Twitter under Elon Musk ‘can no longer protect users from trolls’

Elon Musk bows while wearing red armor during a Haloween Christmas party.

In an explosive BBC investigation, current and former Twitter employees have claimed that the social media site “can no longer protect users from trolls”.

After being acquired by billionaire Elon Musk in 2022 panorama found that the company cannot protect users of the site from trolling, disinformation, or even child sexual exploitation.

Partly due to mass layoffs across multiple Twitter teams and partly due to Musk’s own changes, insiders claim that since the acquisition, several key user protection features have been scrapped, leading to a 69 percent increase in new accounts — amounting to tens of thousands — immediately followed by misogynist and abusive profiles.

Current and former employees of the company said features designed to protect Twitter users from trolling and harassment are proving difficult to maintain amid what they describe as a chaotic work environment.

The BBC spoke to the former head of content design at Twitter, who said her entire team was fired before she resigned.

Your team was behind it “push button”, which would encourage users to pause before posting potentially abusive or offensive Tweets. Lisa Jennings Young explained that the feature has been effective in reducing hate, but hasn’t worked in the same way since Musk acquired it.

“Overall, 60 percent of users deleted or edited their response when given a chance by the nudge,” she told the research.

“But what was even more interesting, after we nudged people once, they wrote 11 percent less harmful replies in the future.”

But, she claimed, “there’s no one working on it right now.”

Elon Musk wears a white shirt and dark suit jacket while staring out of the camera somewhere
Billionaire Elon Musk will take over Twitter in 2022. (Getty)

An anonymous former staffer told the BBC his team, which aimed to tackle child sexual exploitation and stop pedophiles using Twitter to groom victims, was reduced by more than half after Musk’s takeover .

“You can’t take over a company and suddenly think you have knowledge… to deal with [child sexual exploitation] without having the experts on site,” he said.

He added that Twitter is still removing hateful accounts, but without the important prevention work his team has done, offending users can now simply set up new accounts, while some banned profiles are also welcome back

He said: “You can ban hundreds of thousands of accounts in a month. But if the coverage of this content [to law enforcement] fell off, then it doesn’t really mean anything.”

The insiders — some of whom remained anonymous — claimed, among other things, that at least 50 percent of Twitter’s employees have been fired or terminated since Musk became owner and CEO in October.

“Wherever he goes in the office, there are at least two bodyguards – very bulky, tall, Hollywood movie -[style] bodyguard. Even if [he goes] to the toilet,” said another anonymous employee.

A separate investigation found transphobia on Twitter to be “the worst ever,” with use of anti-LGBTQ+ slurs on the rise.

In December, the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH), along with the Anti-Defamation League, found that anti-LGBTQ+ remarks have increased by at least 1,458 times a day since the change of ownership.

“Elon Musk has sent out the bat-signal to all manner of racists, misogynists and homophobes that Twitter is open for business,” said CCDH executive director Imran Ahmed.

Musk has also been criticized for his jaded attitude toward Twitter users and his own employees, who joked with right-wing hate account Libs of TikTok about firing a Twitter employee shortly after acquiring the company.

Since the BBC article appeared, Musk has tweeted, “Sorry to have turned Twitter from a nurturing paradise to a place that…has trolls.”

He added, “I have to admit, trolls are kind of fun.”

According to Deadline, Musk argued that the social network was far from perfect before his buyout, but he “rolled on the floor laughing his ass off” at the BBC inquest.

panorama“Elon Musk’s Twitter Storm” was broadcast on BBC1 on Monday (6 March).

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Adam Bradshaw

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