Increased risk of misinformation on Twitter ahead of US halftime

Increased risk of misinformation on Twitter ahead of US halftime

Disinformation experts called for “caution” on Twitter this weekend, as the new boss of the influential social network just laid off half his workforce days before the crucial US election.

“We’re going to have to be very careful on this platform in the coming days… About what you retweet, what account you subscribe to, and your own perception of what’s happening,” warned Kate Starbird, a University of Washington disinformation researcher.

The professor believes there is an increased risk of malicious individuals posing as others, running “coordinated disinformation campaigns” or even spreading hoaxes good enough for other unwary users to share.

In a letter to advertisers last Thursday, the day of the acquisition, Elon Musk promised advertisers that Twitter would not become a “hell” platform where anything goes.

But “Twitter was already hell before Musk took control, and his actions (…) will only make things worse,” responded Jessica Gonzalez, co-director of the NGO Free Press.

She fears Twitter’s ability to moderate content will be reduced in the middle of an election “when we know full well that social networks are drowning in misinformation and intimidation against minority voters.”

– “lying machine” –

On Friday, a week after the $44 billion acquisition, Twitter laid off about 50% of its nearly 7,500 employees.

According to internal sources, management, marketing and design were among the staff categories most affected by the cuts.

Yoel Roth, the site’s security manager, tweeted that “most of the moderation capabilities remain in place.”

Content moderation teams have suffered just 15% attrition, he said, and “frontline workers are the least affected.” He also assured that the daily volume of moderation actions has remained “steady” this week.

“Our efforts to support election integrity – including countering disinformation aimed at discouraging elections and foreign interference – remain a top priority,” he said.

Elon Musk advocates an absolute vision of freedom of expression. While he may reiterate that content moderation on Twitter hasn’t changed and promise to form a council dedicated to the task, he’s struggling to convince his critics.

Especially when he’s spreading disinformation, like when he retweeted a conspiracy theory Sunday about the attack on the husband of Congresswoman Democrat Nancy Pelosi. He himself deleted his message afterwards.

“Elon Musk bought a machine that spreads lies around the world,” Joe Biden said at a campaign meeting on Friday.

The US President this week warned candidates who are poised to reject the results of the Senate and Congress midterm elections.

His predecessor, Donald Trump, still hasn’t acknowledged his defeat in 2020, claiming his ballot was “stolen.” This is one of the arguments that had so electrified his fans that they marched into the Capitol in January 2021.

– “Anything” –

A study by Montclair State University concluded that Elon Musk’s acquisition of Twitter “made extremist users believe that restrictions were being relaxed.”

A coalition of around 60 associations, including Free Press, on Friday urged advertisers to boycott the platform until it promises to be “a safe place”.

Members of that coalition met with the libertarian businessman this week after several studies have found a significant increase in hate speech and racial slurs in recent days.

“Elon Musk has taken steps that make us fear the worst is yet to come,” the coalition said.

The multi-billionaire responded with no supporting data that “hate speech actually went down this week.”

On Friday, he briefly explained that the layoffs were necessary because “the company is losing more than $4 million a day.”

He previously blamed “a group of activists who have been influencing advertisers, although moderation of content hasn’t changed anything and we’ve done everything we can to appease the activists” for the drop in sales.

“This is really nonsense! They’re trying to destroy freedom of expression in America,” he said.


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