Twitter published a blog post, and because I’m a cursed technical journalist with the ability to understand English, I had to read it. Unsurprisingly, it’s filled with empty platitudes that in no way reflect the well-reported reality of the current situation on Twitter.
Elon Musk’s tenure as owner, CEO and executioner of Twitter has been a difficult one, plagued with problems entirely of his own making. In just a month, the billionaire made Twitter’s verification badge available for purchase without actual verification, reinstated many previously banned accounts, and fired more than half of the company’s workforce (then asked some to come back). Advertisers have fled the platform in droves, with Twitter’s future looking perilous to the most reasonable observers.
As such, Twitter posted a blog post on Wednesday saying all was well there and nothing to worry about. This included a list of assurances apparently intended to assuage user and advertiser concerns.
Of course, none of the company’s claims are actually reassuring to anyone who has paid any attention to Musk’s takeover of Twitter.
“First, none of our policies have changed. Our approach to policy enforcement will rely more on de-amplification of violent content: freedom of expression, but not freedom of access.”
I’m going to give Twitter some points for this one – it’s entirely possible that none of their policies have amended. However, it means absolutely nothing if said policies are not actually enforced or disappear altogether.
Twitter has made it clear that it will no longer enforce its COVID-19 misinformation policy, apparently allowing users to post bogus coronavirus cures and 5G conspiracy theories at will. Additionally, this policy has disappeared from the Twitter Help Center. The company also welcomed previously suspended accounts that violated this policy, as well as accounts banned for inciting violence.
In fact, Musk announced a blanket “amnesty” for all suspended accounts starting this week, which would reinstate all but those who “broken the law or engaged in egregious spam.” This means the potential return of accounts banned for everything from abuse and harassment, to posting gory or sexual violence, to promoting self-harm.
Twitter’s “free speech, but not free access” philosophy sounds a lot like the so-called “shadow ban” that disgruntled conservatives accused the platform of in 2018, when it was run by the former CEO Jack Dorsey. In fact, Twitter explained that its automated behavioral monitoring flags their accounts for troll-like behavior rather than limiting them based on their ideology.
It will be interesting to see if Musk gets a similarly vitriolic reaction to limiting the reach of tweets based on their content.
“Our Trust and Safety team continues their diligent work to protect the platform from hateful behavior, abusive behavior and any breaches of Twitter Rules. The team remains strong and well-resourced, and automated detection is playing an increasingly important role in eliminating abuse.”
This platitude leans heavily on a generous definition of “strong and well-endowed.” Musk has publicly and repeatedly gutted Twitter’s workforce in mass layoffs, dropping from about 7,500 employees worldwide to a few hundred employees.
Cutting staff included Trust and Safety team members, which has been reduced by at least 15 percent. That report was only days into Musk’s reign, however, so it’s possible that others left that team during the company’s subsequent multiple layoffs. Former trust and safety manager Yoel Roth has also since left Twitter.and raised doubts about Musk’s management.
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With no real employees, Twitter seems to leave its fate to automated detection software. Unfortunately, as anyone who has ever worked with such software can tell you, it leaves a lot to be desired. These systems are fallible, generally incapable of nuance, and require real humans to verify and maintain them.
The flaws of Twitter’s overreliance on automated systems have already surfaced. The platform’s automated copyright system reportedly broke last month, allowing users to post full movies to which they had absolutely no rights.
“When urgent events manifest on the platform, we make sure all content moderators have the guidance they need to find and address non-compliant content.”
Cool. Twitter would have only one content moderator remains on the team removing child pornography material in the Asia-Pacific region. For the record, the Asia-Pacific region is home to 60% of the world’s population.
The company can give this one person all the “advice” in the world. They will always be one person.
“As we improve our policies and processes, malicious actors will also develop new methods of disruption. This is nothing new. Our team of experts is constantly adapting to identify and defuse threats, and we’re proud of our early results: impressions of non-compliant content are down over the past month, despite growth in overall platform usage.”
Bad actors will continually develop new methods of disruption. Even so, they don’t really need it if Twitter is willing to make the old ones so easy and efficient.
It’s not hard to believe that Twitter has seen growth in usage over the past month. Musk’s takeover has made bad actors very comfortable with using the platform, plus everyone likes to go rubber in a car crash.
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However, Twitter’s claims raise an interesting philosophical question. If a user posts content that may violate Twitter Policies but there is no moderation team to make a decision, has anyone actually seen non-compliant content?
“Finally, as we embark on this new journey, we will make mistakes, we will learn, and we will also do things right. Throughout, we will communicate openly with our users and customers, to obtain and share your feedback as we build.”
Musk’s approach on Twitter has basically been to throw spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks, which is a questionable cooking method and an even worse management philosophy. Although to make this metaphor more accurate, it would be more like the new head chef of a busy restaurant walking into the dining room, throwing spaghetti against the wall in front of all the long-time customers, then staring at them quest for approval. .
The Twitter verification badge debacle is a prime example of how it went wrong, with the platform making multiple quick, confusing, and ill-thought-out changes. This only succeeded in alienating advertisers and eroding trust in the company.
Like most social media companies, Twitter used to take months to develop and test new features to minimize errors. This gave them the best chance of a smooth implementation at launch, while reducing any potential damage. Now Twitter is causing mass chaos by shipping half-baked ideas to the public and trying to convince users that it’s a good thing.
Also, it’s very funny that Twitter claims to want feedback given that Musk has publicly fired employees who dare to criticize him.
Twitter claims that its mission is to be “the public square of the Internet” and that it is “in the best position to achieve [its] ambitions than ever.” Which, I mean, I guess a public square covered in bird shit and lined with people shouting conspiracy theories is still a public square.
“We have always understood that our business and revenue are interconnected with our mission; they depend on each other,” Twitter wrote. “Brand safety is only possible when human safety is the top priority. All of this remains true today…We remain committed to providing a safe, inclusive, entertaining and informative experience for everyone.”
Musk strives to be funny, frequently reposting memes and saying “comedy is now legal” on Twitter. (He then banned unbranded parody accounts soon after.) However, knowing all we do about how he ran the business, Twitter’s latest blog post may be the funniest one ever. the billionaire ever was.