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Twitter’s Outsourced Content Moderators Face Layoffs After Elon Musk Takeover

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Twitter’s new owner Elon Musk is further gutting the teams that battle misinformation on the social media platform as outsourced moderators learned over the weekend they were out of a job.

Twitter and other big social media firms have relied heavily on contractors to track hate and enforce rules against harmful content.

But many of those content watchdogs have now headed out the door, first when Twitter fired much of its full-time workforce by email on November 4 and now as it moves to eliminate an untold number of contract jobs.

Melissa Ingle, who worked at Twitter as a contractor for more than a year, was one of a number of contractors who said they were terminated Saturday. She said she’s concerned that there’s going to be an increase in abuse on Twitter with the number of workers leaving.

“I love the platform and I really enjoyed working at the company and trying to make it better. And I’m just really fearful of what’s going to slip through the cracks,” she said Sunday.

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Ingle, a data scientist, said she worked on the data and monitoring arm of Twitter’s civic integrity team. Her job involved writing algorithms to find political misinformation on the platform in countries such as the US, Brazil, Japan, Argentina, and elsewhere.

Ingle said she was “pretty sure I was done for” when she couldn’t access her work email Saturday. The notification from the contracting company she’d been hired by came two hours later.

“I’ll just be putting my resumes out there and talking to people,” she said. “I have two children. And I’m worried about being able to give them a nice Christmas, you know, and just mundane things like that, that are important. I just think it’s particularly heartless to do this at this time.”

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Content-moderation expert Sarah Roberts, an associate professor at the University of California, Los Angeles who worked as a staff researcher at Twitter earlier this year, said she believes at least 3,000 contract workers were fired Saturday night.

Twitter hasn’t said how many contract workers it cut. The company hasn’t responded to media requests for information since Musk took over.

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At Twitter’s San Francisco headquarters and other offices, contract workers wore green badges while full-time workers wore blue badges. Contractors did a number of jobs to help keep Twitter running, including engineering and marketing, Roberts said. But it was the huge force of contracted moderators that was “mission critical” to the platform, said Roberts.

Cutting them will have a “tangible impact on the experience of the platform,” she said.

Musk promised to loosen speech restrictions when he took over Twitter. But in the early days after Musk bought Twitter for $44 billion (roughly Rs. 3,55,870 crore) in late October and dismissed its board of directors and top executives, the billionaire Tesla CEO sought to assure civil rights groups and advertisers that the platform could continue tamping down hate and hate-fueled violence.

That message was reiterated by Twitter’s then-head of content moderation, Yoel Roth, who tweeted that the November 4 layoffs only affected “15 percent of our Trust & Safety organisation (as opposed to approximately 50 percent cuts company-wide), with our front-line moderation staff experiencing the least impact.”

Roth has since resigned from the company, joining an exodus of high-level leaders who were tasked with privacy protection, cybersecurity and complying with regulations.

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Twitter Stops Enforcing COVID-19 Misinformation Policy, Experts Express Concerns Over False Claims

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Twitter will no longer enforce its policy against COVID-19 misinformation, raising concerns among public health experts and social media researchers that the change could have serious consequences if it discourages vaccination and other efforts to combat the still-spreading virus.

Eagle-eyed users spotted the change Monday night, noting that a one-sentence update had been made to Twitter’s online rules: “Effective November 23, 2022, Twitter is no longer enforcing the COVID-19 misleading information policy.”

By Tuesday, some Twitter accounts were testing the new boundaries and celebrating the platform’s hands-off approach, which comes after Twitter was purchased by Elon Musk.

“This policy was used to silence people across the world who questioned the media narrative surrounding the virus and treatment options,” tweeted Dr. Simone Gold, a physician and leading purveyor of COVID-19 misinformation. “A win for free speech and medical freedom!”

Twitter’s decision to no longer remove false claims about the safety of COVID-19 vaccines disappointed public health officials, however, who said it could lead to more false claims about the virus, or the safety and effectiveness of vaccines.

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“Bad news,” tweeted epidemiologist Eric Feigl-Ding, who urged people not to flee Twitter but to keep up the fight against bad information about the virus. “Stay folks — do NOT cede the town square to them!”

While Twitter’s efforts to stop false claims about COVID weren’t perfect, the company’s decision to reverse course is an abdication of its duty to its users, said Paul Russo, a social media researcher and dean of the Katz School of Science and Health at Yeshiva University in New York.

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Russo added that it’s the latest of several recent moves by Twitter that could ultimately scare away some users and even advertisers. Some big names in business have already paused their ads on Twitter over questions about its direction under Musk.

“It is 100% the responsibility of the platform to protect its users from harmful content,” Russo said. “This is absolutely unacceptable.”

The virus, meanwhile, continues to spread. Nationally, new COVID cases averaged nearly 38,800 a day as of Monday, according to data from Johns Hopkins University — far lower than last winter but a vast undercount because of reduced testing and reporting. About 28,100 people with COVID were hospitalized daily and about 313 died, according to the most recent federal daily averages.

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Cases and deaths were up from two weeks earlier. Yet a fifth of the U.S. population hasn’t been vaccinated, most Americans haven’t gotten the latest boosters, and many have stopped wearing masks.

