Twitter’s woes compound security concerns

Autocratic countries could exploit the platform’s reduced ability to safeguard user data, said a digital expert, urging US regulators to intervene

Twitter Inc CEO Elon Musk has vowed the platform won’t become a “hellscape” but experts fear a staff exodus following mass layoffs may have devastated its ability to fight disinformation, representation and data theft.

Twitter has turned into what activists have described as a cesspool of falsehoods and hate speech after last week’s layoffs cut half of the company’s 7,500 employees and fake accounts have proliferated following the implementation failure of a new verification system.

Further throwing the social media platform into disarray and raising questions about its very existence, reports claim that hundreds of employees quit the company on Thursday in defiance of an ultimatum from Musk.

Photo: EPA-EFE

“The sheer number of layoffs and resignations raises serious questions about content moderation and the security of user data,” said Cheyenne Hunt-Majer, a big advocate for tech accountability at nonprofit group Public Citizen. “It is imperative that [US regulators] act urgently as users could see their sensitive data exploited or even stolen given the lack of sufficient staff remaining to adequately protect it.

The hashtag #RIPTwitter gained massive popularity on the platform after the resignations of employees who chose “no” to Musk’s request to be “extremely hardcore” or leave the company.

Twitter has descended into turmoil as Musk, a self-proclaimed free speech absolutist, tries to shake up the loss-making company after his $44 billion blockbuster late last month.

Photo: AFP

The platform’s content moderation teams — largely outsourced contractors fighting disinformation — have been fired and a number of engineers fired after openly criticizing Musk on Twitter or an internal message board, according to reports and posts. of Twitter.

Wary brands have suspended or slowed ad spending — Twitter’s main source of revenue — after a spike in racist and anti-Semitic trolling on the platform.

“Super disinformation spreaders” — or unreliable accounts that peddle falsehoods — saw a 57% increase in engagement in the week following Musk’s takeover, according to a survey conducted by nonprofit watchdog group NewsGuard.

“Elon Musk has rapidly decimated Twitter’s ability to maintain the integrity, health and safety of the platform,” said Jessica Gonzalez, cochief executive officer of the nonpartisan Free Press group. “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 company.”

In response to the criticism, Musk on Friday outlined a new direction for content moderation on Twitter.

While not completely removed from the platform, Musk said “negative/hate tweets” would be “depowered to the max” [and] demonetized, so no advertising or other revenue on Twitter.

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

However, his plan fell on skeptical ears.

“We could certainly see a spike in disinformation, hate speech and other objectionable content due to Musk’s latest moves,” said Zeve Sanderson, executive director of New York University’s Center for Social Media and Politics. “Content moderation is much harder to do without people around actually doing content moderation.”

Potentially adding to the pressure is that Musk reinstated former US President Donald Trump’s Twitter account on Saturday, 22 months after he was suspended over the US Capitol rioting by his supporters seeking to overturn the presidential election outcome. US 2020.

In a letter to the US Federal Trade Commission, a group of US Democratic senators accused Musk of introducing “alarming” new features that undermined security despite warnings that they would be “abused for fraud, scams and dangerous impersonation”.

“Users are already dealing with the severe repercussions of this growth-at-all-costs strategy,” they wrote in the letter published Thursday, noting a recent spike in fake accounts impersonating companies, politicians and celebrities.

Among the victims was drugmaker Eli Lilly, whose stock price plummeted – wiping out billions of US dollars in market capitalization – after a parody account stamped with a verification tag bought for US$8 tweeted that insulin was being made freely available.

Twitter last week disabled signups for the controversial feature known as Twitter Blue, with reports saying it was temporarily disabled to help fix copycat issues, but not before several brands took a hit.

Given the apparent vulnerabilities, digital experts have warned activists, particularly in autocratic countries, of the increased risk of identity theft or their private messages falling 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 major blow to freedom of information and, frankly, human rights in general on a global scale.”

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