Elon Musk Continues Along The Content Moderation Learning Curve, But Doesn’t Seem To Be Learning A Damn Thing

from the doomed-to-groundhog-day-this-shit dept

You know, it was just a few weeks ago that we posted an open letter to Elon Musk laying out just some of the basics of speedrunning the content moderation learning curve. And, as people keep reminding me, he seems to be doing all the levels all at once.

But here’s the incredible bit: unlike most other sites that actually learn something from all of this, Elon still doesn’t seem to be getting it at all. He’s fucking around and finding out… but not actually learning anything as he bumps into each level.

Let’s cover some of the highlights.

First up, Twitter (signed just as “Twitter” rather than naming who wrote it as Twitter used to do), put up a blog post claiming that nothing at all has changed in their content moderation policies. Almost everything about the statement is bonkers or easily disproved (or sometimes both). It starts out by claiming that it wants “to be the town square of the internet,” which is a line people have often used to try to describe Twitter, but has always been false. As we’ve noted, the “town square” is the internet itself. Twitter is one private venue on the town square. Claiming otherwise is counterproductive, because it opens the company up to all sorts of bullshit claims about “censorship” and whatnot.

As for the more specific claims in the post:

First, none of our policies have changed. Our approach to policy enforcement will rely more heavily on de-amplification of violative content: freedom of speech, but not freedom of reach.

This is demonstrably false. Indeed, just days earlier, Twitter announced that its policies had changed, specifically in removing its rules against spreading Covid misinformation. Literally days before insisting that “none of our policies have changed” Twitter updated its Covid misinformation page to say:

Effective November 23, 2022, Twitter is no longer enforcing the COVID-19 misleading information policy.

Screenshot of Twitter's COVID-19 misinfo page saying: Effective November 23, 2022, Twitter is no longer enforcing the COVID-19 misleading information policy.

So, I guess feel free to tweet out about how SpaceX and Teslas cause Covid?

Separately, clearly Twitter’s content moderation policies have changed, because Musk did one of his infamous polls and said he was going to “give amnesty” to accounts that had previously violated the policies, and has been in the process of reinstating approximately 62,000 accounts that had previously been banned.

That… is a change in policy.

As for diminishing the “reach” of “violative” posts, that sounds exactly like “shadowbanning,” which was one of the great sins that Musk insisted he was taking over Twitter to cure.

Our Trust & Safety team continues its diligent work to keep the platform safe from hateful conduct, abusive behavior, and any violation of Twitter’s rules. The team remains strong and well-resourced, and automated detection plays an increasingly important role in eliminating abuse.

This is also bullshit. The Trust & Safety team has been gutted by layoffs and the “non-hardcore” resignations. As that article notes, while Elon Musk keeps claiming publicly that his “top priority” is to stop child sexual abuse material (CSAM), he has effectively destroyed the already overworked team that was tackling that problem:

Elon Musk has dramatically reduced the size of the Twitter Inc. team devoted to tackling child sexual exploitation on the platform, cutting the global team of experts in half and leaving behind an overwhelmed skeleton crew, people familiar with the matter said. 

The team now has fewer than 10 specialists to review and escalate reports of child sexual exploitation, three people familiar with the matter said, asking not to be identified for fear of retaliation.

And for things like that you can’t just turn the dial on the “automated detection” and say “we now need fewer people.” Anyone with any experience in this stuff knows that while automation is an important tool in the trust & safety toolbox (especially around CSAM) it only works in conjunction with human experts, the majority of whom are no longer at the company.

Next on Twitter’s list:

When urgent events manifest on the platform, we ensure that all content moderators have the guidance they need to find and address violative content. 

That has not been shown in practice. Indeed, we’re seeing the opposite play out. There has been a rash of highly questionable account suspensions, most of which were mass reported by the Trumpist grifter crew.

And talking about “urgent events,” there has been a lot of discussion on Twitter over the last few days about the powerful protests in China regarding that country’s Covid lockdown policies. And China has flooded Twitter with spam to try to obscure those reports, making it difficult for people doing searches to find legitimate content about the protests:

Numerous Chinese-language accounts, some dormant for months or years, came to life early Sunday and started spamming the service with links to escort services and other adult offerings alongside city names.

The result: For hours, anyone searching for posts from those cities and using the Chinese names for the locations would see pages and pages of useless tweets instead of information about the daring protests as they escalated to include calls for Communist Party leaders to resign.

And it’s not at all clear that Twitter has the resources or “guidance” to deal with that. In fact, what we’ve seen is that accounts that were actually promoting on-the-ground reporting about the protests were shut down instead. Freelance journalist Clarissa Wei called out two examples: a Hong Kong based journalist and a Taiwanese writer who both had their accounts suspended.

