Staff shortages are also worrying those monitoring the election. “I spoke with Elon Musk,” Jessica Gonzalez, co-CEO of Free Press, an American media advocacy group, said at a news conference on Friday. “He pledged to preserve and enforce the election integrity measures on his pre-takeover Twitter ledger. In today’s mass layoffs, it is clear that Musk’s actions betrayed his words.”
Gonzalez said the Free Press has been pressuring Twitter since the summer to fully implement its election integrity plan — and showing the gate to staff would undermine that plan. (Twitter did not immediately respond to a request for comment; Musk did not immediately respond to an email.)
Perez said even a small gesture like preventing employees from entering brick-and-mortar offices when Musk and his team of advisers made layoffs on Friday can have a big impact. “With the election just days away, it’s a very chaotic environment for these very talented, very thoughtful, very dedicated people to be able to do this important work,” he said.
Never mind letting headspace do their job in the maelstrom, there’s the simple question of whether there’s enough staff out there to handle what the election might bring.
A former Twitter employee who requested anonymity to speak freely told WIRED that the company prepared for the election months in advance. “The vote is near and the material is there,” they said. “The key is whether anyone knows how or wants to deploy it.” Perez noted that Twitter is well-prepared for institutional structures and threat models to assess election risk. “But with these layoffs and so many changes, it would be a mistake to simply assume that jobs can go on as before.”
Perez asked if there are enough people with institutional expertise to analyze what Twitter’s machine-learning models used to monitor speech on the platform are detecting; whether those models can still identify harmful keywords; and whether the models are still showing questionable content For human moderators to review. “I don’t know the answers to all of these,” he admitted. “But when you’re laying off 50 percent of a very talented workforce, it certainly doesn’t look good.”
On Friday afternoon, Perez did not know how many people on Twitter’s election integrity team were still in their posts. His product team is just one part of Twitter’s electoral organization. The Civic Integrity team, including product and engineering staff, as well as policy experts in various regions, totals more than 100 people.Likewise, he’s not sure what effect Musk’s appearance will have on give up completely Twitter’s curatorial team will discuss the results of the election.
“For all this talk of algorithms and automation, a lot of the benefit of Twitter is that humans become experts in interests and platforms,” the former Twitter employee said. Buckley believes Musk may feel somewhat detached from the issue of election integrity. “His actions don’t directly threaten democracy and civic ethics,” he said, “but they certainly allow those who wish to undermine these things to do so.”
It’s not just November 8 that Twitter — and the world — has to worry about. Perez fears that even if the election goes unbelievably smooth on Twitter, there will be weeks, if not months, of disinformation-ridden consequences.
“We may have candidates who, without any factual evidence, would allege irregularities in the election,” Perez said. “I think it’s reasonable to assume that there may be some candidates who refuse to acknowledge the results, and that we’ll almost certainly be making false and unfounded allegations about alleged voting technology issues.”
In sum, Perez calls it “chaos”: coordinated attempts by partisan political actors to create chaos, including spreading disinformation through social media such as Twitter. We know it’s coming this week, and we know its potential impact from past experience. The question is whether Musk’s public squares are ready to deal with it.
“Trying to mitigate the harmful effects of all this disinformation is a very, very challenging and complex problem,” Perez said. “And I can’t think of a worse time to cut off Twitter than Elon Musk.”