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Why Elon Musk’s First Week as Twitter Owner Has Users Flocking Elsewhere

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It’s been a week since Elon Musk strode into the Twitter headquarters with a kitchen sink, signalling his official takeover of the company. Having had some time to let the news of his US$44 billion (about Rs. 3.6 lakh crore) purchase “sink in”, Twitter users are now wondering what he’ll do with the platform.

What’s Musk going to do with Twitter? After months of trying to walk away from his commitment to buy the platform, and just before entering what was looking to be a long, potentially embarrassing and costly court battle to enforce his original agreement, Twitter is now privately owned.

If we wade through some of the early reactionary media punditry, we see Musk has paid far too much for a platform that has not yet fulfilled its business potential to investors, nor its social potential to users.

This probably explains some of his first moves since taking over, such as planning to charge users US$8 (roughly Rs. 700) for a blue tick, and threatening to fire half of Twitter’s staff.

He has already fired previous CEO Parag Agrawal, chief financial officer Ned Segal, head of legal Vijaya Gadde and general counsel Sean Edgett.

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Will Twitter turn into (more of) a bin fire?

Musk’s intentions were perhaps best signalled with his first tweet after he bought the platform: “the bird is freed”.

Before the purchase, one of his oft-tweeted criticisms of Twitter was that there were too many limits on “free speech”, and moderation would need to be reframed to unlock Twitter’s potential as a “de facto public town square”.

There’s no doubt Musk is quite good at performative social media statements, but we’re yet to see any actual changes made to content moderation – let alone Musk’s utopian vision of a digital town square.

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The “chief twit” has suggested the future appointment of “a content moderation council with widely diverse viewpoints” that would be charged with making decisions about moderation and account reinstatements.

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This isn’t a new idea.

Meta has convened such an oversight board since 2018, made up of former political leaders, human rights activists, academics and journalists. The board oversees content decisions and has been known to oppose CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s decisions, in particular his “indefinite” Facebook suspension of former US president Donald Trump after the US Capitol building riots.

It’s unclear whether a council would convene to discuss Musk’s suggestion to “reverse the permanent ban” Twitter imposed on Trump, or if Musk would allow a board to override his decisions.

Nonetheless, Musk’s suggestion of a moderation board is a step back from his previously self-described “free speech absolutist” views on content moderation.

Many have been concerned his approach to moderation may fuel more hate speech on Twitter.

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In the past week, co-ordinated troll accounts have tried to test the limits of a Musk-run Twitter by flooding the platform with racial slurs. According to the US-based National Contagion Research Institute, the use of the N-word skyrocketed by more than 500 percent on October 28. However, the head of safety and integrity at Twitter, Yoel Roth, said many of the offending tweets came from a small number of accounts.

Another study by Montclair State University researchers found a massive spike in hateful terms in the lead-up to Musk’s acquisition.

Both Roth and Musk have confirmed, “Twitter’s policies haven’t changed”. Rules on “hateful conduct” remain the same.

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Musk remains a loose cannon Perhaps more concerning than troll reactions is Musk’s decision to tweet and then delete a conspiracy theory about US house speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband, Paul Pelosi. We could dismiss this as Musk’s love of sh-tposting, but if the right to post disinformation and personal attacks is the kind of speech he wants to protect, it’s worth questioning what kind of public square he envisions.

Musk takes a technocratic approach to the social issues that emerge from our use of online communication tools. It implies free access to technology absolves “free speech” of its cultural and social context, and makes it easily and readily available to everyone.

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This is often not the case. That’s why we need content moderation and protections for the vulnerable and marginalised.

The other question is whether we want billionaires to have a direct influence on our public squares. If so, how do we ensure transparency, and that users’ interests are being upheld? In less bombastic reportage of the takeover, Musk this week directed Twitter to find more than US$1 billion in annual infrastructure cost savings, which will allegedly occur through cuts to cloud services and server space. These cuts could put Twitter at risk of going down during high-traffic periods, such as around election times.

This might be where Musk’s digital town square vision fails. If Twitter is to resemble such a space, the infrastructure that supports it must hold up at the most crucial moments.

Where to go if you’re sick of Twitter?

While there’s so far no indication of a mass Twitter exodus, a number of users are flocking elsewhere. Shortly after Musk acquired Twitter, #TwitterMigration began trending. In the week since, the micro-blogging platform Mastodon has reportedly gained tens of thousands of followers.

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Mastodon is made up of independent, user-managed servers. Each server is owned, operated and moderated by its community and can also be made private. The downside is servers cost money to run and if a server is no longer running, all the content may be lost.

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Twitter defectors have also moved to sites such as Reddit, Tumblr, CounterSocial, LinkedIn and Discord.

Of course, many will be waiting to see what Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey comes up with. While Dorsey retains a stake in Twitter, he has launched a decentralised social media network, Bluesky Social, which is now in beta testing.

Bluesky aims to provide an open social network protocol. This means it would allow for multiple social media networks to interact with one another through an open standard.

If this experiment is successful, it would be more than a competitor for Twitter. It would mean users could easily switch services and take their content with them to other providers.

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It would be a totally new user-focused model for social networking. And it might force traditional platforms to rethink their current data harvesting and targeted advertising practices. That might just be a platform takeover worth waiting for.


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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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