Musk, who has himself spread COVID misinformation on Twitter, has signalled an interest in rolling back many of the platform’s previous rules meant to combat misinformation.

Last week, Musk said he would grant “amnesty” to account holders who had been kicked off Twitter. He’s also reinstated the accounts for several people who spread COVID misinformation, including that of Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, whose personal account was suspended this year for repeatedly violating Twitter’s COVID rules.

Greene’s most recent tweets include ones questioning the effectiveness of masks and making baseless claims about the safety of COVID vaccines.

Since the pandemic began, platforms like Twitter and Facebook have struggled to respond to a torrent of misinformation about the virus, its origins and the response to it.

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Under the policy enacted in January 2020, Twitter prohibited false claims about COVID-19 that the platform determined could lead to real-world harms. More than 11,000 accounts were suspended for violating the rules, and nearly 100,000 pieces of content were removed from the platform, according to Twitter’s latest numbers.

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Despite its rules prohibiting COVID misinformation, Twitter has struggled with enforcement. Posts making bogus claims about home remedies or vaccines could still be found, and it was difficult on Tuesday to identify exactly how the platform’s rules may have changed.

Messages left with San Francisco-based Twitter seeking more information about its policy on COVID-19 misinformation were not immediately returned Tuesday.

A search for common terms associated with COVID misinformation on Tuesday yielded lots of misleading content, but also automatic links to helpful resources about the virus as well as authoritative sources like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Dr. Ashish Jha, the White House COVID-19 coordinator, said Tuesday that the problem of COVID-19 misinformation is far larger than one platform, and that policies prohibiting COVID misinformation weren’t the best solution anyway.

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Speaking at a Knight Foundation forum Tuesday, Jha said misinformation about the virus spread for a number of reasons, including legitimate uncertainty about a deadly illness. Simply prohibiting certain kinds of content isn’t going to help people find good information, or make them feel more confident about what they’re hearing from their medical providers, he said.

“I think we all have a collective responsibility,” Jha said of combating misinformation about COVID. “The consequences of not getting this right — of spreading that misinformation — is literally tens of thousands of people dying unnecessarily.”


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Elon Musk Hints at Plans to Increase Character Limit for Tweets in Response to Twitter User

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Twitter could expand its character limit from 280, according to a tweet by new owner Elon Musk. The world’s richest man and Twitter’s new CEO responded to a user on the microblogging platform requesting the higher character limit, stating that it was part of the company’s plan. Twitter is also working on adding encrypted direct messages (DMs), and payment services, according a set of slides recently shared by Musk on Twitter. However, it is currently unclear whether the increased character limit will be the same as the longform tweet feature teased by the company’s CEO.

On Monday, Musk responded to a Twitter user asking him to expand the 280-character limit for on tweets on Twitter to 1,000 characters. Musk responded, stating :It’s on the todo list.”

Twitter, which is referred to as a “microblogging service”, originally had a 140-character limit for tweets, which was expanded to 280 characters in 2017. At the time, the company’s blog stated that “many people Tweeted the full 280 limit because it was new and novel, but soon after behaviour normalised…We saw when people needed to use more than 140 characters, they Tweeted more easily and more often.”

The platform is one of the few services that limits users’ posts to a few hundred characters. Rival Facebook allow users to upload posts with thousands of characters.

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.

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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.

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Prior to that, another user had suggested “get rid of character limits,” to which Musk responded: “Absolutely”.

Musk recently announced another major change for the platform with its multi-coloured verification system. A new three-coloured verification check mark system would replace the previous ‘Twitter Blue’ service which had to be pulled off within days of its release due to rising number of accounts impersonating well-known brands and personalities while carrying the ‘verified’ check. The new Twitter Blue verification service will tentatively be relaunched on December 2, according to Musk.


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WhatsApp ‘Message Yourself’ Feature Rolling Out on Android and iOS: Report

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WhatsApp is rolling out its Message Yourself feature to users globally. The app will now let you send a text to yourself, to store messages and files. Many users around the globe rely on WhatsApp chats to jot down quick notes or reminders, or crucial information. Until now, users would use a workaround to message themselves, or use a second WhatsApp account registered to another phone number, or rely on a chat window of a defunct WhatsApp account to store messages. WhatsApp will now let you do it easily via one of its new in-built features called Message Yourself.

According to a report by TechCrunch, the Meta owned messaging app has begun to roll out the ability to message yourself. The ‘Message Yourself’ feature will be similar to sending a text to another user, except that the message will remain in a separate chat on your phone.

Once the feature is rolled out, users will see a separate chat with their name followed by “(You)”. You will be able to jot down notes, shopping lists, keep reminders, store bookmarks. You will also be able to forward messages from other users, just like you can for other chats.

You can tap on the new chat button from the WhatsApp home screen and select your name. Once you tap on it, you will be able to send texts to yourself. If you are in another app, you can also use the sharing menu to send files, images, and other media to yourself.

WhatsApp says that the Message Yourself feature is now rolling out and should reach most Android and iOS users in the coming weeks, as per the report. Users can download the latest version of the app on Android and iOS to use the Message Yourself feature.

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Recently, the messaging app also introduced a new feature that will let iOS and Android users create polls in personal and group chats to get opinions or answers from their friends and contacts. Users’ responses to a poll’s question are protected via end-to-end encryption, according to the company.

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