Twitter’s moderation cuts were felt the hardest outside the US and Canada

Suspension

SAN FRANCISCO — Elon Musk’s overhaul of Twitter has been accompanied by an increase in digital harassment of religious and ethnic minorities in some of its largest markets outside the United States — and it’s starting to wreak havoc in the physical world as well, according to current and former employees and experts studying the matter.

Musk has fired or accepted the resignations of about three-quarters of Twitter’s employees since his $44 billion acquisition at the end of October. It also terminated the thousands of contractors who had been monitoring the site for slander and threats.

Those cuts went deeper outside of North America, where more than 75 percent of 280 million daily users live for the company Where Twitter already had fewer moderators who understood the local languages ​​and cultural references and where the political landscape can be chaotic and prone to violence.

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Musk also welcomed the return of thousands of banned accounts, including many that were suspended for promoting hate or violence, even after he had personally tweeted misinformation and interacted with far-right accounts. Sensing an opportunity, if not a welcome one, political activists and attention-seeking profiteers have scrambled to fill the void left by the decline in moderation efforts, the staff said.

This has changed the duration of the site in the No. 2 market, Japan, with an estimated 59 million users of the site, and made it more dangerous in India (nearly 24 million users) and Brazil (nearly 20 million), the third and fourth largest markets, according to current and former employees and researchers. Musk cut virtually all employees in Brazil, allowing Uncontrolled increase in misinformation That helped fuel attacks this month on a government center in the country.

Even in a world that speaks better English, Twitter’s tone is getting harsher, say those charged with monitoring the site. Australia’s cybersafety commissioner, Julie Inman Grant, who worked at Twitter from 2014 to 2016, told The Washington Post that the platform was already like a “sewer” in her country before Musk let some of its worst users back.

said Inman Grant, who wrote about the company twice and reminded her that she can order abuse of material to be removed. “I have become a cesspool.”

Australian Election Commissioner Tom Rogers said he was caught off guard by stinging attacks on a campaign to get more Indigenous people to register to vote ahead of a referendum expected next year on whether the legislature should have an Indigenous advisory council. “We are watching it very closely. This has been a dry experiment of what we might see when this referendum takes place.

The volume of tweets from Sydney-area accounts using two of the most popular gay slurs doubled during the last three weeks of November, according to Timothy Graham, a digital media expert at Queensland University of Technology.

“It’s reasonable to say that Elon Musk’s breakup of Twitter’s security team and the deep cuts to moderation are affecting these trends,” Graham said. “At the very least, it strongly suggests that Elon’s claims about reducing hate speech are exaggerated. If anything, the trend is increasing.”

In Australia, Twitter is in the process of being laid off even more from its employees.

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Entire teams monitoring Asian countries, including Japan, are now gone, or thereabouts, including those responsible for local regulation, trust, safety and legal matters.

Twitter employees in Singapore and elsewhere in Asia have worked on disinformation outside the immediate vicinity, monitoring content on everything including the war in Ukraine, protests in Iran and major elections in markets where Twitter is less present. The teams were expanding their efforts to identify and remove Russian misinformation about the Ukraine war when their computers were turned off on November 4.

“People who were in the US, because of their location, were doing business primarily with the US overseas, we were doing business with everything else,” said a former employee who worked on disinformation in the Asia-Pacific region, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss matters. Internally, there is already this latent negligence in the company, and now it is exacerbated.

India was a particular focus of pre-layoffs Twitter moderation because it was a priority market and because political misinformation was rife, along with legitimate protest. Moderation in that country has fallen precipitously with staff cuts.

In the past, employees could report any misinformation or hate speech, while curatorial teams would deemphasize hashtags that were particularly partisan or advocated hatred of minority groups.

A former Twitter employee said a November 18 post by provocateur Suresh Shavanke could have “definitely” been taken down earlier for violating platform policy.

The media entrepreneur and hardline Hindu nationalist has shared a wedding invitation to an interfaith couple that was to take place two days later at a function hall on the outskirts of Mumbai – just weeks after a Hindu woman, from the same neighbourhood, was murdered by her alleged Muslim. boyfriend, made national news.

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“How is this still happening even after the heartbreaking crime?” Shavank demanded to know. He added the hashtag #lovejihad_ActOfTerrorism – a reference to a common but false claim in India that Muslim men wage religious warfare on a large scale by seducing Hindu women.

The post from Shavank garnered more than 5,700 retweets and 10,000 likes, with some of his followers urging locals to stop the wedding. Activists attempted to report his post by tagging and emailing Twitter employees, to no avail. The owner of the event hall told media outlet Newsla Laundry that the couple’s relatives were inundated with phone calls. By evening, the families had called off the wedding.

Chavank has since gone further, posting on Twitter a new email address and phone number for guides across India to report on interfaith relations.

Alt News and SM Hoax Slayer, two Indian fact-checking and social media advocacy groups, said they tried to alert Twitter through emails about Chavank’s post trolling the interfaith wedding. Nothing happened.

“There has to be someone to decide on takedowns. I’m not sure if they have the bandwidth,” said Pratik Sinha, co-founder of Alt News.

Current and former employees in India said they are concerned about both the moderation team’s downgrades and the departure of lesser-known teams that have improved the platform, including by exposing misinformation.

“They upped our fact-checks several times, when the curation team was around,” said Alt News’ Sinha in the past.

During the fraught 2021 elections in Uttar Pradesh, India’s largest state, a staffer said Twitter’s content management team promoted Indian fact-checkers who debunked fake posts alleging ballot-rigging.

This team hasn’t posted anything related to India recently, though fraudulent photos have once again become an issue in closely watched Gujarat elections.

In Japan, Twitter’s largest market outside the United States, staff cuts and other changes have created a different feel to the service without stirring passions.

In the past, a small team curated and promoted topics of interest, making Twitter an important resource for people to discuss serious issues anonymously. This produced more diverse opinions on political and cultural issues than the relatively uniform news media.

But with the news curation team gone, the trending topics that are shown automatically are less about political events and more about entertainment topics, according to a review of publications.

Users said topics that had disappeared from their schedules in recent weeks included the divisive issue of the US military’s presence in Okinawa and socially sensitive topics such as infertility and feminism.

Users reported that they no longer see tweets about issues such as human rights or criticism of the administration of Shinzo Abe, the polarizing political leader who was assassinated in July.

While that disappointed some serious Twitter users, others were relieved.

“No more trending political topics on Twitter. How peaceful,” one wrote.

Shih reported from Delhi, Miller from Sydney and Maine from San Francisco. Shibani Mahtani in Singapore and Julia Myo Enuma in Tokyo contributed to this report.

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