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Twitter’s pared-down staff struggles with misinformation

AP – Twitter is struggling to respond to political misinformation and other harmful posts on the social media platform after Elon Musk fired roughly half of its workforce just days before the United States (US) midterm elections, according to employees who survived the cuts and an outside voting rights group.

The recent mass layoffs spared many of the people whose job it is to keep hate and misinformation off the social-media platform. Musk cut just 15 per cent of those frontline content-moderation workers, compared to roughly 50 per cent job cuts companywide, an executive said last week.

But in preparation for the layoffs, employees said the company also sharply reduced how many employees can look into a specific account’s digital history and behaviour – a practice necessary to investigate if it’s been used maliciously and take action to suspend it. The company said it froze access to those tools to reduce “insider risk” at a time of transition.

The developments are causing concern as the US midterm elections culminated yesterday.

Though millions of Americans have already cast early and absentee ballots, millions more are expected to go to the polls to cast in-person votes. Election watchers fear the platform may not be equipped to handle hate speech, misinformation that could impact voter safety and security, and actors seeking to cast doubt on the legitimate winners of elections around the country.

People walk outside Twitter headquarters in San Francisco. PHOTO: AP

Researchers tracking misinformation ahead of the midterms notified Twitter last Friday about three posts from well-known far-right figures that advanced debunked claims about election fraud. The posts remain up three days later. When Common Cause asked Twitter for an update on Monday, the platform said the posts were “under review.”

Before Musk took over, Twitter responded much more quickly, said vice president for campaigns at Common Cause Jesse Littlewood. The group said they had been in regular contact with Twitter staff before Musk took over. Now, they are getting a response from a generic e-mail address.

“We had been getting much faster decisions from them, sometimes within hours,” said Littlewood. Now, he said, “It’s like pushing the button for the walk sign at the stop light, and nothing is happening.”

Musk gutted teams working on marketing, communications and editorial curation of what people see on Twitter.

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