Elon Musk has taken over Twitter—most recently, dissolving the company’s board and naming himself CEO. And amid the transition, the platform has apparently limited its own ability to police misinformation, just in time for the U.S. midterm elections.
Musk and co. have reportedly barred most of the employees on Twitter’s Trust and Safety team from accessing their usual content moderation and policy enforcement tools, according to a report from Bloomberg attributed to an unnamed number of anonymous sources. Some of these workers are reportedly unable to impose penalties on accounts that violate Twitter’s rules on hate speech, or posts that include misleading or offensive content.
Generally, site moderation works through multiple levels of screening. There’s automatic detection and enforcement tools, plus external contractors who review content. Both of these protocols are still active on the site, said Bloomberg. However the final level of assessment, which is often deployed for prominent accounts or bigger violations, falls to real-life Twitter employees. Usually, hundreds of workers have the ability to ban or suspend accounts in breach of policy. Right now, only about 15 people on staff are able to do so.
Bloomberg described the restriction as part of a wider move to prevent employees from changing the Twitter code during the transition period. Which is an account further supported by Yoel Roth, the company’s head of safety & integrity, who seemingly confirmed the freeze on employee access. In response to the Bloomberg report, Roth tweeted, “This is exactly what we (or any company) should be doing in the midst of a corporate transition to reduce opportunities for inside risk. We’re still enforcing our rules at scale.”
Twitter did not immediately respond to Gizmodo’s questions regarding how enforcement “at scale” is possible with a fraction of the usual staff, or how long such a limitation on site moderators would continue.
Yet, even if the move to cut off staff access to content enforcement tools makes sense from an internal perspective, it certainly comes at a bad time for U.S. politics. Midterm voting is already underway in many states, and election denial conspiracy theories are rampant nationwide. It’s been proven over the past few years, time and time again, just how much dis-and misinformation can influence things like votes, peoples’ perception of election validity, and legislation. We’re at a moment of already high tensions and worry over voter suppression and intimidation.
Allowing false information to proliferate on Twitter right now certainly won’t help. The platform has previously contributed to the spread of election-time lies—like unfounded claims that the 2020 Iowa Caucuses were rigged. But just a couple of months ago, the company claimed it would be taking the problem seriously ahead of the midterms. So far though, things aren’t looking great.
Musk himself promoted an untrue narrative surrounding the attack on Nancy Pelosi’s husband, before eventually deleting the tweet. And, according to Bloomberg, the CEO also reportedly asked Twitter’s conduct team to review it’s misinformation and hateful conduct policies surrounding election outcomes, covid-19, and targeting transgender users.