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Twitter Slammed by Firms Over Ads Displayed Next to Child Pornography Accounts, Ad Campaigns Suspended

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Some major advertisers including Dyson, Mazda, and chemicals company Ecolab have suspended their marketing campaigns or removed their ads from parts of Twitter because their promotions are appearing alongside tweets soliciting child pornography, the companies told Reuters.

Ads for at least 30 brands, ranging from Walt Disney, Comcast’s NBCUniversal and Coca-Cola to a children’s hospital, have appeared on the profile pages of Twitter accounts that peddle links to the exploitative material, according to a Reuters review of accounts identified in new research about child sex abuse online from cybersecurity group Ghost Data.

Some of tweets include key words related to “rape” and “teens,” and appeared alongside promoted tweets from corporate advertisers, the Reuters review found. In one example, a promoted tweet for shoe and accessories brand Cole Haan appeared next to a tweet in which a user said they were “trading teen/child” content.

“We’re horrified,” David Maddocks, brand president at Cole Haan, told Reuters after being notified that the company’s ads appeared alongside such tweets. “Either Twitter is going to fix this, or we’ll fix it by any means we can, which includes not buying Twitter ads.”

In another example, a user tweeted searching for content of “Yung girls ONLY, NO Boys,” which was immediately followed by a promoted tweet for Texas-based Scottish Rite Children’s Hospital. Scottish Rite did not return multiple requests for comment.

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In a statement, Twitter spokesperson Celeste Carswell said the company “has zero tolerance for child sexual exploitation” and is investing more resources dedicated to child safety, including hiring for new positions to write policy and implement solutions.

She added that Twitter is working closely with its advertising clients and partners to investigate and take steps to prevent the situation from happening again.

Twitter’s challenges in identifying child abuse content were first reported in an investigation by tech news site The Verge in late August. The emerging pushback from advertisers that are critical to Twitter’s revenue stream is reported here by Reuters for the first time.

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Like all social media platforms, Twitter bans depictions of child sexual exploitation, which are illegal in most countries. But it permits adult content generally and is home to a thriving exchange of pornographic imagery, which comprises about 13 percent of all content on Twitter, according to an internal company document seen by Reuters.

Twitter declined to comment on the volume of adult content on the platform.

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Ghost Data identified the more than 500 accounts that openly shared or requested child sexual abuse material over a 20-day period this month. Twitter failed to remove more than 70% of the accounts during the study period, according to the group, which shared the findings exclusively with Reuters. Reuters could not independently confirm the accuracy of Ghost Data’s finding.

After Reuters shared a sample of 20 accounts with Twitter, the company removed about 300 additional accounts from the network, but more than 100 others still remained on the site the following day, according to Ghost Data and a Reuters review.

Reuters then shared the full list of more than 500 accounts after it was furnished by Ghost Data, which Twitter reviewed and permanently suspended for violating its rules, said Twitter’s Carswell.

Andrea Stroppa, the founder of Ghost Data, said the study was an attempt to assess Twitter’s ability to remove the material. He said he personally funded the research after receiving a tip about the topic.

Twitter suspended over 1 million accounts last year for child exploitation material, according to the company’s transparency reports.

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“There is no place for this type of content online,” a spokesperson for carmaker Mazda USA said in a statement to Reuters, adding that in response, the company is now prohibiting its ads from appearing on Twitter profile pages.

A Disney spokesperson called the content “reprehensible” and said they are “doubling-down on our efforts to ensure that the digital platforms on which we advertise, and the media buyers we use, strengthen their efforts to prevent such errors from recurring.”

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A spokesperson for Coca-Cola, which had a promoted tweet appear on an account tracked by the researchers, said it did not condone the material being associated with its brand and said “any breach of these standards is unacceptable and taken very seriously.”

NBCUniversal said it has asked Twitter to remove the ads associated with the inappropriate content.

Code words

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Twitter is hardly alone in grappling with moderation failures related to child safety online. Child welfare advocates say the number of known child sexual abuse images has soared from thousands to tens of millions in recent years, as predators have used social networks including Meta’s Facebook and Instagram to groom victims and exchange explicit images.

For the accounts identified by Ghost Data, nearly all the traders of child sexual abuse material marketed the materials on Twitter, then instructed buyers to reach them on messaging services such as Discord and Telegram in order to complete payment and receive the files, which were stored on hosting platforms like New Zealand-based Mega and US-based Dropbox, according to the group’s report.