Tweet text from Clarissa Wei:

Attn 
@TwitterSupport
 and 
@elonmusk
: 

HK activist 
@aimenlau
 and Taiwanese writer @VickieDeTaiwan have been suspended on Twitter for  "platform manipulation and spam” when all they've done is tweet about the protests in China.

?!? Please fix! Sets a bad precedent.

While later reports said that both accounts had been reinstated, it appears that the Taiwanese writer’s account is still currently offline.

Also, reports earlier this week highlighted how videos of the Christchurch shooting from a few years ago were being reuploaded to the platform and no longer being caught by Twitter’s automated filtering system. That’s… noteworthy. Because the rapid effort by all of the tech companies to flag and remove exactly that video is literally the prime example used by governments and social media companies of how those companies need to be able to respond “urgently” to sudden crises.

And Twitter is now failing that.

Yes, mistakes like this happen all the time. That’s part of what we’ve always highlighted about the impossibility of content moderation at scale. But, understanding that is part of understanding the learning curve.

And it’s somewhat amusing how Musk and his fans were absolutely unwilling to accept the “mistakes happen” explanation for pre-Musk content moderation issues, but now demand that everyone be extra forgiving as Musk “learns the ropes” and “experiments” here.

Indeed, this new Twitter statement includes a line about giving them the benefit of the doubt as mistakes will inevitably be made:

Finally, as we embark on this new journey, we will make mistakes, we will learn, and we will also get things right. Throughout, we’ll communicate openly with our users and customers, to get and share your feedback as we build. 

And, again, that’s what happened before, but Musk and crew still insist (without any proof) that when those mistakes happened before they were for malicious reasons, but now they’re somehow righteous experiments.

Then, of course, there are the other aspects of the content moderation learning curve that we’ve discussed: outside pressure from advertisers, governments, and partner companies. And we’re seeing all of them play out in real time as well. Leaked reports say that advertising may be down somewhere around 50%. And Elon went ballistic over Apple apparently pulling ads and potentially threatening to remove Twitter from the app store, though Elon met with Tim Cook and claimed to have patched things up. Apple was apparently Twitter’s largest advertiser, so you can see why it was important.

Of course, as Twitter’s former head of Trust & Safety recently noted, the threats to remove the app from the app store are not a new thing at all. It apparently happens all the time.

And then we have the EU. As we explained all the way back in May, Musk did a very stupid thing in “endorsing” the new Digital Services Act which comes into force in January of 2024. Earlier this week, the European Commission’s Thierry Breton (who had met with Musk back in May) had another meeting with Musk and basically warned him that the company did not appear ready at all to meet the requirements of the DSA. And, well, that’s because all of the people who were working on getting the company ready (which is a massive job) have left.

It’s being reported that the EC threatened to ban Twitter, but that’s a bit hyperbolic. The DSA isn’t going to lead to an outright ban. But it will create real issues for Twitter if the company doesn’t change.

This isn’t necessarily a good thing. We’ve been screaming about the risks and dangers of the DSA for years now. And we should be extremely worried about governments telling companies how to moderate speech. But it is a reality. A reality that Musk now needs to deal with.

Every one of these things are issues that everyone knew was coming. Most of them we’ve written about for years, and highlighted in our “speedrunning” post.

But the somewhat incredible part is that Musk doesn’t seem to be learning anything from any of this, and instead seems focused on remaking every single mistake in the book.

Indeed, he’s even making new and more ridiculous mistakes. Just yesterday he tweeted out that Twitter “interfered in elections,” which seems quite likely to now show up in lawsuits against Twitter (he seems to not realize that in buying the company he is also now liable for things the company may have done under previous ownership). This is leaving aside that the claim of “interfering in elections” is almost certainly bullshit. He’s still created a massive new liability for himself.

Elon Musk tweet claiming: "The obvious reality, as long-time users know, is that Twitter has failed in trust & safety for a very long time and has interfered in elections."

There are so many examples of this, but it’s quite clear that whereas most people actually seem to pick up some lessons while moving up the learning curve, Elon Musk seems to just be making the same stupid mistakes over and over and over again.

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Comments on “Elon Musk Continues Along The Content Moderation Learning Curve, But Doesn’t Seem To Be Learning A Damn Thing”

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45 Comments
This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
That One Guy (profile) says:

'No... no everyone else is wrong.'

Removing a rule against posting COVID lies and misinformation, reinstating literally tens of thousands of accounts that were banned, gutting staff numbers including those involved in handling CSAM, playing to the Big Lie crowd… him trying to pretend everything is going great is like watching someone light a car on fire after smashing all the windows only to immediately turn around and boast to those watching that it’s in pristine condition with nary a scratch on it.

