Twitter logo with picture of Elon Musk ©BelgaImage
Disinformation experts call for “caution” on Twitter this weekend, when the new boss of the influential social network fired half of his staff days before the crucial election in the United States.
Midterms and Musk: the danger of a heavy combo
“You need to be careful on this platform in the coming days… In what you retweet, which account you subscribe to and in relation to your own understanding of what is going on“, for example, warns Kate Starbird, a disinformation researcher at the University of Washington. The professor believes that there is a higher risk of malicious people posing as others, who carry out “coordinated disinformation campaignsor otherwise, spread nonsense well designed to be shared by other users who don’t care.
In a letter to advertisers last Thursday, the day of the acquisition, Elon Musk promised advertisers that Twitter will not be a platform “hell“where all is permitted. But”Twitter was hell before Musk took over, and his actions (…) will only make it worse“Jessica Gonzalez, co-director of the NGO Free Press, responded. She fears that Twitter’s ability to moderate content will be reduced in the midst of an election season,”when we know all too well that social networks are awash in misinformation and intimidation against minority voters“.
To read: The UN is concerned about Elon Musk’s management of Twitter
On Friday, a week after the $44 billion acquisition, Twitter laid off about 50% of its nearly 7,500 employees. According to internal sources, managers, marketing and design are among the personnel categories most affected by the cuts. Yoel Roth, the security manager at the site, wanted to be reassured by tweeting “most of the moderation capabilities remained in place“. Content moderation teams suffered only 15% attrition, he said, and “Front-line personnel are the least affected“. He also ensured that the daily volume of moderation actions remained “stable” this Sunday. “Our election integrity efforts — including countering disinformation aimed at suppressing voting and foreign influence operations — remain a top priority.“, he declared.
Elon Musk advocates an absolute view of freedom of expression. He can repeat that content moderation has not changed on Twitter and promises to form a council dedicated to this task, he struggles to convince his detractors. Especially when he relays disinformation, like when he retweeted a conspiracy theory on Sunday about an attack on the husband of Nancy Pelosi, the leader of Democrats in Congress. He himself deleted his message afterwards. “Elon Musk bought a machine that spreads lies around the world“, Joe Biden launched on Friday at a campaign meeting.
The American president this week warned candidates who are ready to reject the results of the midterm elections, in the Senate and in Congress. His predecessor, Donald Trump, still does not recognize his defeat in 2020 and maintains that the ballot is his “Fly away“. This was one of the arguments that fueled his fans, until the storming of the Capitol in January 2021.
A Montclair State University study concluded that Elon Musk’s acquisition of Twitter had “create a perception for extremist users that restrictions will be eased“. A coalition of about 60 associations, including Free Press, on Friday called on advertisers to boycott the platform until it “a safe place“. Members of this coalition met with the libertarian entrepreneur this week, after several studies noted a significant increase in hate speech and racist slurs in recent days.”Elon Musk has taken steps that make us fear the worst is yet to come“, said the coalition. The multi-billionaire replied, without supporting data, that “hate speech really went down this week“.
On Friday, he briefly explained that the layoffs were necessary because “the company was losing more than 4 million dollars a day“. He previously blamed the decline in income on “a group of activists putting pressure on advertisers even though nothing has changed in content moderation and we have done everything to silence the activists“.”This is absolute rubbish! They are trying to destroy free speech in America“, he was carried away.