Twitter under Elon Musk won't be taking down COVID-19 misinformation anymore, according to quietly updated policy pages.
The change in direction was not announced by the troubled social media platform. Instead, Twitter users spotted it and CNN picked up the story yesterday.
The Transparency report is interesting for its at-a-glance graphs of actions taken against users – accounts challenged, accounts suspended, and content removed – stopping quite suddenly in September 2022 as Musk's acquisition saga heated up.
I don't think there are enough people left at the company who can do that work to keep pace with what's happening
The numbers are telling. Since Twitter's moderation team has lost staff after Musk's sweeping cuts to the company, it is clear why keeping up the policy would be unsustainable under current conditions. But if coronavirus misinformation is the first to be ignored, why not any other kind of bunk?
Yoel Roth, former Head of Trust and Safety at Twitter, yesterday gave his first interview since resigning earlier this month to veteran journalist Kara Swisher during a Knight Foundation event.
Swisher claimed that Roth had once said Twitter was "actually safer under Elon." Asked if he still felt that way, Roth bluntly said: "I don't."
He clarified that any references he made to the platform being "safer" in the wake of the takeover were in response to a trolling campaign coordinated on internet cesspool 4chan to see how far they could push hateful conduct now Musk was in charge. He said that the team managed to tackle the trolls to bring such behavior back to a pre-campaign baseline.
"Why is it not safe now?" Swisher asked. Roth said that when people are "actively devising new ways to be horrible on the internet," you cannot leave the job of moderation wholly to ML.
"You can't automate it," he said. "There is no 'set it and forget it' when it comes to trust and safety. I think Twitter's challenge going forward is not 'can the platform build machine learning?' – sure they can – but are there enough people who understand the emergent malicious campaigns that happen on the service and understand it well enough to guide product strategy and policy direction.
"I don't think there are enough people left at the company who can do that work to keep pace with what's happening."
The discussion then moved to the removal of policing COVID misinformation, at which Roth said that one of the ways to streamline policy was to have fewer rules.
"Unfortunately, the policy change is really bad and damaging, but you can certainly streamline things... That doesn't mean malicious activity is going to get less complicated, it doesn't mean trolls are going to stop, you can't bury your head in the sand."
Swisher said: "I think their policy is 'Fuck it, I don't care'."
Roth responded: "I don't think that's going to be tenable going forward. Even if you wanted a policy that was 'Fuck it', you can't, you simply cannot do that if you were operating what you want to be a commercially viable consumer service.
"The answer might be you don't care and you're going to burn it to the ground, but assuming your goal isn't to burn it to the ground, there are limits. There have to be limits."
Musk certainly appears to want Twitter to be a "commercially viable service." He has claimed that he sees "a path to Twitter exceeding a billion monthly users in 12 to 18 months" and decried brands that have pulled advertising on the platform amid the chaotic transition. Most recently, he asked of Apple, which has dramatically reduced its ad spend: "Do they hate free speech in America?"
He also spearheaded Twitter's $8 Blue subscription service amid talk of the company being on the brink of bankruptcy. On the one hand, Roth noted that one of the best things you can do to combat trolls or spam accounts is to make the entry fee too high for malign actors to bother.
Otherwise, his assessment of the verification shakeup and the trolling fallout from the decision was damning.
He told Swisher: "Blue verification got through over written advice prepared by my team and others at Twitter. We knew what was going to happen. It's not that it was a surprise, it failed in exactly the way we anticipated.
"It happened because [Musk] willed it to happen... It was a bad decision and it was a decision made against expert advice. When you call yourself 'Chief Twit' you're accountable for the decisions, whether good or bad."
Meanwhile, leaked Slack messages suggest Twitter's ad revenue is in free fall. "We are seeing a significant decline in bookings," a Europe-based analyst said in screenshots reportedly seen by Platformer. EMEA ad revenue is supposedly down 15 percent year over year and weekly bookings are down 49 percent.
This follows late October forecasts saying that $15.7 million in EMEA revenue was already at risk due to advertisers pulling campaigns. "It's catastrophic," a former Twitter executive told the website. ®