Twitter revolt, employee exodus exacerbate security concerns


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dated: 2022-11-20 00:47:39 .

The hashtag #RIPTwitter gained massive traction on the site after employees quit who said “no” to Musk’s demands to either be “extremely hard-line” or leave the company

Konstanze HEVIA

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Twitter owner Elon Musk has vowed that the platform will not turn into a “hellscape”, but experts fear the staff exodus following mass layoffs may have destroyed its ability to fight misinformation, identity and data theft.

Twitter has turned into what activists have described as a quagmire of falsehoods and hate speech following the recent layoffs of half of the company’s 7,500 employees and the proliferation of fake accounts following the failed launch of a paid verification system.

Further throwing the influential platform into disarray — and casting doubt on its very existence — are reports that hundreds of employees decided to leave the company on Thursday despite Musk’s ultimatum.

“The large number of layoffs and terminations raises serious questions about content moderation and the security of user data,” Cheyenne Hunt-Majer of the non-profit organization Public Citizen told AFP.

“It is imperative that (U.S. regulators) act urgently because users could exploit or even steal their sensitive data due to a lack of staff to adequately protect it.”

The hashtag #RIPTwitter gained massive traction on the site after employees quit who said “no” to Musk’s demands to either be “extremely hard-line” or leave the company.

Twitter has been in an uproar as Musk, a self-confessed free speech absolutist, tries to shake up the loss-making company after its successful $44 billion purchase late last month.

According to reports and tweets, the site’s content moderation teams — mostly outside contractors fighting misinformation — have been targeted, and a number of engineers have been fired after openly criticizing Musk on Twitter or an internal message board.

Wary brands have halted or slowed ad spending – Twitter’s biggest source of revenue – following a rise in racist and anti-Semitic trolling on the platform.

“Disinformation super-spreaders” — or untrustworthy accounts that spread falsehoods — saw a 57 percent increase in engagement in the week after Musk bought Twitter, according to research by nonprofit monitoring group NewsGuard.

“Elon Musk has quickly decimated Twitter’s ability to maintain the integrity, health and security of the platform,” said Jessica Gonzalez, co-chief executive of the nonpartisan group Free Press.

“If there’s one lesson all social media platforms need to learn from this debacle, it’s that without protecting users from hate and lies, you have no society.”

In response to criticism, Musk on Friday hinted at a new direction for moderating content on the site.

While not completely removed from the site, Musk said “negative/hate tweets” “will be deboosted (and) demoted to the max, so there is no advertising or other revenue for Twitter.”

“You won’t find a tweet unless you specifically look for it, which is no different than the rest of the internet,” he added.

But his plan fell on skeptical ears.

“We could certainly see an increase in misinformation, hate speech and other objectionable content based on Musk’s recent moves,” Zeve Sanderson, executive director of New York University’s Center for Social Media and Policy, told AFP.

“Moderating content is much more difficult without people actually moderating the content.”

In a letter to the Federal Trade Commission, the regulatory agency, a group of Democratic senators accused Musk of introducing “alarming” new features that undermine security, despite warnings that they are “being misused for fraud, deceit and dangerous impersonation.”

“Users are already facing serious consequences of this growth-at-any-cost strategy,” they wrote in a letter published Thursday, citing a recent rise in fake accounts impersonating corporations, politicians and celebrities.

Among the victims was drugmaker Eli Lilly, whose stock price plummeted — wiping out billions in market capitalization — after a fake account marked with a confirmation tag bought for $8 tweeted that insulin would be available for free.

Last week, Twitter disabled signs for a controversial feature called Twitter Blue. It was reportedly temporarily disabled to deal with impersonation issues – but not before several brands took a hit.

Given the apparent vulnerability, digital experts have warned activists, especially in autocratic countries, of the increased risk of identity theft or having their private messages fall into the hands of hackers.

“All over the world, Twitter is being used to organize against oppression,” Hunt-Majer said.

“If Musk’s mismanagement kills him, it would be a huge blow to freedom of information and, frankly, human rights in general globally.”


Twitter revolt, employee exodus exacerbate security concerns

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