Turmoil on Twitter, staff exodus compound security concerns

The hashtag #RIPTwitter gained massive traction on the site following the resignations of employees who opted out of Musk’s demand to either be “extremely hard-line” or leave the company.

Twitter owner Elon Musk has vowed the platform will not become a “hell”, but experts fear the staff exodus following mass layoffs may have damaged its ability to fight disinformation, impersonation and data theft .

Twitter has turned into what activists have described as a cesspool of lies and hate speech after recent layoffs cut half of the company’s 7,500 employees and fake accounts proliferated after a paid verification system fell foul of it.

Further throwing the influential platform into disarray — and casting doubt on its very existence — reports said hundreds of employees opted to walk away from the company on Thursday, defying an ultimatum from Musk.

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

“It is imperative (US regulators) to act urgently as users could have their sensitive data exploited or even stolen given the lack of sufficient personnel remaining to adequately protect it.”

The hashtag #RIPTwitter gained massive traction on the site following the resignations of employees who opted “no” to Musk’s demand that they either be “extremely hard-line” or leave the company.

Twitter has been plunged into turmoil as Musk, a self-proclaimed free speech absolutist, seeks to shake up the money-losing company following its blockbuster $44 billion acquisition late last month.

The site’s content moderation teams — largely outsourced to fight disinformation — were fired, and several engineers were fired after openly criticizing Musk on Twitter or an internal message board, according to reports and tweets.

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

“Super disinformation spreaders” — or untrustworthy accounts that peddle lies — saw a 57 percent spike in engagement in the week after Musk bought Twitter, according to research by nonprofit watchdog group NewsGuard.

“Elon Musk quickly decimated Twitter’s ability to maintain the integrity, health and safety of the platform,” said Jessica Gonzalez, CEO of the nonpartisan group Free Press.

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

In response to critics, Musk on Friday signaled a new direction for content moderation on the site.

While not completely removed from the site, Musk said the “negative/hateful tweets” will be “de-amplified (and) to the maximum extent so that there is no advertising or other revenue on Twitter.”

“You won’t find the 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 uptick in misinformation, hate speech and other objectionable content because of Musk’s latest moves,” Zev Sanderson, executive director of New York University’s Center for Social Media and Policy, told AFP.

“Content moderation is much harder to do without people around actually doing content moderation.”

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

“Users are already facing the serious consequences of this growth strategy at all costs,” they wrote in the letter published Thursday, noting the recent increase in fake accounts impersonating companies, politicians and celebrities.

Among the victims was drugmaker Eli Lilly, whose stock price plummeted — wiping billions off its market capitalization — after a fake account stamped with a verification tag bought for $8 tweeted that insulin was available for free.

Last week, Twitter disabled signups for the controversial feature known as Twitter Blue, with reports saying it had been temporarily disabled to help deal with impersonation issues — but not before many brands took a hit.

Given the vulnerabilities, digital experts have warned activists, particularly in authoritarian 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 it, that would be a major blow to freedom of information and, frankly, human rights in general on a global scale.”

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