Twitter fires employees who fight misinformation

Twitter’s massive layoffs on Friday hit teams primarily responsible for keeping the platform free of misinformation, potentially hampering the company’s capabilities four days before voting ends in Tuesday’s midterm elections, Reuters said. NBC News a current employee and six former Twitter employees familiar with the cuts. , five of them had recently been made redundant.

Two former Twitter employees and one current employee have warned that the layoffs could wreak havoc around the election, as they hit particularly hard the teams responsible for curating trending topics and the engineering side of “user health,” which works on content moderation and site integrity. The seven people asked to withhold their names for fear of professional reprisals and because they were not authorized to speak on behalf of the company.

CEO Elon Musk, who faces large future debt payments and declining revenue from Twitter, said the cuts were necessary to ensure the company’s long-term financial health a week after its $44 billion purchase.

The cuts seemed to affect many people whose job it was to keep Twitter from being overwhelmed by prohibited contentsuch as hateful conduct and targeted harassment, the seven sources said.

Twitter has not announced any moderation policy changes, and earlier this week Yoel Roth, Twitter’s Head of Security and Integrity, said the company remained vigilant against attempts to manipulate middleman conversations. The musk has said the company will not allow anyone to return to Twitter who was previously banned for at least a few more weeks.

But Gita Johar, a business professor at Columbia University who studied misinformation on Twitter said the job cuts risked turning the site into a “free for all with rumors, conspiracy theories and lies taking hold on the platform and in people’s imaginations” .

Twitter hadn’t released public numbers on which teams were fired the most, but the layoffs were widespread. During an exchange at an investor conference on Friday, Musk appeared to confirm that his team laid off half of the company’s workforceaccording to CNBC.

“Elon will be a business owner with no employees,” a source inside Twitter told CNBC.

An email to Twitter’s public relations team was not immediately returned on Friday. Some team members tweeted that they had been fired.

Roth, Head of Security and Integrity at Twitter, tweeted early Friday evening“While we said goodbye to some incredibly talented friends and colleagues yesterday, our core moderation capabilities remain in place.”

He added that the layoffs affected about 15% of the company’s trust and safety teams, with “frontline moderation staff experiencing the least impact.”

“With early voting underway in the United States, our election integrity efforts — including harmful disinformation that can suppress voting and countering state-sponsored information operations — remain a top priority. “, he continued.

Musk retweeted Roth’s thread and added“Again, to be perfectly clear, Twitter’s strong commitment to content moderation remains absolutely unchanged.”

He also has tweeted that “hate speech at times this week drops *below* our previous standards, contrary to what you may read in the press”.

Twitter’s curation team, which had various roles on the platform, including coordinating the detection and posting of moments intended to debunk misinformation, appears to be gone, a source said. The team had recently published an explanation on how he tried to keep the information accurate and unbiased.

London-based conservation manager Andrew Haigh said on Twitter that the team “is no more”.

“Unfortunately, the platform’s history of transparency and research support may be just that: history,” said Kate Starbird, professor of design and engineering at the University of Washington that studies disinformation.

Starbird said it remains to be seen how the potential misinformation around the midpoints might be affected.

“We were already expecting an upsurge in rumors and misinformation around the election, even before Musk took the reins,” she said.

“But the massive layoffs mean we’ll see what an unmoderated major platform really looks like in 2022, in an age of algorithmic manipulation and network toxicity, in a massive online convergence event with huge stakes. policies.”

The team of about 100 people responsible for Twitter Blue, the site’s subscription service, has also been reduced, according to a former employee. Most of the team’s engineers and product managers were fired on Friday and replaced by a “rag crew” from other parts of the company, which would turn the service into a verification vehicle, the employee said.

A current employee and two former employees were also concerned about a proposed product that would allow Twitter users to purchase verification badges. This could potentially, under program rules, allow anyone to leak misinformation from official-looking accounts or impersonate election officials or public figures as votes are cast and counted mid-term. mandate, these sources said.

Musk had promised to make the site’s verification feature, which was once used to confirm the identities of celebrities and public officials, open for purchase for $8. Bloomberg reported that sources within the company said the plan is to ship it on Monday. NBC News has not verified this report.

A current employee and two former employees, some of whom were laid off in the thousands of layoffs Friday morning, said they were concerned about the feature, noting they saw no meaningful enforcement mechanisms to ensure that users with verification controls are who they say they are.

“Twitter is not prepared for this scale,” said a Twitter employee who survived Friday’s layoffs and asked to remain anonymous because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the company’s internal plans.

“I expect a ton of cybersecurity attacks on Monday,” the day the new verification system is expected to go live, the employee said.

The new feature could hypothetically allow users to impersonate officials or politicians and spread fake news as votes roll in.

“That’s exactly the problem,” said the Twitter employee who remained with the company, adding that currently “Elon literally has no intention of stopping this.”

A Twitter employee who was fired on Friday said the plan may not be launched in time as there are only a “skeleton of engineers” left at the company and therefore may not be technically possible. The Twitter employee said that starting with the layoffs, the plan was that “there will be no identity verification” to acquire a verification badge.

“He thinks bots won’t pay money, so anyone without a blue mark will be a bot, by his logic,” said a Twitter employee who is still with the company.

The removal of Teams at the heart of Twitter’s moderation and trust and safety efforts combined with the new verification system has the potential to change one of the world’s central information centers days before the end of the US election in mid-term. Misinformation and violent threats remain a problem on social media platforms, and US law enforcement is already on alert for conspiratorial conflict.

Laura Edelson, a postdoctoral fellow at New York University who studies online political communication, said she’s already seen an increase in content on Twitter that violates company rules.

“What I think we’ve seen is a little glimpse of what Twitter looks like without the trust and safety team having access to the tools they need to do their jobs,” she said. “I think that’s just a preview of what we’ll see if the trust and safety team is gutted or just doesn’t exist.”

Edelson added that the growth of Twitter as a platform has coincided with the growth of its moderation efforts, allowing the company to use recommendation systems to promote content algorithmically while ensuring that offensive messages or misinformation do not spread as widely. Without these checks and balances, she warned that Twitter could become a much different platform.

“I think we’re used to the professionalization of platforms where they have trust and security features, and I also think we remember a time when those platforms were just smaller and they had less protective gear because they didn’t need as much,” she said. “But all major social media platforms became much more accelerating maybe 10 years ago.”

“It’s like when you know your car has brakes, you’re ready to go faster,” Edelson added. “Now they’ve taken the brakes off the car.”

A fired Twitter employee told NBC News that “the only saving grace is that he changes his mind about things all the time.”

“There were some incredibly talented people who didn’t deserve this,” a current Twitter employee said. “But Elon is looking for men yes, not people who really know things.”

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