Ellon Musk

Twitter insiders have told the BBC that the company is no longer able to protect users from trolling, state-co-ordinated disinformation and child sexual exploitation, following lay-offs and changes under owner Elon Musk.

Exclusive academic data plus testimony from Twitter users backs up their allegations, suggesting hate is thriving under Mr Musk’s leadership, with trolls emboldened, harassment intensifying and a spike in accounts following misogynistic and abusive profiles.

Current and former employees of the company tell BBC Panorama that features intended to protect Twitter users from trolling and harassment are proving difficult to maintain, amid what they describe as a chaotic working environment in which Mr Musk is shadowed by bodyguards at all times. I’ve spoken to dozens, with several going on the record for the first time.

The former head of content design says everyone on her team – which created safety measures such as nudge buttons – has been sacked. She later resigned. Internal research by Twitter suggests those safety measures reduced trolling by 60%. An engineer working for Twitter told me “nobody’s taking care” of this type of work now, likening the platform to a building that seems fine from the outside, but inside is “on fire”.

Twitter has not replied to the BBC’s request for comment.

Investigations also reveals:

  • Concerns that child sexual exploitation is on the rise on Twitter and not being sufficiently raised with law enforcement
  • Targeted harassment campaigns aimed at curbing freedom of expression, and foreign influence operations – once removed daily from Twitter – are going “undetected”, according to a recent employee.
  • Exclusive data showing how misogynistic online hate targeting me is on the rise since the takeover, and that there has been a 69% increase in new accounts following misogynistic and abusive profiles.
  • Rape survivors have been targeted by accounts that have become more active since the takeover, with indications they’ve been reinstated or newly created.
Short presentational grey line

All of the social media sites have been under pressure to tackle online hate and harmful content – but they say they’re taking measures to deal with it. Measures that no longer seem to be top of the agenda at Twitter.

An insider who serves as an engineer – responsible for the computer code that makes Twitter work revealed that

“For someone on the inside, it’s like a building where all the pieces are on fire,” he revealed.

“When you look at it from the outside the façade looks fine, but I can see that nothing is working. All the plumbing is broken, all the faucets, everything.”

He says the chaos has been created by 

the huge disruption in staffing. At least half of Twitter’s workforce have been sacked or chosen to leave since Musk bought it. Now people from other teams are having to shift their focus, he says.

“A totally new person, without the expertise, is doing what used to be done by more than 20 people,” says Sam. “That leaves room for much more risk, many more possibilities of things that can go wrong.”

He says previous features still exist but those who designed and maintained them have left – he thinks they are now left unmanned.

“There are so many things broken and there’s nobody taking care of it, that you see this inconsistent behaviour,” he tells me.

The level of disarray, in his view, is because Mr Musk doesn’t trust Twitter employees. He describes him bringing in engineers from his other company – electric car manufacturer Tesla – and asking them to evaluate engineers’ code over just a few days before deciding who to sack. Code like that would take “months” to understand, he tells me.

He believes this lack of trust is betrayed by the level of security Mr Musk surrounds himself with.

“Wherever he goes in the office, there are at least two bodyguards – very bulky, tall, Hollywood movie-[style] bodyguards. Even when [he goes] to the restroom,” he tells me.

He thinks for Mr Musk it’s about money. He says cleaning and catering staff were all sacked – and that Mr Musk even tried to sell the office plants to employees.

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