There are so many examples of this, but it’s quite clear that whereas most people actually seem to pick up some lessons while moving up the learning curve, Elon Musk seems to just be making the same stupid mistakes over and over and over again.

Learning from your mistakes so you can avoid repeating them requires you to admit that you’ve made a mistake, and at this point I’m not sure that’s possible for Elon and his ego.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Anonymous Coward says:

These aren’t “mistakes”; Musk is just a terrible human being

He doesn’t want to learn anything. The decisions he’s been making are cruel and chaotic and that’s the point. I don’t understand why you keep acting like he’s someone who’ll learn his lesson and then start work to make Twitter better.

Anonymous Coward says:

Just yesterday he tweeted out that Twitter “interfered in elections,”

Twitter is a US company right (or did something extra crazy happen that I didn’t hear about)? If so I don’t see how, barring hacking election devices, or something like “breaking and entering” (to modify votes or w/e), that there is any way twitter could have “interfered in elections”. Musk seems to be saying “Any American organization engaged in American politics, and we should all put a prompt stop to that.”

I mean, even if Twitter had made a concerted effort to influence the election by…. speech (which seems to be what people complain about when they say that) … that’s totally legal[1].

[1] Well maybe would be a campaign contribution issue…. if that were even a thing Twitter did, but … any speech from a corporation has to actually come from a human… which means it’s still and individual speech (AKA, of the many arguments of “corperations have 1A rights”, the simple “transitive” one also applies).

PaulT (profile) says:

Re:

“If so I don’t see how, barring hacking election devices, or something like “breaking and entering” (to modify votes or w/e), that there is any way twitter could have “interfered in elections””

By spreading misinformation, ranging from misinforming people on how to vote (telling them their vote wouldn’t be counted if they voted by mail) to saying that the vote was stolen if the result wasn’t what they wanted.

Also, Twitter was involved with falsely claiming that elections were hacked.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Calling those things elections interference is similar to saying talking about elections before hand is election interference. So unless the argument is “Lies about elections are election interference”, Musk’s statement would be kind of pointless (because every American who talked about or participated in the election would have ‘interfered’).

Of course don’t mistake what I am saying: to simplify I am saying “Musk said something dumb” (I in no way intent to say Twitter didn’t have problems).

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2

The intention of the quoted like was to say “I’m mocking Musk, and Twitter is not a subject of my statements”.

To put another way: the statements take no stance, blaming or defending Twitter.

The reason of course is: I don’t use Twitter, I don’t follow what they have done, etc. So I have no knowledge of the events in question, and thus can not sanely have an opinion on them (I can however look at a quote from Musk and say “That quote fails basic logic”).

Dan Carpenter says:

Re:

“If so I don’t see how, barring hacking election devices, or something like “breaking and entering” (to modify votes or w/e), that there is any way twitter could have “interfered in elections””

It’s probably fine in America, yes, but Twitter does a lot of business overseas. I live in Africa and colonial rule was not so far back. In a lot of countries it is illegal for foreigners to be involved in politics.

I tend to avoid commenting on local politics all together because I don’t want to be booted out of the country.

Of course, Musk closed the only Twitter office in Africa. But it seems short sighted and stupid.

Blue says:

Re:

Funny. People said basically the exact thing about the previous Twitter regime taking its marching orders from the White House or the DNC when it came to suppressing the Hunter Biden story. It’s almost as if social medial companies, when asked to act as arbiters of truth, just do what outside sources they agree with tell them to.

Anonymous Coward says:

Not the sharpest bot in the trash

Didn’t Elons post on nitter.net about “Lot of people stuck in a damn-that’s-crazy ChatGPT loop” and purging bots today make you laugh?

ChatGPT fits the criteria of bot.

I laughed in another post about “Postcards from Oblivion”, but the AI crutch is just another bot in oblivion.

As the article states, filtering spam bots is just what happens when mixing with all types (email SPAM was already trash too). It costs nothing to SPAM or send a postcard from oblivion.

Anonymous Coward says:

he,s making mistakes that have been made years ago,also most of the skilled content moderation staff have been sacked or resigned ,this is discussed on this week in google/youtube.com,
at this point he hardly has the staff just to keep twitter in line with its basic legal requirements to block or remove content that is illegal ,
of course all the big advertisers have gone,
why stay on an app that is understaffed and allowing spammers and trolls back on the service

Derek Kerton (profile) says:

What is "The Town Square"?

Mike, I’m wondering if I can convince you to make a slight modification. You wrote

“As we’ve noted, the “town square” is the internet itself.”

I don’t agree. I think the “town square” is literally, the town square. Like, the center of your town, where you could go on a soapbox and spout nonsense if you wished.

