Technology

Twitter moderators turn to automation amid a reported surge in hate speech


Elon Musk’s Twitter is leaning heavily on automation to moderate content according to the company’s new head of trust and safety, amid a reported surge in hate speech on the social media platform.

Ella Irwin has told the Reuters news agency that Musk, who acquired the company in October, was focused on using automation more, arguing that Twitter had in the past erred on the side of using time and labour-intensive human reviews of harmful content.

“He’s encouraged the team to take more risks, move fast, get the platform safe,” she said.

On child safety Irwin said Twitter had shifted toward automatically taking down tweets reported by trusted figures with a track record of accurately flagging harmful posts.

Twitter is also more aggressively restricting abuse-prone hashtags and search results in areas including child exploitation, regardless of potential impacts on “benign uses” of those terms, she said.

“The biggest thing that’s changed is the team is fully empowered to move fast and be as aggressive as possible,” Irwin said.

Her comments come as researchers reported a surge in hate speech on the social media service, after Musk announced an amnesty for accounts suspended under the company’s previous leadership that had not broken the law or engaged in “egregious spam”.

The company has faced pointed questions about its ability and willingness to moderate harmful and illegal content since Musk slashed half of Twitter’s staff and issued an ultimatum to work long hours that resulted in the loss of hundreds more employees.

On Friday, Musk vowed “significant reinforcement of content moderation and protection of freedom of speech” in a meeting with the 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 emphasises that every single day, multiple times a day,” she said.

Researchers say the number of tweets containing hateful content on Twitter rose sharply in the week before Musk tweeted on 23 November that impressions, or views, of hateful speech were declining. Tweets containing words that were anti-Black that week were triple the number seen in the month before Musk took over, while tweets containing a gay slur were up 31%, a study from the Center for Countering Digital Hate showed.

Irwin said layoffs did not significantly affect full-time employees or contractors working on what the company referred to as its “health” divisions, including in “critical areas” like child safety and content moderation.

She said Twitter took down about 44,000 accounts involved in child safety violations, in collaboration with cybersecurity group Ghost Data.

Twitter is also restricting hashtags and search results frequently associated with abuse, like those aimed at looking up “teen” pornography. Past concerns about the impact of such restrictions on permitted uses of the terms were gone, she said.

The use of “trusted reporters” was “something we’ve discussed in the past at Twitter, but there was some hesitancy and frankly just some delay,” said Irwin.



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