Twitter is falling into chaos days away from midterm elections that are already rife with disinformation.
On Monday—just one day before the election—Elon Musk’s Twitter is set to unveil its subscription plan allowing anyone to become verified if they pay $8 a month. Internal company documents suggest that users would not even need to actually authenticate their identity to get the verification badge.
That is going to make it harder to find out what is real, and what’s isn’t, come Election Day.
“The website is built on sticks, and it might fall apart,” NBC reporter Ben Collins warned Friday about the rapid changes happening at Twitter under the Musk regime.
If verification has nothing to do with actually verifying who someone is, that is a formula for disaster for a place like Twitter, where politicians speak to the public, election officials report results, and news outlets keep track of it all. Twitter is also a major source of news on Election Day, as journalists track results.
There are nearly 80 million Twitter users in the U.S. As in, nearly 80 million people—plus their friends and families, plus the audiences of news outlets who report on what happens on Twitter—are now at risk of being duped by people who may try impersonating politicians and elected officials.
Meanwhile, hundreds of election denialists are running across the country, Republicans are already priming voters to reject Democratic victories, and our government is still adjudicating an attack on the Capitol sprung up by election conspiracy.
To make matters worse, it seems like the company is even less equipped than ever to handle any misinformation or inflammatory content as Musk has begun mass layoffs, including reportedly, members of the curation team responsible for tackling misinformation. (Musk is now dealing with an employee-led lawsuit for violating California labor laws.)
The consequences of Musk’s layoffs are already underway. Twitter users are reporting that antisemitic and incendiary posts are very quickly being marked as having “no violations.”
Musk, of course, claims “nothing had changed with content moderation.”
What makes the Musk era of Twitter so disturbing is that there don’t appear to be clear mechanisms of accountability or support. Technology reporter Davey Alba said Twitter was the most responsive platform in 2020, helpful in quelling misinformation. Now, the communications department appears “dark,” unclear what staff are even left.
Meanwhile, any customer support Musk directly offers involves reinstating the accounts of conspiracy theorists and election denialists.