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Twitter moderation cuts felt hardest outside the U.S., Canada


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 beginning to wreak havoc in the physical world as well, according to current and former employees and experts studying the issue.

Musk has fired or accepted resignations from about three-fourths of Twitter’s employees since his $44 billion takeover at the end of October. He has also terminated thousands of contractors who were monitoring the site for slurs and threats.

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

Twitter can’t afford to be one of the world’s most influential websites, document shows

Musk also welcomed back thousands of banned accounts, including many suspended for promoting hate or violence, even as he has personally has tweeted misinformation and interacted with far-right accounts. Sensing an opportunity, if not a welcome, political operatives and attention-seeking profiteers have rushed to fill the vacuum that the drop in moderation efforts has left, employees said.

That has changed the tenor of the site in its No. 2 market, Japan, where nearly 59 million are estimated to use the site, and made it more fraught in India (nearly 24 million users) and Brazil (nearly 20 million), the third and fourth largest markets, according to current and former staff and researchers. Musk cut virtually all staff in Brazil, allowing an unmoderated surge in misinformation that helped fuel this month’s attacks on the country’s government center.

Even in the better-moderated English-speaking world, the tone of Twitter has become rougher, say those tasked with monitoring the site. Australia’s eSafety commissioner, Julie Inman Grant, who worked at Twitter from 2014 to 2016, told The Washington Post that the platform had already been like a “sewer” in her country before Musk let some of the worst users back on.

“You can’t expect them not to behave like sewer rats, and you probably should expect that further pestilence is going to expand to the user base,” said Inman Grant, who has written the company twice and reminded it that she can order abusive material to be taken down. “It’s becoming a cesspool.”

Australian Electoral Commissioner Tom Rogers said he has been taken aback by vitriolic attacks on a campaign to persuade more indigenous people to register to vote ahead of a referendum expected next year on whether the legislature should have an advisory council of native people. “We’re watching it very closely. This has been a dry run for what we might see when that referendum occurs,” he said.

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

“It is reasonable to argue that Elon Musk’s disintegration of the Twitter safety team and major cuts to moderation is influencing these trends,” Graham said. “At the least, it strongly suggests that Elon’s claims about hate speech reduction are overblown. If anything, the trend is increasing.”

In Australia, Twitter is in the process of laying off even more of its staff.

Musk’s ‘free speech’ agenda dismantles safety work at Twitter, insiders say

Entire teams monitoring Asian countries, including Japan, are now gone or nearly so, including those responsible for local curation, trust and safety, and legal issues.

Twitter employees in Singapore and elsewhere in Asia worked on misinformation beyond the immediate region, monitoring content on everything including the war in Ukraine, protests in Iran and major elections in markets where Twitter has less presence. The teams were expanding efforts to identify and remove Russian misinformation around the Ukraine war when their computers were turned off Nov. 4.

“The people who were in the U.S., because of their location, were primarily dealing with the U.S. Outside, we were taking on everything else. There was already that neglect underlying in the company, and now it has been exacerbated,” a former employee who worked on misinformation in the Asia-Pacific region said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal matters.

India was a particular focus for Twitter moderation before the layoffs because it was a priority market and because political misinformation there was rife, along with legitimate protest. Moderation…

Read More: Twitter moderation cuts felt hardest outside the U.S., Canada

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