A Discord spokesperson said the company had banned one server and one user for violating its rules against sharing links or content that sexualize children.

Mega said a link referenced in the Ghost Data report was created in early August and soon after deleted by the user, which it declined to identify. Mega said it permanently closed the user’s account two days later.

Dropbox and Telegram said they use a variety of tools to moderate content but did not provide additional detail on how they would respond to the report.

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Still the reaction from advertisers poses a risk to Twitter’s business, which earns more than 90 percent of its revenue by selling digital advertising placements to brands seeking to market products to the service’s 237 million daily active users.      

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Twitter is also battling in court Tesla CEO and billionaire Elon Musk, who is attempting to back out of a $44 billion (roughly Rs. 3,60,300 crore) deal to buy the social media company over complaints about the prevalence of spam accounts and its impact on the business.

A team of Twitter employees concluded in a report dated February 2021 that the company needed more investment to identify and remove child exploitation material at scale, noting the company had a backlog of cases to review for possible reporting to law enforcement.

“While the amount of (child sexual exploitation content) has grown exponentially, Twitter’s investment in technologies to detect and manage the growth has not,” according to the report, which was prepared by an internal team to provide an overview about the state of child exploitation material on Twitter and receive legal advice on the proposed strategies.

“Recent reports about Twitter provide an outdated, moment in time glance at just one aspect of our work in this space, and is not an accurate reflection of where we are today,” Carswell said.

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The traffickers often use code words such as “cp” for child pornography and are “intentionally as vague as possible,” to avoid detection, according to the internal documents.  The more that Twitter cracks down on certain keywords, the more that users are nudged to use obfuscated text, which “tend to be harder for (Twitter) to automate against,” the documents said.

Ghost Data’s Stroppa said that such tricks would complicate efforts to hunt down the materials, but noted that his small team of five researchers and no access to Twitter’s internal resources was able to find hundreds of accounts within 20 days.

Twitter did not respond to a request for further comment.

© Thomson Reuters 2022


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Twitter Under Elon Musk Leaning on Automation to Moderate Content Against Hate Speech

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Elon Musk’s Twitter is leaning heavily on automation to moderate content, doing away with certain manual reviews and favoring restrictions on distribution rather than removing certain speech outright, 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 potential impacts on “benign uses” of those terms, said Twitter Vice President of Trust and Safety Product Ella Irwin.

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

Her comments come as researchers are reporting 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.

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And advertisers, Twitter’s main revenue source, have fled the platform over concerns about brand safety.

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

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The approach to safety Irwin described at least in part reflects an acceleration of changes that were already being planned since last year around Twitter’s handling of hateful conduct and other policy violations, according to former employees familiar with that work.

One approach, captured in the industry mantra “freedom of speech, not freedom of reach,” entails leaving up certain tweets that violate the company’s policies but barring them from appearing in places like the home timeline and search.

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Twitter has long deployed such “visibility filtering” tools around misinformation and had already incorporated them into its official hateful conduct policy before the Musk acquisition. The approach allows for more freewheeling speech while cutting down on the potential harms associated with viral abusive content.

The number of tweets containing hateful content on Twitter rose sharply in the week before Musk tweeted on November 23 that impressions, or views, of hateful speech were declining, according to the Center for Countering Digital Hate – in one example of researchers pointing to the prevalence of such content, while Musk touts a reduction in visibility.

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%, the researchers said.

‘More risks, move fast’

Irwin, who joined the company in June and previously held safety roles at other companies including Amazon.com and Google, pushed back on suggestions that Twitter did not have the resources or willingness to protect the platform.

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She said layoffs did not significantly impact 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.

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Two sources familiar with the cuts said that more than 50 percent of the Health engineering unit was laid off. Irwin did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the assertion, but previously denied that the Health team was severely impacted by layoffs.

She added that the number of people working on child safety had not changed since the acquisition, and that the product manager for the team was still there. Irwin said Twitter backfilled some positions for people who left the company, though she declined to provide specific figures for the extent of the turnover.

She said Musk was focused on using automation more, arguing that the company had in the past erred on the side of using time- and labor-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, for instance, Irwin said Twitter had shifted toward automatically taking down tweets reported by trusted figures with a track record of accurately flagging harmful posts.

