Elon Musk and Twitter abuses scandal
Since Elon Musk's takeover of Twitter, there has been a surge in online abuse and concerns over the platform's ability to protect users. The International Center for Journalists and the University of Sheffield found that abuse targeted at a reporter had more than tripled since Musk took over.
by Ana Machado
According to sources within Twitter who spoke to the BBC, the company’s ability to safeguard its users from online abuse, coordinated misinformation campaigns, and child sexual exploitation has been compromised due to layoffs and changes made under the ownership of Elon Musk.
This claim is supported by exclusive academic research and accounts from Twitter users, indicating a surge in hate speech and abusive behavior since Musk took the helm. Trolls have become bolder, and harassment has intensified, with an increase in accounts featuring misogynistic and abusive content.
Former and current employees of Twitter also report that maintaining features designed to protect users from trolling and harassment has become challenging due to a chaotic work environment, in which Musk is constantly accompanied by bodyguards. I have spoken to several dozen individuals, with some going on record for the first time.
The former head of content design has disclosed that her entire team, responsible for creating safety measures such as nudge buttons, has been terminated, leading to her subsequent resignation. Internal research commissioned by Twitter has shown that these safety measures reduced trolling by 60%. According to an engineer employed by Twitter, the platform is comparable to a building that appears undamaged on the outside but is “on fire” on the inside since no one is managing this type of work.
Twitter has not responded to the BBC’s request for comment.
The investigation has also exposed the following:
- Growing concerns that Twitter is failing to report instances of child sexual exploitation to law enforcement, leading to an increase in such incidents.
- Targeted harassment campaigns intended to suppress freedom of expression, as well as foreign influence operations that were previously removed on a daily basis, are now going unnoticed, according to a recent employee.
- Exclusive data reveals that online misogynistic hate directed at me is on the rise since the acquisition, with a 69% increase in new accounts following profiles that are misogynistic and abusive.
- Accounts that have become more active since the takeover are targeting rape survivors, with indications that they may have been reinstated or newly created.
“As a journalist covering disinformation, conspiracies, and hate, I have experienced online abuse on Twitter for years. However, in the past year, the abuse had lessened across all social media sites. In November, I noticed a sudden increase in abuse directed towards me on Twitter.
A team from the International Center for Journalists and the University of Sheffield investigated the hate I receive, and their data revealed that the abuse targeting me on Twitter had more than tripled since Mr Musk took over, compared to the same period in the previous year.
Social media platforms have faced increasing pressure to address online hate and harmful content. While they claim to be taking measures to address these issues, these measures no longer appear to be a top priority for Twitter.
I traveled to Twitter’s headquarters in San Francisco to seek answers. An engineer responsible for the platform’s computer code, whom we will call Sam to protect his identity, described the situation as a building where everything is on fire.
According to Sam, the chaos is due to the significant staff turnover since Musk’s acquisition. At least half of Twitter’s workforce has either been fired or chosen to leave. Sam explained that people from other teams are now trying to do the work of the missing staff, despite a lack of expertise.
As a result, previous features still exist, but the staff who designed and maintained them have left. Sam believes that these features are now unmonitored, leaving room for more risk and errors.
‘There are so many things broken and no one taking care of them, resulting in inconsistent behavior,’ Sam told me.”
Since Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter in late 2022, the platform has been unable to protect its users from online abuse, state-coordinated disinformation, and child sexual exploitation, according to BBC’s Panorama investigation. Twitter insiders say that the company is struggling to maintain safety features and that staffing chaos, with at least half of Twitter’s workforce fired or left, is partly to blame. The investigation reveals the rise in misogynistic hate speech, abuse, and child sexual exploitation on the platform. The takeover has created a “permissive environment” for abusive networks, according to new research by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue.
About the author / Ana Machado
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