Elon Musk’s Twitter has been put to the “midterms” test

Ten days have passed since Elon Musk took over Twitter and the company is in turmoil. The billionaire fired last Friday almost half of the social network’s 7,500 employees to, he argued, cut costs and ” improve business health “. A harsh decision came following the announcement of new projects for Twitter, including the highly controversial new account certification system. All-powerful at the head of the social network, Elon Musk seems to be embroidering his strategy over the water, with great declarations by tweet … He has also published more than a hundred since acquired.

Problem: this frenzy among the most influential social networks comes at a delicate time. The US presidential midterm elections, the “midterms”, will take place on Tuesday, and will include 435 seats in the House of Representatives (with a Democratic majority since 2018) and 34 seats in the Senate (out of 100). The move to one or both rooms in the Republican camp will have serious consequences for the last two years of Joe Biden’s presidential term, knowing that the Democratic camp is in bad shape.

The elections are therefore under tension, and specialists warn about the dangers of disinformation, with one main question: even in the midst of chaos, will Twitter be able to manage the moderation of the event? The answer may have economic consequences, as the exercise will serve as a test for advertisers, who are already skeptical of the moderation of the social network under Musk.

Also read OPA on Twitter: “The fact that Elon Musk can get such power is disturbing”

Elon Musk is the Republican

Elon Musk’s stance on the subject is a source of concern. His radical view of freedom of expression, which allows you to say almost anything, raises fears of increased discrimination and conspiracy on the network. The businessman demonstrated this just two days after taking over Twitter by sharing an article from a conspiratorial site that cast doubt on the claims of Paul Pelosi, husband of Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, who invaded his home, while the serious media argued that the attacker had political motivations and that he cited far-right articles (specifically from the QAnon conspiracy movement).

If Elon Musk deletes his message after a few hours, it’s still him not directly qualified The New York Times who pointed out his error, of ” site known for publishing fake news “. A statement that is not too surprising, since the billionaire has openly approached the Republican camp, where this kind of discourse against the media is quite common. Since standing at the head of Twitter, Elon Musk enthusiastically shares or responds on some accounts openly” conservatives “, even if he presents himself publicly as neither left nor right.

This political bias resurfaced a few days after the Pelosi affair. The businessman distinguished himself this time through a verbal contest with the Democratic deputy (and candidate for “midterms”) Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, followed by 13.5 million subscribers. This is the latter ridiculed Elon Musk’s willingness to charge $8 to verify Twitter accounts. “It’s funny to watch a billionaire trying to sell people that free speech is really an $8 a month subscription. “To which the principal concerned replied:” Vyour feedback is appreciated, now pay 8 dollars“” before dissecting other critical tweets. The dispute extended over time, Ocasio-Cortez accused Elon Musk the next day of being responsible for showing bugs on his Twitter account, without concrete proof.

If this preference of Twitter’s number 1 for the Republican camp is troubling, it’s because in the last two presidential campaigns, America’s conservative media – the mighty Fox News in the lead – has delivered a lot of fake news against the candidates Democratic, such as the content of Hillary Clinton’s campaign emails in 2016, or the story of the documents recovered from a laptop computer of Hunter Biden, Joe Biden’s son, in 2020. However, the number of misinformation from American far-right movements. , as incumbent President Donald Trump continues to deny losing the presidential election…

Twitter moderation in the works

Despite his public slips and positions, Elon Musk wants to be safe : “I repeat this again: Twitter’s steadfast commitment to content moderation remains unchanged “. However, the billionaire confirmed, when filing his offer to buy, that he is ready to restore the account of Donald Trump, which was suspended after the riots in the Capitol on January 6, 2021. Similarly, he accepted the restoration of the account of rapper Kanye West (close to Donald Trump) on the platform in early October, before the latter was immediately banned again for anti-Semitic remarks. However, Elon Musk said he would not restore an account until to have a clear process. [le compte de Kanye West est de nouveau actif depuis le 3 novembre, sans qu’un lien de causalité avec la prise de poste d’Elon Musk soit prouvé, ndlr]. He is so announced that he is A moderation council will be formed in the coming months content to validate the reinstatement of an account or any change in moderation policy.

For his part, Yoel Roth, is the new head of the Trust and Safety team [confiance et sûreté, ndlr] of the site – after the “resignation” of the former director, also wanted to be reassured by tweeting that ” most of the moderation capabilities remained in place “. The division will lose only 5% of its workers, which does not affect its capacity for moderation, which will hopefully remain stable, according to him. As for the initiatives launched before the actual acquisition , such as commissioning reports from outside researchers on foreign influence campaigns, they are maintained.

However, even Twitter should work “midterms” as it did before Elon Musk’s purchase, fears remain about the evolution of social network moderation. Dissatisfied with the social network’s current moderation, the billionaire wants to deploy more broadly Birdwatch, a community moderation feature that Twitter has been working on since 2021, and testing has just begun. Actually, Birdwatch contributors can leave a note on a tweet to put it back in context or correct a factual error. In addition, Elon Musk claimed when he signed the takeover offer that he would make Twitter’s algorithm open source, so that outsiders could observe it to ensure that it does not favor a particular type of discourse. But so far, he has only fired the Algorithm Transparency research team.

New certification is deferred

The last project was postponed, and not least: the new Twitter certification method. Until now, this functionality made it possible to authenticate the identity of a public figure (politician, journalist, artist, company manager, etc.) or of a company in the network. The goal: to prevent identity theft, which makes it possible to set up scams or damage the reputation of the person concerned.

But Elon Musk wants to make it a central part of his business model. Obtaining the certification will only be associated with the payment of a monthly subscription of 8 dollars per month, and will give access to privileges (highlighted tweets and replies, fewer ads, etc.). All without identity verification. Twitter teams, working hard for ten days, deployed the feature this weekend … before taking it down. Was he not ready yet? However, Musk indicated soon after that he would wait until the end of the midterms to launch the new system, without mentioning this failed deployment. A wise precaution, to avoid having further problems with moderation during the election.