Elon Musk and Twitter face model security issues after govt departures

Tesla CEO Elon Musk speaks to CNBC on May 16, 2023.

David A Grogan | CNBC

The sudden departure of Twitter executives tasked with content moderation and brand safety has left the company more vulnerable than ever to hate speech.

On Thursday, Twitter’s vice president of trust and safety, Ella Irwin, resigned from the company. Following Irwin’s departure, AJ Brown, the company’s head of brand safety and ad quality, is said to have left the company, as has Maie Aiyed, a program manager who has worked on brand safety partnerships.

It’s been just over seven months since Elon Musk completed his $44 billion purchase of Twitter, an investment that has so far been a huge cash loss. Musk has drastically reduced the company’s workforce and reversed policies restricting the distribution of content. In response, numerous brands have suspended or reduced their ad spend, as documented by several civil rights groups.

According to Axios Harris 2023 Reputation Ranking, Twitter is the fourth most hated brand in the US, below Musk.

The controversy surrounding Musk’s control of Twitter continues to mount.

Musk said this week that abusing transgender people on the platform was not against Twitter’s terms of service. He said it was merely “rude,” but not illegal.” LGBTQ+ advocates and researchers dispute his position, claiming it encourages transgender bullying. On Friday, Musk encouraged his 141.8 million followers to watch a video posted to Twitter that those groups consider transphobic.

Numerous LGBTQ organizations have expressed their dismay at Musk’s decision to NBC News, saying the company’s new policies will lead to a rise in hate speech and online abuse against trans people.

Although Musk recently hired Linda Yaccarino, the former head of global advertising at NBC Universal, to succeed him as CEO, it’s unclear how the new boss will address advertisers’ concerns about racist, anti-Semitic , dispel transphobic and homophobic content is owner and chief technology officer.

Even before the recent high-profile departures, Musk had been reducing the number of employees responsible for security and content moderation as part of the company’s widespread layoffs. He eliminated the entire artificial intelligence ethics team responsible for ensuring that malicious content was not algorithmically recommended to users.

Musk, who is also the CEO of Tesla and SpaceX recently downplayed concerns about the spread of hate speech on Twitter. During a Wall Street Journal event, he claimed that hate speech on the platform has decreased since he acquired the company in October and that Twitter has reduced “spam, scams and bots” by “at least 90%.”

Ad industry experts and insiders told CNBC that there was no evidence to support these claims. Some say Twitter actively hampers independent researchers trying to track such metrics.

Twitter has not commented on this story.

The State of Hate Speech on Twitter

In a paper published in April and to be presented at the upcoming International Web and Social Media Conference in Cyprus, researchers from Oregon State, the University of Southern California and other institutions showed that hate speech has increased since Musk bought Twitter.

The authors wrote that the accounts, known for posts containing hateful content and slurs against blacks, Asians, LGTBQ groups, and others, “dramatically increased” such tweets following Musk’s takeover and show no signs of slowing down. They noted that Twitter hasn’t made any headway on bots, which remain as prevalent and active on the social media platform as they were before Musk’s tenure.

Musk previously pointed out that Twitter’s recommendation algorithms show less offensive content to people who don’t want to see it.

Keith Burghardt, one of the paper’s authors and a computer scientist at the University of Southern California’s Information Sciences Institute, told CNBC that the surge in hate speech and other explicit content has been correlated with the reduction in the number of people addressing trust and security issues Relaxed content moderation policy.

Musk also said at the WSJ event that “most advertisers” have returned to Twitter.

Louis Jones, a longtime media and advertising executive who now works at the Brand Safety Institute, said it’s not clear how many advertisers have resumed spending, but that “a lot of advertisers are continuing to pause as Twitter compared to some other platforms.” only has a limited range.”

Jones said many advertisers are waiting to see how the level of “toxicity” and hate speech on Twitter changes as the site appears to focus more on right-wing users and as the US election season approaches. He said a major challenge for brands is that Musk and Twitter have not made it clear what they consider in their measurements to evaluate hate speech, spam, fraud and bots.

Researchers are urging the billionaire Twitter owner to provide data to back up his recent claims.

“More data is crucial to really understand if there’s a steady decline in hate speech or bots,” Burghardt said. “This again underlines the need for greater transparency and the provision of freely available data for scientists.”

Show us the dates

It is becoming increasingly difficult to obtain this data.

Twitter recently started charging businesses for access to its application programming interface (API), which allows them to integrate and analyze Twitter data. The lowest paid tier costs $42,000 for 50 million tweets.

Imran Ahmed, CEO of the nonprofit Center for Countering Digital Hate, said researchers would now have to “pay a fortune” to access the API and therefore have to resort to other possible routes to the data.

“Twitter has been more opaque under Elon Musk,” Ahmed said.

He added that Twitter’s search function is less effective than in the past and that the number of views seen on certain tweets can suddenly change, making their use unstable.

“We no longer have confidence in the accuracy of the data,” said Ahmed.

The CCDH analyzed a series of tweets from early 2022 to February 28, 2023. In March, it released a report analyzing over 1.7 million tweets collected using a data-scraping tool and Twitter’s search function , noting that tweets mentioning the grooming narrative are up 119% since Musk acquired it.

According to the report, this refers to “the false and hateful lie” that the LGBTQ+ community is raising children. The CCDH report found that a small number of popular Twitter accounts, such as Libs of TikTok and Gays Against Groomers, are “pushing the hateful ‘grooming’ narrative online”.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center, a Jewish human rights group, continues to find anti-Semitic posts on Twitter. The group recently conducted their 2023 study on digital terrorism and hate on social platforms, giving Twitter a D- grade, putting it on par with Russia’s UK and the worst in the world for major social networks.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean and head of the center’s global agenda for social action, urged Musk to meet with him to discuss the rise of hate speech on Twitter. He said he hasn’t received a reply yet.

“You really need to look at it,” Cooper said. If it doesn’t, lawmakers are urged to “do something about it,” he said.

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