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

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In the interview on Thursday, Irwin 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.

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

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© Thomson Reuters 2022


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Elon Musk Introduces ‘Live Tweeting’ Feature Amid Ongoing Plans for Twitter

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Twitter CEO Elon Musk, on Saturday, added a new feature ‘live tweeting’ and now it is currently active on the platform.

Author Matt Taibbi becomes the first user to use this new feature with his cryptic tweet “Thread: THE TWITTER FILES”

Taking to Twitter, Musk wrote, “Here we go!!” with popcorn emoticons.

Earlier, he tweeted, “We’re double-checking some facts, so probably start live tweeting in about 40 mins.”

We’re double-checking some facts, so probably start live tweeting in about 40 mins

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) December 2, 2022

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Griftopia writer followed his first tweet which reads, “Thread: THE TWITTER FILES”, “What you’re about to read is the first installment in a series, based upon thousands of internal documents obtained by sources at Twitter.”

He added, “The “Twitter Files” tell an incredible story from inside one of the world’s largest and most influential social media platforms. It is a Frankensteinian tale of a human-built mechanism grown out the control of its designer.”

Twitter’s new boss is also working on “purging a lot” of spam/scam accounts.

On Thursday, Musk took to his Twitter account and shared the word limit update with everyone. He tweeted, “Twitter is purging a lot of spam/scam accounts right now, so you may see your follower count drop.”

Twitter is purging a lot of spam/scam accounts right now, so you may see your follower count drop

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) December 1, 2022

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Musk is also planning to up Twitter’s character limit from 280 to 1000.

A few days ago, a social media user tagged Musk and tweeted, ” Idea on explanding character limit to 1000.”

In response, Musk wrote, “It’s on the todo list.”

The character limit has been one of the prime differences between Twitter and other social media services.Musk has shown interest in the idea of increasing the character limit on a number of occasions since his takeover of the platform, as per a report by Mashable. On November 27, a Twitter user suggested to Musk to increase the platform’s word limit from 280 to 420.

“Good idea” Musk wrote in response. Prior to that, another user had suggested “get rid of character limits.”

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“Absolutely”, the multi-billionaire responded.

Now it remains to be seen when Musk finally makes the changes regarding character limit.


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WhatsApp Begins Beta Testing Android Tablet Support, iOS Testers Get ‘Search by Date’ Feature

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WhatsApp is rolling out an update for its beta testers on Android that introduces support for WhatsApp for tablets. Select Android beta testers can now link their existing WhatsApp account on their phones with the tablet version of the app. Until now, a WhatsApp account on an Android phone could not be accessed on a secondary Android device. Meanwhile, some beta testers on WhatsApp for iOS are reportedly getting access to a new feature that will allow them to quickly jump to messages based on the date they were sent or received.

Spotted by WhatsApp feature tracker WABetaInfo, users who have signed up for WhatsApp’s beta programme will begin to see an in-app banner announcing the feature. A screengrab on the website shows a banner on top of chats which reads “Have an Android tablet? WhatsApp for tablet is available for beta testers.’ The banner will be visible as part of WhatsApp beta 2.22.25.8 update for Android, which makes the popular messaging app compatible on tablets. Gadgets 360 staff members who are part of the beta programme also received the banner on their smartphones.

However, the feature tracker states that the new tablet version of the app might not be feature-complete. “Note that some features may still not be available when installing WhatsApp on your tablet, for example, the ability to share a new status update, live locations, and broadcast lists,” the report said.

Notably, WhatsApp users can access their primary account on computer and WhatsApp for Web. The feature is finally coming to Android tablets, allowing beta testers to access their messages on both their smartphone and their tablet.

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Meanwhile, WABetaInfo also reports that beta testers on iOS are getting a new update that adds the ability to search for messages by date. WhatsApp version 22.24.0.77, via the TestFlight beta programme, will make it easier for users to jump to specific dates in a chat window. To check if the feature is available, users can look for a calendar icon inside the search option for a chat. The icon lets you use the ‘Jump to Date’ feature to look for specific messages sent on the day.

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WhatsApp has been busy in the past few weeks, rolling out multiple features on both Android and iOS. The app recently rolled out a ‘Message Yourself’ feature on both platforms that lets users text themselves, in case they need to note down important information, reminders, or store files. Additionally, iOS users also received an update that adds the ability to include captions for forwarded media.


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