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Elon Musk says he can end child exploitation on Twitter. So far he has only made staff cuts


The social network announced that its November suspensions for child sexual exploitation content had been increased, but internal records show the company has few employees left to monitor and develop community guidelines.

By David Ingram, Lora Kolodny, CNBC and Brandy Zadrozny -

NBC News

Less than a month after taking control of Twitter, Elon Musk said tackling child sexual exploitation content on the social media platform was the "#1 Priority."

But there is little evidence that the company is taking more aggressive action under his management or devoting more resources to the platform's longstanding problem with child sexual exploitation content, according to interviews with four former employees, one current worker, internal company records and interviews with people working to stop child abuse content online.

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Musk, meanwhile, has made the issue of online safety part of a broader effort to discredit Twitter's former leaders and present his ownership of the company as part of a sociopolitical battle against "the virus of the waking mind." , as he calls the ideals from the center-left to the extreme left.

This shift comes as he has embraced the kind of far-right rhetoric online that often also includes false accusations of child sexual abuse. 

"It's a crime they refused to take action against child exploitation for years!" Musk tweeted Friday in response to a resignation letter from a member of the company's Trust and Safety Council who worked on child abuse issues. . 

“This is false,” responded former CEO Jack Dorsey.

Under Musk's new leadership, Twitter announced that its account suspensions in November for child sexual exploitation content were higher than any other month in 2022 thanks to new partnerships with unnamed organizations and new "detection and enforcement methods" that the company did not describe. 

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Meanwhile, Twitter's resources to combat online child sexual exploitation content (and what is sometimes referred to as child pornography or child sexual abuse materials) are thin, following layoffs and resignations at the company. 

While the head count remains fluctuating at Twitter, internal records obtained by Noticias Telemundo's sister networks NBC News and CNBC indicate that, as of early December, approximately 25 employees held Trust & Safety-related titles out of an approximate total of 1,600 employees who are still in the company.

The total includes more than 100 people Musk has cleared to work at Twitter but who work at his other companies, Tesla, SpaceX and The Boring Co, along with various investors and advisers.

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A former Twitter employee who worked on child safety said he knows of a "handful" of people at the company who are still working on the issue, but that most or all of the product managers and engineers who were on the team are no longer there. over there.

The employee spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation for speaking out about the company.

Twitter's headcount had ballooned to more than 7,500 employees by the end of 2021. Even if Musk hadn't taken over the company, layoffs were likely, according to former employees.

Twitter did not respond to requests for comment.

Under Musk's leadership, the company has also backtracked on some external engagements with child safety groups. 

Twitter verified icon seen on a mobile screen with Elon Musk in the background illustration, in Brussels, Belgium on December 11, 2022.illustration by Jonathan Raa / NurPhoto via Getty Images

For example, Twitter on Monday dissolved its Trust and Safety Council, which included 12 groups that advised the company on its efforts to address child sexual exploitation. 

The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC), the organization tasked by the US government with tracking reports of child sexual abuse material online, said little has changed under his leadership. of Musk in terms of Twitter's reporting practices thus far.

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"Despite the rhetoric and what we've seen people post online, their CyberTipline numbers are nearly identical to what they were before Musk came on board," NCMEC representative Gavin Portnoy said, referring to the report. centralized CSAM reporting system of the organization. 

Portnoy noted that one change the group did notice was that Twitter did not send a representative to the organization's annual social media roundtable. 

“The person above was one of those who resigned,” Portnoy said.

When asked if Twitter wanted to send a representative, Portnoy said Twitter refused. 

More recently, Musk has used the issue of child sexual exploitation content to attack former Twitter employees, most notably Yoel Roth, who took over as head of the company's trust and safety efforts and was praised by Musk when he became CEO for the first time in October.

Roth left Twitter a few weeks later, after the US midterm elections.

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Musk suggested that Roth's doctoral thesis on the LGBTQ-focused dating app Grindr advocated child sexualization, when the opposite was true.

Roth, who is openly gay, specifically stated that Grindr was not a safe space for minors and discussed how to create age-appropriate content and spaces for LGBTQ teens to connect online and through apps. 

