech dipping *below* our previous norms at times this week,” though he offered no data to back that claim.

“To be perfectly clear, Twitter’s strong commitment to content moderation remains absolutely unchanged,” Musk wrote on Friday.

Separately, Yoel Roth, head of security and integrity at Twitter, said that fighting harmful misinformation was a “top priority” for the company during the halftime.

Musk, a self-confessed freedom-of-speech absolutist, had promised to reduce Twitter’s content restrictions and, since the acquisition, announced plans to create a “Content Moderation Council” to review the company’s policies.

“While Musk has publicly committed to transparency, his decision to lay off staff dedicated to this work is deeply troubling,” said Zeve Sanderson, executive director of New York University’s Center for Social Media and Politics.

Musk insisted the layoffs were necessary as the company loses more than $4 million a day.

Twitter has long struggled to turn a profit and has not been able to keep up with Facebook, Instagram and TikTok in attracting new users.

More to explorer