Increased risk of misinformation on Twitter ahead of US “midterms” – 05/11/2022 at 21:53

A Twitter sign outside the company’s headquarters in San Francisco on October 28, 2022 (AFP/Constanza HEVIA)

Disinformation experts called for “caution” on Twitter this weekend, as the influential social network’s new boss fired half of his staff days before crucial US elections.

“We have to be careful on this platform in the coming days … With what you retweet, which account you subscribe to and in relation to your own understanding of what is happening”, for example warns Kate Starbird, a University of Washington disinformation researcher.

The professor believes there is a higher risk of malicious people impersonating others, conducting “coordinated disinformation campaigns” or even spreading well-designed hoaxes to be shared by other unsuspecting users.

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,” reacted Jessica Gonzalez, co-director of the NGO Free Press.

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

– “Lie 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, managers, marketing and design are among the personnel categories most affected by the cuts.

Yoel Roth, the site’s security manager, wanted to be reassured by tweeting that “most moderation capacities remain in place”.

Content moderation teams suffered only 15% attrition, he said, and “frontline staff were least affected”. He also assured that the daily volume moderating actions remained “stable” this week.

“Our efforts to support election integrity — including combating disinformation aimed at suppressing voting and foreign influence operations — remain a top priority,” he said.

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 said Friday at a campaign rally.

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 was “stolen” from him. It was one of the arguments that fueled his fans, until the storming of the Capitol in January 2021.

– “Anything” –

A Montclair State University study concluded that Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter “created a perception for extremist users that restrictions would be relaxed”.

A coalition of around 60 associations, including Free Press, on Friday called on advertisers to boycott the platform until it pledged to be “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,” the coalition said.

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 a day.”

He previously blamed the drop in revenue on “a group of activists who lobbied advertisers even though nothing changed in content moderation and we did everything to silence the activists”.

“It’s nonsense! They are trying to destroy freedom of expression in America”, he got carried away.

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