heightened risk of misinformation with Midterms and Elon Musk

Studies show an increase in hate and racist speech in recent days and associations fear that the worst is to come with Elon Musk.

Twitter logo with a photo of Elon Musk ©BelgaImage

Disinformation experts were calling for the “caution” on Twitter this weekend, when the new boss of the influential social network has just laid off half of his staff a few days before crucial elections in the United States.

Midtermes and Musk: the risk of a formidable combo

You will have to be very careful on this platform in the coming days… On what you retweet, to which account you subscribe and in relation to your own perception of what is happening“, for example, warned Kate Starbird, a disinformation researcher at the University of Washington. The professor believes that there is an increased risk of malicious people impersonating others, carrying out “coordinated disinformation campaignsor else spread pranks well enough designed to be shared by other inattentive users.

In a letter to advertisers last Thursday, the day of the acquisition, Elon Musk promised advertisers that Twitter would not become a platform “hellish“where everything would be permitted. But”Twitter was already hellish before Musk took over, and his actions (…) are only going to make it worse“Reacted Jessica Gonzalez, co-director of the NGO Free Press. She fears that Twitter’s ability to moderate content will be diminished in the midst of an election period,”when we know very well that social networks are drowned in misinformation and intimidation against minority voters“.

To read: The UN is concerned about the management of Twitter by Elon Musk

“Lie Machine”

On Friday, a week after the $44 billion acquisition, Twitter laid off about 50% of its nearly 7,500 employees. According to internal sources, managers, marketing and design were among the categories of personnel most affected by the cuts. Yoel Roth, the security manager at the site, wanted to be reassuring by tweeting that “most moderation capabilities remained in place“. Content moderation teams only suffered 15% departures, he said, and “front-line staff are the least affected“. He also assured that the daily volume of moderation actions remained “steady” this week. “Our election integrity efforts — including countering disinformation aimed at discouraging voting and foreign influence operations — remain a top priority“, did he declare.

Elon Musk advocates an absolute vision of freedom of expression. He may repeat that content moderation had not changed at Twitter and promise to form a council dedicated to this task, he struggles to convince his detractors. Especially when he relays disinformation, like when he retweeted a conspiracy theory on Sunday about the assault on the husband of Nancy Pelosi, the leader of the Democrats in Congress. He himself deleted his message afterwards. “Elon Musk bought a machine that spreads lies around the world“, launched Friday Joe Biden during a campaign meeting.

The American president warned this week the candidates ready to refuse the results of the midterm elections, in the Senate and in Congress. His predecessor, Donald Trump, still hasn’t acknowledged his 2020 defeat and maintains that the ballot was his “Fly“. This is one of the arguments that had galvanized his fans, to the point of invading the Capitol in January 2021.


A Montclair State University study concluded that Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter had “created the perception for extremist users that restrictions would be relaxed“. A coalition of around 60 associations, including Free Press, on Friday called on advertisers to boycott the platform until it undertakes to be “a safe place“. Members of this coalition met with the libertarian entrepreneur this week, after several studies noted a significant increase in hate speech and racist slurs in recent days. “Elon Musk took steps that make us fear the worst is yet to come“, said the coalition. The multi-billionaire replied, without supporting data, that “hate speech actually decreased this week“.

On Friday, he briefly explained that the layoffs were necessary because “the company loses more than 4 million dollars a day“. He had previously blamed the drop in revenue on “a group of activists who put pressure on advertisers even though nothing has changed with the moderation of content and we have done everything to appease the activists“.”It’s complete rubbish! They’re trying to destroy free speech in America“, he got carried away.

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