Since 2018, the call for volunteers has been part of an all-hands-on-deck approach to major elections, as the company’s overworked content moderators work around the clock for a week before and after the vote to stem the tide of viral falsehoods, scare campaigns and foreign influence operations.
But in this election cycle, the company is in greater disarray than ever before — raising the risk that cagey political operatives will be able to use the platform to deceive voters or undermine the legitimacy of results. Twitter has weathered a year of management chaos since a CEO change, hundreds of employees have reportedly left, and a high-level whistleblower warned that the company lacks the resources to enforce its own election policy globally.
Adding to the uncertainty is that billionaire Elon Musk is expected to close his $44 billion purchase of Twitter by Friday. He has indicated he will roll back Twitter’s content moderation efforts, reinstate some of its most notorious purveyors of election lies and lay off as much as 75 percent of its workforce. How his changes will affect Twitter’s mid-term plan is unknown.
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“Given the rapid growth in the volume of disinformation since 2020, it’s reasonable to doubt whether they can keep up,” said Eddie Perez, Twitter’s former director of product for civic integrity, which includes its electoral politics. Perez is now a board member at the OSET Institute, a non-partisan nonprofit dedicated to election security and election integrity.
Twitter spokeswoman Katie Rosborough confirmed the call for volunteers ahead of the midterms, saying the company had previously done the same during the 2020 US presidential election as well as the recent election in Brazil.
“People use Twitter to find reliable, real-time information about elections, and our investment in this work underscores how seriously we take that responsibility,” Rosborough said.
Musk did not respond to The Post’s request for comment about what he wants to do in his first days of ownership. He visited Twitter’s headquarters in San Francisco on Wednesday to speak with executives and is expected to speak with employees on Friday. Since launching his takeover bid, he has consistently criticized the company for what he sees as an overly censorious approach to online speech.
Musk has also suggested he might lift the company’s ban on former President Donald Trump, whose erratic tweets were capable of rewriting the country’s political agenda on any given day.
Twitter cannot afford to be one of the world’s most influential websites
From the Arab Spring to the Trump presidency to #MeToo and Black Lives Matter, Twitter has played a central role in global politics that belies the company’s relatively small size compared to rivals like Meta and Alphabet. Like its rivals, Twitter began investing more in content moderation following revelations in 2017 of Russian influence campaigns that used social platforms to incite communal strife in the US ahead of the 2016 presidential election. It has capitalized on its employees’ eagerness to “protect the conversation” around major political events .
Yet it has often seemed outmatched by the hordes of bots and the pace at which lies can ricochet across its platform.
The midterms have been particularly difficult for social media platforms like Twitter, in part because hundreds of GOP candidates have bought into former President Donald Trump’s lie that the 2020 election was stolen. These candidates and their supporters have taken to social media to spread conspiracies of election fraud.
There is a lot at stake in Twitter’s decisions. Experts have said such misinformation on social media could erode Americans’ faith in the election process. And the companies have to make tough decisions about what content to give up or remove in a campaign season when control of both the House and Senate is at stake.
In August, Twitter announced a Mid-term plan 2022 which largely mimicked the strategies employed by the company in previous election cycles, including promoting accurate information about the election while suppressing the reach of misinformation. Twitter said it would apply misinformation labels or remove posts that undermine confidence in the election process, including 2020 claims that the election was rigged.
The company previously backed off on this so-called “civic integrity” policy after the 2020 election ended, despite internal concerns that pro-choice activists were still using it to push lies and distortions, two people familiar with internal debates which talked about the condition. anonymity to describe them. Rosborough said the company had “reduced enforcement” of its U.S. election policies “as competitive harm and risks developed.”
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The company also started state-specific event hubs that promoted credible news reports about the primaries, created candidate account labels, and redesigned its labels for misinformed tweets. And it pulled volunteers across departments away from their normal work for the coming weeks to help protect “the authenticity and integrity of election-related conversations on the platform,” as the internal #ElectionSquad memo put it.
The memo asked volunteers to sign up for four-hour shifts over a two-week period from November 1 to 15. They were also asked to indicate their foreign language skills. The audit in the whistleblower report found that Twitter had such a short language capacity that many of its content moderators resorted to Google Translate.
Rosborough said the election panel is made up of executives from various departments within the company who have been meeting regularly for more than a year to prepare for the election. She said the call for volunteers with specific skills was a way to “make sure we had redundancies in place” at a critical time, adding that it has “worked well” in previous elections.
Twitter has too conducted “a number of tabletop and threat modeling exercises around mid-season,” Rosborough said. She declined to comment on whether the company has planned what might happen to its election integrity efforts if and when Musk takes ownership.
Twitter employees involved in the company’s midterm efforts are moving forward for now, but many privately worry that Musk may soon stop or undo some of their work.
“I think he could tear up these civil integrity policies and stop enforcement pretty much immediately,” said one employee, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media. “Imagine we’re going to see a ton of intimidation videos of people voting and misinformation narratives about who they are, fooling them, seeing their names trending, and nothing can be done about it.”