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Poor Content Moderation Threatens Future Of Twitter

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Sonny Aragba-Akpore
Sonny Aragba-Akpore

There are palpable fears that the lack of content moderation on Twitter may lead to more harmful messages than expected. Mass layoffs at the global social media platform have whittled down control of content so much that just anyone and anything could now be posted with minimal regulation. It’s goodbye to content moderation and a push for automation and artificial intelligence-propelled regulation of content, which goes against the original manual moderation that Twitter had.

Since the mass layoffs following Elon Musk’s takeover, many analysts have noticed a spike in hate speech and disinformation on the platform. One analyst reasons that one of the biggest sources of misinformation is where state governments try to push through political propaganda. Twitter is a social broadcast network that enables people and organisations to publicly share brief messages instantly around the world. This brings a variety of people with different voices, ideas, and perspectives.

Twitter says people are allowed to post content, including potentially inflammatory content, as long as they’re not violating the Twitter Rules. Strangely, it’s important to know that Twitter does not screen content or remove potentially offensive content. This is where the crisis looms. Only recently, a key player in Twitter management resigned for allegedly criticising operations at the place.

In Europe, the Digital Service Act has been introduced, and fighting disinformation will become a legal obligation in the EU by August 25, 2023, when platforms with more than 45 million monthly active users – including Twitter – will have to comply with the Digital Services Act, or DSA – a set of rules aimed at protecting Europeans online. The act will force big online platforms and search engines to be more diligent in their content moderation and cut down on disinformation. For Twitter, this would mean allowing users to flag illegal content on the platform and act quickly to address the spread of disinformation. Twitter will have to look critically into how its content could be moderated because concerns have been raised that Twitter does not have enough volunteer moderators such as Wikipedia and has a poor record when it comes to policing content that’s not in English.

“The lack of human moderators, insufficient training in human rights, and also their content moderation systems that are being predominantly trained for the English language or more Western-speaking audience in contrast to minority languages or languages of the global South is troubling,” according to analysts. Ella Irwin, formerly Twitter’s head of trust and safety, resigned last week Friday. Though she did not say why she was leaving, her departure was shortly after Musk criticized Twitter’s handling of tweets about a conservative media company’s documentary that questions transgender medical treatment for children and teens.

Musk responded to complaints by Jeremy Boreing, co-CEO of the media company, the Daily Wire. Boreing had said in tweets and retweets of conservative commentators last Thursday that Twitter was suppressing the movie by flagging posts about it as hate speech and keeping the movie off lists of trending topics. Boreing tweeted that Twitter cancelled a deal to premiere “What is a Woman?” for free on the platform “because of two instances of ‘misgendering'”. Twitter rules prohibit intentionally referring to transgender individuals with the wrong gender or name.

The departure of Irwin pointed to a fresh wave of turmoil among key officials at Twitter since Musk took over last year. To forestall further damage and minimise potential crises on Twitter, Musk stepped down early this week and handed over to a new chief executive, Ms. Linda Yaccarrino.

Yaccarino, who is 60 years old, will oversee business operations on the platform, which has been struggling to make money. Since buying Twitter, Musk cut 75 per cent of its employees, including teams charged with tracking abuse, and changed how the company verifies authentic accounts. Meanwhile, advertisers have left in large numbers too.

Yaccarino is credited with helping to steer NBC Universal through the upheaval caused by technology firms. Yaccarino, the new boss of the troubled social Twitter, has started the role earlier than expected after Musk announced on May 12 that a new boss would emerge in six weeks. Yaccarino, previously the head of advertising at NBC Universal, joined days after Twitter lost its second head of trust and safety. Twitter also announced it had recruited Joe Benarroch from NBC Universal.

Since Musk took over Twitter last year, many have accused him of amplifying disinformation on the platform, especially as the billionaire’s promise to turn Twitter into a beacon of free speech was followed by the reinstatement of previously suspended or banned accounts, like those of Donald Trump and Andrew Tate. Many of the accounts he restored had been suspended or banned for spreading misinformation, conspiracy theories or hateful speech.

The European Commission’s vice-president for values and transparency, Vera Jourova recently bashed Twitter’s latest decision to leave the EU’s anti-disinformation code as “irresponsible” at a time when Russia’s disinformation is extremely dangerous. “Bye, bye birdie,” Jourova tweeted on Saturday.

“Twitter has chosen a hard way to comply with our digital laws,” she added. “Russia’s disinformation is dangerous and it is irresponsible to leave the EU’s anti-disinformation code.” Dozens of tech firms have voluntarily signed up to the EU’s anti-disinformation code revamped last year, including Meta (with Instagram and Facebook), TikTokGoogle, Microsoft and Twitch.

Despite the fact that Twitter’s withdrawal could appear to be a major setback in the fight against disinformation and fake news in the EU, Jourova said that “the Code remains strong, sets high standards, and is at the heart of our efforts to address disinformation.” The EU official added that she will meet with signatories of the code in June “so we can step up our actions, especially ahead of the elections.” Twitter’s decision to pull out of the EU’s voluntary code to fight the spread of disinformation and fake news in the bloc was announced by Thierry Breton, the EU’s internal market commissioner, on Twitter on Friday.

Twitter is yet to comment on the decision nor has it confirmed it. Even without the anti-disinformation code, Breton said he will hold Twitter accountable to comply with the bloc’s content rules. “Obligations remain,” he said, specifying that the social media platform will still have to comply with EU laws. “You can run, but you can’t hide.”

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