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Exclusive: Twitter CEO says moderation is happening fast as harmful content rises

Exclusive: Twitter CEO says moderation is happening fast as harmful content rises
Written by boustamohamed31

Dec 2 (Reuters) – Elon Musk’s Twitter is betting heavily on automation for content moderation, removing some manual reviews and favoring limits on distribution rather than outright removing certain speech, its new head of trust and safety told Reuters.

Twitter is also more aggressively restricting abuse-prone hashtags and search results in areas including child exploitation, regardless of the potential impacts on “benign uses” of those terms, said Twitter’s vice president of product trust and safety Ella Irwin.

“The biggest thing that’s changed is that the team is fully empowered to move quickly and be as aggressive as possible,” Irwin said Thursday, in the first interview given by a Twitter executive since acquiring the social media company from Musk in late October.

Her comments come as researchers reported a spike in hate speech on the social media service after Musk announced an amnesty for accounts suspended under the company’s previous leadership that did not break the law or engage in “blatant spam.”

The company is facing sharp questions about its ability and willingness to moderate harmful and illegal content since Musk laid off half of Twitter’s staff and issued an ultimatum to work long hours, resulting in the loss of hundreds more employees.

And advertisersTwitter’s main source of revenue, have fled the platform due to brand safety concerns.

in Friday Musk vowed “significant strengthening of content moderation and protection of freedom of speech” in a meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron.

Irwin said Musk encouraged the team to worry less about how their actions would affect user growth or revenue, saying safety was the company’s top priority. “He stresses that every day, many times a day,” she said.

The approach to safety Irwin described at least partly reflects an acceleration of changes already planned since last year to Twitter’s handling of hate speech and other policy violations, according to former employees familiar with the work.

One approach, captured in the industry’s mantra of “freedom of speech, not freedom of access,” involves allowing certain tweets that violate company policies, but banning them from appearing in places like the home timeline and search.

Twitter has long used such “visibility filtering” tools around misinformation and had already included them in its official policy on hateful behavior before the Musk acquisition. The approach allows for freer speech while reducing the potential harms associated with virally offensive content.

The number of hateful tweets on Twitter spiked in the week before Musk tweeted in November. 23, according to the Center to Counter Digital Hate, impressions or views of hate speech have declined — in one example of researchers pointing to the proliferation of such content while Musk touted a reduction in visibility.

Tweets containing anti-black language this week tripled from the number seen in the month before Musk took office, while tweets containing gay slurs rose 31 percent, the researchers said.

“MORE RISK, MOVE FAST”

Irwin, who joined the company in June and previously held security roles at other companies including Amazon.com and Google, dismissed suggestions that Twitter lacked the resources or desire to protect the platform.

She said the layoffs did not significantly affect full-time employees or contractors working in what the company called “health” departments, including in “critical areas” such as child safety and content moderation.

Two sources familiar with the layoffs said more than 50 percent of the health engineering unit was cut. Irwin did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the claim, but previously denied that the healthcare team had been seriously affected by the cuts.

She added that the number of people working on child safety has not changed since the acquisition and that the team’s product manager is still there. Irwin said Twitter has filled some positions for people who have left the company, although she declined to provide specific figures on the turnover rate.

She said Musk has focused on using more automation, arguing that in the past the company has erred on the side of using time-consuming and labor-intensive human reviews of harmful content.

“He encouraged the team to take more risks, to move fast, to secure the platform,” she said.

On child safety, for example, Irwin said Twitter has moved to automatically remove tweets reported by trusted individuals with expertise in accurately flagging harmful posts.

Carolina Christofoletti, a threat intelligence researcher at TRM Labs who specializes in child sexual abuse material, said she recently noticed Twitter taking down some content just 30 seconds after she reported it without acknowledging receipt of her report or confirmation of your decision.

In Thursday’s interview, Irwin said Twitter had taken down about 44,000 accounts involved in child safety violations in cooperation with cybersecurity group Ghost Data.

Twitter also restricts hashtags and search results often associated with abuse, such as those targeting searches for “teen” pornography. Previous concerns about the impact of such restrictions on permitted uses of the terms have disappeared, she said.

Using “trusted reporters” was “something we’ve discussed in the past on Twitter, but there’s been some hesitation and frankly just some delay,” Irwin said.

“I think now we have the ability to actually move forward with things like this,” she said.

Reporting by Katie Paul and Sheila Dang; editing by Kenneth Lee and Anna Driver

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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