Decisions by Twitter’s new boss must not endanger journalism

Elon Musk has taken control of Twitter after months of provocations and hesitation that were slavishly covered in the media. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on Musk to exercise the utmost caution in his restructuring of this social media company. Journalism must not be a collateral victim of his management decisions.

As soon as he took over, Musk fired some of Twitter’s top executives including CEO Parag Agrawal and Vijaya Gadde, the Legal, Policy and Trust and Safety Lead, who was in charge of combatting disinformation on the platform. According to the Washington Post, the billionaire could also use an axe on the company's payroll and has reportedly promised its investors to shed 75% of the workforce.

“The corporate restructuring that Elon Musk will inevitably engage in must not put journalism at risk,” warned, Head of RSF’s Tech Desk, Vincent Berthier. “On Twitter, journalistic work is already threatened by disinformation and journalists are often harassed. It is essential that the teams in charge of moderation and establishing Twitter’s rules of use, and the engineers working on the platform’s reliability should be able to remain in place.”

As disinformation networks take advantage of Twitter's algorithm and its community mechanics, firing the employees responsible for keeping these problems in check could have catastrophic consequences.

Twitter’s policies for combatting disinformation being already too weak, if those fired belong to the teams whose mission is to ensure the viability of real information on Twitter, such as moderators and “policy managers”, for example, the situation will clearly not improve. Given that he recently tweeted that he would like local media to be more prominent on Twitter, Musk will have to think carefully about the kind of employees he wants to shed.

The harassment of journalists online, and on Twitter in particular, is the other big threat to journalistic information. The platform is the site of many harassment and defamation campaigns against journalists. And he virality inherent to the way this social media functions makes these attacksvery difficult to contain. The staff  in charge of combatting this scourge must not be weakened.

On 23 August, the Washington Post published documents leaked by former Twitter Security Chief Peiter Zatko. They included an audit of Twitter's internal security and its efforts to combat disinformation that depicted an alarming situation: teams poorly coordinated and ineffective in certain regions of the world whose languages, culture and politics they did not understand. Although Twitter denied these claims, they nonetheless cast doubt on the company's ability to achieve its global ambitions.

Major projects await Twitter. The platform has become a crucial working tool for many journalists and media around the world, and it must live up to the trust they have placed in it. All effective reform measures will be welcome. Musk said he bought Twitter to “try to help humanity”. RSF is convinced that supporting journalism and journalists would be an excellent way to contribute to this noble goal.

 

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Mise à jour le 28.10.2022