Musk's misleading claims led to Roth facing widespread abuse online, including on Twitter, where users hurled homophobic and anti-Semitic threats, memes and slurs at him.

On Monday, Roth moved out of his house due to threats received following Musk's unsubstantiated accusations.

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Musk's inflammatory tweets against Roth are part of a growing stream of far-right attacks on LGBTQ people through false accusations of


, according to Laurel Powell, deputy director of communications for programs at the Human Rights Campaign, a nonprofit LGBTQ advocacy organization.

“This grooming rhetoric is really in many cases just recycled hate speech against LGBTQ+ people,” Powell said.

“This is a really dangerous time we are in – that someone with as big a platform as Mr. Musk is feeding this disproven false rhetoric.”

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Twitter's flawed efforts in combating child sexual exploitation content were well documented.

In 2013, the company said it would introduce PhotoDNA technology to prevent the publication of child sexual abuse material (CSAM) already present in a known CSAM database.

However, that technology cannot detect newly created material.

The company's transparency reports, detailing things like legal requests and account removals, showed that the company removed more than 1 million accounts in 2021 for violations of its child sexual exploitation content rules. 

In 2021, Twitter reported 86,666 CSAM cases detected on its platform, a number that Portnoy said could be higher.

“We have always felt that there should have been more reports coming out of Twitter, no matter how you slice it, and only given the sheer number of users that are there,” he said.

Child sexual exploitation content continues to be a problem for Twitter, although most major social media platforms continue to deal with it in one way or another. 

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Some advertisers left Twitter earlier this year after it was discovered that ads appeared alongside problematic content.

Twitter was sued in 2021 by a victim of child sexual abuse and her mother, who claimed that the company did not act quickly enough when she was alerted that a video of the minor was circulating on the platform.

A second child was later added to the lawsuit, which is currently before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Moderation of this content often relies on a combination of automated detection systems and specialized internal teams and external contractors to identify child abuse content and remove it.

Twitter policy defines this content as "images and videos, referred to as child pornography, but also written solicitations and other material that promotes the sexual exploitation of children."

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According to people familiar with the situation and internal records, the layoffs, layoffs and resignations have cut the number of engineers at Twitter by more than half, including myriad employees and company leaders who worked in trust and security roles and in improvements to the existing platform.

Musk has also cut the number of contractors as the company looks to high-tech automation for its moderation needs, Twitter's current head of Trust and Safety, Ella Irwin, told Reuters news agency.

“One tends to think that more bodies equals more security.

So it's disheartening," Portnoy said.

It's unclear how many Twitter employees are left to work on child safety issues. 

A LinkedIn search for current Twitter employees who say they work in child safety turned up only a few accounts.

Bloomberg and Wired previously reported that the Musk-led layoffs and layoffs at Twitter had reduced the number of people working to moderate content, including content related to child sexual exploitation.

Still, Musk has maintained that he is reorienting the company so that child safety is prioritized.

Twitter has asked at least one outside researcher for help: Andrea Stroppa, an Italian cybersecurity researcher who says he is a friend of Elon Musk and who has praised Musk online since his Twitter acquisition.

Stroppa previously analyzed bots and propaganda on Twitter, telling NBC News that he is now working with company employees to find and remove child sexual exploitation content and accounts.

The current head of Trust and Security at Twitter, Irwin, has thanked Stroppa for her "collaboration and dedication". 

Stroppa, who remains an independent researcher, said he found Twitter's previous efforts wanting and is now moving quickly to find and suspend accounts that post child sexual exploitation content.

He said the company has also changed its policy, from removing individual tweets to immediately banning accounts that violate its policies.

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“I think it's a radical change,” he said in a telephone interview.

Marijke Chartouni, who has experienced human trafficking and abuse and now works to raise awareness about the problem, said she had previously had good results flagging problematic accounts and content to Twitter starting in 2020. 

The platform wasn't perfect, but it wasn't sloppy either, as Musk claimed.

“Old 'Twitter was quick to respond and took down the accounts,” he said in an email.

“I felt like I was making some progress,” he added.

Source: telemundo

All news articles on 2022-12-14

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