I think what you mean is “the correct ANALOGY of the town square is the Internet itself, and Twitter is but one of the storefronts…”

Is that distinction important and worth making? Or is it just me?

Derek Kerton (profile) says:

Re: Re:

No. I just don’t think the Internet is the town square in a literal sense.

The government (a sentencing judge) can block your access to it, and it doesn’t violate the 1st Amendment.

I like Mike’s take that Twitter is definitely not the Town Square, but more of a store. Sure. But really, the only Town Square is the actual fuc4ing town square. I mean, it’s a real thing. We don’t need to say something else is that thing. It still exists.

Your freedom of speech means you can go there and rant on a soapbox. You MAY be blocked from the Internet.

And, I closed by asking him whether he thinks that distinction is worth making, or not.

Christenson says:

Re: "Twitter is the Town Square"...

When Elon says that “Twitter is the Town Square”, to me, he invites classifying twitter as a common carrier. Given his arbitrary moderation choices, I don’t think he wants to go there!

What he should have said was it was like a news shop on the town square…he’s got competition, he can toss you out for any or no reason, etc.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

What he should have said was it was like a news shop on the town square…he’s got competition, he can toss you out for any or no reason, etc.

The ‘social media is the new town square’ lot would never make that comparison though because it would just make it even more clear that much like offline stores online platforms do have the right to throw them and theirs out the door at their discretion should you violate their rules, which is in direct conflict with their ‘we have a right to use private property against the wishes of the owner so long as it’s popular enough’ argument.

Bobby Simplemon says:

Please we gotta fix Twitter now

Just reading threw these comments and I can’t agree more. Elon is so dumb allowing anyone to post what they want. I’m sitting in the ER right now having my wife’s boyfriend type this for me because I CAN’T SEE! I read a post on Twitter that putting bleach in your eyes lowers risk of dying from covid-17–DON’T TRY THIS.

Allowing misinformation is just stupid. Elon is a idiot and he will be on welfare by christmas. I’m worried about my family reading stuff and disagreeing with me because they think everything on their is true.

It’s not true. It’s 99% misinformation. Only Biden and government oficials should be allowed to post on their. We can’t allow free speech. I know most people can’t figure out what is true and what is not. We need laws in this country.

Yeah, but the Chinese! says:

Re:

Hey, Bobby–if you can’t read this..hold on, I will write it larger so that you can through your bleached and teary eyes:

THE RUSSIANS ARE NOT COMING, COLLATERAL MURDER ACTUALLY HAPPENED, SILICON VALLEY IS FULL OF ISRAELI SPOOKS, THE UKRAINE REALLY IS LAUNCHING BIDEN-BOMBS INTO RUSSIA, and HUNTER BIDENS LAPTOP IS AN ACTUAL THING.

Also, about the bleach:

YOU NEED TO DO IT THREE TIMES BEFORE THE RESULTS KICK IN. HAVE YOUR BOYFRIEND HELP–BLEACHING YOUR EYES IS SERIOUS MEDICAL STUFF, and obviously, he likes playing doctor much more than you do.

Anonymous Coward says:

This: “Twitter (signed just as “Twitter” rather than naming who wrote it as Twitter used to do)”

We know who wrote or signed off on all the previous stuff–staff who were overseen by an FBI bagman and mystery traveller named James Baker.

You know-THAT James Baker, the guy who was coincidentally strapping up phony FISA warrants for the FBI one day, while running around shouting ” The Russian’s are COMING!!!”–and all of THAT while he was advising Twitter to hide the Hunter Biden laptop story:

https://dailycaller.com/2022/12/06/elon-musk-james-baker-hunter-biden-latop-twitter-files/

Ahh, naming conventions!Elon dead-named a bunch of FBI assets, and showed them the door. Now its just “Twitter” publishing statements!How corporate–can’t wear hubcap sized earlobe plugs and tattoo your face on a Tweet like that!

While naming conventions are a quaint throwback to the days of “letters to the editor” in small town newspapers, corporate and spyshop subversion of internet platforms isn’t quite the same thing, named or not. None of the FBI/CIA-et agency assets who were “named” previously deserved any credit as individuals in any way.

It seems like a nice, cozy, homeslice thing at first glance–you know, a colloquial way to pull the wool over the sheeps heads–publishing the names of individuals whose “opinions” were featured in Tweets–but assets are NOT individuals by the definition of assets–they are the Corporations cutouts.

James Baker’s role in the above shenanigans, and esp. as bagman in chief at Twitter indicates a far more perverse level of subversion at “old dead named Twitter. Elon is getting it right–GO KANYE! Ooops….that whole other level of subversion….

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