Even before Musk laid off half of Twitter’s staff, his acquisition of Twitter opened the door to an influx of racist and anti-Semitic trolls who wanted to test Twitter’s content moderation practices under a new owner who had for months been committed to supporting free speech. Twitter has fewer staff to deal with the influx of rule-breaking tweets, fast-spreading bigoted hashtags or misinformation targeting football matches.
And many of the teams critical to keeping the site running smoothly are down to few or no engineers after Musk’s ultimatum prompted hundreds of employees to leave the company.
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“It will be a moment when people all over the world will see their beloved footballers, who all their nations seem to be pulling for suddenly being open to the most brutal. abuse platforms that have a terrible record of enforcing their rules on racism,” said Imran Ahmed, head of the Center Against Digital Hate.
The World Cup, which will feature teams from 32 nations in Qatar, is likely to increase public scrutiny of Musk as he seeks to balance his support for free expression on Twitter with a desire to appease civil rights activists and advertisers. the platform will be flooded with offensive content. Musk on Friday encouraged his 116 million of followers turned to Twitter for “the best coverage and real-time commentary” on Sunday’s first leg.
Experts say Twitter and other social media companies will be forced to make tough calls on which posts to remove or leave in real-time as millions of soccer fans watch matches simultaneously and search social media for commentary. With so many games over the next few weeks and the amount of linguistic and cultural knowledge needed to make content moderation decisions, the World Cup could be particularly difficult for police, experts say.
Other analysts point out that tensions over race and ethnicity could rise during the Games, as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has fueled anti-refugee rhetoric in Eastern Europe.
Twitter, whose communications team has been largely gutted in layoffs, did not respond to a request for comment on its World Cup moderation plans. Twitter CEO Ella Irwin, who was recently named the company’s new head of trust and safety, tweeted this week that staff have been preparing for the World Cup for several weeks.
“Ensuring a healthy platform remains our priority,” she tweeted.
Musk spoke out on Friday and promised to curb the spread of racist messages. “Twitter’s new policy is freedom of speech, but not freedom of reach,” he tweeted. “Negative/hateful tweets will be minimized and deleted, resulting in no ad or other revenue for Twitter.” You won’t find Twitter unless you specifically look for it, which is no different than the rest of the internet.
Since Musk took over Twitter, civil society organizations and civil rights activists have increasingly pressed the new tech CEO for a more aggressive commitment to combating misleading or hateful content on the platform, as well as maintaining the staff needed to enforce the platform’s rules. .
Anti-discrimination group Kick it Out, which works with football organisations, published an open letter to Musk and Meta chief Mark Zuckerberg earlier this week, asking them to take bolder action to tackle online abuse. In an interview, Kick It Out chairman Sanjay Bhandari said Musk’s perception of free speech as an absolute has been used by some users as an excuse to spread hate online, which could be more problematic as Twitter’s content moderation team shrinks.
“Some people heard it as a dog whistle for racism and hate,” he said. “When you put these factors together, it’s a toxic cocktail and I fear what we’re going to have at the World Cup.”
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In a letter on Tuesday, more than 40 civil society groups urged Musk to invest in “adequate global resources” to curb the spread of hateful, misleading and violent content. The Global Alliance Against Digital Hate and Extremism said Twitter often failed to pay enough attention to protecting public discourse in countries outside the US or the European Union, “which has fueled the spread of misinformation and hate online and fueled violent extremism.” around the world.”
The letter comes after a coalition of more than 60 civil rights groups called on top advertisers to halt their marketing spending on Twitter in protest of Musk’s decision to lay off thousands of employees, saying the company would be less prepared to fight back against problematic posts of its own. platform.
Musk sought to address advertisers’ concerns by reiterating that the company has not changed its content moderation policy, which prevents users from promoting violence or attacking people because of their race, sexual orientation, religion or other sensitive characteristics.
But even before Musk took over, Twitter and other social media companies had a mixed record in combating racism directed at football players, particularly black athletes. After England lost to Italy last year in 2020 During the European Championship final, trolls and angry fans online spewed racist abuse at the team’s three black athletes, including monkey and banana emojis and other bigoted comments under the players’ photos on their personal Instagram accounts.
Then-prime minister Boris Johnson condemned the abuse, and social media companies announced new efforts to tackle racism on their networks. Instagram said at the time that it was cooperating with UK law enforcement and imposing tougher penalties on accounts that send discriminatory messages in private chats. Twitter said it had removed nearly 2,000 tweets in the days after the final as it worked to improve detection of racist abuse online.
Since then, activists say hate speech directed at footballers on social media has continued. FIFA, soccer’s international governing body that oversees the World Cup, said in a report earlier this year that more than 55 percent of players in both 2020 UEFA European Football Championship, both in 2022. He experienced some discrimination in the Africa Cup of Nations. abuse on Twitter or Instagram, which were mostly homophobic slurs and racism. More than half of those records were still available on the platform in April, according to the report.
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“I think it shows that sports can cause such emotions and such a reaction,” said Rafal Pankowski, who works with Poland-based anti-racism group Never Again and advises soccer groups. “It used to be probably similar, but people could just shout at the TV.” And now with Twitter, they have a tool to amplify…[racism] globally, and there is no mechanism to deal with it.
In an effort to combat abuse, FIFA has announced that it will give Qatari players access to a monitoring service that tries to filter out hate directed at them.
Musk’s chaotic start at Twitter has some activists worried the problem could get worse. In the hours after Musk took over, dozens of anonymous trolls took to Twitter to spew racist slurs and Nazi memes.
“Now Elon claims he didn’t change the rules, but he really sent a bat signal to every racist that you know we’re open for business,” Ahmed said.
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Meanwhile, Musk earlier this month laid off about 50 percent of the company’s workforce, including Twitter’s curation team, a group central to the company’s efforts to direct users to reliable news sources and curb viral hoaxes and conspiracy theories. Tech publication Rest of World reported last week that Twitter has laid off a large portion of its international teams in India, Africa and Latin America. Yoel Roth, the company’s head of moderation and safety, resigned last week after reassuring users and advertisers about Twitter’s policies.
“As those teams change, we don’t know if there’s going to be enough continuity or if there’s going to be enough tools for them to effectively step in and prevent hateful content that comes out during the World Cup,” said Pinar Yildirim, Wharton. professor studying media and technology.